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Aeon

Chapter Text

How deep is this chasm?

The fact he had been falling for several seconds already meant he was unlikely to survive, but Syphus was feeling frustrated for other reasons. What a chump, he slipped on the wet rocks while traversing Waterfall, lost his balance and fell over the edge of the cliff! In the big scheme of things, this was no more than an inconvenience, but it was a stupid death nonetheless.

At least he had made enough progress in his initial investigation, and had taken the first few steps towards the seemingly impossible task he had. It wasn’t all perfect, though, he hadn’t understood very well yet how Personas were going to be of help. There was also the matter of the three Social Links he had started, and those seemed to be of even less help towards completing the goal, and what a goal it was!

How was he supposed to find a way to break the Barrier without using not even a single human SOUL?

Before Syphus could wonder what his next step could be, he crashed against the water, the impact breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

-ooooo-

Prologue: Setting Up the Board

Nine hours earlier

Sisyphus ran through the halls of the mansion, holding his glasses in place while hurrying towards the tea parlor. Outside the windows, purple clouds and mist whirled everywhere, the usual landscape in this plane of existence. Not that he knew much about what was beyond the manor, he hadn’t been outside since he had been taken there thirty years before. Lucia, the witch who had taken him in, had asked him to go to the tea parlor, where she said there was something of the utmost importance to talk about.

“I’m sorry I’m late, I had to—?” Sisyphus’ excuses, said as soon as he opened the double doors to the parlor, were quickly forgotten once he realized the strange environment he was looking at. The noise of pistons and steam, the cogs lining the walls, and the blue metallic coating of the floor and walls made the room resemble a machinery control room instead of the luxurious parlor that used to be behind those doors.

There were people inside the room. Across a large table and sitting on a large blue couch, there was a man with a rather long nose. Bulging eyes evaluated Sisyphus’ confused stare, chuckling to himself. To his side, on a separate armchair, there was a young person wearing dark blue coveralls, with short white hair and yellow eyes, looking at Sisyphus’ baffled face with restrained amusement. “...what’s this...?” Sisyphus mumbled.

“Welcome to the Velvet Room” the man with the long nose said, beckoning Sisyphus towards the empty chair in front of the table. “My name is Igor. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance”

“The Velvet Room? What’s this place...?” Sisyphus started approaching cautiously, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger “Where’s Lucia?” he inquired, glancing around before sitting down. The androgynous assistant averted their eyes away.

Igor ignored the last question, instead focusing on the first two: “This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter…

Only those who have signed or will sign a contract may enter…please, take a look at this” Igor extended a piece of paper towards Sisyphus, who took it and started reading it all. There was only one single line of text, and underneath it, a dotted line to sign.

“I chooseth this fate of mine own free will.”

So that was the so-called contract...that seemed like a simple demand. “What’s the catch?”

“The only thing we ask for is that you abide by this contract, and take full responsibility of any choice you may make during your journey” Igor stated, pushing a pen towards Sisyphus. After a moment of hesitation, Sisyphus decided to sign, after all, wasn’t taking responsibility for one’s actions something everyone should be used to? It seemed like an easy condition, although part of himself felt like an idiot for signing a contract a stranger he just met gave him.

Igor’s grin seemed to widen a bit when Sisyphus gave back the contract with his signature. “Splendid”

“Now what?” Sisyphus asked, looking around the Velvet Room he apparently had a right to enter to now. Now that he was taking a better look, he noticed that around half of the cogs lining the walls weren’t moving, despite seemingly forming part of the same machinery. It made no sense for so many cogs to not to be active. Noticing Sisyphus’ interest in the quirks of the Velvet Room, Igor’s assistant spoke:

“The Velvet Room’s state could be considered an extension of the guest’s subconscious. What you see is based in you” Sisyphus thought he understood what the attendant meant with that, but he didn’t ask for confirmation.

Since the attendant had talked, Igor decided this was a good moment to introduce them “This is my assistant” Igor gestured at the androgynous person to the left with a flourish of his hand. The assistant, noting it was their turn to present themselves, nodded and bowed their head.

“My name is Alphonse. My task will be to aid you in your journey” Despite the name, Sisyphus couldn’t say with certainty Alphonse was a man.

“...hello” Sisyphus adjusted his glasses, a bit uncomfortable at the way Alphonse stared at him without blinking. That person had an air of familiarity that seemed inviting, but their piercing gaze and unflinching demeanor made Sisyphus rather nervous.

Having introduced his assistant, Igor continued with the usual introduction to the Velvet Room. “From now on you’ll be considered a guest of the Velvet Room. You may be wondering why you’re here in the first place” he said, eliciting a curt nod from Sisyphus “In the immediate future you’ll find yourself burdened with a task that may seem impossible. However, the fate of not only you, but also of many other people, relies on you accomplishing that goal. It’s imperative you succeed, or many people’s futures may be forever lost”

Fantastic. So now he was responsible for who knows how many people’s futures. ...I really didn’t come prepared for this. Perhaps suspecting the new guest was starting to feel trepidation, Igor added: “Alphonse and I will aid you in the completion of your goal, as you’ll find our services will prove essential for your success. We’ll settle the details of your power at a later point”

“I’ll get in contact with you in an hour” Alphonse clarified.

“If you leave through the door you entered through you’ll return to the manor you came from. Please take this time to reflect on what your fate will bring you, and what you may learn from it. Until then, farewell” Igor’s tone made clear there was no reason to talk any further, as it was unlikely Sisyphus would receive any of the answers he sought. Alphonse didn’t seem willing to be any more cooperative, either, so Sisyphus slowly went back through the double doors, closing them behind him and staring at the wall in disbelief.

“...alright, what was that?” he muttered. During his thirty years living in this layer of existence he had never experienced or even heard of people like Igor and Alphonse, and the fact the meeting had led to signing a contract made Sisyphus a bit nervous. He’d be responsible for all the consequences that would come from his actions? What would he do? What consequences would there be? And why had he been so suddenly burdened with the fates of a bunch of people he didn’t even know about? Shaking his head as if that was going to clear up the fog in his head, Sisyphus opened the double doors again.

This time behind the doors there was the place he was supposed to go to in the first place: the tea parlor. There was a blindfolded woman wearing a Victorian dress and sitting in front of a large hexagonal table, tapping her fingers against the armrests of her chair. She looked like a soft-spoken and calm person, but more often than not she defied such appearance “About time you got here! What took you so long?”

“...I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know” Sisyphus replied, sitting to the woman’s side. That was Lucia, his mentor. Thirty years before she had “saved” him from being eternally banished from his home universe, and claimed to have turned him into the same thing she was: a witch. She usually treated him more like a servant, though.

“Fine, let’s not focus on the details. What matters is that you’re here and I won’t be talking to the air anymore” she reclined on her chair “How have you been progressing with that hobby of yours?”

Sisyphus grit his teeth, but stayed respectful. “It’s not a hobby, it’s a serious matter” The universe Sisyphus had come from was under study by the apprentice, as he was trying to find out the best future possible for the inhabitants in that world. He had spent forty-six years on it already, and all he had managed to do so far was make a few things worse than they were before. Lucia knew that very well, and seeing her take it so flippantly irked Sisyphus, although he tried not to give her the satisfaction of seeing it.

Judging by the way she was smirking, she knew she had annoyed him. “Rejoice! I have decided to lend you a hand. As the Witch of Hope and your teacher, it’s only appropriate I give you a tip”

And it took you thirty years! Thank you, oh graceful teacher. Sisyphus gave his best false smile “Thank you, but what kind of tip is it?”

“You’re going to love it” Lucia moved her hand over the table. On the surface a large object appeared. It was a very ornate chessboard, almost covering the whole table, with big and intricate pieces lined on the edges of the board. The side with the white pieces faced Sisyphus, while the other side faced no one. Sisyphus stared at the board, knowing what it was, but waited for Lucia to say more about it. She loved to speak without interruptions. “How about you stop doing things from a distance and take a more...hands-on approach?”

“Through a game? You created this fragment?”

“Yeah. Doing things your way didn’t work. Enough tweaking with the timelines, that’s for chumps” Lucia grabbed the white king piece “Let’s give it a try my way. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, it’s the usual antagonist side creating problems, and the other side having to solve them. It should be entertaining”

If it was ‘entertaining’ for a witch, then it meant it’d be a major disaster for whatever world they were going to meddle with. Sisyphus felt a pang of pity, what kind of adventure had she crafted now? The fact she was messing with the universe she had come from, possibly playing with the fates of people Sisyphus once knew, made him feel a weight in the pit of his stomach. With some luck it wouldn’t involve murders, like usual. Sisyphus swallowed nervously, this didn’t bode well. “And how is this going to help me create the perfect timeline I have been trying to create, exactly?” Lucia’s eyes flickered to the board and back to Sisyphus, the message was clear: win. “Oh”.

They’re all screwed.

At least, by taking his spot as one of the witches playing, it’d mean he could do some damage control. “Okay, I accept. Let’s do it”

Lucia put her chin on her hand. “Don’t jump into the fray like that, Sisyphus. There are a couple things you should know; this won’t be a normal game. First than all: I won’t be your opponent”

“Wait, what?” If Lucia wasn’t going to be Sisyphus’ opponent, who would it be? He literally didn’t know anyone else who could be, no other witch had ever visited the Hopeful Star manor during the thirty years he had lived there! “Then who...?”

“You don’t know him. He’s a sorcerer too, that’s all you should know right now” Lucia tapped the surface of the board distractedly “He should arrive in a couple hours”

So not only the game was going to mess with all those lives and create who knew what sort of trouble, but also Sisyphus was going to fight against a complete enigma. This wasn’t encouraging at all, but by now it was too late to back off. If he did, chances were that Lucia would be the one to play on his behalf. Confirmed, I have to play. “And what’s the second thing I should know?”

“You’re going to be inside the game”

Sisyphus stared for a moment, caught off-guard. “W-What?!”

“You’re going to take active part in this game! Don’t think about it too hard, just do what I tell you and all should be fine” Lucia shrugged “It’ll be like going back home, won’t it? You’ll finally be back inside the same universe you came from” after a short pause, she added: “I thought you’d be happier about that”

Sisyphus had never expected to be allowed back into reality, not even as a piece. His body had been destroyed and his SOUL mangled, it couldn’t be that simple! What did Lucia and whoever the other sorcerer was do to the fragment or timeline this board represented? “...I-I see...and how do I win? What is the win condition?”

Lucia’s expression turned absolutely serious, Sisyphus could feel her intense stare from behind the blindfold. “You’ll have to find a way to shatter the Barrier without using human SOULs” she said “I’m not saying you or your piece have to do it. In my opinion, it’d be easier if you found a way and then made someone else do it. Do whatever you want. What’s important is that the Barrier must be destroyed without using those SOULs”

Something in Sisyphus’ expression must have changed because Lucia leaned forward, eyeing him with concern. So that was the goal Igor had been talking about! And he had been right, it sounded impossible. Not even with his magic skill as the budding Sorcerer of Hope he would be able to shatter the Barrier. Someone of Lucia’s age and skill may be able to do it, but there was no way she’d help. How was he supposed to make sure such outrageous feat happened, then?

Refusing wasn’t an option, though. It was bad enough that Igor had stated the fates of an unknown amount of people depended on him, now he understood those people were the people from the world he had come from. There was no way he could refuse.

“...h-how do I start doing this? If my opponent will arrive in a couple hours, then what should we do right now?”

Lucia, looking rather amused, nodded slowly. “How about you get the upper hand now? Let’s take a look at the board before our opponent arrives. And for that, you’re going to need a piece...”

-ooooo-

The man groaned, keeping his eyes closed and grabbing his head. Sudden pangs of pain made his head pulse, it was a rather nasty sensation that got him disoriented and feel rather weak. Shivers ran down his back despite how warm it was in whatever place he was in, he felt nausea and swayed as if he was about to faint. After making sure he wasn’t going to throw up or have an attack of panic, the man let go of his head and opened his eyes.

He was sitting against a purple stone wall, leaning against what looked like a small pool of ink sticking to the wall and to the back of his beige field jacket. The room he was in right now was almost empty, there were a few vines on the walls, and a couple switches on the floor. A path of a lighter purple color crossed the room, passing through a dark doorway that led towards who knew where. Feeling how his legs were trembling, the man stood up and slowly walked towards the switches on the floor, pressing them. Nothing happened. Maybe whatever mechanism it triggered was deactivated? That thought made the man’s head hurt again, so he stopped and leaned against the wall. This room seemed vaguely familiar, but where...? Alright, try to remember...

My name is...Syphus, and I am...I’m a piece. The thought came to mind immediately, that was the most basic fact. Somehow, the thought he was more like a higher being’s limb didn’t seem as awful or distressing as it would be to other people. That was his role in the story, there was no need to waste time denying what he had been created for. Syphus closed his eyes, leaning on the wall. My master placed me in the...I’m in the Underground. Did I appear out of thin air or something? I don’t remember a thing...? Syphus literally had no memories about a past life. As far as he knew, one moment he didn’t exist, the next he was right there in this purple room.

It didn’t take long for him to remember everything else: his mission – if I’m a human being with no magic or amazing skills then how am I supposed to destroy the Barrier? – and, right after that, a lot of information about the Underground. It seemed Syphus’ master was rather knowledgeable about the places and workings of the Underground, many of its people and about events that happen in countless other timelines. All this information was supposed to be vital tools to know what to do, but he felt a lot of nervousness at the perspective of having to be in a place as potentially hostile as the Underground.

Although he was a bit scared, staying in this purple stone room forever wouldn’t help achieve the goal, so going outside was the only option. Syphus peered through the doorway, being careful not to make any noise in case there were monsters nearby. The next room was empty too, so Syphus crossed the doorway and tripped with something that was on the floor. Syphus managed to grab onto the wall and looked at the object: it was a wooden box. A bit puzzled, Syphus opened the box, looking inside. There were three objects and a note, which Syphus took and extended.

You’re going to need help.

---Lucia and Sisyphus

...right. Syphus recognized his master and that other witch’s names, it was good to know that they weren’t just going to throw him into the deep end of the pool just like that. A bit relieved, Syphus took one of the objects given to him.

It was a brooch, flat and seemingly made of stained glass. It was a firefly, blue and rather detailed. While the brooch was a beautiful trinket, how was it going to be of help? Maybe I can obtain a good amount of money selling it he thought, pinning it on his field jacket. While he was doing it, his fingers pressed onto the firefly’s head, which caused his body to flicker, as if static had suddenly covered it. “W-Woah!” he jumped back, staring at his hands right before what he was seeing drastically changed.

His hands were now covered in moss green scales, and conical black claws had sprouted from fingers as short and thick as clubs. “What the hell did just happen?!” Those didn’t seem to be the only change, though. All over his arms, the back of his head and seemingly extending down his back and legs, there were lots and lots of long white feathers. As soon as he noticed that the feathers bristled, and he also noticed he had some sort of snout, resembling a snake’s. Syphus tried to grab his snout, as if trying to convince it was real, but his hands went through the it as if it was no more than air. “...whaaaat?” he muttered, trying to grab it again, but there was nothing tangible there. A quick inspection of his claws and feathers confirmed he couldn’t grab those either. Okay, I didn’t suddenly mutate into a monster. This is no more than an illusion... That was a better thing than having his body changed like that, and overall this was a positive thing! After making sure he was able to deactivate the illusion by once again pressing on the brooch, he sighed in relief.

You obtained Firefly Brooch

This’ll make easier to not to get anyone’s attention but it’d be great if I didn’t look like a badly plucked chicken! Oh well. As long as no one touches me I’ll be okay. How he’d make no one touch him was something he’d deal with later. Syphus activated the illusion again, and took out the second object.

It was an axe blade of some sort, with a short spike on top. The blade and the spike were so dull he could press against those without getting hurt. When Syphus took it, a wooden bamboo handle came out of the end of the blade. A halberd? What do I need a halberd for? The thought of having to fight monsters wasn’t pleasant.

You obtained Compactable Halberd

Syphus grabbed the handle of the pole weapon, finding it rather flimsy. As a weapon this halberd was a bad one, and it was more likely he would hurt himself than a foe. Syphus retracted the pole back onto head of the halberd, tucking the weapon into his jacket. Better not to walk around with such thing on sight, even though the weight of the halberd was awkward and unwieldy.

The last item was way more mundane, just a bag with 100 gold coins. As Syphus didn’t know if it’d be possible for him to obtain gold at any point, this was a welcome gift. And 100 gold should last a while, shouldn’t it? At least he hoped, or things would get complicated for him.

Syphus made his knuckles crack, made sure the illusion Lucia had provided him was working, and walked into the depths of the only passage there was. He had no idea how to achieve the task he had been burdened with, but he was willing to give it a serious try...

...and if Lucia and the other sorcerer had created this game then there must be some sort of twist. As a first step, it would be a good idea to obtain information. Maybe checking the Barrier itself was an intelligent decision, too? There was no guarantee he’d be able to get all the way there, but during the trek to the castle in New Home he would be able to see if there were any anomalies anywhere.

What kind of changes could there be in this timeline compared to all others? What exactly the Velvet Room had to do with any of this? Syphus could feel there was something bigger behind scenes, something he didn’t understand yet, and although the thought of being no more than a piece more in the maelstrom of events that was likely to happen during the next few days gave him some dread, at the same time he felt sort of excited.

Let’s get this started.

Chapter Text

The Ruins seemed eerily empty.

It may have been because of the part of the Ruins Syphus was at, but it felt almost unnatural that there wasn’t not even a Froggit around. It was true the Ruins weren’t a very populated place, the atmosphere was cold and unwelcoming, and the longer Syphus walked around the more he wanted to leave. Occasionally there were switches and levers around, none of them functional, the remains of puzzles deactivated long ago. Ivy covered the walls, Syphus’ steps echoed throughout the empty corridors, and there was no end in sight. How big is this place?!

At one point Syphus finally reached a place that seemed slightly more familiar. After leaving a narrow hall, Syphus found a large doorway on one wall, and a waist-tall fence on the other wall, blocking the way. There were noises of voices and steps beyond the fence, he was finally near places where monsters roamed. Recognizing in which part of the Ruins he was now, Syphus immediately crossed the large doorway, exiting the Ruins. There was a small platform with stairways descending, the floor had a lot of red dry leaves strewn around, and the stone brick walls stopped appearing. The natural rocky walls of the caverns lined into a grayish purple arch. Holding his breath as to what he may find, Syphus took the first step in his investigation.

Just like he thought. At the end of the passageway there was a circular chamber, and right in the center, there was a bed of golden flowers. The sight made Syphus stop for a moment, a sudden feeling of respect and sorrow invading him, his feathers drooping. It’s okay, Syphus, there’s nothing to worry about he told himself, but it didn’t make those feeling disappear. Gritting his teeth, Syphus approached the golden flowers.

The flowers were intact, growing like normal. Syphus crouched, looking at the flowers attentively, but no matter how much he looked there was no denying it: nothing had been on the flowers. Nothing had fallen on them. Does that mean they aren’t in the Underground yet? Syphus thought, looking upwards at the large hole. He knew a human child was bound to fall down at some point, and if it hadn’t happened yet...no, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to meet them. He was no more than a stranger, and there was no way telling them ‘so hey, I have been playing with the thousands of timelines you have been through’ was going to end well. Better to stay away, he guessed.

Making sure to take mental note of Frisk’s possible absence and the golden flowers, Syphus stepped away and started returning towards the purple ruins. The Ruins didn’t have any other places he wanted to check, at least until he got to Toriel’s house. Were there other ways out of the Ruins? It was possible the door was blocked and he wouldn’t be able to exit through there. Syphus had started to go up the stairs when he noticed there had been something else he hadn’t seen:

Flowey.

It wasn’t strange to think he would stay away from someone he didn’t know, now that he thought about it, but since Syphus was a completely new variable...he couldn’t avoid thinking it was kind of strange he hadn’t heard a word of him. Not seeing Flowey didn’t mean that flower wasn’t around, though. He may have seen Syphus and decided to keep his distance, for all he knew. Who knew what Flowey was thinking.

... it seemed like something worth remembering too, though. Keep all the clues in mind and solve the mysteries...that’s what anyone would do. When a witch, especially those with millennia of experience such as Lucia, decides to play games for one reason or another, even the smallest details could be important.

Tracing the outline of the firefly brooch, Syphus considered his next few moves. There was only one direction to go: further into the Ruins, to explore the Underground and find the answers he needed to solve the conundrum posed to him by Lucia. Syphus ascended up the stairs and peered into the dim light of the inside of the Ruins, and started crossing the doorway.

“Wait!”

Startled, Syphus jumped back and turned around, finding the person who had talked. Alphonse was standing behind him, dressed in the same deep blue coveralls they had been wearing in the Velvet Room. “You! What do you want?” That came out a bit more strained than Syphus intended, it was just that he didn’t appreciate getting startled.

“I told you we’d talk after one hour. Did you forget?” Alphonse cocked his head as if they had actually expected that to happen “I’m here to give you the other three keys you need to achieve your goals. You already have one, let’s start with that one”

“Keys? I got one? What are you talking about?”

“That brooch” Alphonse pointed at the firefly brooch “That brooch will allow you to delve into the depths of people’s SOULs, and what you do from there...that’s up to you”

Syphus looked at Alphone with confusion, trying to find out if the strange person was being deceitful or attempting to pull his leg. “...right. I understand absolutely nothing”

“You will understand once we start. Come closer to me” Alphonse beckoned him, Syphus obeying reticently “Take the brooch off and put it on me. It’ll create a gateway into my SOUL”

Refraining from commenting how odd such statement was, Syphus took off the brooch, deactivating his disguise. He stared intermittently at Alphonse and the brooch, unsure on how to proceed. Alphonse wasn’t of help, content with waiting patiently for Syphus to get done with it. Syphus pinned the brooch on Alphonse’s coveralls, looking at Alphonse as if he expected a confirmation this was what he needed to do. All Alphonse did was smile enigmatically. “Okay, here it goes...” Syphus activated the brooch.

Alphonse didn’t gain a monster disguise, nor changed shape in any way. The moment Syphus’ finger pressed on the firefly, lighting it up, both Alphonse and Syphus fell unconscious.

-ooooo-

There was a gentle yet constant sound of breeze. Syphus awoke from his unconsciousness but didn’t open the eyes, he could feel there was something off just by hearing that noise. It was very unlikely such noise would happen in the Underground, so...did Alphonse move him? Why did he faint, again? All he remembered was turning on the brooch, and then...

That got Syphus to sit up and open his eyes. The place he found himself at was a place that definitely couldn’t be in the Underground. Syphus – and Alphonse, who was standing near the opposite wall, browsing a thick book – were now in a dilapidated bedroom, covered in dust. Drawings made by fingerpainting covered one of the walls, while the rest were sloppily painted in red and light blue colors to approximately halfway to the ceiling. There were two mattresses placed on each side of the room, and through the holey curtains Syphus could see a patio, and beyond it, a city. The light was dim, as if outside it was cloudy.

Everything had a familiar shine to it, as if this was a memory from very long ago. Syphus tried to remember where exactly he had seen such a place, but he couldn’t remember it. “...where am I?”

“This is my SOUL. What you’re seeing is a place I cherish...or cherished” Alphonse did seem rather wistful, looking around with melancholy “You’re going to be seeing a lot of places like this one during your journey”

“And the way to enter is always the brooch?” So Lucia knew he was going to enter into people’s SOULs? What had she been planning all this time?!

“Yes. Now that we’re here, I’ll teach you everything you should know to aid your task. First, I’ll teach you how to SAVE and LOAD”

Those concepts weren’t unfamiliar to him. Saving and Loading were concepts inherent to this universe, used by the person with the most determination. Did that mean he was the being with the most determination now?  “Alright, teach me that...” he complied, unsure how exactly such thing could be taught.

What followed was a long phase of meditation and trying to focus his mind onto the goal of creating a SAVE point. “You need to picture yourself and everything around you. That’s the place you’ll return to, so try to remember it as accurately as possible” Imagining to be forming the SAVE point in his hands helped, too. It was all much harder than it sounded. Alphonse had an infinite well of patience, though, and every time Syphus failed they encouraged him and suggested a way to focus better. Although Syphus didn’t say it out loud, he was grateful Alphonse was willing to spend so long doing this. “This will be a way to prepare you for the second ability I’ll teach you” they said at one point “Both involve focusing and being aware of yourself and your surroundings”

After a while of focusing as hard as he could, and imagining the surrounding bedroom over and over, there were finally results: a strange spark emanated between Syphus’ hands, startling him, but he remained focused, imagining he was pouring all his will into that spark. Soon the spark grew, gaining size and turning brighter. Alphonse clapped, looking curiously proud “Well done! That’s a perfect SAVE point”

“Thank you!” right after saying that the SAVE point sizzled and vanished. No matter how hard Syphus tried to recall it, it didn’t appear back “What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing. You can’t create a stable SAVE point inside a person’s SOUL. You’ll have to practice once you’re out of here” That explained why the SAVE point imploded, but Syphus felt a bit bitter about how something he had been working on had been fated to be futile. “After some practice it’ll turn much easier, almost instinctive. You’ll be able to create SAVE points in matter of seconds”

“Seconds...that’d be good” Syphus flexed his fingers, wondering if he’d really be capable to achieve such thing “What about loading?”

“That’s not as tricky, but in my opinion you should avoid loading. It’ll always activate once you die, you should SAVE often to avoid losing any progress” Alphonse opened their book “You’ll see by yourself later. Now I’ll teach you to master the power of Persona”

Alphonse gave a short explanation as to what a Persona was, power based on the psyche. Syphus requested to start immediately, so Alphonse instructed him to focus on his own SOUL. “You’ll be able to use Personas only in realms like this one. Now, place your mind in a blank state, and submerge yourself into your consciousness. You may suddenly think of a word, or a command...focus on it”

Thanks to the efforts to focus into creating a SAVE point, it was easier for Syphus to work on summoning his Persona. Maybe because it had been rather soon after finishing the first part of Alphonse’s teachings, or maybe because Personas were closely linked to the psyche, soon Syphus managed to achieve it. Slowly, a large shape took form in front of Syphus, solidifying and getting defined. “You’re doing well! Keep going!”

Syphus didn’t reply. He had closed his eyes, trying hard to ignore anything beyond his own mind. A single word came to mind, extremely simple yet it felt right. “Pe...Pers...Persona...”

“Have more conviction!”

“...Persona...” Syphus clenched his fists and shouted with as much conviction as he could manage “Persona!”

The blurry form in front of Syphus was immediately enveloped in a ball of light, shining so strongly Syphus was momentarily blinded, stepped back and fell on his butt, taken aback by the strange power that had come from his Psyche. Alphonse, unaffected by the bright light, approached the Persona to take a closer look.

“Excellent. Well done, Syphus. Your Persona looks promising” Alphonse searched in their book while Syphus watched, astonished and still boggling over how that thing was part of his psyche. “Here it is. ‘Ouroboros’, of the Aeon arcana. Currently it has first-stage Bufu abilities, and seems geared towards attacking with magic instead of using physical attacks. Its defense isn’t very good”

“Wait, wait, wait. Ouroboros? Aeon arcana? What’s Bufu? What the hell is going on here?”!

“...oh, right. I apologize” Alphonse helped Syphus stand up and explained the basic details of the skills Personas had “Your arcana is the Aeon, however, the Wild Card ability should allow you summon any Persona. We’ll talk about it in the Velvet Room at a later point”

“...fine” Syphus slowly approached the levitating Persona, observing it closely “This is so weird...I didn’t think after thirty years of being a witch anything would ever surprise me”

“My master says the depths of the human soul is a mystery that’ll never be solved” Alphonse said “Never forget that, despite your actual powers and skills, you were once human” the Persona vanished, returning to Syphus’ psyche “Now that you summoned it successfully, doing it again should be very easy. Try it”

“Uh, I’m not sure I did anything special, I just—“ Syphus had barely willed it to happen, when Ouroboros appeared again “You’re right, it was easy! But what’s a Persona for?”

Alphonse approached the window and beckoned Syphus. “SOULs represent each person, so as you can suppose...the realm of the SOUL isn’t empty” it was then that Syphus saw strange black blobs moving in the alleyways and streets of the city.

“What are those?”

“Feelings, traits, opinions, behaviors...everything can take shape and form Shadows. While you could fight most Shadows with physical weapons, your Personas will be the main defense against Shadows. Be prepared for fights during your exploration of the SOULs”

Syphus rubbed his temples, feeling a tad awkward. He wasn’t really the type to fight, so Alphonse’ warning wasn’t exactly a welcome revelation. He hoped that the Ouroboros Persona really would be of help. “So what’s the last thing you need to show me, Alphonse?”

“The third key you need to complete your goal is a bit more complicated: Social Links”

“Social Links. Okay, what’s that?”

Alphonse idly browsed their book. “You’re bound to meet a lot of people during your stay in the Underground. Each person is a world, and you’re going to be in contact with those worlds, measured in ‘Social Links’”

Syphus looked away, unsure of what he was hearing. “Right. I’m not sure what you mean, but fine. I guess I’ll find out later”

“You will. Remember you’re not alone. By helping other people, you’re also helping yourself. You can’t leave the Underground without everyone else. You want a future for everyone, not for yourself.

So get to know people, get to truly want to be of help to them, and you’ll be rewarded”

That sounded simple enough, in theory. “Alright, I understand. Is that all?”

“That’s all for now. Remember I’m a resident of the Velvet Room. I exist to aid our guests, and you’ll need our services before long” Alphonse smiled and bowed slightly, their silver hair swinging “We trust you’ll succeed in your quest and duty”

Before Syphus could reply, everything froze, and amidst the immobile scenario a card formed in Syphus’ mind.

Alphonse has stated their intention to help you as much as they can.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Alphonse

Alphonse touched their chest as soon as reality started moving again, as if they expected to find something on it. They had raised their eyebrows, and seemed unsure of what to say. “O-oh! Looks like I’m—you have formed a Social Link with me. I didn’t expect that!”

“Shouldn’t that have happened?” Syphus did feel some warmness inside them, it felt like the kind of warmness that’d happen when receiving long-awaited good news, the calm one would feel after finishing a grueling task. Alphonse stopping touching their chest and exhaled, making a ‘hmmmmm’ sound.

“No, it isn’t bad. I just never thought we would...” Alphonse tilted their head, murmuring “Yes, now that I think about it...it could be the chance I was looking for. This will be good for both of us...”

Syphus waited until Alphonse was done talking to themselves, a tad suspicious of Alphonse’s reaction to the Social Link. The assistant shook their head, snapping out of their musings, and returned their attention to Syphus. “Any questions?”

“I have so many questions we’d be here until tomorrow” Syphus replied dryly, starting to feel a bit lightheaded. In a matter of an hour or so, he had learned all these basic stuff, and felt so tired there was nothing he wanted more than sleep for a while “I don’t even know where to start with all this. How am I expected to shatter the Barrier, and without using SOULs? I’m not some kind of...magical powerhouse to nullify the Barrier!”

“I thought you were a skillful witch”

“I’m not my master. I’m just a...a vessel for him, and even if I had his powers, that wouldn’t be enough! He has been a witch for only thirty years! He has barely scratched the surface of the potential magic has. Heck, I’m rather sure Lucia wouldn’t be capable of shattering the Barrier either! I just...” Syphus paced around, trying to find the right words to continue his train of thought “I feel overwhelmed, and now I feel even more overwhelmed because I have a Persona, I can SAVE and LOAD, I’ll have to form bonds with people for reasons I don’t fully understand...it’s too much information for just a couple hours”

Alphonse made a face of sympathy. “You should rest for a while”

“I know I should, but I can’t. I feel I would get complacent if I start resting now” Syphus looked around as if he expected a way out of Alphonse’s SOUL. The attendant stopped him and pointed at the firefly brooch they still had pinned to their clothes.

“Before you go, I’ll give you a hint: I called it all ‘the three keys you need’ for a reason. It’s up to you to find out how. You’re a smart enough man, you’ll find a way”

“Thank you...” Syphus appreciated Alphonse’s encouragement, but there was something about the attendant that kept bothering them. It felt there was something they knew that he didn’t, and he just hoped it wasn’t anything big or necessary for him to know.

Syphus deactivated the brooch. The room around them turned wavy, fading in the air, until the walls turned purple and made of stone, and dry leaves covered the floor. That’s when Syphus noticed he was lying on the floor, and stood up, finding Alphonse had left the firefly brooch nearby and walked towards one of the walls. “I’ll be waiting at the Velvet Room. Good luck” they said while a blue, beautiful ethereal door materialized on the wall. Once Alphonse crossed it and closed it behind them, Syphus expected it to disappear, but it stayed there. A bit daunted, the witch approached and opened the door, looking inside.

Indeed, inside was the Velvet Room, exactly like Syphus remembered it. Igor and Alphonse were sitting on their chairs, looking at him from over the table, waiting for him to come in and sit. “Sorry, I just...” Syphus muttered and closed the door. Well at least now I have a way to return to that room. If only it didn’t involve coming all the way here...

There was no time to stand around and do nothing, though. Syphus jumped on the spot, psyching himself up, and once he felt he was prepared to face whatever may come he entered the Ruins.

-ooooo-

It took a bit of time for Syphus to feel prepared to jump over the fence that led to the rest of the Ruins. He peered into the room it led to, finding it empty, so he took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge. With an agile jump, Syphus got to the other side and stepped forward, looking around with interest.

“Hey! You! Stop right there!”

Syphus froze, startled. Did he do something wrong? Loud clanking sounds approached, whoever was passing nearby was wearing an armor, and such supposition was confirmed once that person reached Syphus. Indeed, that was an armor. The monster was a tad shorter than him, and its armor was so unwieldy and large Syphus had no idea how the monster looked like, but such thoughts were left aside when he saw the long sword the monster was holding. Better to mind his words, he guessed... “Who are you?”

The monster ignored his question. “That area is forbidden to the public! What were you doing in there?”

“...I got lost” Syphus said the very first excuse he could think. The monster wasn’t amused by that.

“Only the Queen may pass through that fence. Do you have permission from the Queen?”

“Permission from—no, I don’t, I just...” The Queen? Is he talking about the person I think he’s talking about? “I just got lost!”

The monster didn’t seem very convinced. His grip on the sword relaxed just a bit, but he was still ready to move if the situation warranted it. “I’ll have to escort you away from here. Follow me” his tone made rather clear that any objections or attempts to run away wouldn’t be tolerated. Not having any other option, Syphus sighed.

“Fine. Lead the way” he conceded. The guard started walking away immediately, and Syphus followed him, looking around and trying to commit to memory all the details he was seeing. The more he spent in the Underground, the more oddities he was seeing. So there was still a Queen? Why was the golden flowers bed and a part of the Ruins forbidden to enter to?  “...who are you?” he insisted, although he had a hunch what the answer would be.

“Royal Guard #47” he replied bluntly and refused to say anything else. So the Royal Guard had extended all the way to the depths of the Ruins? Why? And last, the one final strange difference Syphus could distinguish, was that the Ruins now seemed to be abnormally filled with monsters, and not only the type he expected to see.

Through the rooms and corridors Syphus saw groups of monsters that clearly didn’t live in the Ruins. Some of the groups had someone who seemed to be guiding them around, spouting tidbits of information and trying to get their interest. Are they all...tourists? “Excuse me” Syphus tried to get the guard’s attention “Is this place a popular tourist spot or something?

“You could say that. I don’t know why this place is popular, but it is”

“So anyone can enter the Ruins?”

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

Syphus didn’t reply.

-ooooo-

When the guard said he meant to escort Syphus away, he indeed did mean to escort Syphus away. “Go ahead and pass through this house. The exit will be open for you” the guard said, pointing at the door of the house with the tip of the sword.

“Who does this house belong to?”

“The Queen likes to spend time here” the guard quickly bowed his head and walked away, hurrying to return to his sentry spot back near the fence he had found Syphus at. Syphus turned around to take a better look at the house. May as well get out of this place. It didn’t look the kind of place a queen would spent a lot of time in, it was homelier than luxurious. The entrance door was wide open, and from the inside Syphus could hear a few voices. A bit encouraged by the presence of other people inside, Syphus dared to enter.

The outside had looked homely, the inside confirmed it. It was a rather cozy house, with a calm and welcoming atmosphere, to the point Syphus immediately wished he could stay around for a bit longer. Syphus started descending the stairs towards the basement, but he slowly stopped. “Wait, if the Queen is here, then I could ask her a couple questions, right? I don’t know if she’d answer, but it’s worth a try” with that in mind, Syphus returned up and looked from side of side. There were voices coming in direction of what seemed to be the living room, he could distinguish a few words. It seemed to be monsters resting in there, planning their day in the Ruins. Instead of approaching them, Syphus went into the opposite direction, into a hallway that led to a few bedrooms.

The first one was a children’s bedroom. It was clean, but there was an air of abandon that didn’t fit it at all, like no one had used anything in there for years. There was a large box full of toys, carefully ordered and taken care of. The bed was smooth and without a single wrinkle, there was an empty box aside the closet, and inside the closet there were several stripped sweaters, seemingly untouched for who knew how long. If no one has used this bedroom, could it be possible I’m actually far in the past? That seemed like a possibility, if Syphus was right now at a time before the child with the light blue SOUL fell into the Underground.

Musing that possibility, Syphus left the bedroom and closed the door, going towards the second one. There was a sign placed on it: ‘Room under renovations’. Syphus grabbed the doorknob and twisted it, finding the room was locked. He had been about to rattle and try to pry it open when he heard her voice, full of patience and with a very subtle hint of nervousness underneath it all.

“Please do not try to open that door. That room is under renovations”

Syphus turned his head around. There was a Boss Monster standing to the side of the stairway railing. Instead of the motherly appearance one would expect of Toriel, she was fully dressed as the Queen of All Monsters, crown included, looking almost out of place in the quaint house. She was smiling patiently, waiting for Syphus to step away from the door, so he did. “O-Oh, sorry, I was looking for the way out of the Ruins”

“I see. Please follow me” she glanced back towards the living room, as if she was in a hurry to get to get back to whoever she had been talking with, and started going down the stairs, with Syphus following her closely. Both walked down the passageway slowly, the cold getting more intense the closer they got to the door to the rest of the Underground “Is it your first time visiting the Ruins?”

“Yes...Your Majesty” How was he supposed to address royalty? He didn’t even dare to look her at the eyes, in case that was a serious faux-pas “I didn’t know it’d be so full of monsters”

“You don’t have to call me that! Please, call me Toriel” she said “The Ruins is a rather popular place to explore” Toriel’s smile disappeared, replaced by a frown “I didn’t expect that when I opened the door to the Ruins so many years ago. It’s nice to see people want to see Home, the place we were living at so long ago, but this may have been a mistake” She managed to smile again, although it was strained now “This house is a nice place to live, I spend a lot of time in here”

“What about the castle? What about the king?”

Suddenly it felt as if the atmosphere had gotten colder, and not because snowflakes and drafts were starting to appear on the floor of the passageway. Toriel narrowed her eyes. “I’m more comfortable being here in the Ruins for the time being”

“...did something happen between you and—“

“Let’s not talk about it” she said, and judging by her tone, she was completely serious about that. Syphus hurried to nod, not wanting to get in trouble with the Queen, and shut up. This is unusual...she’s still the queen but she lives in the Ruins. The only reason she’d be angry with Asgore would be because of the war declaration, so that’s still a thing in this timeline? Maybe feeling she had been a bit too blunt, Toriel chuckled without any mirth “I have my reasons to be here. It doesn’t mean I’m neglecting my duty as the queen, so please trust me on that”

“...I understand”

The large stone door to the rest of the Underground was wide open, the snowy path across the forests and cliffs was visible. “Thank you for visiting the Ruins. What’s your name, young man?” Syphus answered the question “You’re welcome to return to the Ruins anytime you wish, Syphus”

Syphus stuck his hands inside the pockets of his jacket, really glad he didn’t actually have those sharp claws. “Thank you, I guess...is there any other way in? I’m not sure I should pass all the time through your house” That was a lie, Syphus couldn’t care less about that, but it was a good idea to have some sort of alternate way into the Ruins.

Toriel didn’t notice the real reason for Syphus’ question, instead leading Syphus outside. “There’s no other way in, I’m afraid, but don’t feel bad for having to pass through my house. My doors will always be open.

It’s the least I should do as the Queen: provide monsters a safe space to be in, even if it’s for a moment”

Toriel’s friendliness seems more out of obligation as a queen than anything else.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Toriel

Syphus shivered in the cold despite his jacket, did having such clear reptilian traits in the illusion make him more susceptible to cold? “T-T-Thank you, Toriel...I should get going” although she had shown to be cordial, she was distant and not really interested in trying to reach out to Syphus. Then why’s there a Social Link with her? What defines with who I get a Social Link with? He knew it was matter of time before he could understand better what was the deal with everything Alphonse had said, but until then it was rather frustrating to not to understand much.

After Toriel returned inside, and Syphus made a SAVE point just in case, he started walking down the path, still shivering and rubbing his hands together in a vain effort to warm himself up. There had been several bits of information that seemed worth remembering, so the short trek through the Ruins had been actually useful.

Frisk’s absence for the moment, the unusual amount of visitors in the Ruins, the fact the Royal Guard had apparently expanded all the way to the Ruins, Toriel still being the Queen yet living in the Ruins, the unused children’s bedroom...he had several pieces of the puzzle already, yet he wasn’t sure what it all meant when it was all together. I need more information, and I don’t have much time left. I must find something bigger than all that, and quick.

-ooooo-

In the room Syphus had awoken in, the stain of ink on the wall had gotten bigger. Very slowly, it started bubbling almost imperceptibly, as if something was moving right behind it. Suddenly the ink stain started to get larger again, dripping down towards the floor.

Chapter Text

It was rather eerie to be in a place where there was no wind yet the noise of one’s steps echoed.

It was to be expected there’d be breeze in a forest, one would consider the sway of leaves and wind to be part of the background music of such a place, but Snowdin Forest had no such features. Syphus hunched over a bit more, trying to warm himself up, but it didn’t work very well.

He had exited the ruins around ten minutes before, starting the trek towards Snowdin Town ahead. The forest path seemed easy, despite some parts of it being covered in ice. Since Syphus discovered the brooch he had lost most of his fear to show himself to other monsters, trusting the illusion to keep him safe, but there was something about that that bothered him. Having to walk through the silent forest made him realize there was something off about the brooch, and although he had tried to keep himself focused in the bigger task of getting to Snowdin Town in one piece, his mind kept wandering back to the brooch topic.

If I understood right, this brooch is my entrance to other people’s SOULs...forming places, Shadows and everything else when I activate it. So what’s wrong now? Why doesn’t that happen when I put it on? Syphus looked around, as if he expected the forest to be part of his own SOUL. Nothing seemed to be wrong around, and unless his SOUL also included monsters and unfamiliar landscapes, this was all the real Underground. Did Lucia make it that way, or is my SOUL different, or...why?

Syphus clutched his head with one hand, still looking around “Why do I look like a monster when I have it on?” he mumbled, looking at the scarce feathers peeking through the cuff of his sleeve “There must be an explanation for it, but...” feeling defeated, Syphus sighed. He was stuck, so maybe it was for the better to stop thinking about it for now.

After a while more of traversing over the cliffs and staring into the distance of the cave, Syphus started to pay more attention to his surroundings. There were almost no civilians around, which was to be expected from the area – who went to hang out in a remote snowy forest, really? – but the Royal Guard presence was much stronger than he thought it’d be. Syphus had barely left behind a sentry station when he saw another in the distance, and such quirk repeated over and over throughout the way.

Almost all the stations had guards in them, and from time to time patrollers walked by. Much to Syphus’ surprise, the dogs that were said to form most of the Snowdin group were just a small part of the guards he had seen so far. All the dogs had turned their heads towards Syphus when he strolled by, sniffing in his direction with whines of confusion. It seemed that the illusion looked convincing enough to make the dogs stay away, but they were suspicious enough to keep their eyes on him.

Not that the guards who weren’t dogs just let him pass by, though. All of them looking at Syphus with attention while he walked by, and it took Syphus some self-control not to stare back. You have nothing to fear, me, you’ll be okay. Syphus clutched his field jacket tighter. Everyone thinks I’m a monster. I’m just...

In an attempt to distract himself and not to look suspicious, Syphus stared around himself with more attention than before, as if the trees and the snow suddenly held the answers to the universe. He looked rather unnatural and suspicious, which only attracted more attention, the more he tried to act inconspicuous the more the guards stared at him.

After a particularly intense staring at the way the snow piled around the trees, Syphus suddenly heard a voice right behind him.

“nothing’s gonna come out of the trees, bud”

Syphus gasped loudly, turning around immediately. He had heard no steps approaching, and the last thing he had expected was to hear a voice right behind him. “Y-You...!” Syphus stammered, taken by surprise, but in hindsight he should have supposed he’d encounter this monster sooner or later.

“sup. are you new around here?” Sans asked, sticking his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. His stance and voice seemed to imply he didn’t really care that much, but there was a tinge of idle curiosity underneath all that, one Syphus had a lot of reasons to be worried about.

It was no secret Sans was rather perceptive. If there was someone in the Underground who would be able to delve into the matter and find out Syphus was under the command of someone in a higher tier of existence, it was Sans. Being careful was priority when dealing with him. “Uh...yes! Actually, I have never been here before!” Syphus said. It was technically the truth, so it should be okay. 

Sans’s grin seemed to grow very slightly, he closed his eye sockets. “that expression of yours...it’s the expression of someone who knows they’re out of place” Syphus’ feathers ruffled involuntarily, that was rather accurate. Sans shrugged, opening his eyes “you must come from warmer places. whoops, i haven’t introduced myself. the name is sans” he extended his hand.

Syphus didn’t even try to grab it, looking at the skeletal hand and at Sans’ face alternatively. After a moment it was clear there’d be no handshake, so Sans sighed. “guess you’re not the type to fall for a trick like this” he said, tearing away the whoopee cushion off his hand.

The truth was that Syphus hadn’t even noticed that. It was just that he felt way too nervous and way too paranoid to accept the handshake, and even if he hadn’t feared Sans finding out anything, he felt rather reluctant to let himself get touched by anyone right now. “Oh, n-no! It’s just that I...I didn’t see it coming, it, uh, it caught me by surprise” What the heck?! That’s the worst excuse I could have—oh, forget it.

Sans winked, looking at Syphus with his right eye. “next time i’ll give you a heads up so you don’t freeze in place” somewhere in Snowdin a rimshot echoed, but Syphus didn’t laugh. Not only the joke was rather bad, even for Sans, he also felt too tense to take it with levity. The most he could do was grin awkwardly “you look like i just stepped on your toes. guess puns aren’t your thing either” Sans chuckled to himself.

“I do have a sense of humor! It’s just that I’m not in mood for laughs” Syphus said, and inwardly kicked himself. Get over it already! Act natural!

The skeleton didn’t seem entirely convinced, and, deciding he had bothered enough the strange monster that was strolling by, he shrugged again. “if you say so. i’ll get going. someone i know is bound to arrive soon” he turned his head in direction of the Ruins in the distance “or maybe not. things have been weird for a while”

“...what do you mean?”

“i don’t know. it’s the little details. people act differently...the machine’s report looks more anomalous than usual...someone who didn’t seem to exist in any other timeline suddenly appears out of the blue...” Sans‘ eyes didn’t dim, but underneath the lackadaisical tone there was something that sounded much more serious, a clear warning: ‘Try not to cause trouble’. Syphus gulped. “relax, bud, i’m not naming names”

How does one reply to that? Hurrying to deny anything would just make him look more suspicious, and saying ‘really?’ or any other noncommittal answer didn’t sound convincing. Syphus didn’t even have time to think it further, Sans turned around, waving without looking back. “have fun” he said, walking away and leaving Syphus rather alarmed. It had been a short conversation, but it had been enough to leave Syphus rattled, even more when in a blink Sans, who had walked away some distance, simply vanished. Syphus blinked a few times before turning around and restarting the trek towards Snowdin. Slowly, he stepped forward once, twice, three times before speeding up, running away as fast as he could on the slippery floor.

-ooooo-

It was nice to see that Snowdin didn’t have any guards patrolling around or sentries looking at him with suspicion. It didn’t look any different than how it did in all the other timelines. Maybe despite all the changes so far, Snowdin had been largely unaffected?

That’d be nice, especially since Syphus realized something once he stepped into the town: the journey to Snowdin had been easy...actually, too easy. Other than Sans, there had been no interruptions, and that was a tad worrying. Where were all the puzzles that were supposed to be found along the way?

Syphus walked into Snowdin, looking around with curiosity. It seemed like a rather friendly town! And the few monsters who were outside didn’t pay attention to Syphus, maybe because he had relaxed and wasn’t acting so suspiciously anymore. Syphus strolled around, trying to find any differences from what he knew about the town, but there was simply nothing strange or unusual.

Since the quick stroll through Snowdin revealed nothing useful, Syphus decided to walk to the point where the River Person would be with their boat, or at least that was supposed to be the plan. The River Person wasn’t there. Damn it. How much time did he have left, again? He didn’t even know. It was possible he wouldn’t have time to stroll all the way to New Home. Waiting for the boat could be his best bet for now.

Not wanting to sit on the cold snow for a long while, Syphus backtracked. May as well try to find some basic information, get something to eat...with that in mind he entered the only shop he found. The shopkeeper – a purple bunny monster - attended him immediately, although there didn’t seem to be any food available for the moment.

“Whatever. How’s life going?” if there was someone who would be able to tell him stuff, it’d be a shopkeeper, he guessed.

The bunny leaned on the counter, sighing tiredly. “Life goes as usual: we’re all trapped down here and there’s no way to fix that. I’m already resigned to know I’ll live my whole life without ever going to the Surface”

Syphus looked away. “You don’t have to be so negative! Think positive, who knows what’ll happen in a few years” It was a bit stupid to say that, but since the end goal was to break the Barrier Syphus felt it was appropriate to be encouraging.

The shopkeeper didn’t take kindly to that, though. She frowned and lowered her voice. “Are you listening to yourself? The Barrier won’t shatter for no reason. We’d need seven human SOULs, and we’re nowhere near to having seven SOULs” Good! Syphus didn’t need to push too much to get to what he wanted to talk about.

“How many do we have, again?” he asked, earning a look from the shopkeeper that clearly said ‘are you kidding me?’ Syphus hurried to clarify: “I, uh, I don’t get out much”

After a moment of silence where the shopkeeper seemed unsure of what to say yet clearly didn’t believe the excuse, she shook her head. “Zero SOULs. Even if a human fell down soon, we’d need six more, and I don’t think I’ll live that long” So no humans had fallen down? The shopkeeper continued, sitting down “A long time ago a human fell down here. It all was okay for a couple years, but then they died, and...and so did our prince” she said. Syphus had gone inexpressive, simply listening grimly. Since her interlocutor didn’t seem willing to say anything, she kept going “It’s a long story. My point is that one would think that since one human fell down here, many others would fall too, right?

But it hasn’t happened! It has been 150 years and no other human has fallen here. King Asgore doesn’t give up, though. Since he declared war he has expanded the Royal Guard, there’s no way a human will go unnoticed when one finally falls down here”

“Don’t you feel bad for the human who will be killed?”

The shopkeeper grimaced. “Do you want me to be completely honest?” Syphus nodded, so she sighed “I do. I’d rather this to be solved some other way, but Asgore isn’t going to give up. Not even the Queen leaving the castle made him change his mind”

“She didn’t abdicate?”

“Why would she? It’s true she has been living in the Ruins, but she’s still our Queen. The amount of people who go to the Ruins to seek her help would leave you astonished” the shopkeeper returned to the original topic “Even if I don’t like the war, he’s going to fight the humans and get their SOULs.

Besides...it’s for the better, right? It’s for a good cause...” she didn’t look convinced at all. To Syphus it sounded more like she was telling that to herself as a way to excuse the death those humans would suffer, but didn’t work very well.

“There must be some other way to break the Barrier...”

“I don’t know. The Royal Scientist is supposedly working on that, but most people haven’t heard about her in a while. I hope she’s working hard” the shopkeeper smiled bitterly “Not that it matters right now. Without humans, this war doesn’t make any sense”

-ooooo-

When Syphus returned to the river, the River Person was already there. Syphus got on the boat, grabbing the wood of the seat as if his life depended on it. “Tra la la...have you never been on a boat before?”

“N-N-No-Not by myself...” Syphus smiled weakly, looking more as if he was about to pass out.

As soon as Syphus was seated, the boat rose and started to run on the surface of the water, making it shake wildly, making Syphus grasp the edges of the boat to the point the wood started to creak underneath his fingers. Thankfully, the ride to Hotland went without a hitch, although when Syphus got off the boat he immediately threw himself on the ground, taking a moment to compose himself before going any further. Why couldn’t it be a simple and normal boat?!

Once Syphus was sure his legs had stopped shaking and he wasn’t going to break down in panic at the slightest rumbling of the ground, he stood up and started his way towards New Home. It was a rather short trek, and along the way Syphus was able to see there were no notorious changes, other than the presence of several guards more than there should have been. The laboratory was still there, towering over everything and completely closed. So not many have seen the Royal Scientist in a while...so far, that’s normal. What could Alphys be doing to break the Barrier if there were no human SOULs? For a moment he considered knocking and trying to find out, but instead he continued his original objective. Besides, it wasn’t guaranteed Alphys was the Royal Scientist.

Not too far from there was another building, the place from where Syphus intended to arrive to New Home: the MTT Resort. It looked as lavish and outrageously flashy as usual. Mettaton still exists? Well, I guess things haven’t changed that much. Syphus thought while he entered. The first thing he noticed was the large fountain in middle of the lobby, featuring a large stone block that resembled Mettaton’s rectangular form. It wasn’t broken and spilling water onto the floor like he thought it’d be, though. It was breathtaking, perfectly placed and gushing water high into the air. Flashy, bombastic, and completely unnecessary: there was no doubt, Mettaton had a hand on that. “Wow...”

“Impressive, isn’t it?”

While Syphus had been staring at the fountain, an angular monster had approached him. “Welcome to MTT Resort! We pride ourselves of this fountain!” Without waiting for Syphus to reply, he turned towards it “The Royal Guards came and helped to put it in place. We needed ten of them to make sure it wouldn’t crash and fall!”

“Really?” Syphus blinked, a bit surprised.

“Really! Queen Toriel supervised the job. She has the Royal Guard under her orders, I’d say!”

“Yeah, someone like her would—wait what?” Now that was something he hadn’t expected “I thought King Asgore was the one in charge! Other than the captain, of course, but I thought...”

The angular receptionist chuckled, amused “Undyne may be the captain, but it’s called the Royal Guard for a reason. You know what I think?” he leaned closer, making Syphus step away to avoid the sharp angles the monster had “I think the Royal Guard is rather divided. Everyone is loyal to both Queen Toriel and King Asgore, but some prefer one more than the other...”

“Why’s that?”

“King Asgore declared war on humanity and Queen Toriel didn’t like that. Some agree with the queen; others think getting the human SOULs is a necessary evil...it’s complicated”

So that was why Toriel was still the Queen despite living in the Ruins? To keep some influence on the Royal Guard? The angular receptionist, not noticing Syphus had gone silent, said something else:

“The queen didn’t leave the castle when Asgore made the war declaration” he said. That got Syphus to pay more attention “I heard she left a couple decades after the declaration...do you think they fought?”

“Uuuuh...”

“It’s a shame, they were such a lovey-dovey couple...I heard they used to be the champions at...” while the receptionist rambled about a nose-nuzzling contest and how the king and queen used to win those all the time, Syphus stepped away towards the elevator, leaving the receptionist talking alone. That didn’t make sense at all, if Toriel had left because of the declaration then she would have left immediately. What happened, then?

The ride in the elevator went fine, leaving Syphus near the entrance of the New Home castle. The large doors were wide open, letting any passerby to come in. Syphus entered the castle, finding the humongous halls and rooms devoid of any people. The castle wasn’t that large, but it’d take a while to find the way towards the throne room and the Barrier...besides, there was always a chance of encountering Asgore, and to be frank, Syphus wanted to avoid him.

Walking through the empty hallways was both calming and daunting. During the walk Syphus took a few deep breaths and thought about everything he had found out since Snowdin. So far, it seemed that finding out exactly what happened between Toriel and Asgore was necessary to know what exactly he was dealing with in this strange timeline, but barring a direct questioning to any of them, it was unlikely he’d find out a precise answer.

After a while, Syphus found a rather notable golden hallway. Somehow, light poured through the large stained glass windows, illuminating it brightly. Syphus had the curious sensation he was being watched, although there was no one nearby. Awestruck, the man traversed the hallway to the end, reaching the throne room. Here we go...if Asgore is inside, I’ll come back later he promised himself before grabbing onto the stone doorway and peering inside with caution.

There was no one inside the throne room.

There were two thrones placed in the center of the room, surrounded by lots and lots of golden flowers. Vines and plans covered the walls, growing lush and giving the throne room a very calming atmosphere. It all looked like it was all taken care with a lot of love, just like expected from Asgore. Seeing the coast was clear, Syphus stepped in, being careful not to step on the flowers too much. Behind the thrones there was a stone arch, leading into a dark passageway Syphus knew very well where it led.

It didn’t take long to reach the Barrier. Right at the end of the cavern, at the way out of the Underground, there was a wall. It looked like a bubble had been crammed into the mouth of the cave, but unlike a bubble, the Barrier felt solid and unyielding. Syphus slowly touched it, moving his hand from side to side. There was no mistake, shattering that thing was going to be a lot of work. It all looked as resistant and strong as it must have been the day it was made, whatever magic formed it showed no signs of weakening.

The enormity of the task once again threatened to overwhelm Syphus. Fighting to keep away such thoughts, Syphus returned to what he had come here for. He slowly walked back for a bit, looking at the stone floor for any marks or anything that could indicate there was something underneath the rocky ground. There was absolutely nothing. Despite it all being made of rocks, the ground felt smooth. Syphus got on all four, passing his hands all over the floor as if he expected to find anything, but there simply wasn’t anything to be found! Hitting the ground with his fist didn’t do anything other than hurting himself, too. Damn it, there must be a way to take a look... It wasn’t even certain he was looking at the right point. There was just too much space in the tunnel to be able to find it.

Starting to grow frustrated, Syphus took out the flimsy halberd out of his jacket and extended it, prodding the ground with the dull spike, achieving absolutely nothing useful. The rocks didn’t even chip away; it was useless to continue. “I can’t. I won’t achieve anything being here” Syphus muttered, collapsing the halberd and putting it away. “Now what?” While it was true he had reached the Barrier, the goal had ended being less productive than he thought it’d be. Shaking his head, Syphus leaned against the wall, staring at the Barrier.

“There’s something I must be misunderstanding. There are no SOULs...supposedly, I haven’t seen the empty containers by myself, but if there are no SOULs then it means no humans have fallen down here.

...no, that’s wrong. It just means no humans have been killed. It doesn’t mean no one has fallen down here” Syphus narrowed his eyes “If the humans have fallen down, then what happened to those humans?” It was no proof of anything, but the purpose of this game and timeline was to finally achieve an ending where everyone would be alive, as impossible as that sounded. That should mean all the humans were alive.

It took him a while, but maybe...maybe he already had a valuable hint and he hadn’t realized it? “It took Toriel twenty years to decide to go to the Ruins. What if the reason she left the castle but didn’t stop being a queen was related to a human falling into the Underground?

Could it be...Toriel knows about the six humans? Has she been protecting them?” Syphus closed his eyes, rubbing his temples. There was no way Toriel was going to answer with honesty if he went ahead and asked that. Then the best possible plan would be to find the answers himself, wouldn’t it? There had to be something, anything that could indicate if there were humans hiding somewhere in the Underground, whether it was under Toriel’s protection or not.

What didn’t mesh well with such thought was the unused empty children’s bedroom back in the Ruins, though. If human children had been taken in by Toriel then why were there absolutely no signs of them in that room?

If Toriel is hiding humans, then it’s likely they’re in the Ruins. Better get going, I guess. It was going to get tiring to go from side to side of the Underground all the time. After making a SAVE point, just in case, Syphus left the Barrier, hoping the River Person still was in Hotland.

Chapter Text

Toriel wasn’t at home when Syphus returned, but it wasn’t empty. It seemed that during the couple hours Syphus had been away several Royal Guard members had gathered in Toriel’s house, taking off their helmets and armor. Several of the guards were prepared to leave, while others had come to the house for refreshments and food, provided by the queen and left in the kitchen. As soon as Syphus ascended up the stairs, many heads turned towards him, but since he was just a monster more, as far as they were concerned, soon no one was paying him attention. Not that it made Syphus feel any better: exploring the house and looking for clues was going to be impossible with all those guards around.

If I can’t force my way in, then the next best option is to talk with whoever is available around here, I guess. There was a guard preparing to go out through the entrance door, if Syphus wanted to talk, then it was going to need to be done right now. Syphus approached and opened his mouth, but the guard saw him first.

“Hey! You’re the guy who was snooping where you shouldn’t be!”

Despite the words themselves, Royal Guard 047 didn’t seem particularly pissed off. Without the helmet Syphus could see it was some sort of monster that seemed to be made of clay, without any special features. He looked more like a blank clay mannequin than anything else. Royal Guard 047 waved from the entrance. “You going to try to sneak behind the fence again?”

A bit abashed by being remembered as the guy who was in places forbidden to everyone else, Syphus hurried to go outside, getting ahead of the guard. After donning the helmet, the guard followed him. “You’re not pissed off because I told you to go away from the fence, are you?”

“...no, of course not. You were doing your job” To be completely honest Syphus did feel a bit of rancor over that, but he wasn’t going to take it out on someone who was just doing his job “What’s so special about that place, anyway?”

“You don’t know? And here I thought I was the one who lived under a rock” Royal Guard 47 took his sword, putting it over his shoulder “That’s where the human child is buried. You must be rather young to not to know about it”

If Toriel was busy, the next best person to find out if there were humans somewhere around in the Ruins would be the guards, supposing they agreed with Toriel. How to touch the topic? “Do you think humans have gotten in here somehow?” Better to be direct, he guessed.

“How should I know? I don’t even know how a human looks like. They could be living right under our noses and we wouldn’t even know” at least the guard sounded like it wasn’t something he disliked the thought of “I wouldn’t mind seeing a human...Queen Toriel says they’re not violent and spiteful like we think they are, but I’m not entirely convinced”

“They can’t be as bad as people say” Syphus muttered.

“Yeah, right. I’m just a new recruit, but do you know what I’d do if a human came by and tried to kill me?” the guard raised his sword, grasping it inexpertly “I’d fight back. I have nothing against humans and I don’t want them to die, but I’m not going to sacrifice myself just to not to hurt them. I know Queen Toriel said to leave it all up to her, but my life is my priority. Don’t tell her I said that”

That seemed fair enough. At least the guard wasn’t going to kill humans as soon as he saw them. Not that Syphus would deactivate the brooch, he wasn’t going to take that risk. “What’ll the queen do if she finds a human?”

The guard’s helmet clinked, Syphus had the feeling he was smiling under the helmet, somehow. “Who knows. The queen is nice, but I have heard she started to change since she left the castle. She...can you keep a secret? I don’t mind talking badly of the Royal Family, but other people aren’t very understanding about it” Syphus nodded, so the guard approached so close he was bumping Syphus with his armor “I think there could be someone inside the locked room in the house. Could be a human”

Syphus’ eyes widened “What?!” Satisfied with the reaction, Royal Guard 47 nodded quickly, looking around to make sure no one was listening “A few months ago I was in the house, waiting for Queen Toriel, when I heard something behind that locked door. It sounded like...like a song, like a little girl singing”

That was unprecedented! Was Toriel keeping human children looked in a small room? Syphus definitely had to force open that door, then. “Are you completely sure of what you’re saying?”

“Completely sure! I have good ears, you know!” the guard raised his voice boisterously for a moment “But it doesn’t mean she’s still in there. Queen Toriel may want to protect humans, but I don’t think she’d go as far as locking them away like that forever”

I know she wouldn’t, but it’s a bit disquieting... Syphus shook his head. “You must be right. Where could humans live, I wonder...?”

“I don’t know if it’s important or not, but I have heard Toriel goes very often to Snowdin. It could be there are humans in disguise living somewhere in the town! What do you think?”

It was actually possible! If monsters didn’t know how humans looked like, it was possible some could live among all them and no one would be the wiser, but there was no way absolutely everyone would be fooled! At least that was a lead. If there were no other clues in the Ruins, then Snowdin Town would be the next best bet. “...you could be right”

“I know, right? I feel bad for humans” the guard said, turning around once Syphus and him reached the fence “Our king wants their SOULs, our queen wants to protect them, and they don’t have a say about any of that”

It was a tough situation, indeed. Syphus decided to go ahead and touch a second topic “I have heard the Royal Guard is rather divided”

The guard grumbled something before nodding. “Practically all the guards in the Ruins support Toriel, but that’s all we can do. If King Asgore took back the war declaration that’d solve everything, but he doesn’t want to” after a moment of silence, the guard positioned himself to the side of the room, planting the tip of his sword on the stone floor “I’m at my job station, so get out of here! Scram!”

“Wait, I’m not—“

“Get going already! You’re going to distract me if you keep standing there”

Good for you, taking your job so seriously... “Okay, I’m leaving!” Syphus raised his hands, stepping back and out of the room. At least there was now the possibility Toriel had been keeping humans inside the locked room, even if it was for a moment. Had guards left Toriel’s house already? Since it was the closest lead right now, Syphus set his sights onto Toriel’s house.

-ooooo-

Indeed, the guards had left, but Toriel was there now, freshly arrived from outside the Ruins. Encouraged by that detail that could really mean she had gone to Snowdin, Syphus went outside without even talking to her. Since the queen was there, it was rather unlikely he’d ever have the chance to break open the locked door and sneak in, so instead Syphus was forced to pounce on the best second lead: scour through Snowdin in the very low chance there were humans around. Not that he was very confident about it. Come on...if the monsters in Snowdin didn’t see any humans in who knows how many decades, how will I find them?!

It was even more complicated because Syphus had absolutely no idea where to start looking first. The trees all around Snowdin showed no signs of anyone or anything going in. When Syphus asked around if anyone had seen the queen passing by, no one was able to give him a meaningful answer. After a while Syphus started doubting asking was going to lead anywhere: if someone knew humans were living around and wanted to keep the secret, obviously they wouldn’t say anything that could lead to them.

Since asking wasn’t going to give anything worthwhile, then a more hands-on approach was going to be needed. That was why Syphus started to peek into the houses. With some luck no one around would notice the weird reptile pressing his face against the glass of the windows!

Most of the houses seemed to be empty, and there was nothing that could indicate who exactly lived in there. Noting it’d be very hard to know if the house belonged to a human or not, Syphus considered stopping doing this dubious method of investigating...after this last house, that is. Syphus approached the window and looked through it. It seemed to be a living room. There was a TV, stairs leading to a second floor...what was that stuff sticking to the wall next to the TV? Sticky notes?

“it’d be nice if you didn’t do that”

Syphus’ shoulders dropped. Of course. He had been way too focused on finding a house where humans could be living he didn’t notice this house belonged to someone he knew. Syphus turned around, stepping away and facing Sans. The skeleton wasn’t alone, though. There was a taller skeleton with him, looking at Syphus with befuddled curiosity.

“Oh! My bad, Sans” Syphus said.

“my bad?”

“Yeah! I was looking for someone. I didn’t know this was your house”

“I SEE! THIS WAS ALL A MISUNDERSTANDING!” the taller skeleton boomed, taking a step forward and gesturing at the house “THIS IS THE HOUSE OF THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AND HIS BROTHER, SANS!”

Right, the skeletons’ house. That could have gone better. “Sorry...I’ll get going”

“WAIT!”

Syphus stopped, and Papyrus reached him in just a couple steps, beaming brightly. “WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? PERHAPS I COULD BE OF HELP!”

“Uh, I don’t think—“

“I KNOW SNOWDIN LIKE THE BACK OF MY HAND!”

“he does. you could use his help”

Somehow, it was rather difficult to say no to someone who was grinning as widely as Papyrus. Syphus sighed, flashing a friendly smile. “I’d like the help. Thanks, guys”

Papyrus pointed at the sky, posing heroically. “FEAR NOT! WE’LL FIND WHOEVER YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” after a pause during which Sans somehow managed to roll the small lights in his eye sockets in an affectionate way towards his brother, Papyrus asked the question: “...WHO DO WE NEED TO FIND?”

“I’ll tell you along the way”

“welp. i’ll wait here, paps. good luck”

“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING, SANS! WE NEED MORE PEOPLE TO SEARCH THROUGH THE TOWN!”

While Papyrus tried to get Sans to join the newly-formed search party, Syphus walked away enough to be able to look at the rest of the town. The more time he spent here, the more doubts he had the humans were anywhere around here. What would he do if he never found the humans? His last hope was to force open the locked bedroom in Toriel’s house, but if that led nowhere, then...then what?

“LOOKS LIKE MY BROTHER WON’T JOIN US. HE SAYS HE HAS TO PICK UP HIS SOCKS RIGHT NOW, WHICH IS A VERY OBVIOUS LIE” Papyrus said, getting to where Syphus was waiting “I THINK HE DOESN’T LIKE YOU”

“...a lot of people don’t like me” Syphus replied dryly. Papyrus and him walked away in direction to the Libraby, while Sans watched from the entrance to his house. Once they were both far away, the skeleton took out a key from his pocket, looking at it with unease.

“what’s taking the kid so long?”

Something was wrong. Spurred by an increasing feeling of doom, Sans stepped away from the door and went around the house, reaching a door in the back. Papyrus knew about the small laboratory under the house, but Sans didn’t feel comfortable with the weird monster knowing about it too. That guy with the feathers and the jacket was going to be troublesome, he knew it, but he wasn’t sure to what extent. Mulling about it, Sans opened the door, locked it behind him and descended the stairs to the table, opening one of the drawers.

There was a photo in there, a photo from the surface. In it there was Sans, Papyrus, the king, the queen, Undyne, and Alphys. It was certainly an unusual group – Sans guessed the king was here because Undyne had brought him, but he wasn’t sure why the queen was here. She was nice and all, but she had never seemed the approachable type, always in the Ruins. Sans had never crossed a single word with her.

There was a seventh person in the photo, though: a human child. They seemed...they seemed happy. It was hard to tell with such a neutral expression, but something in their eyes made Sans think they were happy. Sans didn’t even know their name, but they felt the child was very important in some way. They were most likely the reason why the photo existed in the first place.

Shaking his head slightly at how things seemed so clear yet so murky at the same time, Sans turned the photo around to see the short line, written with his penmanship. It was a line he was sure he had never written...at least not in this timeline.

‘the kid falls down at xx:xx—‘

Sans looked at the clock. It was half an hour after the time indicated there. It was unlikely the human child would not fall down, that’s something that had happened in every other timeline in existence, or at least he supposed. There had to be some sort of cataclysmic change to the timeline he was living in. It was suspicious enough when Papyrus stated he wasn’t interested in the Royal Guard anymore – after so much training, after all those puzzles created, a few months before Papyrus told him that – because Sans had no doubt Papyrus wouldn’t quit that dream for no reason, but something as vital as the child falling down into the Underground was a clear sign there was something wrong.

After putting the photograph back into the drawer, Sans went to the machine in the corner of the laboratory. He really disliked seeing it, which is why he kept it covered with a sheet – the machine always brought some rather murky memories he hadn’t fully understood yet – but in times like these he had to force himself to endure such memories and turn on the machine. It was large and clunky, but it worked well.

The screen turned on:

The actual timeline seemed to still be as glitch-prone as usual, but now the point where the timeline seemed to be especially unstable was rather close, way too close. Sans calculated it’d take around one hour before such point finally arrived, and when it did...what would happen? Would reality break down and disappear? That seemed likely.

After taking a look at the compartment on one side of the machine to make sure there weren’t any objects from other timelines inside, Sans left the laboratory. He planned to return here shortly before the big moment and see what happened. Whatever would happen...it didn’t really matter, did it?

After all, no timeline lasted for long. After some point, usually a few weeks from now and the longest one being little more than a year later, every single of the dozens of millions of timelines before the actual one cut off, so no matter what happened or if everything went okay for everyone, in the end it would all be for naught. That was why he could stare at the screen of the machine without any emotions beyond a scientific interest. If the timeline broke down in one hour and everyone died horribly...well, so what?

Better now than later.

-ooooo-

It couldn’t be denied Papyrus was rather thorough.

As soon as Papyrus and Syphus walked away, Papyrus asked the vital question: “SO! WHO ARE WE LOOKING FOR?” ...well, crap. That was something Syphus himself had no idea how to answer, despite knowing how they looked like in the original timeline. What age were they? Did they look exactly the same? There were way too many variables, and he didn’t even know what they were wearing....no...that wasn’t true. There was something Syphus could count on.

Syphus asked Papyrus to look for someone who owned or was wearing a cowboy hat.  That was unique enough, so random monsters wouldn’t own one, and he knew one of the six humans was likely to have it with them when they arrived to the Underground.

Papyrus started to search everywhere, and in a much less subtle way than Syphus had done, Papyrus didn’t hesitate to ask around while Syphus stayed in the background, sighing into his hands, chagrinned. So much for subtlety regarding the humans. ‘EXCUSE ME! HAVE YOU SEEN A COWBOY HAT SOMEWHERE?” All responses were negative. Since asking didn’t work, Papyrus started searching around the houses, in the trash, among the trees.

After some time, Papyrus got off one of the many trees he had gotten onto, landing right beside Syphus. “HOW COULD THIS BE? I DIDN’T FIND THE PERSON YOU’RE LOOKING FOR”

“It’s fine. Thanks for trying” Syphus said with a small smile. He really was thankful Papyrus had tried to help, but it was to be expected it wouldn’t be easy.

“DON’T GIVE UP YET, SYPHUS!” Papyrus snapped his fingers despite his thick gloves “I GOT IT! TELL ME SOMETHING ELSE ABOUT THEM”

“S-Something else?”

“ANYTHING!”

After a moment of doubt, Syphus decided to take a leap of faith, anything was better than not progressing at all. “Have you ever seen a human?”

“A HUM—OH!” At that moment it was as if something changed in Papyrus. He went still, caught off-guard by the question, before slowly closing his jaw, looking around with nervousness. “A HUMAN? RIGHT. A HUMAN. WELL...IT COULD BE POSSIBLE...I HAVE SEEN SOMEONE HUMAN-Y BEFORE”

Now that was rather unfitting. Papyrus had showed to be rather excited about humans in practically every other timeline, his reaction right now didn’t mesh at all with that data. “Really?”

“BUT I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY ARE RIGHT NOW” Papyrus hurried to add “IT PAINS ME TO DISAPPOINT A POTENTIAL NEW FRIEND, BUT I KNOW NOTHING”

Syphus looked at him askance “Are you sure?”

“COMPLETELY SURE! IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN SOMETHING HUMAN. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A GERBIL. OR A ROCK”

Sure it wasn’t a human, buster. “Okay, fine” Syphus shivered, why was there snow in the Underground, seriously? “Thanks for helping me search. At least you stopped me from creeping into other people’s houses like before”

Papyrus’ usual cheerful attitude returned immediately. “NYEH HEH HEH! OF COURSE! IF YOU EVER NEED MORE HELP YOU CAN TELL ME. I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WILL LEND YOU A HAND ANYWHERE, ANYTIME” and there was no doubt Papyrus meant every single word of that. Syphus wasn’t sure he’d have the need to ask for help again, but it was nice to know there was someone he could count on.

Besides, how could one say no to someone who was willing to give one support unconditionally?

 

You sense Papyrus’ sincere friendliness.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Papyrus

 

Something about Papyrus’ offer made Syphus feel warm and fuzzy, and it was likely it wasn’t just because of the recently formed Social Link. Papyrus could be a bit overbearing, with his loud voice and extremely energetic mannerisms, but it was hard to hold it against him when he wanted to lend a hand. “Thanks, Papyrus”

“AND NOW, I SHALL LEAVE! I BET SANS IS TAKING ONE OF HIS MANY NAPS NOW THAT I‘M NOT AT HOME. COME BY TO VISIT ANYTIME, SYPHUS!” and with that, Papyrus walked away, practically gliding over the snow in direction to his house. It was a somewhat productive hour, if only because a Social Link was created. It’d be more useful if I understood what these links are for, seriously.

But at least now he also knew it was rather unlikely there were any humans hiding in Snowdin. It wasn’t much, but it was a tiny bit of progress. Since one of the two options had now been cleared, it could be good to check the other, see if it was true Toriel was hiding a human in that locked—“

“Yo! Mister!”

Biting back a remark about how busy he was, Syphus turned around to see who was calling for him. The voice had sounded rather young, and indeed, it was a child, resembling some kind of ochre armless reptile, wearing a striped shirt. Syphus’ expression softened while he crouched to talk at eye-level with the monster child. “What is it?”

“You were looking for someone wearing a cowboy hat, right?” the kid asked, their tail swinging slightly.

“Yes, what about it?” he said in his most patience voice.

“Yo, I know someone like that!”

That was it! Although it was far from confirmed and it could be anyone that wasn’t a human, Syphus’ heart immediately jumped to his throat. “W-Where...?”

“In Waterfall! She and I play there every day. I could take you there if you want!”

It was a long shot; he couldn’t deny it could very well be absolutely nothing useful...but he couldn’t just ignore that.  Shaking away the snow from his boots, Syphus nodded and pushed aside any kind of anxiousness or impatience he could have shown. “Lead the way, kid”

“Follow me!” the Monster Kid trotted away without even turning to check if Syphus was keeping the pace. It shouldn’t be that hard. Waterfall wasn’t a difficult place to traverse, as long as one knew exactly where to go and where to step. Syphus ran behind Monster Kid, managing to stay near, although he wasn’t as fast as the kid running ahead.

A lead as good as any, I suppose!

-ooooo-

Being asked like that if he had seen a human had taken him off-guard. Papyrus was perfectly capable of lying if the situation required it, although he really disliked doing that, but the question had come so suddenly he didn’t have time to prepare himself to lie. Luckily, it seemed his new friend had believed him! Another everyday victory for the Great Papyrus!

But there was something else he had to do. Papyrus quickly returned home, managing to run on over the snow without losing his footing not even once. The skeleton ran past his house until he reached a shed that was right to the side. Usually that shed was locked to prevent anyone from going inside. In the past it was a pen of sorts to keep any human he captured until he could take them to New Home, but since he had renounced to the Royal Guard he had dismantled the pen. Now it had a different use.

Papyrus knocked on the door three, four times and stopped, waiting for a moment before doing it again. It was the agreed signal for the person inside to not to panic. Right after finishing the knock, Papyrus took out the key of the shed and opened the door, stepping inside. “I’M BACK!”

The inside of the shed had been refurnished into a makeshift shelter of sorts. There was a fort of blankets and pillows in a corner of the room, barely large enough for Papyrus to fit in. That was all one could see from the door, so Papyrus stepped further in, until the rest of the inside of the room could be seen.

A shelf filled with books about puzzles had been placed there, most of those books taken out and opened all over the place. Countless sheets of paper littered the floor, all of them with complicated diagrams, apparently puzzles created by Papyrus and his guest. In a side there was a desk, where a single notebook was wide open, lines and diagrams filling its pages, and sitting right in front of it, was a human adult. A man, to be more precise, wearing a robe, and a shawl over it. His skin was horrifically pale, with faint bluish veins visible underneath, but his face and arms were covered with a makeup that resembled fur...as long as one saw it from rather far away. From up-close it looked more like he had faceplanted into a puddle of half-dried dark purple paint.

Ciruel turned his head around, adjusting his large glasses. “Paps, I thought you’d be away for longe—“

“I BRING BAD NEWS! SOMEONE IS LOOKING FOR YOU” Papyrus announced, holding the door with his back as if he feared Syphus was going to burst through it at any moment. That got the man to stand up immediately, picking up a headband with large antlers glued onto it. “Who is it?”

“SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO CAPTURE YOU!”

 Ciruel grimaced, putting on the headband “Damn it! Where are they?”

“HE WAS NEAR GRILLBY’S. HERE, LET ME HELP YOU!” Papyrus randomly picked up a few of the books and put it all inside a nearby empty backpack, immediately hanging it onto Ciruel’s neck and making the man fall to the floor.

“Oof! T-Thanks, Paps...”

“I’LL PERFORM MY ROLE AS DISTRACTOR NOW! WAIT UNTIL THE COAST IS CLEAR AND THEN” Papyrus raised a finger “THEN YOU SHALL RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”

“Understood. You give me the signal, Paps” Ciruel positioned himself beside to the door, putting his glasses away. This was going to be a long run towards Waterfall, but it was going to be necessary if someone was starting to suspect he was here. Damn it, what did he do wrong? He was sure he had managed to come here during the last few months without raising any suspicions! Maybe he should stay in the Hidden Village for a while.

Papyrus opened the door, intending to go outside and make sure there was no one in the way and Ciruel would be able to get out safely, but the skeleton barely had time to peek outside when he slammed the door closed, yelping loudly and once again holding the door with his body, ready for any onslaught that could come anytime now. “TOO LATE! HE’S HERE!”

“Where did I go wrong?!” Ciruel went to the other end of the shed, uselessly hiding beside the desk. It was all over. He was going to get caught and sent to Asgore, he was going to die and get his SOUL used to break the Barrier, oh god, was it true the king had a trident, that was going to hurt—

Papyrus, unaware to the thoughts that were crossing through his friend’s head, listened outside. It was faint, but he heard Syphus’ voice while he passed running in front of the shed. ‘...unning so fast...I’m not exactly young, you kn...!” the voice faded in the distance. After a moment of silence, Papyrus relaxed, slumping on the floor.

“I THINK HE WENT AWAY”

Ciruel peered from behind the wall. “Who is it, anyways?”

“IT’S MY NEW FRIEND! HE’S GOING TO WATERFALL RIGHT NOW. I SHALL FOLLOW HIM” Papyrus aligned himself with the already broken window, still unrepaired from a dynamic exit earlier in the day.

“No!” Ciruel shouted, not wanting to deal with more glass “Just leave him alone. If he’s going to Waterfall I’ll just wait here for now” and so the matter was settled. Even if there were monsters trying to find the Hidden Village, Ciruel was reasonably sure they wouldn’t find it at all. Only Toriel and the rest of the humans would know how to get in there, and there was no way the queen that had gotten them all in there in the first place would spill the beans and allow anyone to find it. The rest of the humans knew keeping the village’s location secret was vital for their survival, too.

That ‘new friend’ Papyrus had could try as much as he wanted, he wouldn’t find it.

After a moment of silence where Ciruel had the time to take off the headband and sit again to the desk, Papyrus stood up, getting closer. “...I DON’T LIKE IT”

“You don’t like what?”

“HAVING TO LEAVE YOU HIDING HERE. FRIEND, YOU SHOULD BE OUTSIDE, HAVING FUN AND EXPLORING THE TOWN! NOT HIDING HERE”

“You know the situation doesn’t allow me to do that, Paps—“

“I KNOW! I WANT TO DO SOMETHING” Papyrus declared “I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE MY FRIEND IN MY SHED”

Ciruel frowned. This discussion with Papyrus was rather commonplace. The skeleton had been rather excited when they had met for the first time – despite his attempts to capture Ciruel and use him to enter to the Royal Guard - but after some time, and after Papyrus proposed to use the shed as a base of sorts for them to meet and share their common interests with each other, such friendship had always argued because of one point: the need of having to lock the shed with Ciruel inside.

So Ciruel did the same he always did: rehash the argument. “Paps...we have to do it. I don’t like it either, but you risk someone entering here and finding me if you don’t lock the shed, and you can’t stay here forever, too. You have a life out there”

“BUT...THERE MUST BE SOMETHING WE CAN DO!”

“There’s nothing we can do. You tried to talk with the king, and it led nowhere”

YOU SHOULD TALK WITH THE KING! HE’S A GOOD GUY, HE’LL LISTEN TO YOU!”

“...a good guy? He wants to kill me and use my SOUL! Would a good person do that?!” Ciruel shouted, turning around to glare for a moment before sighing. This wasn’t Papyrus’ fault, shouting at him solved nothing “I don’t want to risk it, Paps...I don’t want to get killed”

That was how the discussion almost always went. Ciruel really liked to come to Snowdin and visit Papyrus, but at times like this...it was tiring. That’s why this time he decided to add something else, something he felt Papyrus should know. “Papyrus, thank you for being my friend”

“EH?”

“Thank you for letting me come here” Ciruel murmured “Thank you for doing puzzles with me, and for telling me so much about the Underground. Thank you for...for being like you are”

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO THANK ME! EVERYBODY NEEDS FRIENDS”

“No, I really needed it. These twenty-six years I have spent down here have been a nightmare. Having to live in such a small part of the Underground, and always having to fear slipping and someone finding out I’m human, I hate all that.

Coming here and spending time with you is literally the only good thing there’s in my life. Thank you”

Papyrus emitted a sound like a particularly excitable puppy, and put his hand on Ciruel’s shoulder. “I’LL BE YOUR SUPPORTIVE FRIEND ANYTIME!”

“Nice” Ciruel opened his notebook, feeling the joints of his fingers stiffen momentarily and painfully. Almost three decades without any sunlight had taken a toll on his body, and his was a rather mild case. The humans who had been around for longer were much worse. The oldest one, in particular...she had been almost a century without any sunlight. It was a miracle she still had hair on her head, but other than that, she looked extremely frail.

If it weren’t because the magic in the food helped to keep their health at an acceptable level, they’d all be much worse.

“You should get going” Ciruel said “I’ll stay here for an hour more. There are a few details I want to tweak before I show you this riddle”

“ALRIGHT! I’LL BE AT MY HOUSE”

“Oh, and Paps?”

“YES?”

Ciruel smiled warmly “This time try to leave through the door, okay?”

Chapter Text

Compared to Snowdin, Waterfall was positively warm. Not that it meant much, when one place was snow and the other one was rather humid, but at least it made it a bit easier to run. No more having freezing air in your face.

The kid guiding Syphus was full of energy, and although Monster Kid fell down on his face a couple times during the trek, Syphus barely had time to reach it every time before Monster Kid bolted again. The kid simply stopped for a second, looked around, shouted something and started running again. It was a simple process, and it was exactly because of how simple it was that Syphus wasn’t able to get Monster Kid to stop for a moment. Or maybe it was more because of how much his lungs were burning when running, not even letting him get the kid to stop. Syphus really wasn’t in conditions to be running for so long.

Monster Kid had more than enough air in his lungs to talk loudly while running, though: “It’s this way!” he’d say, after looking at a crossroads. Are you sure you know where we’re going?

“It’s in this place full of water. It’s nearby!” he’d shout, wading through a shallow puddle. You must be joking! Water in Waterfall?

“We play almost every day. I want to take her to see Undyne” he’d inform, managing to climb a ledge despite the lack of arms. She doesn’t want to go, right?

“But she doesn’t want to see Undyne. I’m sure if she met her she’d be her fan too!” he’d pout, crossing a bridge. I doubt it.

Monster Kid finally stopped after the bridge, pacing around while trying to orientate himself. While he was doing that, Syphus finally managed to reach him, panting and gasping for breath desperately. “A...Are...Are you s-sure...you know where...where we’re going?”

“I’m sure! Yes. Kinda. Maybe?” Monster Kid smiled sheepishly, slowly stopping his pacing “Yo, Waterfall is a big place...”

“Don’t look at me, kid...I know much less than you...about where to go”

“Let me see around again” Monster Kid walked around again, looking at every available path with attention. The place they were at right now showed a lot of different paths. Some went into dark caves, going deeper into Waterfall. Others went along the walls and ascended through cliffs and crevices, leading upwards and to places at the top of the waterfalls. There was also a bridge that crossed over a rather large chasm, and underneath it piles of garbage could be seen, brought by the water and piled in the bottom of the chasm. Finally, a few paths more were filled with very tall grass, much taller than Syphus.

How to know where to go? Monster Kid chuckled nervously before returning to Syphus. “Yo, I...I think we took a wrong turn somewhere”

“...did we.”

“I’m sorry, I thought I knew the path already” he confessed, sitting nearby. Syphus, still, hunched over and with his hands on his knees, shook his head. Of course. Of course things wouldn’t be easy. Of course more of these petty obstacles would get in his way. Of course the moment he felt he as one step closer to finally getting somewhere, it’d be like he was pulled from the nape of his neck back to square one.

It was so frustrating to know that. How was he expected to achieve anything when this happened? Surely right in this moment Lucia was sitting nearby in the tea parlor back at her manor, laughing her sides off at Syphus’ lack of success, while Sisyphus sweated bullets and stared at the game board until his eyes bulged, wondering how to direct his piece now. Everything had to be difficult, didn’t it?! Stupid witches, stupid game, stupid Waterfall, stupid humans who had to hide so damn well!

But Syphus didn’t have the heart to blame Monster Kid. Syphus was rather fond of children, monsters or not. Mustering his kindest smile, Syphus almost petted Monster Kid’s head before remembering he really shouldn’t touch or let anyone touch him. “It’s okay. I don’t mind”

“Really?”

“Really. I have never been in Waterfall before, so it’s good to have a guide” Syphus lied, still smiling “Besides we can always go back a bit and try again. We’re not that lost”

“Yeah...yeah! You’re right! We came this way” Monster Kid stood up and returned to the path they had come from, but before Syphus could stand and go with him, the child ran back. “Yo, wait! I think I remember now. We need to go that way” he pointed with his tail towards one of the corridors with tall grass “We need to walk until we find a lot of that shiny blue water”

“...are you sure about that?”

“Yeah! I’m sure. And if it’s wrong we can return here, you said it” his eyes were sparkling with excitement. Exploring Waterfall was always fun, and although this monster he was taking around was a bit old to be jumping around with him, it wasn’t deterring him from being happy about it all. His panache was contagious, and soon Syphus found himself standing up with renewed energy.

“Alright. Once again you’ll lead the way, kid!”

“Follow me!” and there he went, getting into the tall grass. I like this kid, he has guts and enthusiasm. Syphus mulled, making a SAVE point. Better be safe and sorry. If they got lost again, Syphus intended to return to this point and convince Monster Kid to pick another path. Anything better than waste the rest of the day lost in Waterfall, he guessed.

“Mister! Over here!” Monster Kid’s voice sounded from somewhere on the other side of the tall grass, so Syphus went in, spreading apart the weeds with his hands. The grass was rather noisy, and he literally couldn’t see anything other than the growing plants. The ground he was stepping on was moist and he could feel his boots sinking down to his ankles in the mud. Syphus lifted one foot forward, grabbing onto the grass for support, and stepped, squelching sounds each time. It was a tiring process that slowed him down more than before.

“Hey! Wait for me!” Syphus shouted, trying to get his guide’s attention and wondering how exactly Monster Kid managed to get through here without any trouble. There was no response, which made Syphus hurry up. After a few minutes Syphus finally managed to get to the other side of the tall grass, tripping at the last moment and falling on his back on the ground. In the ceiling, sparkly stones shone, like stars in a pitch black sky. The sound of the waterfalls reverberated everywhere. Syphus managed to support himself on his elbows and looked around.

He had arrived at another crossroads. “Kid! Can you hear me?” Syphus yelled, the echo of his voice getting rather far away. There was still no response. Fearing he had been left behind, Syphus chose the nearest path and walked in briskly, from time to time calling for Monster Kid.

Syphus knew he had made a SAVE point, but it was possible Monster Kid really had managed to get to the place he had wanted to show him, in which case going back and convincing him to not to go through the tall grass was a risk he wasn’t sure he wanted to take, and if the tall grass was the correct path, then it was unlikely he’d be able to cross through there any faster. As he saw it, it was worth it to try to find him before returning back to the SAVE point.

The road was sloped upwards, following the wall in a spiral that went higher and higher along the wall. The chamber he was in was shaped like a dome, the ceiling covered in rather ominous stalactites, as if those were about to fall on Syphus in any moment. The incessant noise of dripping water echoed around Waterfall. It felt as if he was alone in the Underground, walking without anything else other than his own thoughts.

At the end of the spiral the path went deeper into Waterfall. Along the way there were many rather eye-catching places. Pools of bright cyan water, glowing intensely. Torrents of water flowing through the floor. Fields of tall blue flowers, somehow saying stuff said by people who had gone through there before. It would have been a rather nice stroll if it wasn’t because Syphus wasn’t paying attention to any of that. The more he walked, the less patience he had. Monster Kid still didn’t reply to any of his shouting, and Syphus felt it was likely he had gotten farther away from his guide.

Damn it. How much time do I have left...?

The path evened out. Syphus had arrived to a riverbed, recently dried, judging by the slippery rocks littering the place. The riverbed ended in a large cliff, leading into a hole Syphus had no idea how deep it was. Scowling, Syphus walked forward. “Okay, that’s enough. I’m going back” he mumbled, closing his eyes and starting to gather the resolve and determination needed to return to a point in the past.

He had barely started when the headache struck, breaking his concentration. His vision started to fade while the nausea settled in, he was so dizzy he couldn’t even see his own hands in front of his face. Feeling as if something had punched him in the gut, Syphus stumbled forward, trying his best not to throw up. The headache pulsed through his head. Syphus...the piece blinked, attempting to focus his eyes. W-What...? He could see two places at the same time, blurring and mixing in front of him. A bright tea parlor, a dark cavern, both seemed to exist at once, although the atmosphere indicated he was in Waterfall.

Syphus felt something viscous dripping down his arms and back. It felt as if he was melting, disappearing from the world, in a way. “Make it stop...someone...make it stop!” he begged, grabbing his head, his vision clouding. Behind him, footsteps made of ink were left into the ground, quickly drying and vanishing.

After a moment of confusion, the headache started to diminish, although the nausea was still there. Syphus slowly stepped forward, not noticing how far he had strayed from the center of the road. He placed his foot wrongly on the rock in front of him, slipping and losing his balance. “Gah!” Syphus gasped, trying to balance himself with his arms, but he was way too disoriented to be able to do it, and the weight of the halberd blade in his jacket also helped to make him tilt way too much towards the wrong side.

And he fell. Syphus fell over the edge of the cliff, plummeting into the abyss, and as soon as that happened, the very first thought that crossed his mind was: How deep is this chasm?

The fact he had been falling for several seconds already meant he was unlikely to survive, but Syphus was feeling frustrated for other reasons. What a chump, he slipped on the wet rocks while traversing Waterfall, lost his balance and fell over the edge of the cliff! In the big scheme of things, this was no more than an inconvenience, but it was a stupid death nonetheless...at least he had made a SAVE point before. He wouldn’t lose that much progress.

So now what?

He didn’t have time to answer that question to himself before he hit the water.

-ooooo-

“...stop staring blankly into space like that?!”

Sisyphus blinked several times, trying to orientate himself. Yes, he was in the tea parlor. The board was right in front of him, on the table, prepared for the game. “...I...sorry, Lucia, I’m not used to dealing with a piece like this”

Lucia pursed her lips, shaking her head. “I hope you get used to it very soon. There’s no time left”

“What? Already? It has been half an hour!”

“I told you there wasn’t much time. He’ll be arriving in any moment now”

Sisyphus sighed. It was nice while it lasted. The closer the deadline was, the more nervous he felt. Could he really help direct the timeline towards a good ending? “...okay. I suppose I was able to take a good look at the board. Tell me something, though:

Are the humans alive? Are...are my friends alive?”

The witch tilted her head, playing with her hair. “Would it make you feel better if I used the red truth to answer you?”

“That’d be nice” that was better than he had expected! Lucia nodded and got more comfortable in her chair beside Sisyphus before answering with the red truth, like promised:

Nice. There was no way that could be false. If the six humans were all alive and hidden somewhere in the Underground, then this could really be the timeline he had been trying to create for so long. A bit encouraged, Sisyphus nodded and got closer to the board.

There was something about Sisyphus that made Lucia be unsure of what could happen, though. She had no qualms with messing with worlds or causing deaths, if so she wanted, but after letting Sisyphus live with her for thirty years she couldn’t deny she had a soft spot towards him...at the very least. He wasn’t the most determined person – the only reason why he had been given the SAVE and LOAD skills was because Alphonse intervened and passed it to him – and to be frank he was a bit of an idiot, but he was a friend. Kinda. Almost.

“You do know what’s in risk here, don’t you?” she asked.

“Of course I do. That Igor guy told me all”

“Then you also understand losing the game is not an option”

Sisyphus took off his glasses, cleaning the lenses with a bit more of force than necessary. “I know. You don’t have to remind me”

“Well, rejoice. I have decided to give you a hand” Lucia smirked, raising a finger “I’m going to give you hope”

“...really?”

“And what better hope than giving you a hand? With me at your side, you’re going to triumph. I can’t guarantee it, but at least I’ll make sure this doesn’t end in a complete wipeout...for your opponent”

Sisyphus put on his glasses. “I thought you’d have faith on me”

“I have spent the last thirty years with you, Sisyphus. I know what you’re capable of, and what are your flaws. I think some help would do you some good. Don’t misunderstand me...” Lucia furrowed her brow, a bit obscured by the blindfold “...I’m not in your team. Consider me...an advisor of sorts”

She had a point, it was good to know he’d have some help. Lucia wasn’t exactly a team player, she could get way too competitive and wasn’t afraid of playing dirty, so there was a chance having her on his side would backfire, but if she behaved she could be of use.

Lucia seemed to sense what Sisyphus was thinking. She sighed, surely having a rather condescending look behind that blindfold of hers. “Don’t get me wrong: you’re going to do all the work. I’ll just be your assistant. Hell, I won’t even have a piece on the board.

You’re on your own, it’s just that you will...you will have someone holding your back so you don’t crash and burn. Think of it like that”

Despite the flippant tone, there was a sympathetic facet in her voice. She did mean the part about helping him and supporting him, and even if she wasn’t going to be useful, some encouragement would be nice. It was the least she could do.

 

Lucia has appointed herself as your assistant.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Lucia

 

As soon as that happened, Lucia gasped slightly, frowning. “What the hell...?”

“Uh, Lucia? I think we just established a Social Link”

“But that’s impossible! I shouldn’t be able to be one of your...” Lucia’s voice trailed away while she calmed down, until she finally cleared her throat and smoothed the dress over her knees “A-Anyways...just curiosity, which one am I?”

“The Star arcana. What does it mean?”

“It means things are going to be less predictable than I thought they’d be. Funny...and here I thought watching the game would be a snooze fest” she tilted her head “I thought it was impossible for you to form a Social Link with someone who is not from that universe. Guess I was wrong”

“I know that already! The assistant from the Velvet Room didn’t come from that universe and I got a Social Link with them”

“Is that so?” Lucia was silent for a moment “Anyways, since I’m your assistant now I should start doing my job. Here, allow me give you a tip:

Be more assertive”

“I think I’m rather assertive—“

“No, you aren’t! Look back at all the conversations your piece had. In how many of them your piece started the conversation?” Sisyphus wasn’t even able to answer before Lucia pointed at him with her finger “One! Just one conversation.

You won’t win this game if you go pussyfooting around. You need to take action, Sisyphus! Grab the bull by the horns, throw it to the floor, look at it at the eyes and make sure it knows who is in charge! Got it?”

“Got it...” she wasn’t wrong, everyone else had started the conversations, and he wasn’t going to get anywhere if he didn’t make sure he was in charge. The problem was that he wasn’t sure how.

Before Lucia could give some other advice, the tea parlor acquired a strange atmosphere. It was as if a comforting yet strange aura had seeped into the place, making Sisyphus both want to run away and relax at the same time. Both Lucia and Sisyphus turned their heads to the empty armchair on the other side of the table, where the opponent was supposed to appear.  

And he did appear. Slowly, a sorcerer appeared in the armchair, as if he was formed by particles that had been formerly floating in the air nearby. He looked rather out of place in the otherwise sophisticated tea parlor. He was rather tall and lanky, his grizzled hair looked more like a mane, thick and long enough to get to his shoulder blades, and his clothes were tattered and without any bright colors. He looked more like a vagrant than like a sorcerer.

The man scratched his head, looking around meekly. “...Ho...How are you?” he asked. Although his voice was clear and strong, he was behaving more like someone who had no idea why he was there.

“Greetings, Cornio. Welcome to the Hopeful Star” Lucia said, bowing slowly and rather pretentiously “I’m sure you remember my name, don’t you?”

“Miss Lucia” Cornio dared to give a small smile. Smiling made him look younger and calmer, as if a weight on his shoulders had been taken away for a moment “Thanks for letting me be here”

“Don’t mention it” Lucia turned her head towards Sisyphus “Here’s your opponent today. This is Cornio, a novice, just like you. Don’t underestimate him”

Cornio grimaced for a moment before plastering a rather awkward smile on his face. After taking a moment to gather his resolve, breathing deeply and squaring his shoulders, Cornio looked at Sisyphus straight to the eyes. He couldn’t allow himself look vulnerable when talking to his opponent, after all. “You must be Sisyphus” he said slowly, appraising Sisyphus. Somehow, he looked at much more ease dealing with Sisyphus than with Lucia, if only because he looked more confident now.

“...I am”

“I’m Cornio, and I’ll be your opponent. Is that okay?” Well, not so confident.

...rather meek, for a witch. I’m not sure about all this. It wasn’t like Sisyphus could protest and call it off, though. This game was his chance to get the best timeline possible. If it meant to deal with Cornio, then so be it. At least it would mean Cornio could be an easy foe. Someone like him wouldn’t be able to create the necessary obstacles for this to be a difficult challenge, the game would be over in no time.

“Have you done something like this before?”

Cornio grinned naively “This is the first time I’m a game master! It wasn’t easy to create this story, but I’m ready to challenge you. Just because you and I are on different sides doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right?” he extended his hand over the board, looking at Sisyphus with the same hopeful look a child would have when introducing himself to a new friend. That was rather unusual, as far as Sisyphus knew. Witches weren’t exactly the type to have sportsmanship towards their opponents, unless there was some sort of big ulterior motive. I can’t trust this guy. He must have some sort of trap prepared Sisyphus mused while he shook hands with Cornio.

“I guess? I’m not really into making friends right now”

Lucia acted immediately. She grabbed Cornio’s hand and pushed it towards him hurriedly, waving with the other at Sisyphus. “Nevermind that!”

“...what? What did I say wrong?” the reaction caught Sisyphus by surprise, it was way too strong, even more in response to such a simple statement.

Lucia buried her face in her hands. “...the game hasn’t even started and I already have a headache”

“What do you mean?” Sisyphus whispered to her.

“I better start doing some damage control here” Lucia removed her hands from her face, getting closer to Sisyphus “Look, let me tell you something: he’ll try to get under your skin, or at least mislead you. Got it?”

That made sense. Anyone would expect such thing. “Now give you my second tip:

You’re going to need several Social Links. Trust me, you’ll need the power boost”

“So...Social Links are for powers?”

“Personas are divided by arcanas. The stronger the Social Link is, the more powerful the Personas in the Velvet Room will be, and since you’re going to fight alone for the first one or two dungeons...you’re going to need to be strong enough to survive by yourself”

That explained almost nothing! Dungeons? But the core of the message was clear. “Got it”

“Cornio is not the kind of player that takes his time idly. Focus on Social Links before his onslaught is ready, because later you may not have time to do it”

It would be easier if I knew how to make the links stronger.

-ooooo-

...I’m not sure I like this.

Cornio watched Sisyphus and Lucia confer on their strategy. He couldn’t hear a thing they were saying, but he wasn’t worried. He was more...uneasy than worried. Lucia was okay, not the kindest or most considerate person, but she was a friend and someone he trusted.

The other witch, or sorcerer, whatever he was supposed to call them...he was different, and not in a good way. There was something about him that was off, very off. Not that he himself was normal or stable.

Trying to push those thoughts away of his mind, Cornio leaned forward and softly touched the rim of the board, looking at his hand with discomfort. I shouldn’t have come here. Cornio knew the board and its world in every conceivable way possible. All the pieces in front of him not only represented people. Those pieces also could represent places, events, every single thing that could happen in the Underground. As the game master, he had control of what could happen in the Underground, while all Sisyphus could do was play along with everything he said and did. After all, the game master was in charge of the story, no matter how dark, complicated or cruel it could be. Sisyphus, on the other hand, had ways to direct the story in some directions, but it’d be difficult for him to change the fate of the people inside the world.

Having control wasn’t all the game master needed. Game masters also needed to understand absolutely everything about the universe they were dealing with, and that was something Cornio exceled in. He knew the hopes and dreams of most of the monsters in the Underground, what their wishes and personalities were, and what exactly could break them down. Theoretically he could push anyone to do whatever he wanted, and so far, it had all gone like he had thought it’d go.

He had been the one who created the timeline and the game board, after all. Not that it made him happy to play with everyone’s lives, if there was any other way to solve this all, he would have taken it gladly. This wasn’t going to be pretty or fun, but he had to do it.

Cornio had a few plans in mind already, challenges he could use against Sisyphus, as well as a couple mysteries to muddle up the story, and while he wasn’t sure how well mixing Shadows into the universe would go, it wasn’t like he could back down now.

I can’t quit now. This has been going for long enough.

Damn it, he was having second thoughts again. To try to gather resolve again, Cornio put his hand into his pocket and touched the only object he had: a firefly brooch. As long as he had it, he’d be okay.

The one that wouldn’t be okay was Sisyphus, apparently. He was starting to look like he had been given some very bad news. “Will you be okay?” Cornio asked.

“Yeah! I’ll be okay! Don’t worry about me” he replied, a bit more forcefully than it was necessary. This is going to be bad.

Forget about Sisyphus. Focus on the game. Try to suppress the guilt of having to try to ruin the fates and lives of hundreds of monsters if Sisyphus doesn’t counter anything Cornio did.

-ooooo-

Who was Cornio trying to fool, pretending to be concerned for him? That was what Sisyphus wondered. He didn’t believe for a second that Cornio had asked that because he was worried, it was more likely it was because he was trying to find any weak points to attack.

“You don’t trust me, do you?” he asked.

“...to be honest I don’t” Sisyphus answered.

Cornio looked disapprovingly at Lucia, who merely shrugged. “Sisyphus, I’m not your enemy. All I ask is that you understand that”

That actually sounded a bit more sincere, Sisyphus wasn’t able what to respond. ...what are you planning? “I-I understand that...” That was true, he did, it was just that he wasn’t convinced Cornio really was willing to have a friendly stance.

That simple statement seemed to have been enough, though. Whether Sisyphus wanted to admit it or not, part of him did want to believe Cornio was being honest, and since it seemed Social Links required both parties to have a certain amount of interest in each other...

 

You’re now acquaintances with your opponent.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Cornio

 

...it sparked the Social Link. Whatever works, works. Sisyphus certainly wasn’t going to complain if he had even the smallest advantage in the game. He was taking rather seriously what Lucia had said about the need to start as many Social Links as possible before things got too tough to focus on those.

“Okay, enough of this. Let’s start the game already” Lucia said

“Now? I...” Cornio scratched the back of his head before sighing “Okay, let’s do this”

And so the game started. Cornio grabbed a piece and, after a few seconds of hesitation, he moved it forward, making the story commence.

-ooooo-

Sans drummed his phalanges against the frame of the machine, watching the inexorable moment arrive. In matter of seconds, they’d all reach the point the timeline started to heavily distort. “five...four...three...two...one...”

The game started. As soon as the clock indicated they were all in the distorted part of the timeline, Sans looked around, but there was absolutely nothing strange. Nothing was imploding, there were no black holes anywhere, it all looked rather...rather normal.

“welp”

-ooooo-

Ciruel ducked when crossing the doorway of the shed, the fake antlers were too large for him to walk without crouching when passing there. Papyrus hadn’t returned yet, but Ciruel couldn’t afford waiting anymore. He had waited an hour, and that was enough. After making sure to close the door behind him, the man started walking towards Waterfall, to the Hidden Village located in the depths of that area.

-ooooo-

Frisk continued climbing Mt. Ebott. Somehow, they were late. They knew they should have gotten to the Underground some time ago, but there had been many delays. They had gotten lost somehow. Their feet started to hurt. They felt compelled to sit in the shadows until the sun wasn’t beating down so hard on the mountain. Those were al small annoyances that, when added, made them be arriving to the mountain cave too late.

Right in from of them there was the hole where they were supposed to fall down into. They knew they’d be relatively safe when falling, the golden flowers would stop their fall without hurting them. Frisk wasn’t sure how exactly that was possible, but they weren’t going to complain.

After taking a moment to peer down into the abyss, Frisk stepped back a few steps before running forward and jumping in.

-ooooo-

Alphonse pretended to read into the book that contained all the possible Personas a Velvet Room guest could create. There was something bothering them, it felt like something was wrong... “Master, can I ask a question?”

Igor turned his head around, acknowledging and giving permission with a glance. The assistant closed the book and put it aside. “Why is our guest aligned with the Aeon arcana? I thought only those of the Fool arcana could have the power of the Wild Card”

“It’s an...unusual situation” Igor conceded “But there’s an explanation for that.

It’s true Sisyphus the witch signed the contract, and indeed, he’s of the Fool arcana. However, the person who has a Persona is different. It could be said they’re the same person, yet at the same time they’re not exactly the same person. Do you understand?”

Alphonse mulled it for a moment. “I’m not sure I do”

“A person isn’t defined by an arcana for their entire lives. They change, according to their experiences and mindsets, passing through most if not all the possible arcanas during their lives.

Syphus the piece is no more than the part of our guest’s soul that represents the Aeon arcana. Do you understand now?”

“...I think I do” Alphonse stared at the inactive cogs lining the walls “What does that imply? What’ll happen to our guest?”

“Our duty is to aid our guest to fulfill their task. Other than that, the only ones who can decide what’ll happen to them...is our guest himself, or in this case, our guest and his piece.

No matter what happens, we shall have to accept it, Alphonse, no matter how difficult it may be”

Alphonse nodded, pensive. They had some faith nothing outright anomalous would happen, but there was always a chance the guest would screw up in such a way the contract would be broken. What’d be the consequences of that? They didn’t want to find out.

Come on, Sisyphus, don’t screw up. Please.

-ooooo-

When Syphus was able to understand what he was seeing, he noticed he was back where he had made the SAVE point, and Monster Kid was nearby. “...me see around again” he said, examining all the paths.

“Uh, kid, you don’t have to do this” Syphus said slowly, still a bit dazed. He remembered every single second from before he died, but he didn’t feel any pain, nor anything that indicated he had crashed onto water and rocks in what was technically just a few seconds before.

“Dude, are you sure? I can find the way, just give me a moment”

“It’s fine. Come on, let’s return to the town” after the death the perspective of passing through Waterfall and looking for the village had been greatly soured. Maybe he should return later, after he had calmed down enough to not to think about his death without clenching his fists.

“Okay...let’s go before the patrollers come around here” Monster Kid requested, starting the walk, thankfully this time slow enough for Syphus to follow easily. Syphus took a deep breath, shaking off the daze, and stepped forward.

 

The game has started.

 

“What the...”

“What’re you waiting for? Let’s go!” Monster Kid called from the distance. It was unlikely the Social Link was with Monster Kid, it just didn’t fit very well. Then who exactly was it with? There was no one else around!

A bit confused and at a loss of words, Syphus hurried to get to Monster Kid’s side, and together started the trek back to Snowdin Town.

-ooooo-

At least the pool of oily ink stopped growing.

It had by now covered half of the floor of the room, and anyone who looked into it would feel like it was some sort of void, leading into places one shouldn’t be able to see.  The black oil didn’t seem like a simple stain anymore. It had grown in volume, looking more like globs than anything else.

There was something unsettling about it, though. The ink bubbled and moved as if there was something right underneath the surface, struggling to get out. Slowly, on the edge of the pool of ink, a large sticky hand emerged.

It was as if it was made of nothing else but ink. Slowly, a rather large arm extended behind the arm, until the blob showed a blue mask. It was what could be considered the most basic Shadow, emerging from the collective unconscious of the world.

It didn’t mean it could just leave the pool of oil, though. After a moment where the Shadow tried to leave the pool, without any success, slowly the Shadow sunk back into the ink until it was as if nothing had been there.

Despite the world being filled with magic, Shadows couldn’t simply roam anywhere. Shadows weren’t meant to exist anywhere except in the collective unconscious or in the souls of people. It was true there was a way into the world, but not any Shadow could go through it.

Only particularly strong Shadows, Shadows having an ego almost as defined as any human or monster’s, would be able to cross into the Underground.

It was matter of time before more like those arrived.

 

Prologue: Setting Up the Pieces – END

Act I: Opening

CHECK IN FIVE MOVES

Chapter Text

During the way back to Snowdin Syphus was rather silent, much to Monster Kid’s displeasure. At first the feathered reptile had seemed friendly and patient, but he hadn’t said a word since they started walking back, no matter what was said. It was rather awkward and a little bit unsettling, and the way Syphus frowned and narrowed his eyes all the time didn’t help. The mood was stuffy and foreboding, Monster Kid felt compelled to look behind himself every once in a while, just to see if Syphus was still there.

Fearing his failure to lead Syphus to the right point had made him angry, Monster Kid chuckled nervously. “.Yo, can I ask you a favor?”

“Hm?”

“Please don’t tell anyone I was taking you there, dude” Monster Kid turned his head around, Syphus seemed to be paying attention “She wants me to keep it secret”

“Is that so? Nice”

“...you’re not listening to me” the kid muttered, discouraged from talking any longer. Trying to take Syphus there was looking more and more like a bad decision. This was definitely something he’d not tell Ananas later. At the time it had seemed like a good idea – knowing about the cowboy hat was a sign he knew Ananas, right? – but now it felt like breaking the promise to Ananas had been a horrible idea. Maybe it was good he had gotten confused and didn’t take Syphus there!

Syphus indeed hadn’t been listening. He was aware Monster Kid had said something, but he was too busy taking a gander at his memories. Something had changed and it explained the strange Social Link that had been created not too long before. So the game started... As a piece, Syphus knew he was fated to only be an extension of his master’s will, and therefore anything he Sisyphus the witch wished him to do was bound to happen. For the moment there were two instructions:

One: Create Social Links, or find a way to improve the ones he had started already.

Two: Find Frisk.

That second instruction was completely new, though. Had the child fallen into the Underground already? While Syphus was busy wondering that, a sudden bright flash blinded him momentarily, making him stumble. The flash vanished almost immediately, making Syphus see dots. After blinking a few times to clear his sight, the piece noticed something had changed:

On the wall there was a bright blue door, identical to the one in the Ruins, the door that was supposed to lead to the Velvet Room. Syphus stared at it in awe, unsure if he should go ahead and try to open it. “Hey! Over here! Let’s go!” Monster Kid called, walking back towards Syphus and completely ignoring the blue door. Either that or he couldn’t see it.

Syphus noticed he had been staring with his mouth open, and closed it while glancing at Monster Kid. Must have looked very stupid, blankly watching a random wall, as far as Monster Kid was concerned. “Uh, yeah, about that...I think I’ll stay around here for a while”

“Fine. See ya” Monster Kid sounded a bit relieved to leave Syphus behind, but the piece didn’t pay attention to that. Once he was sure Monster Kid was far enough, he extended his hand and touched the door. It felt smooth, polished, completely different from the rocks that formed the cavern walls. After a moment of hesitation, Syphus pushed the door open, disappearing from the universe without being noticed.

Monster Kid continued his way towards Snowdin, not paying much attention, although along the way he encountered a deer monster, walking into Waterfall. Who else but a deer monster would have such large antlers? Ciruel didn’t acknowledge Monster Kid, either.

-ooooo-

Indeed, that was the Velvet Room, but there was something critically different: Igor was gone. Instead Alphonse was sitting in his usual armchair, looking straight at Syphus. It was as if he had expected the piece to arrive right at that moment “So this is that place...”

“Welcome to the Velvet Room” Alphonse said, extending his hand. There was a blue key in it. “This is the key to this place. As our esteemed guest, you shall be allowed to enter anytime”

“Neato” Syphus mumbled, taking the key and examining it closely. It was small and blue, of the same color than so many things in the Velvet Room, but knowing how things didn’t seem as straightforward as they should be, Syphus expected the key to be more than just a key.

“We set up several doors in the Underground” Alphonse informed “Once you obtain some Personas come back and we’ll work on fusing them. It’s in your best interest to make use of our services” For some reason, the last few words were said in a rather ominous tone. Syphus instinctively stepped back a bit “I’m not threatening you, it’s merely a statement”

“...please don’t say that again” Syphus motioned with his head towards the empty spot where Igor usually was “Where’s Igor?”

Alphonse glanced there for a moment “My master – wait, give me a moment” Alphonse took a deep breath and leaned back on his armchair, relaxing considerably. Since they were alone they felt like they could let their true personality shine a bit more “Igor isn’t here. It’s for the better, I’m not sure he’d allow me to give you this too”

The attendant took out of his pocket three tickets, crudely made on common paper and written with bad calligraphy, sliding them towards Syphus. The piece took one of them, trying to read the text. “What are these supposed to be?”

“I call these ‘The Velvet Room tickets’” Alphonse grinned enigmatically “Since we placed doors in several places of the Underground, I thought these could come useful to you.

I’ll allow you to use the Velvet Room as a hub of sorts to arrive to other places”

“That’s great!” It could actually be useful in the right circumstances! But something as convenient as this couldn’t come free, or be as good as it seemed to be at first glance. Syphus frowned, giving up in reading the scrawls on the tickets “What’s the catch?”

“Wow. Someone offers you a gift and you reply with that? That’s a bit rude” Alphonse tilted their head “The catch is that I’ll only give you three tickets. The Velvet Room isn’t a commuting station, Syphus”

That seemed like a rather harmless caveat. Even if it was just three times for the whole game, it could come rather useful, as long as he used those wisely. Or maybe... “I want to use one right now”

Alphonse raised their eyebrows. “To where?”

“The Ruins” It was a good starting point to look for Frisk. Since the Velvet Room door was near the golden flowers grave, he wouldn’t have to deal with Royal Guard 047 and try to sneak past him. Besides, if the flowers weren’t crushed, it meant he could wait for Frisk to fall down, and that’d be all. It was a perfect plan. Sure, it was enabled by Alphonse’s suspiciously convenient offer, but who was he to look at the gift horse in the mouth?

You received 2 Velvet Room Tickets

Alphonse stood up and opened the Velvet Room door, showing what was behind it. The purple stone walls of the Ruins showed it was true, there was the offer. “Just so you know, since the Velvet Room is in a different plane of existence no time has passed in the Underground. It’s like teleportation! Cool, right?”

“It is. I wish I had more tickets” Syphus peeked outside the room. There was no one around.

“Get going already, you have someone to meet” Alphonse pushed Syphus out of the Velvet Room, grinning impishly “By the way, don’t tell Igor about the tickets! I broke one or two rules by giving them to you” then, standing up at full height and looking as serious as possible, they made their best imitation of Igor’s voice “Until then, farewell”

Bam! The door was closed. Alphonse leaned against the door, slumping slightly against it and sighing. They felt guilty. They knew Syphus was trusting them without any question, and while they were glad about that, at the same time it made them uncomfortable.

“How did it go, Alphonse?” Igor asked, having appeared in his seat without warning. Alphonse jumped in the air a bit, immediately stammering in surprise.

“M-Master! I-I-I...when did you get back here?!”

“Calm down, Alphonse. You have done nothing wrong” Igor’s grin faltered a bit, which was rather unusual. He closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly. While he didn’t approve Alphonse’s insubordination and extensive meddling into the guest’s affairs, he understood why they were doing that. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”

“I must do it. It’s the right thing to do” Alphonse murmured, looking at the floor.

“Tell me about the person that’s giving you instructions. Are they someone you should trust without question?” Igor’s voice had gained severity, making Alphonse raise their head and nod emphatically.

“I can trust them. I know what I’m doing, master. It’ll all be okay”

Igor’s interlocked fingers got a bit tighter. Alphonse was a rather kindhearted person, he felt it when he created the vessel for the SOUL, and such kindheartedness could be rather harmful if he poured their trust into the wrong person. Now that the assistant was trying to go behind Igor’s back to do this stuff...a warning could be a good idea. “Remember to be careful. You can’t know for sure if our guest is the kind of person you think he is” Alphonse wasn’t like the other attendants that usually worked in the Velvet Room, their existence was radically different.

The warning wasn’t well received, though. Alphonse narrowed their eyes, looking away “I know what I’m doing”

It was useless to try to argue with someone unwilling to listen.

-ooooo-

Royal Guard 047 wandered again in front of the fence, but his gait didn’t have the usual firmness everyone who had seen do his job complimented him for. It was so different the few tourist guides and the couple guards who had passed nearby had asked him if there was something wrong.

There was nothing outright wrong, but he wasn’t able to focus on his job. That snake-faced monster he had talked with a couple hours before had brought up thoughts Royal Guard 047 had managed to bury in his memories long ago, but now they were repeating over and over in his head. He was sure: there had been someone inside that room under renovations.

Of course anyone would get curious about it. One day, when Toriel had been away, Royal Guard 047 had gone to the door of the room and tried to open it, and when that didn’t work, he put his auditory membrane against the wood of the door. Nothing sounded: not even a gasp, or anything that could indicate someone was inside and trying not to make any noise. As the guard was someone who prided himself on his acute sense of hearing, he didn’t question it at all: no one was in there.

What had been that song from before, then? He was completely sure a little girl had been singing in there. There was only one conclusion: Queen Toriel was hiding something.

“Next time I see him I’m going to kick him in the shins” Royal Guard 047 grumbled without really meaning it, shaking his head. Why did he have to remind him of this? He didn’t want to mistrust Toriel, but now...now he felt the need to find out more, if only to convince himself the queen had done nothing wrong. If a human girl had been once there, where was she right now? Was she okay?

...she wouldn’t have harmed her, would she? The guard immediately chastised himself for even thinking that, and did something he hadn’t done ever since the moment he had been assigned to the fence in the Ruins: he left his spot way before it was time for him to leave.

Queen Toriel was nowhere to be seen right when Royal Guard 047 entered the house. The guard stopped in the entrance, closing his eye and listening carefully. It sounded like there was only one person in the house. Was it the Queen? It sounded like the person in the house was in one of the rooms in the hallway.

He felt he should go check, but his upbringing and general moral sense stopped him from going to a place he shouldn’t mess with. “Your Majesty? Are you here?” he called, figuring that seeing where the queen was – if it was her – was enough. After all, he had come here to talk with her.

Indeed, it had been Toriel, and she came out of the room at the end of the hallway, the room supposedly under renovations, but she didn’t look at him. It seemed she hadn’t heard him. Taking advantage of that, the guard stepped forward and entered the hallway, his armored greaves clanking.

“My!” Toriel gasped, startled, just when she had been locking the door of the room under renovations, dropping the key by accident. When she saw Royal Guard 047 her expression calmed down “I’m sorry. Did you need something?”

“...Your Majesty, I have something to ask you” if he didn’t ask it now, when would he? “Can we go somewhere we can talk in private?”

“Of course. Please, follow me” Toriel smiled serenely and picked up the key. Royal Guard 047 noticed she was behaving rather naturally. It was possible she had acted surprised just because she hadn’t been expecting anyone to be there, not because she was doing something wrong. The way she moved with fluidity, without showing any signs of being tense, it was all the behavior of someone who was doing nothing reprehensible...or thought she was doing nothing reprehensible. The guard slapped himself lightly. No! Stop that! Queen Toriel knows best for everyone. I shouldn’t doubt her.

“Are you okay?” Toriel asked from the door, eyebrows raised. The guard’s reaction hadn’t gone unnoticed, apparently. Royal Guard 047 nodded briskly and went to her side, the two of them going towards one of the many viewing platforms that gave a great place to watch most of the purple buildings in the Ruins.

None of them noticed the door of the room under renovations had been left incorrectly locked.

-ooooo-

Perfect! The golden flowers were still intact; Frisk hadn’t fallen down yet! Feeling the excitement bubbling in his chest, Syphus held back a grin and looked upwards at the hole in the ceiling. Having a plan made him feel like nothing would stop him, like finding a way to shatter the Barrier was actually a doable goal and not a flight of fantasy only an idiot would have.

Frisk’s help was the first step towards the goal, as far as he knew, after all, the child always played a big part in every other timeline. They’d be of help. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as strolling to Frisk and saying ‘hey, so, want to help me shatter the Barrier?’ Earning the child’s trust was vital for the mission, and that was something much easier said than done. Stopping Frisk’s fall should help get their approval, right?

Syphus leant against the rocky wall and stared at the bed of golden flowers, twitching with impatience. The wait was stressful, in a way. It was true Syphus had watched the events of the timelines countless times, but the advantages he could have gained from that were countered by the many unusual properties this so-called ‘hopeful timeline’ had. The fact he also couldn’t measure at what time the important events would happen didn’t help, too. While Syphus could recite many, many things about how the Underground events would develop, he couldn’t know exactly when they’d happen...if they happened at all.

Narrowing his eyes, Syphus stepped away of the wall and peeked into the passageway towards the Ruins. Flowey was still nowhere to be seen. That was worrying and encouraging at the same time. Was he watching right now, scheming his own plans for this timeline?

While Syphus was doing distracted looking into the next room, a sudden whooshing noise echoed behind him. He didn’t even have time to turn around before the nasty, dreadful sound of something crashing against the ground resonated. “Oh, fuck” Syphus muttered, wincing, when he noticed the person among the golden flowers.

He had barely stepped forward when Frisk raised their head, noting the strange monster’s presence. The child gasped and immediately scooted towards the opposite direction, they seemed to be unharmed. At times like this Syphus really wished the illusion Lucia had created wasn’t so unsettling and weird. Not everyone would take in stride a snake-headed monster with feathers and claws. Syphus raised his hands in what he hoped was a harmless gesture. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not—I’ll stay over here, see?”

Reliable. Soothing. Someone that can be trusted. That’s what he needed to be now.

Frisk wasn’t feeling like Syphus was a dependable person right now, though. They stared intently at the unknown monster, not understanding what was this drastic change to something that was routine to them already. “My name is Syphus, I’m just a monster living in the Underground. Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you” It was true Lucia had said he needed to be assertive and a tad aggressive, but in his opinion that wasn’t a good idea right now.

For a moment neither of them moved, until Frisk decided to take the initiative. Slowly and without looking away, Frisk stood up. They haltingly closed the distance between Syphus and them, the distrust in their face was almost hurtful.

“...who are you?” Frisk asked once they were close enough.

“I, uh, I said I’m Syphus” he replied although he had the feeling Frisk meant something deeper than a mere inquiry for a name “Do you need help? I could guide you through the Underground, you should be okay wi—“

“No” Frisk’s tone was scathing. Syphus grimaced, this was not a good start. Having noticed Syphus’s hurt expression, Frisk shook their head and lightened up their voice “I can go by myself”

“Are you sure? The Underground is no place for a human, there could be trouble and—“

“I’ll be fine” Frisk smiled forcibly and walked towards the purple arch that’d lead to the Ruins. Once they got there, Syphus stepped forward to follow Frisk from a distance, but the child ran back, gesturing Syphus to stay put. “No”

“...alright” So much for making a good first impression. High five, me.

After asking Syphus to stay behind, Frisk returned to the arch and peered inside. There was no one in the small clearing. Not letting that deter them, Frisk walked inside and stopped just to the side of the circle of sunlight, hopeful. Nothing happened. Syphus, who had stealthily approached until he could see inside the room, waited to see what’d happen.

It took a couple minutes for Frisk to realize there was more anomalies to this timeline than an unknown monster’s presence. They paced around the circle of light, nothing happened. A bit discouraged, the child decided to wait for the next event they knew would happen. Anytime now Toriel would come by and find them. It was something that, no matter how many times it happened, always made them happy, so they looked forward to meeting her, smiling with anticipation. They looked at the other side of the room, at the arch towards the Ruins.

Nobody came.

The more time passed, the less cheerful Frisk looked. Dragging their feet, they went to the wall of the cave and stood against it, seemingly counting the blades of grass on the ground. Syphus wasn’t sure how much time passed, it could have been just ten minutes, it could have been an hour. All he knew was that waiting any longer wasn’t going to be of any help, neither for Frisk nor for him.

Syphus slowly advanced, until he was just a couple steps away from Frisk. “Are you okay?” Frisk didn’t reply. The way Frisk refused to look at him, or even to talk...it reminded Syphus of the first time he had met Frisk, forty-six years before, in a timeline that didn’t exist anymore in the fabric of the universe. It had been more or less the same, and the way he had managed to get Frisk to talk was...to earn their trust. “I could take you through the Ruins”

“...are you the caretaker of the Ruins?” Frisk mutedly inquired.

“No, I’m just one visitor more. The Ruins get a decent amount of traffic from outside, you know!”

That got Frisk to raise their head. “That’s strange...”

“It isn’t so strange. The entrances to the Ruins are wide open, anyone can come in or out, anytime. That’s how I got here” Syphus shrugged livelily “People like abandoned purple places, I guess! We monsters are very weird”

“I thought the Ruins were abandoned—“ Frisk said to themselves before realizing they may be talking a bit too loudly. Syphus pretended to have not heard that part. He understood very well why Frisk was so confused, it was rather discomforting to see such drastic differences between what they were used to and what was actually happening, even worse when they didn’t know why it was happening.

“There are crowds of monsters around and the Ruins are like a labyrinth. How about I guide you to a safe spot? Would you like that?” Syphus smiled. Frisk didn’t seem very convinced, they were frowning. The child was practically irradiating distrust.

“Do you mean out of the Ruins?”

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean...uuuuh...” would it be a good idea to appeal to something familiar to Frisk? It was worth a try “I know someone who could help you. She’s the kindest Boss Monster you could ever hope to meet” If anything, Frisk would be a way to get Toriel to talk about other humans.

The mention of Toriel got Frisk’s attention immediately, their eyes brightened up. Encouraged by the reaction, Syphus pointed at the way towards the Ruins. “I can take you there! Stay close to me and you should have no trouble at all”

Frisk was silent for a while, thinking if they should deviate from the established routine and trust someone who clearly didn’t belong in the usual events. They had no way to know if Syphus had good intentions, or if he planned to kill Frisk and take their SOUL. Despite the nagging feeling of alarm they felt, did they really have any other option? If Flowey and Toriel’s absences meant the timeline was drastically different to usual, wouldn’t it be better to accept any help they could get?

“...okay”

Frisk reluctantly decided to give you a chance.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Frisk.

Frisk extended their hand. Syphus pretended not to see it, not wanting to ruin the illusion of his form, and quickly went to the passageway. Frisk stared at their hand for a moment before following him. The fact he hadn’t even tried to take their hand didn’t exactly encourage them to trust him. To be frank, they planned to leave him behind as soon as possible.

Royal Guard 047 wasn’t anywhere nearby, much to Syphus’ relief. He didn’t have to make a distraction! Frisk followed him, with a carefully neutral expression.

“Okay, get over this fence. This area is restricted, so we need to leave as soon as possible” Syphus climbed the fence with agility, and waited for Frisk to imitate him.

The child stared at the fence that was just a bit taller than them. “Why were you in a restricted area?”

“...oh. Right. I was curious what was over there” The lie was satisfying enough for Frisk, who simply acknowledged the excuse with a nod.

Syphus had said the truth, the Ruins really were open to the public. Although the usual population of Froggits, Whimsuns and other familiar monsters did continue filling the place, there were other people walking around, people Frisk remembered seeing in areas like Waterfall and Hotland. It was also true there were guards, too. While Syphus distracted them with chatter and senseless questions, Frisk took advantage of those moments to sneak past. Syphus also insisted on hiding Frisk when someone was passing nearby, even the most harmless monsters. All the puzzles Frisk remembered from the thousands and thousands of times they had traversed the Ruins were gone, too, all that remained of them were platforms and a couple spots where the floor was still crumbling away.

For the first time in years and years of continuous repeating timelines, Frisk felt disoriented. A relatively familiar place felt like unexplored terrain now, it almost felt like the very first time they had fallen into the Underground.

Seeing Toriel’s house gave them some hope, meeting someone they loved would be of help. Syphus hurried to get to the door, telling Frisk to wait a moment. The feathered reptile peeked inside, listening thoroughly. If there were any monsters in the house besides Toriel, Frisk would be immediately found out. Wouldn’t everyone, especially the guards, be alert to see anything that could be a human? Once Syphus made sure there was no one inside the house – not even Toriel, much to his displeasure – Frisk was allowed to enter. Everything looked almost like they remembered. Maybe some things looked a bit more disorganized than usual? But it was undoubtedly Toriel’s house, and that was enough to make them feel more at ease, although they continued having their guard up near Syphus.

“Here we are! Quite a nice house, isn’t it?” he said, smiling encouragingly. Frisk’s expression continued to be completely neutral. “There’s a room where you can rest in” Syphus pointed to the first door in the hallway “You can stay in there for as long as you need. I’ll be here in the living room, so tell me if you need anything”

“Where is Toriel?” Frisk really wanted to call her Mom, it felt odd to say her name.

“...she isn’t here. I’m sure she’ll be back later” Syphus opened the bedroom door so Frisk could see inside “She should be back soon”

Frisk didn’t reply to that. They stepped inside the bedroom, looking around to see if there was anything different here. It was exactly like they remembered it should be like. A bit unnerved by Frisk’s lack of trust, Syphus stayed in the hallway. “I know I’m no more than some weird old monster and you have no reason to trust me, but if you ever need help you can count on me, okay?” There was no reply. After a pause, Syphus muttered: “Want me to leave you alone?

“I’d like that” Frisk said immediately. Syphus winced. He knew that he was behaving kinda off, and personally he couldn’t blame Frisk for mistrusting him, but part of him couldn’t avoid feeling hurt. In the timeline he had lived in before its near-destruction he had gotten along with Frisk to the point of almost considering it a friendship, and the child had come to count on him as an adult figure. The difference with the actual Frisk was jarring and, although Syphus told himself it was to be expected – he truly was no more than a stranger, as far as Frisk was concerned – it still hurt.

“I bet you’re hungry. I’ll bring you something” Syphus said and went towards the kitchen. He didn’t notice Frisk watching him from the doorway, waiting for him to be out of sight. The kitchen looked rather normal, and there was a note pinned on the fridge.

‘Take anything you wish, dear visitor.

---Toriel’

Having received approval from the owner of the house, Syphus looked inside for anything Frisk could like. There was nothing a child would like, other than a large pie, untouched and fresh. A quick examination showed it to be made of snails. It’s better than nothing! After taking a slice for Frisk, Syphus returned to the bedroom.

Frisk wasn’t there anymore.

Alarmed, Syphus left the pie slice aside and checked the other doors in the hallway. Toriel’s room was locked – maybe since people passed through the house all the time she had started to lock it? It was unlikely Frisk had gotten inside. The next door was the one under renovations, one Syphus knew was locked, so he left it alone. In a moment of panic Syphus looked outside of the house and shouted: “Frisk! Frisk, come back!” The child didn’t come. Syphus had been about to go outside and look for Frisk when he remembered there was one other place Frisk could have gone into

Syphus descended the stairs to the basement, jumping over them to be quicker. The sound of wind echoed in the passageway, but there was something else, faint and garbled. After listening for a moment, Syphus thought he distinguished what it was: it was Frisk, near the exit, and they were calling for Flowey. Syphus hurried down the passageway, his steps resonating and alerting the child he was coming closer. The calls stopped, replaced by the pattering sound of a pair of small feet running away. “W-Wait! Frisk, you shouldn’t go outside! Wait!”

It was too late. Once Syphus arrived to the room just before the door that led to the snowy areas of the Underground, Frisk was long gone. Catching up with them would be difficult, the child was way ahead of him, and since Syphus hadn’t gotten any fitter since following Monster Kid earlier before, it was unlikely he’d ever reach them. Really hoping Frisk would be okay, Syphus returned to the house. Well that was one resounding failure. So much for being reliable and soothing!

The situation wasn’t all bad, though. Frisk’s journey always had the possibility of ending with the Barrier breaking. It was true that without SOULs it’d be unlikely to be that simple, but maybe it was a good idea to let them do their thing, and use Frisk’s actions and influence on other monsters to his advantage. Meanwhile, Syphus would make alternative plans, ones that didn’t rely on Frisk being successful.

Immersed in those thoughts, Syphus ascended the stairs back into the house right when Toriel was entering the house. “Oh!” she stopped in her tracks when she saw Syphus. After a moment of looking at him, she sighed “Syphus! What a pleasant surprise. Are you going to visit the Ruins again?”

Syphus bowed slightly. Royalty was always tricky to deal with, better safe than sorry. “Yes, queen Toriel”

“Please, go ahead. I’ll be around if you need me” she smiled tensely. Despite her cordial tone, she seemed to be in bad mood. Toriel went into her bedroom. The noise of drawers being opened sounded from there.

If there was a time to be assertive, it was now. Be aggressive. Don’t take a no for an answer. Make sure to have the upper hand. Sure, Toriel may not be in mood to reveal anything, but he wasn’t willing to wait for a later moment. Syphus took a deep breath, steeling himself and making the most no-nonsense allowed face he could make, and positioned himself in front of the open door.

Toriel was picking a cape out of her wardrobe, making the clasps fit on her shoulders. Syphus knocked on her door. “Toriel, we need to talk”

“I’m not in mood to talk, dear” she replied without turning around.

“Sorry, your Majesty, but I mean it: we need to talk”

Toriel made sure the cape was well placed and turned around, again smiling tensely. “Can it wait? It’s not that I don’t want to talk with you. It’s just that I had a rather upsetting conversation with a guard”

“I insist”

The queen ignored that. “You may know him. He’s part of the Royal Guard” she sounded pleasant but Syphus got his guard up “He mentioned you. It seems you have been talking with him about some rather...delicate topics?”

Syphus’ feathers bristled. “I know it’s not easy to talk about but we need to. Please, Toriel, tell me about the humans”

“There hasn’t been humans in the Underground since the time my children were alive” she said bluntly, her smile vanishing. It seemed to Syphus she really didn’t like to mention such times. It just hurt too much to talk about it “That’s all there’s to say about the topic”

A different approach could be useful, then. “What’s the room under renovations for?”

“It’s as the sign reads: a room under renovations” Toriel exited the bedroom, glancing at the end of the hallway “Some visitors spend a long time in the Ruins, so I want to provide them a place to sleep in. Someday it’ll be ready”

“If you talked to that guard then you also know there was someone in there once...don’t you?” Syphus narrowed his eyes, but Toriel wasn’t intimidated. Instead, she unconsciously stood up straighter, looking even taller than she already was.

“I don’t like the game you’re playing”

“Look, all I want is some answers. I know there must be humans here in the Underground, and if there’s someone who knows about them it’s you, and only you

Toriel pressed her hand against her forehead, gritting her teeth slightly. “Young man, I don’t have the time to talk about this. Please step aside”

“No! Your Majesty, I need to find them! Please, tell me—“

“I have nothing to tell you!” she shouted, baring her fangs. It was easy to forget that, behind the maternal and soft-spoken air Toriel had, she was the queen for a reason. She wasn’t the type to let anyone walk over her, and those who dare to overstep their boundaries would see she wouldn’t back down.

Fearing maybe he had overdone his so-called assertiveness, Syphus gulped and stepped back, hunching over, the feathers on his back puffing up underneath his jacket. Toriel didn’t hesitate to get out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her and locking it. She walked away, adjusting her crown, but before descending the stairs towards the tunnel to exit the Ruins she sighed.

“...young man, please come with me” she said, going towards the kitchen. Syphus followed her, finding Toriel putting a teapot on the stove and lighting up the appliance with fire magic. While the tea brewed, she opened the cabinets, taking two large teacups. “I’m sorry for shouting at you”

“It’s fine, Toriel. I shouldn’t have pressured you so much”

Toriel shook her head slightly. “That’s no excuse for me to have shouted at you. It’s just that humans are a delicate topic these days. I’m sure you’re aware of the war declaration, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am. Seven SOULs, and no progress on that. Hard not to know about it”

“The more time passes; the more desperate monsters will get. I’m not saying there are humans in the Underground, but if there were any...I don’t think they’d survive” Damn it, Frisk, you just had to go alone, didn’t you?

“Not even if you do something? Toriel, you’re the queen. There must be something you can do”

“Being the queen doesn’t guarantee people will think the same way I do, young man. I don’t want any humans to die, but I fear someone will try to take their SOUL”

“Don’t you trust your people?” Syphus wasn’t sure exactly how to feel about that. There must be something else the queen can do besides hiding them! What was holding her back?

Toriel took the teapot from the strove, filling the teacups. “Of course I do! But it’s better to be safe than sorry. Besides, Asgore isn’t being of help. He refuses to back down on the war declaration no matter what, and I’m tired of trying to convince him”

The queen took the teacups to the table, finding the slice of snail pie on there. She turned her head around, glancing at Syphus with a questioning stare, who just shrugged apologetically. Toriel sat down, taking the slice for herself.

You feel you have seen a glimpse of Toriel’s conflicted despair

Your power to create Personas of the Empress Arcana has grown!

Despite her words, she wasn't smiling at all. The two stayed in silence for a moment. A heavy atmosphere filled the room, brought by the topic and by Toriel’s feelings of uselessness. Should he continue talking about it? It was clearly something that made Toriel uncomfortable, but he felt he didn’t have enough information yet. “Did you try talking this with the king already?”

“Of course I did. Asgore didn’t listen to me” Toriel furrowed her brow “He has his reasons to continue this foolish war, and I can’t overturn the declaration. He started it, he ends it. That’s how it is” her voice was blunt, carrying a request: ‘Let’s stop talking about this’.

“I’m sorry, Toriel. I didn’t mean to bring up these touchy topics”

“Let’s drink our tea, shall we?” Toriel smiled tiredly, taking her teacup and sipping the content. Judging by how she grimaced and swallowed with hesitance, the tea wasn’t very good. “My! I must have done something wrong”

Syphus pushed his tea away without even trying it. “Everyone has something they’re not good at. Maybe yours is making tea”

“Certainly! No one makes tea like my husband” Toriel’s eyes lighted up with nostalgia “He has a way to make every cup special, even without trying. When we met, he gave me a cup. He said it was his way to say he wanted to know someone better. Even back then he knew what to say to catch my attention” the nostalgia faded away, replaced by a cold disdain “Too bad things have changed. We may still be married, but I feel like we don’t get along anymore, not since the war started”

“Sounds to me like something you should talk with him”

“I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to see him, even if I have to go and give the monthly address at the capital today” Toriel sighed “No, that’s wrong...I want to fix it, but after a century of this, how am I supposed to do that? When I see Asgore I want to grab him and shake some sense into him, but at the same time I want to apologize, and I think that maybe I’m the one in the wrong, and I just--” Toriel shook her head, standing up. “Sorry for saying all that, young man. You must be bored with the ramblings of an old woman like me”

“I don’t mind” Syphus quickly said. It did seem to him Toriel hadn’t intended to tell so much about her feelings, but something good could come out of that, one way or another.

“I must leave to New Home now. Will you stay here for a while?” Syphus replied he planned to be in the Ruins for a while, so Toriel took out a long list from a drawer, giving it to Syphus “I need you to do me a favor: in a few minutes it’ll be time for a few Royal Guard members to rotate their turns. Please wait for them and...” she gave a series of logistical instructions. It was a rather simple task, one Syphus didn’t mind to do, and not only because Toriel offered some gold in exchange of the favor. I have an excuse to stay and take my time to break into the room under renovations.

“How long will you be away?” Syphus asked, just in case.

“The monthly address should take a couple hours. Will you be okay?” A couple hours should be more than enough time to find a way to bypass that lock! It’s perfect. “Oh. One more thing, Syphus”

“Yes?”

Toriel made sure he was looking straight at her. “Don’t talk about that room with anyone. I’m serious about this: you must keep it as a secret. Do you understand?”

Although Toriel didn’t raise her voice higher than usual, Syphus felt her authority weighing on him. She definitely meant it. No talking about it ever again. “I-I understand”

“And please avoid talking with your guard friend. He’ll be here for his turn to end, but he also has been relocated to another area of the Underground. Don’t look for him”

Syphus gulped. Toriel made sure her cape was well placed, and left the Ruins, leaving Syphus with the list and his new duties as temporal Royal Guard supervisor. A few minutes after the queen left, Syphus went into the hallway towards the door at the end, softly pushing it with his hand.

It was closed. No such luck as it being ajar or anything like that. Syphus grabbed the doorknob and slowly twisted it, expecting to meet resistance. Much to his surprise, the doorknob kept moving. It’s...it’s unlocked!

Before he could push the door open he heard steps entering the house. Syphus gasped and let go of the doorknob, stepping away of the door before whoever came in noticed he had been about to enter that room. Luckily for him, the guard who arrived wasn’t paying attention in that direction, but it seemed it’d be a while before he would be able to take a look inside the room. “Hey! Wait! I need your patrolling route and number” Syphus shouted, grabbing the list Toriel had left him. With some luck all the guards will arrive and go away before Toriel returns. Come on, throw me a bone, universe, will you?

-ooooo-

After a long while, the list Toriel had given him was completely filled.

Just like she had said, Royal Guard 047 passed by, but he didn’t say a word to Syphus besides the information Toriel needed. He seemed rather peeved, and as soon as he gave his information, he went away, not without first glaring at Syphus with scorn. Oops. In a way, in Syphus’ opinion, it served to confirm Toriel really was hiding something rather important. Why else would she take such measures to protect the secret of whatever was in that room?

Syphus waited a few minutes, in case someone was going to enter the house, and hurried to the end of the hallway. The quicker he got done with this, the better. He was almost sure that the moment he tried to enter the room under renovations, someone would arrive and he’d once again be forced to leave it for later. In matter of seconds Syphus opened the door, entered the room and closed the door with a slam, holding it with his back and marveling at the fact that he was finally in. He had done it. Finally!

Now that he had managed to sneak into the closed room, he had the time to see what exactly was inside. It wasn’t under renovations, that much was for sure, but there weren’t that many things either. It seemed the room was meant to be a temporal stop, not a place to house anyone for long.

There were only three objects in the room: a bed, a large wardrobe and a very old-looking television. Other than that the room was barren, although kept clean. At least it meant he wasn’t going to spend long looking for anything useful. The strangest thing in the room was the television, so Syphus approached it to take a better look.

Indeed, it was a rather old model. It was made of some kind of coppery-colored material, dull and smooth. The television was plugged in, so Syphus pressed the button to turn it on. It didn’t work. After fixing the television through liberal use of the percussion method, the now-slightly-dented television turned on.

The static-y image showed some sort of news set, featuring a rectangular robot wearing a red suit. It said ‘MTT News’ in a corner. Although there was a video showing what seemed to be a live reporting of the monthly address, Mettaton was right in front of it, filling 70% of the screen. While the television’s distorted sounds filled the room, Syphus started rooting through the rest of the room, listening attentively. Seeing how Toriel was in New Home, Syphus relaxed a bit, he would have time to search to his heart’s content.

“...the 100th anniversary of the war against humanity! King Asgore’s speech brought tears to everyone’s eyes and a heavy weight to all our wonderful hearts, as everyone’s hopes for a future over the surfaces continue plummeting...”

Syphus looked underneath the blanket of the bed, as if he expected to find something like maps or written stuff there. There was nothing like that. Under the bed the only things to be found was a bug or two, skittering away into the cracks on the wall.

“...queen’s passionate words tried to lift everyone’s spirits!” Mettaton gestured dramatically “Let’s hear a few words from those who attended the monthly address...” The monsters interviewed mostly expressed support to Asgore and respect for Toriel, although all of them agreed on one thing: that things looked very grim after one century of no progress since the war started.

The wardrobe was rather large, but it was normal. Several drawers in the lower part of the furniture contained blankets and bedsheets, along with a couple shoes way too small for Toriel. Syphus took one of those, storing it in his pocket. It could come useful in some way, he hoped.

“...but let’s not despair, dear viewers! Not everything is grim. We still have the MTT Products to brighten up our lives!” Mettaton announced, the video feed behind him vanishing away “I’m proud to announce a new addition to the programming: the MTT Shopping Program! Selling the best MTT products for your enjoyment...”

Syphus opened the large wardrobe doors. Inside there were cloaks, and nothing more than that. The cloaks were all of the same gray color and had different sizes, ranging from small child-sized cloaks to some Toriel could wear easily. Syphus looked among them, in case there was something else hidden in there.

“...news program is over! MTT News apologizes for resorting to using a recording of the monthly address instead of a live feed...”

“Wait, what?”

Syphus’ head turned so fast towards the television he almost sprained his neck. It was not a live feed? It was a recording? Then Toriel may not be in New Home right now! It took him a moment to realize he had frozen in place. Once he realized that, he quickly left the cloaks aside, turned off the television and slightly opened the door of the room, intending to listen if there was someone in the house. He clearly heard the sound of steps, it sounded muffled. Someone was ascending the stairs towards the house.

He acted immediately. The piece closed the door instinctively and facepalmed. Idiot! Why didn’t you step into the hallway?! At least that way he could have pretended he hadn’t entered into the room, but he had lost his chance. The noise made by closing the door was way too loud, too. There was no way Toriel wouldn’t hear it! Syphus was sure it was Toriel, judging by the muffled steps. Someone large and with padded feet was ascending the house, and it was likely it was her.

Syphus looked around the room, frantically, looking for a place to hide. The open door of the wardrobe showed him a good enough option, it was either that or hiding under the bed. He took a decision, hurrying to the wardrobe, getting inside and closing the door, huddling into a corner of the wardrobe, under the hanged cloaks. Syphus could feel his heart beating rather fast, the adrenaline of maybe getting caught making him want to run away as fast as possible. Sitting inside a dark wardrobe was much more stressful than he expected, looking at the darkness and trying hard to listen outside.

It wasn’t long before he heard the noise of the door of the room opening. Syphus immediately covered his mouth, trying to stifle the sound of his breathing. Didn’t goats have a great sense of hearing when it was about low sounds? He could feel his muscles tightening, the sweat gathering on his forehead. Slowly, the piece moved one hand and opened the wardrobe door just enough to see what was outside.

Indeed, it was Toriel. She was taking her time, pacing around the room. Clearly she had suspected something wrong when she found the door unlocked, that is, if she didn’t hear the noise he made not too long before. It was matter of time before she opened the wardrobe and found Syphus inside. She’s not going to like this at all! If merely talking about the room had made her angry, how would she react by finding him inside that room, snooping around? Right in that moment Toriel turned her head towards the wardrobe. Syphus pressed himself against the back of the wardrobe when she started approaching, her hand about to open it. Shit!

That’s when he remembered that one object. Just when Toriel opened the door, Syphus pressed the firefly brooch he had pinned to his green track jacket, deactivating the monster illusion and showing himself as a human. It was risky, but he had to try it, and if it didn’t work...damn it, he hadn’t made a SAVE point since Waterfall! He didn’t want to have to relive the last few hours.

The wardrobe door was completely opened. Toriel looked at the human adult inside the wardrobe, who was blinking in response to the light. “Oh! A human!”

“P-Please, don’t hurt me!” Syphus covered his head with his arms, pretending to be scared. The less threatening he looked the better, and what better for that than looking like he was fearing for his life? It was a tad humiliating, someone of his age begging for his life and covering his head like a child as if he expected an attack, but if it was necessary so Toriel didn’t suspect a thing then Syphus was willing to do it.

“Don’t fear, young man, I won’t hurt you” Toriel stepped back, leaving a lot of space for Syphus to get out of the wardrobe. Syphus stared at her for a moment with what he hoped was a distrustful expression, and slowly exited the wardrobe, always looking at her. He was trying his best to look lost, afraid, everything a human would be in a situation like this. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I think I’m—I’m okay...” Syphus said, looking away.

“How did you fall down into the mountain, young man?”

“I don’t remember much...I think I fell into a hole? And when I woke up I was in a weird purple place” Syphus pretended to have goosebumps for a moment “I got here, and found that door open, so I went in and then...heard someone going up the stairs”

Toriel nodded and closed the door of the room. Afterwards she went to the bed and sat on it, mulling something. Syphus waited, looking around with nervousness that wasn’t entirely fake, until the queen finally said something:

“How did you make yourself look like a monster earlier, Syphus?”

Syphus turned his head around. “...what...?”

“I know it’s you. I didn’t think you’d break into this room, though. Maybe I should have suspected you would” Toriel chuckled, surprisingly not tense at all. She actually sounded genuinely amused! Syphus relaxed a bit, daring to drop the act.

“How did you know it was me?”

“You’re wearing the exact same clothes that monster I talked with earlier was wearing, including that nice brooch on your chest”

Oh. Right. The illusion didn’t change the clothes. It was to be expected, now that he thought about it. Syphus smiled sheepishly. “I see. My bad”

Toriel nodded, her amusement dropping a bit. “Why were you disguised as a monster earlier?” she asked again.

This wasn’t how I thought it’d go. It was better than nothing, though. Toriel didn’t seem furious, in fact, she sounded more patient than anything else. After weighing the pros and cons of being somewhat honest, Syphus shrugged. “I have heard the legends, so I figured monsters may not be happy to see a human wandering around”

“Is that why you were asking about other humans before?”

“Precisely! I deduced there must be a human village somewhere, so I wanted to find it. It must be a safe place for someone like me”

The queen seemed to believe the half-lie, nodding while listening. It made some sense, anyone who was lost among a species that could turn hostile against him at any moment would be eager to find a safe haven, and Toriel indeed was the best lead to find that. In a way, he asking her directly should have made her suspect he was desperate. Could she trust him, though? If a human could convincingly disguise himself as a monster, wouldn’t the opposite be true, too? Was Syphus a human or a monster? That’s what she wasn’t sure yet.

How did you disguise as a monster?” Toriel asked slowly. That was the final question, the one that’d define if she could trust him. Syphus didn’t look at her, though. He seemed to be deep in thought again. The more she waited, the less she liked the situation. She had to think of what to do if she decided Syphus couldn’t be trusted. It was to be expected Syphus would keep searching everywhere. How could she convince him to stop?

“Magic” he blurted out, interrupting her ponderings “It was magic, just an illusion. I don’t know how it works, I just...” Syphus pressed the firefly brooch, turning it on. Toriel saw how in an instant the monster she had met earlier appeared right in front of her, completely different to a human. Syphus extended his hand towards her “See? It’s an illusion! I’m actually human” Toriel took the hand, squeezing it in her paw. The hand looked scaly, rough, with short and fat fingers, with long sharp claws, but none of that was real. Toriel passed her own claw in the space where Syphus’ black claws were supposed to go, noting how her fingers went through them. His claws just didn’t exist.

“I had never seen something like this before...” The magic monsters used was rather impressive in its own right, but she couldn’t recall something like an extensive illusion like this one. At least it did answer the question: the human body was the real, physical one. He really was human. After letting go of Syphus’ hand, she opened the door “I’ll take you to the Hidden Village, but there’s something I need you to promise me”

“What is it?”

“Promise to me you won’t leave it to explore the Underground” she said, sounding very firm about that “I know you have a convincing illusion, but you must not leave the Hidden Village”

So humans really were locked in a place, just not with a door and lock. The humans were isolated into an area of the Underground, forbidden from leaving. In a way, it was what monsters were currently going through. Did Toriel realize it? Syphus pointed it out. Toriel’s shoulders slouched, she looked very tired now.

“It’s for their own good”

Syphus wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It felt so...wrong, but there was nothing that could be done about it. Did the humans really accept it so easily, though? Human nature dictated some of not all of them wouldn’t just sit around and stay in the same place for the rest of their lives. It was likely some would indulge in escaping the village without Toriel being aware of it, if only to walk around Waterfall. If so, it was a miracle no human had ever gotten caught.

“I promise” What other option did he have other than accepting such condition, if only verbally? He wasn’t going to stay in that place, that was for sure. He was going to let Toriel take her there, assess the situation, make sure all the humans were okay, and then...

...then he’d do something else. He wasn’t sure yet what to do after that. I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

-ooooo-

Undyne burst through the laboratory doors, almost ripping it off the hinges. “I’m back!”

Alphys, who had been sitting in front of the console, watching Undyne go through Waterfall and back to the laboratory, didn’t even turn her head around. She was used to Undyne’s rather energetic behavior, this was something that happened practically every day. There was something about the double doors towards this area of the laboratory that made Undyne want to cross it with a tackle or a jump. After making a mental note to check later the doors weren’t about to fall down in any moment, Alphys instructed to put on a nearby table the object she had asked Undyne to bring.

It was a camera. Since some months ago, one of the many cameras in Waterfall had showed absolutely nothing, just a black void where a large cave should be shown. Alphys hadn’t been in a hurry to fix it, though. She hadn’t even bothered to try to retrieve it, she didn’t like the idea of going outside for it. After all, it was likely she’d encounter people, people with expectations, people that talked about her and told her they had high hopes for her work. It had been a very long time since she was named the Royal Scientist.

Alphys had done absolutely nothing useful since then.

It wasn’t to say she had done nothing at all. It was more that, when it was about the task of finding a way to break the Barrier, she had done no progress. Thankfully, monsterkind had been rather patient about it, mostly because Asgore’s war declaration keep them focused on that and not on her struggle. Asgore had shown to be rather understanding about the lack of progress, and although Toriel had expressed her disapproval once or twice, she had also said she was willing to let Alphys work on her own pace.

Alphys was glad about all that, but having nothing to show, having people maybe think she didn’t deserve the spot and that she was doing nothing more than leeching on the laboratory, the job and everything it brought...it made her queasy, to say the least. If she had to describe how she felt during the nights, when she was forced to stare at the ceiling while she waited to fall asleep, she’d say it all made her want to scream, to announce aloud she was a liar, that the SOUL in the robot she had made and presented was a ghost monster. It was tearing her apart.

At least she was able to keep those feelings suppressed, most of the time. “T-Thanks, Undyne” Alphys smiled sweetly while Undyne left the camera on the table. The fish woman sat slipshodly on the couch beside Alphys while the scientist examined the camera’s exterior, looking for obvious damage. Not finding any dents, the lizard scientist took it in her claws, turning it over and checking it with expert eye.

“What’s the diagnosis, doctor?”

“It’s just m-mud...” Alphys mumbled in disbelief. That was all the camera had wrong! Someone had smeared mud on the lens until nothing could be seen through it. Ridiculous! It could have been fixed long ago just by cleaning the lens. In hindsight, procrastinating this for months was kind of silly. She told Undyne the results. Undyne scrunched her face, bemused.

“That was it? Who would do something as silly as this?”

“I don’t know...b-but I can fix it in a second” Alphys took a nearby screwdriver “M-May as well check everything’s in order...”

Undyne stood up from the couch, taking it over her shoulder with absolutely no effort at all. “Take that over here. I found this in the dumpster!” she took out something: a DVD, so faded she couldn’t see what it was supposed to be. Alphys’ eyes widened slightly.

“What’s it about?”

“I don’t know! So let’s find out” Undyne left the couch against the wall and near a large TV, and put the DVD in the player while Alphys brought over the camera, as well as a few tools. She set the camera on the table in front of the couch. While she removed the outer cover of the camera, Undyne returned, slouched on the couch and grinned. As usual, watching anime with Alphys was one of the few times both could just relax and enjoy each other’s company without any pressure from anything else. Both cherished this type of moments dearly.

Alphys huddled against Undyne, starting to work on the inside of the camera while the contents of the anime DVD started.

Chapter Text

The path through Waterfall was as wet and annoying as usual. At least Monster Kid hadn’t been way too off, he really had been taking Syphus in the right direction. It was right at the end that the child had gone the wrong way. Toriel was a better guide, she walked with more certainty and didn’t run a couple dozen feet ahead of Syphus, fact he was eternally grateful for.

Both the queen and he were wearing cloaks obtained from the ‘room under renovations’. She had insisted on using it, arguing that even if he had a disguise, it’d be better to simply hide from everyone. “Won’t people be suspicious of a pair of cloaked people wandering around?” he had asked while she made sure his face was well hidden. He had activated the illusion, just in case.

“Monsterkind comes in all kind of forms and shapes, young man. They don’t pay attention to what other people are wearing or how they look like”

That was no guarantee, in Syphus’ opinion, but he supposed that if the Queen of All Monsters herself walked around Waterfall in a weekly basis and no one ever noticed it was her then maybe she was onto something.

Syphus was quickly finding out it was a hassle, though. The cloak, soaked from all the water and the puddles strewn on the ground in Waterfall, weighted a lot and hindered his movements. Toriel wasn’t having such problems, used already to the inconveniences of wearing a cloak.

She also insisted in not talking during the journey. The one time she did say something, it was to tell Syphus she was silent just in case there was someone nearby. Some people could recognize Toriel by her voice, after all, and better to be safe than sorry.

The path Toriel led him into was a narrow cavern hall. The only landmark it had was a cluster of fluorescent mushrooms on the ceiling, mushrooms were something so common no one paid much attention to it. Toriel looked at the mushrooms and nodded. “Over here” she whispered, walking to the wall and looking at the ground. She pointed a slope that led into a crevice, directing Syphus to take a closer look. The piece crouched and peered inside, finding a path that diverted from the hall and into the depths of the cavern. It was large enough for Toriel to enter without any problems, but anyone merely passing through the hall wouldn’t notice it.

Syphus descended first, slipping down the crevice until he got to the bottom, entering a dark and foreboding section of the mountain. Toriel followed behind him, taking off the cloak and instructing Syphus to deactivate his illusion. “We’re close. I trust you’ll get along with everyone”

“Don’t worry, I will” he did get along with them back in his origin timeline. How difficult could it be now? Who knew, maybe he could even get Social Links with them right out of the bat! Six Social Links would be a considerable boost of power and variety to the Personas he would fuse in the future! He was immersed in such thoughts when a yelp and a squeaky scream echoed in the cavern. He had collided with someone short and light. A little girl, to be more precise, and she had fallen onto the floor.

“Criminy!” she yelped.

“Oh dear!” Toriel moved past Syphus and helped the girl stand up, gently grabbing her in the air for a moment. “Are you alright, my child?”

“I’m okay!” she said, sounding like she hadn’t just crashed onto someone “I didn’t see you”

“It’s too dark for you to see anyone in this tunnel. Here, let’s return to the village” Toriel grabbed the girl’s hand, starting to lead her towards the end of the tunnel, with Syphus following at the back. The voice of the girl was unfamiliar. Who was she?

At the end of the cavern there was a large and well illuminated chamber. The tunnel ended in a natural platform, from where stairs descended onto the ground. Not too far from there, Syphus could see a few rustic cabins surrounding a plaza, and a bit further than that, a larger wooden building that resembled some sort of communal center. The lights in the windows were turned on, the residents had some privileges, apparently. It was kind of a shabby village, but for the purposes of living in the Underground and hidden from everyone else’s sight it was good enough. Syphus turned around to take a look at the girl he had encountered in the tunnel.

She was both familiar and a stranger at the same time. It was a curious sensation, like he knew he should recognize who he was seeing but couldn’t pinpoint a name. There were a few things that hinted her identity, though. The cowboy hat, the hopefully fake gun strapped to her thigh, the determined yet now innocent expression in her face...

“...Annie?” Syphus muttered, but he said that way too softly. Ananas didn’t hear him. Besides, she was too busy getting scolded by Toriel.

“You shouldn’t leave the village. You know it’s dangerous to go outside”

“I’m sorry, ma’am” Ananas replied, looking at the ground.

“What would have happened if someone saw you? Your life is in danger”

“I wanted to take a walk, ma’am”

Toriel crouched, placing her paw on Ananas’ shoulder. “I know it’s not easy to get used to this place, but you have to understand it’s for your own good. I’m not trying to play jailer” Ananas didn’t reply to that. Instead, she looked at Syphus with confusion.

“Who is he?”

Syphus lowered the hood of the cloak, showing his human face. Ananas’ vivacious eyes widened. “A new person for the village!”

“That’s correct. Let’s guide him to meet the rest, shall we?” Toriel again took Ananas’ hand and took her down the rudimentary stairs, going towards the village. Syphus stood still for a moment, a tad flabbergasted. Sure, her usually tanned skin looked discolored, but there was no mistake, that girl was Ananas. It was jarring to think that. Last time Syphus had seen her in person she had been an adult, almost sixty years old. Now she was a child, no older than ten years old. It was hard to believe, but then again:

The iterations from the timeline he came from weren’t the same iterations from this timeline.

Clenching his teeth in an effort to keep his jaw from falling open, Syphus followed them to the bottom of the chamber and into the village. Toriel let go of Ananas right at the edge of the village, the girl running inside and stopping near the plaza. “Where could he be? Usually he’s around here...”

“I apologize, Your Majesty. I had to help Celia for a moment” a figure hurried to the edge of the village, exiting from one of the cabins. He was an old man, moving as if he were younger than he actually was. When he got close enough Syphus had to stifle a gasp, taken aback by the old man’s appearance.

His skin had the color of bleached petrified bark, and looked dry enough to feel like one, too. Unhealthy spots covered his skin in some places, and the skin itself was tense over the bones. His eyes were dully colored, but there was a spark of intelligence and life in them that reassured Syphus the man wasn’t going to fall over dead in any second. “...are you feeling alright?” Syphus asked before he could stop himself, shuddering at the old man’s rather unpleasant appearance.

“What? Of course I feel okay! Why would you—“ the old man stopped, scoffing and looking at his own hand, bony and gnarled “It’s because of how I look, isn’t it? That always makes the newcomers stare at me”

“...yeah, it’s that. You look...uuuuh...”

“If you think how I look is bad then you better not see the one human who is older than me!”

“Cohen, this is Syphus. He fell into the Underground earlier today” Toriel introduced him, then turning towards Syphus “This is Cohen. He’s the leader and guardian of the Hidden Village”

“Pleased to meet you” Cohen extended his hand, shaking Syphus’ with a surprising amount of strength for someone as old as Cohen “You’re the first adult I see fall into this place. It’ll be nice not to have to deal with a child making a ruckus”

“I leave him in your hands, Cohen. I’ll return next week with more provisions”

“Got it, Your Majesty”

“If you ever need anything, young man, please don’t be afraid to call me. I must have a...oh dear” Toriel looked in her pocket, finding nothing in there “I thought I had a cell phone here. I must have left it in the Ruins”

Once Toriel left, Cohen clapped once, the noise echoing in the large cavern. His face took a rather serious expression “Right. First things first:

I don’t expect you to love everyone to bits, but these are the people you’re likely to live with until the end of your life. The least you can do is be cordial. Got it?”

“U-Understood” Syphus nodded. At least it couldn’t be denied Cohen was mortally serious about that.

“The people who live here are all good people. I don’t want to hear you’re causing trouble to anyone”

“I won’t, sir!” Syphus refrained from saluting.

“Excellent. One last thing: never leave this village. We were brought here to survive, and to survive we need to stay hidden, unseen. It’s going to take time for you to get used to such a small place, but once you do you’ll be fine.

Remember, this is your world now” Well isn’t that a cheery thought?

Once Syphus confirmed he had understood all the instructions, Cohen stepped towards the plaza. “Let me give you a short tour of the place. Come on, follow me”

The tour didn’t take long. Other than the cottages, there was only one building more, at the north of the plaza. Cohen pointed at it. “See that place? It’s our communal cabin. In that place there is the kitchen and the dining room, and a small stage for ceremonies or for when Toriel wants to give a speech or something. Got it?”

“Got it. Uh...who cooks in this place?”

“You’ll meet her later” Cohen said, leading Syphus to the nearest cottage. “This is Celia’s cottage. She’s the oldest person among us”

“Older than you?” So that was how this went. The former oldest person was now a child, and Celia, who Syphus knew as a little girl, was the oldest one around, and quite old, if she was older than Cohen. “How old is she?”

Cohen leaned forward as if he was going to tell an amazing secret. “Celia will be one hundred eight years old in a month”

“One hundred eight years old?!” That was way older than he thought she’d be! It was a miracle she was still alive. While Syphus’ expression showed the surprise he did feel, his guts coiled into a knot at the thought of her advanced age. She could die at any moment, right? Then that meant he didn’t have infinite time. Who knew what the consequences of someone dying could be. “How healthy is she?”

Unaware of the turmoil Syphus was feeling, Cohen shrugged. “She’s healthy enough. The magic food and ingredients Toriel provides us keeps us way healthier than we would be otherwise. Why do you ask?” Syphus didn’t answer that. That was a bit of consolation, at least Celia wasn’t going to drop dead in matter of days...maybe. He hoped. He really hoped. When Syphus requested to see her, Cohen shook his head. “No. You can’t go in. Only when she summons you you’ll be allowed to enter her cottage” the old man jabbed a finger towards Syphus’ chest “Understood? I don’t want to see you trying to sneak in”

“I-I understand, jeez!” I’m not some kind of hooligan, Cohen.

“Good. Now—look, someone is coming out of the cottage” Indeed, there was a woman exiting Celia’s cottage, a black-haired woman carrying a tray and an empty dish. “This is Byssa. She’s in charge of providing us with food and clothing. If you need anything like that talk with her, because no one else will be able to be of help”

Byssa was now the third oldest person, but compared to Cohen she was positively young. Her skin had a pasty ashy color and her cheekbones were sticking to her face despite not looking badly fed. Byssa stopped, observed Syphus for a moment, greeted him with her head and walked in direction of the communal cabin. All the time she looked at Syphus she regarded him with disdain and distrust. It wouldn’t be unusual to regard a complete stranger that way, but there was something else in her stare that bothered Syphus, even if he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

Seeing that maybe Syphus was offended, Cohen patted him on the back for a moment. “Don’t pay attention to her. She’s like that with everyone at first. Just don’t antagonize her, or else she’ll kick you in the shins. She does know how to make that hurt” he rubbed his own shin before taking Syphus to a side of the village. There was a garden of sorts, filled with vegetable plants. Not too far from there, a pile of wood, hay and other constructions materials were against the wall. There was a teenager piling up some rocks, he looked rather strong yet he had some sort of calming aura that felt comforting to Syphus. “That here is Graham. Hey! Kiddo!”

Graham turned around, wiping the sweat off his brow. “What’s new, grandpa?” he noticed Syphus and approached quickly “This was fast! It hasn’t even been a year since Annie fell down!”

“At least he’s grown up. We won’t have to deal with two kids at the same time”

“Yeah, we won’t want you to throw your back out, do we?” Graham smirked slyly, but there was affection in his voice. The teenager put his hands on his hips, taking a better look at Syphus “My name is Graham. Nice to meet...meet...you?” his gaze had stopped in Syphus’ face. He stared, confused and rather taken aback by what he was seeing. Uncomfortable by the strange reaction, Syphus cleared his throat before trying to get his attention.

“What? Is there something wrong with my face?”

“...n-no, I just...” after a moment Graham stepped back, hesitating “Nice to meet you but I think I have to go away for a moment. See you!” the teenager trotted away, looking back at Syphus once he was far away. Okay, what was up with that?! That was not the kind of reaction he had expected from Graham. Graham had always been known for his rather kind demeanor and willingness to accept anyone who came by. Was his personality way too different from that? To be rejected like that, and for reasons Syphus had no idea about...it did hurt.

“Don’t take it personal” Cohen said, unsure “Maybe he did have something to do. Either way, Graham is the one who will build your cottage. It should take a few days to have a roof over your head, so meanwhile, you’re welcome to spend the night in my cottage. I must have a spare mattress somewhere--”

“Thanks, Cohen” Syphus replied. To be completely honest, he didn’t think he’d spend long in the Hidden Village, not even to sleep. Besides, he still had a lot of gold, surely he could spend a night or two in an inn somewhere.

The last person to meet in the Hidden Village was inside his cottage. Cohen knocked on the door, and a voice sounded from inside. “I’m busy! What do you need?”

“We have a new comrade here, Ciruel. Come greet him” Cohen said, rolling his eyes. His voice was straining under the effort of being civil.

“Tell him to come back later, I said I’m busy!”

Cohen didn’t go away nor let Syphus get away, though. The old man merely put a finger to his lips, gesturing Syphus to stay silent. “He’ll be here in ten seconds”. Six had passed when the window of the cottage opened, Ciruel sticking his head out. His face still had the dark blue paint.

“Okay, okay, let me see” Ciruel saw Syphus, and raised his eyebrows “Oh! Not a kid this time”

“This is Ciruel. Anything Graham or Byssa can’t do, he’ll lend you a hand”

Somehow Ciruel sounded a bit more carefree than Syphus remembered. I guess people behave differently if they grew up in a different place. Without his family to rely on, it was to be expected Ciruel wouldn’t be as refined and stiff as he was in the original timeline. The former scholar stepped away of the window. “Uuuh...excuse me, why are your eyes so...” Ciruel tapped the lenses of his glasses, but instead of clarifying what he meant he just shook his head “Nevermind. It’s not my business”

“Your face...have you left the village again?” Cohen demanded to know.

“...maybe I did”

“I have told you many times not to leave this place!” the old man raised his voice belligerently “Not everyone is going to be fooled by your little twigs-and-paint disguise!”

“I know what I’m doing! Can’t you leave me alone?” and without waiting for a reply, Ciruel closed the window. Cohen clenched his fist, looking as if he was about to punch the nearest object around – Syphus stepped back just in case – but he calmed down after a moment.

“That little stubborn...” Cohen muttered, turning around “Tour is over. If you have any questions you may choke on them. Thank you”

“What’s wrong with you?!” Syphus spat before he could stop himself. Cohen, realizing his demeanor when Syphus replying with as much vitriol as he had just used, raised his hands in defense, sighing deeply.

“Sorry. I know I shouldn’t take my anger on you, but...” a vein on the old man’s forehead swelled a bit “It’s like no one cares we need to stay in here. I swear every single one of them takes any chance they have to sneak out. It pisses me off”

“You can’t expect people to just accept being forced to stay in such a small place”

“It’s so we stay alive! That can’t be so hard to understand” Cohen’s shoulders dropped “Maybe I’m a bit too rough on all of them, but I mean this:

In this village, my word is the law. What I say, goes. Without someone to rein them in, everyone except Celia would have wandered away and gotten killed long ago”

It isn’t like you can force them to stay here Syphus was starting to feel some sympathy towards Cohen. Cohen always had a rather strong and anger-fueled streak, and although his heart was in the right place, his behavior tended to push people away. Growing in completely different circumstances didn’t seem to quell such trait, apparently.

“Cohen, I don’t think it’s so bad. Maybe you could try to not to impose your thoughts like that...?”

“...I could try, I guess, but I can’t promise anything” Cohen crossed his arms “Would it be correct to suppose you’re going to do the same and sneak out of the village once I turn my back?”

“Now why would I do that?” Syphus smiled sheepishly. Cohen wasn’t fooled by that. The old man rubbed his face with both hands for a moment, sighing deeply, before lowering them and raising his voice a bit.

“Look, these people are under my supervision, and you...you’re one of these people now. We humans need to stick together and watch for each other. How else are we going to survive? So listen here:

I promise that, as long as you live in this village, I’ll do everything I can to watch over you. So don’t be afraid of telling me anything. Good old Cohen will deal with it the best he can” he even dared to smile boisterously at that point.

Cohen has taken you under his wing.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Cohen

It couldn’t be denied Cohen had good intentions. If only he also had the sensibility and the kindness to go along with those...Syphus thanked him, and frowned. It bothered him that most of the people he had met in the village had acted strangely towards him.

“What’s with that long face? Something wrong?” Cohen asked. Syphus grimaced at that “If you have questions go ahead. Ask them”

“Did I give a wrong impression? Everyone was acting as if I had grown parasites all over my face or something”

Cohen rubbed his chin. “How do you expect me to know? But it may be because of your eyes”

“...my eyes?” What was so bad about his eyes? Cohen nodded.

“I don’t think anyone here had ever seen anyone with such bright golden eyes”

-ooooo-

The good news was that he had found the Hidden Village. The bad news is that he had no idea where this was supposed to go from here. Yeah, he had found the humans. He had just confirmed they were all okay, or at least well enough to survive for the foreseeable future, if nothing went horribly wrong. So now what?

“I think I got stuck” Sisyphus murmured to Lucia, who was staring at the pieces attentively. Lucia didn’t answer for a moment, pointing at several of the pieces and muttering to herself.

“...rook to A5...pawn forward two squares...bishop is in danger...”

“Lucia?”

Lucia snorted, putting her hands on her knees. “You need to get your piece’s ass in gear already. Congratulations on making an advance towards Cornio’s side, but he’s preparing something big” she glanced at Cornio, who was looking at her and Sisyphus with curiousity.

“What? What do you think he’s going to do?”

“See here? He’s flanking this part rather well. You made a bad move, and now it’ll cost you dearly”

That says absolutely nothing! Sisyphus took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “Don’t blame me. I’m not a seasoned player like you” after a short pause, he put his glasses back on. “How bad is it?”

“Checkmate levels of bad. It’s guaranteed he’ll manage to put your king on check”

“Fantastic. Well, not all is doomed yet. Let’s see...” Sisyphus looked at his own pieces, analyzing the situation. It certainly was like Lucia said, he had left his defenses way too open. Even though Cornio was supposedly inexperienced with all this, he had pulled the strings and made the residents of the world do his bidding rather admirably. “Any suggestions?” Sisyphus said to Lucia.

Lucia put her chin on her hands, her eyebrows raising over her blindfold. “You know what I think? That kid is what you need right now”

“You mean Frisk?”

“Yeah, Frisk. Your big mistake was to let them go. You were told several times the Underground was a dangerous place. Your piece said it himself! Yet...look! They’re traversing the Underground alone. That’s what you did wrong”

Right. She was right, it was a major mistake to let Frisk go and not make a bigger effort to follow them. “So all I need is to find Frisk again, and stop them from continuing their usual attempt to reach Asgore. That doesn’t sound so difficult. I know where they’ll pass through”

“Then do it. You don’t have long”

By Sisyphus’ calculations Frisk would take no more than an hour to get to Snowdin – it was taking them an unusual amount of time to pass through the forest -- but if it were that simple, it wouldn’t be a game changer. If the problem was that Frisk was traveling alone, what could be its consequences? There was one thing that could happen, at least at first sight “Frisk is going to die”

“If you don’t do anything, they will” Lucia nodded “It seems to me that if the kid reaches Undyne they’re as good as dead...and you’ll lose the game. Badly”

“Then we better find a way to stop them” Sisyphus raised his hand to move one of the pieces, but his hand froze midway. He didn’t like this at all. He had an idea of how to stop Frisk from moving for at least until the next day, but the way he’d do it made him a bit uncomfortable. There was nothing he hated more than seeing a kid hurt.

Forgive me for this, Frisk. I don’t see any other option. I need to gain time here!

And so Sisyphus made his move.

-ooooo-

Where was Sans? Where was Papyrus? Where were all the puzzles? Where were the dogs?

Frisk kept traversing Snowdin, starting to feel disoriented. They had experienced the same events countless times, and in all those times, the skeletons brothers welcomed him to the Snowdin forest area through puzzles and japes. It was something they never got tired of, no matter how many times they experienced it. That was why the complete absence of the skeletons bothered them so much. The missing puzzles was a bad omen too. Where were their friends?

And during it all, Frisk had seen several guards they didn’t know. They had to take a lot of deviations from their usual path to avoid all the unknown guards, not wanting to risk being seen yet. The Underground may as well be a completely foreign place again, like the first time. Toriel, Sans, Papyrus...would Undyne and Alphys be gone too?

Frisk was too busy with those ponderings to notice one of the guards they didn’t know had taken notice of them. “Hey! I think that’s a human!” the guard shouted to a nearby partner, pointing in direction of the kid. Only when the two Royal Guard members stood in front of them, Frisk took notice.

Without saying a word, Frisk’s neutral expression changed ever so slightly while a cold chill went down their back. They didn’t know the guards that were right in front of them, and the axes they were carrying presaged nothing good. Keeping their breath level, Frisk raised their hands defensively, preparing themselves for the FIGHT.

It shouldn’t be that much of a problem, right? Frisk had experienced dozens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of FIGHTs. By now they should know how to end it peacefully.

-ooooo-

He’s hurting Frisk! I can’t believe it!

Cornio had paid attention to what Lucia and Sisyphus had been discussing. Sisyphus hadn’t noticed the influence of Cornio’s moves and decisions until it was too late to stop any of them. He had managed to sink his claws into the innards of the hearts of monsterkind. It didn’t mean monsters didn’t have free will. Any of Cornio’s decisions would be more like an insidious suggestion in their heads, a way to spur them to do what he wanted instead of outright controlling anyone. It was already unsavory he was going to take control of one single person in the entire Underground, but he had promised himself it’d only be for short periods. Although he didn’t like it, it was a necessary action. That one person was the key to cause all the obstacles and mayhem he had in mind.

Cornio had finished the base for the entirety of his game, now all that remained was to start the core of his plan:

Start attacking the Victims, and really, really hope Sisyphus would be skillful enough to save them before the corruption and consequences of Cornio’s manipulations took root into the Victims’ SOULs.

And the way he was going to attack the Victims was by using their Shadows, of course.

Lucia had seen straight through Cornio. Indeed, Frisk was going to be the first Victim. Just like Lucia had said, Frisk was going to be attacked right before they got to Undyne. What Cornio had never expected was that to gain time and stop Frisk from getting to Undyne anytime soon Sisyphus would make monsters attack the child. It seemed the Royal Guard the child encountered would only rough them up, enough for Frisk to need rest and time to heal a few minor wounds, but it was too much for Cornio. You’re supposed to save them. How can you do this to someone you’re supposed to protect and save?!

“Something wrong?” Sisyphus noticed Cornio’s face slightly contorting with anger. Cornio took a deep breath before making the best naïve and clueless expression he could make.

“It’s all fine” he smiled, and Sisyphus looked away, again talking with Lucia. ...no, I’m wrong. Normally he wouldn’t do this. It’s just because he needed a way to stop Frisk on their tracks, that’s all. I can trust him. I can...I can trust him. Again Cornio started having doubts playing with the timeline was the right thing to do.

I must trust him.

-ooooo-

Since the Hidden Village was found and Syphus was sure he’d be able to return at any moment, if so he needed, he decided to return to the other plan: find Frisk. The more time passed, the guiltier they felt about not trying harder to find Frisk and keep them from continuing alone. The clock on the wall in Cohen’s cottage showed it was around 9:00 PM. “I didn’t know there still was a cycle of day and night down here” Syphus commented.

“It’s a remnant of what used to be life on the surface” Cohen answered, putting on a pair of tattered leather gloves. The pink color it had had faded away long ago. “Monsters made the magical light in the Underground get dimmer after a certain hour, so it’s ‘night’. You should get to sleep already”

“What about you?”

“I have to make the nightly guard. Don’t worry about me, I’m used to it” Cohen smiled wryly “Anything for the safety of the village”

It shouldn’t be too hard to get past him, right?  Just one old man, trying to watch over the cavern that’d lead towards Waterfall and the rest of the Underground. A distraction could be enough to escape. Cohen went outside, waving his hand as farewell, while Syphus got on the mattress Cohen had loaned him. After a few minutes, and once he was sure Cohen had left and was far enough Syphus left the cottage.

Syphus slowly walked towards the edge of the village, hiding behind one of the cottages and keeping his ears open to any sounds. No one seemed to be nearby. Where was Cohen? Did he watch from a place hidden from view? Was he watching him right now? Syphus didn’t dare to step far from the cottage, just in case. He really needed to plan how he’d escape. The piece looked at all the possible paths, examined the ceiling of the cave, took note of all the dark spots where he could take cover in case Cohen came nearby. Shouldn’t be too hard to use all this data to craft a plan to escape—

“The bull eyes the world beyond the corral. Can he get past the cowboy?”

Syphus gasped when he heard a voice he recognized, a voice with a rather exaggerated accent. Ananas had gotten beside him, crouching and smiling cheekily. “Y-You...”

“Howdy, bucko! Shouldn’t you be sleepin’ right now?”

“...can you not do the whole old west talk thing? It’s distracting” He didn’t really have time to decipher her way of speaking right now. The more he stood around talking, the less likely he’d be able to escape.

Ananas grinned. “I’m sorry! So, are you trying to get out?” Syphus nodded after a pause “I can help you. I have gotten past Cohen so many times I could do it with my eyes closed” she whispered as if that was a big secret.

“Can you teach me?”

“No” Ananas crossed her arms, pouting “I’m going to help you today, but you’ll need to find a way how to do it by yourself. I don’t want old Cohen to know how I always escape” once she got Syphus to agree with that, she put a finger to her lips, giggling a bit “Be ready to run”

The girl tiptoed towards a side of the cavern before speaking loudly, looking at a small hole on the wall. “It’s a calm night in the dry meadow. How are you doing, my deputy?”

“...stay in your cottage. I mean it” Syphus could faintly hear Cohen’s voice.

“But I don’t want to go to bed yet! I want to do a stakeout with you”

Syphus started slowly walking along the shadows, hoping Ananas was keeping Cohen from looking in his direction. “We have talked about this several times. Go to bed”

“Make me”

“What’s gotten into you tonight?!” from the wall out came Cohen, taking Ananas’ wrist and taking her to one of the cottages. While she pretended to be glumly led away, she turned her head around and pointed with it towards the tunnel.

“Get going” she mouthed. Syphus didn’t need that to be told twice, he ran as silently as he could towards the wooden stairs that led to the tunnel. He had barely got to the small platform at the top when he heard light steps ascending the stairs. It was Ananas.

The girl got to Syphus’ side, bouncing with excitement. “You did it! Well done! Now let me escort you to Waterfall”

“I’m not sure you should leave the village, Annie”

“Don’t call me Annie. I’m the Sheriff around here” Ananas tipped her cowboy hat forward “Here, follow me” and without waiting for reply, she entered the tunnel. Not wanting to get in a fight with a child for pretty much no big reason, Syphus sighed and followed her.

“By the way, thanks for helping me” Syphus said “I don’t know if I could get past Cohen”

That made Ananas grin with excitement. “He has a short fuse. I just need to be a little brat and he’ll try to get me stay in my cottage. It’s that easy!” her grin vanished “But I did want to do a stakeout with him...I want to learn how to do it. I want to know how to fight, too, but he doesn’t want to teach me”

Syphus nodded. That did seem a bit familiar to him...Ananas had always been the type to take action instead of sitting around doing nothing. “Why are you interested in doing that?”

“I want to be the next guardian of the village! It’s my biggest dream” she raised her head high “Someday I’ll be the one taking care of everyone”

Syphus felt a warm feeling in his chest, he wanted to grab Ananas and tell her she’s the type of person that’d achieve anything she wanted. She had the courage and willpower, all she needed was a chance. “And what’s stopping you?”

“Old Cohen doesn’t want me to even think of being the next guardian” she said a bit drably “He says I’m too young for that. I’m eight already! Even if I’m little now, I won’t be little forever, right?”

“Have you told him that?”

“I did, but he says...he says he doesn’t trust anyone to do this better than him”

It was one thing to think that, but in Syphus’ opinion, if there was anyone capable to protect the village, it’d be Ananas, once she was a bit older. She had the right attitude, all she needed now was the skill. “You know what? I’ll help you”

“What?!”

“What you heard. Sheriff, I promise I’ll do everything I can so you’re the next guardian! I don’t know yet what I’ll do but there must be something. I’ll try to talk with Cohen”

Ananas stopped, astonished and completely silent. It was so sudden Syphus for a moment thought he had said something he shouldn’t have. The silence was broken by a sob. “Do you...d-d-do you mean it...mister?”

“I do. I don’t make promises lightly, kid! You’ll be the guardian of the village even if it’s the last thing I do”

The sobs stopped. Before Syphus could think of anything to say and maybe make the situation not look as awkward as it seemed, Ananas clung to Syphus’ leg, squeezing it with all her might. “N-No one had ever said they’d help me with this! Thank you, thank you so much!

Mister, you’re the best!”

You have taken Ananas under your wing.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Ananas

Ananas let go of Syphus’ leg, drying the tears on her eyes. “C-Confound it, a cowboy doesn’t cry...we’re tough! I won’t cry ever again!”

“There’s nothing bad with crying, Sheriff. Cowboys do cry too”

She covered her face with her hat, swaying from side to side bashfully. “Cohen says I’m too young, but I’m strong for my age. I bet I could fight any monster that tries to attack us.

I’ll show everyone...that I’m the one who’ll protect them all!” As if that needed even more emphasis, Ananas pressed the hat over her head, flashing a bold smile. Syphus knew she meant every single word of that, and he had no doubt that she’d manage to gain all the humans’ respect once she had the chance to show what she was made of.

Even although she returned back to the village once Syphus got to Waterfall, she promised she’d sneak out of the Hidden Village the next day. “We need to train. I have to get even stronger” she had said, looking from side to side of the cavern to check if anyone was nearby “Let’s meet over there tomorrow.

There’s a small chamber at the end of this path here. That’s where I train and play”

Syphus raised his eyebrows. “Right where anyone could see you? Annie, that’s dangerous—“

“You sound like that old man...” Ananas mumbled before taking off her hat, flipping it in her hands with confidence “I’ll be okay. I made sure I wouldn’t be found” she grinned impishly.

“What did you do?” Trusting Ananas’ words blindly would be foolish. Better to know what exactly she meant by that.

Ananas’ grin widened. “There was a camera there. I covered the lens with mud and turned it around”

...the cameras! Syphus had completely forgotten about the cameras spread through all places in the Underground. The Ruins was pretty much the only place without cameras, but ever since it had opened up as a tourist spot, it was not a safe refuge. Syphus made mental note to be more careful, if any of the cameras saw him as a human or helped Alphys find out where the Hidden Village was...who knew what could happen. Alphys wasn’t the kind of person that’d harm a human just like that, but there was no guarantee only Alphys would know.

“Mister? Mister, why are you making weird faces?”

“...where’s that camera? Show me”

The girl led Syphus to a small chamber at the end of the hallway, disquietingly close to the crevice that’d lead to the Hidden Village. The chamber branched into a maze-like series of tunnels and rooms, a veritable playground for active children like Ananas and Monster Kid. Now that he thought about that, Monster Kid and Ananas were friends, weren’t they?

Maybe I should keep an eye on MK too. If he was about to bring me here maybe he’d bring other monsters too.

“Over there” Ananas pointed at a small shelf-like protrusion on the wall. Syphus walked to the protrusion and stood on the tip of his feet, peering over it.

“Sheriff, there’s nothing here”

-ooooo-

In another place of Waterfall, Royal Guard 047 grasped his sword with fury and slashed at the training dummy again, pouring all his frustration onto it. Hotlands! He had been assigned to Hotlands! Well, it wasn’t that bad – he lived in Hotlands and it was a rather nice place for someone who was mostly made of clay – and it was going to take much less time to go to work now, but the spot in the Ruins had made him proud. Having it taken away was humiliating.

And all because he had let curiosity overtake him. Damn it.

The flat of the sword hit the dummy, sending it hurtling towards a nearby bench, making it fall behind the bench and out of sight. Satisfied with how far it had flown, Royal Guard 047 sheathed his sword and let out his breath. He had to calm down. This wasn’t the end of the world. Life goes on, and in matter of days surely he’d have gotten used to the new area he had to patrol and it’d be like nothing happened. “All will be okay. I’ll be fine as long as I never see that guy ever again”.

Having calmed down enough for the moment, Royal Guard 047 left the room, leaving the dummy abandoned beside the bench.

Chapter Text

It had seemed the delaying action had worked. Syphus had left Ananas back in the tunnel to the village, telling her to get back there and sleep, and went to the path he knew Frisk would take through Waterfall. It was starting to be late at night, the passageways and roads in Waterfall were rather lonely, to the point that anyone’s steps would reverberate and announce anyone’s presence, but no one was coming. It seemed like Syphus was the only person roaming this late around.

The streets of Snowdin Town were as lonely as Waterfall. Unlike earlier, only a few stragglers remained out of their homes, calmly walking and enjoying the cold air outside. It was going to be a pleasant and peaceful night for everyone, there was no reason to believe anything would happen. Syphus made a SAVE point and stuck his claws into the pockets of his jacket, crossing the town and leaning on the sign that welcomed newcomers to Snowdin.

Minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. Thirty. Fifty. All that time, gritting his teeth and rubbing his hands together to keep himself warm. From time to time he had to step away of the sign just to make sure the back of his clothing wasn’t sticking to the sign. During that wait, a few of the residents of the town approached, asking if he was waiting for someone. “A friend of mine should be coming to the town” he always replied cordially. Usually the pedestrian would go away at that time, but sometimes they’d stick around. Syphus welcomed the conversations, anything to keep himself busy instead of having to stare around him and count the snowflakes on the pine needles of the nearest tree.

The wait was close to meeting the one-hour mark when the most recent pedestrian said something Syphus hadn’t thought about. “What if they already arrived?”

“...eh?”

“They could be waiting somewhere warm and comfy” the pedestrian turned their head towards the nearby houses “Like the inn”

Could they have arrived long ago? It was worth a try. Entering, asking and going out...it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. If Frisk wasn’t there, then Syphus could return outside, no big deal. No, now that he thought about it, it’s possible they were at the skeleton brothers’ house, too. Had Frisk met them?

Syphus thanked the pedestrian and walked to the inn, shaking off the snow off his shoulders and entering. The bunny monster behind the counter raised her eyes from the guestbook, smiling at the possible client. “Welcome to Snowed Inn. Do you wish to take a room?”

That wasn’t a bad idea, it was turning late. After asking how much it’d cost to have a room for the night – that much?! That’s almost all the gold I have! – and taking his key, Syphus leaned on the counter, doing the most amicable face he could make. “Say, I have been waiting for a friend for a while already...maybe they rented a room?”

“How do they look like?”

Syphus levelled his hand in the air. “They are this tall, brown hair, a striped sweater...they’re a child, traveling alone”

“Oh! Yes, a child wanted a room. Poor thing had no gold, but I let them stay. Are you their guardian?”

The piece hesitated, unsure. He’d have to lie, wouldn’t he? “I’m responsible for their well-being. Can I see them?”

The innkeeper wasn’t forthcoming with the information at first, but after Syphus suggested she went with him to confirm with the child, she stepped away of the counter and brought him to a door upstairs. She knocked on the door. “Excuse me! May I come in?” the child inside replied she could, so she opened the door widely.

Indeed, it was Frisk. The child was inside, sitting on the bed, clutching their arm and staring at the wall. When the innkeeper opened the door they turned their head around. “Do you know him?” she asked, stepping aside to show better the reptile monster beside her. Frisk stared for a moment before nodding. Satisfied with the child’s response, the innkeeper stepped away. Once the innkeeper was gone, Syphus sighed and leaned against the wall, said a ‘hello, Frisk’ and quickly evaluated Frisk’s condition.

Frisk was rather roughed up. Their hair was disheveled, they had scrape marks on a side of their face, and they were still holding their arm. It didn’t look like they were hurt in any way that was going to last for a long while, but it was pitiful enough for Syphus to immediately feel a bit of a protective feeling towards the child.

“I thought you lived in the Ruins...” Frisk said, still not moving from the bed. They weren’t trying to close the door, that was a good sign. He wasn’t unwelcome right now, at least not as before, and Syphus was going to take any chance he could to convince Frisk not to continue alone.

“I told you I was just a visitor there” Syphus said and shook his head “What happened, kid? Why are you so beaten up?”

“...I got attacked”

“Who?”

“The Royal Guard. They...” Frisk winced “I didn’t think they would be so violent...” it was to be expected monsterkind would be a tad more brutal since there were no SOULs gathered and Frisk was the first human to fall – as far as most knew – but knowing it and seeing the results of that behavior were two different things. The feathers on Syphus’ back stood on end.

“How dare they...!” he spat, gritting his teeth for a moment before forcing himself to calm down “Will you be okay?”

Frisk nodded, tightening their hold on their arm. Not convinced, Syphus slowly entered the room, prepared to leave if Frisk so wished it. “Let me see” they requested gently. Frisk hesitated, looking at their shoes and not saying anything. Syphus had been about to step back when Frisk extended their arm. The piece rolled up the sleeve as carefully as possible.

The arm was pretty bruised but it didn’t seem broken. It was bleeding lightly, maybe Frisk had fallen down on some rocks? The cause didn’t matter that much. “It isn’t so bad. You should be fine” Frisk still didn’t reply; they were staring at Syphus with confusion. The false monster didn’t realize what had been his mistake, but Frisk did notice that, despite the long curved claws and scaly fingers, Syphus’ claws didn’t entangle in the sweater, nor the fingers felt as scaly as expected. It was weirdly contradictory; they weren’t sure what the meaning of it all was.

Syphus let go the arm. “I’ll go get some bandages. Wait here, kid. It won’t take long” he requested. To be frank, he was kind of sure Frisk would run away, or at least close the door of their room. Soon Syphus was back in the inn, having spent the last gold he had on bandages and a Cinnamon Bun. Much to his surprise, he found the door of Frisk’s room wide open. When Syphus entered, Frisk jumped slightly, as if they had been doing something wrongful right before Syphus came in.

The child accepted the Cinnamon Bun. “Alright, stay still. If you move you could get a bit more hurt than you already are”

“...it doesn’t hurt that much”

“It isn’t about you being in pain, it’s about making sure you’re alright” Syphus carefully made sure there really wasn’t anything broken and started wrapping the bandages around Frisk’s arm, trying his best not to cause too much discomfort. Frisk stoically endured the pain, barely showing it hurt, satisfied with eating the Cinnamon Bun.

Once Syphus was done, he put a bit of the leftover bandage on the scrape marks on Frisk’s face, and let their hair cover it. “There you go. We’re done here”

“...you didn’t have to do this, Syphus” Frisk mumbled, his fingers curling on what was left of the Cinnamon Bun.

“I don’t see why not. You were hurt, I wanted to help you. What kind of person would see a child hurt and walk away? Not a good person, I’d say”

“Do you really think that?”

“Of course I do! There’s no one more cowardly than someone who dares to hurt a child” Syphus said categorically “And as far as I’m concerned, leaving them alone when they need help is just as bad. Why did the innkeeper not do a thing?!”

“...she tried to, but I told her I was okay” Frisk raised their head “Were you following me?”

Syphus, standing up to disguise the sudden tenseness on their face, opened the wardrobe of the room. There were many things inside, just a few clean blankets and bedsheets piled by color: navy blue and white. Syphus took one of the blankets, passing it to Frisk. “No. I didn’t follow you, but a couple hours ago I got worried anything would happen to you. The Underground is dangerous for a...” he lowered his voice as if he expected someone to be listening from the hallway “...a human...” he raised his voice back “...so I decided to try to find you. Is that okay?” Frisk nodded but didn’t reply anything further than that. Supposing the talk was over and satisfied Frisk wasn’t too hurt, Syphus moved to leave the room.

“I have a room not too far from here. If you need anything don’t be afraid to knock at my door, alright? And...” he turned his head around “...and in the morning please wait for me. I insist: you should go with someone. Don’t go alone” Frisk still didn’t reply.

The piece put his hand on the doorknob and started to close the door. Right when he was about to do it, Frisk finally said something. “Wait!”

Syphus held the door. “Hm?”

Frisk raised their head, smiling slightly “Thank you for helping me”

“It was nothing, don’t mention it”

Frisk tries to downplay their gratitude.

The Human Child Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Fool Arcana has grown!

Syphus’s expression lightened up “See you in the morning, Frisk. Sleep well”

Something in that sentence made something click in Frisk’s mind. Their smile vanished, replaced by a contemplative expression. “How do you know my name?”

“What do you mean?”

“I haven’t told you my name, mister”

The reptile froze. That had been a very stupid mistake, and he knew it. “I...think...it feels like I have met you before. I don’t know how...” and that was a very bad excuse, after all, Frisk would know they had never met him before. It was a good idea to go away before he said anything else that could dig a deeper hole, but before doing that he wanted to see Frisk’s reaction.

It wasn’t what Syphus expected. Instead of recoiling, or shouting something along the lines of ‘I don’t believe you!’, Frisk smiled wryly. “Mister, you’re not a very good liar” they said. Syphus blinked, for a moment he thought he had seen a strange glint in Frisk’s eyes, but it was gone before he could be sure he had really seen it. Syphus hemmed and hawed for a moment more before closing the door of the room and going towards his own. He really needed to be more careful, this kind of mistakes were unforgivable.

Once Syphus was gone and the door was closed, Frisk laid on the bed, underneath the blanket Syphus had passed them. They stared at the ceiling for a moment before talking very softly, starting a conversation meant only for themselves.

“I don’t think he’s a bad person” Frisk said.

Chara closed their eyes. “I’m not sure if he is, but you shouldn’t trust him. If he’s not being honest with you there’s no reason for you to rely on him.”

“I understand. I’ll leave early in the morning”

“That’s for the best. Besides, I bet he’ll find you again”

“Is that bad?”

“I don’t know. Keep your guard up”

The next morning Syphus went to Frisk’s room and knocked on the door. Receiving no answer, Syphus opened the door slightly, having found it unlocked. There was no one inside. The bed was still unmade, and the window was open. Did they leave through there?! Syphus entered the room and looked out of the window. There were no prints on the snow outside. It was unlikely Frisk had gone out this way. While there was a tree right in front of the window, it was too far away for anyone to jump onto it, too. It was rather unlikely Frisk had randomly decided to leave through the window.

A minute later Syphus met with the innkeeper, who was already behind the counter, and asked if she knew what had happened to Frisk. “The child left not too long ago! They said you were going to follow them shortly. Should I have stopped them?”

Maybe you should have! Then again, it wasn’t like the innkeeper could have known. After taking a moment to calm down and remind himself he couldn’t blame the innkeeper, Syphus thanked her and left the inn. The innkeeper made a few notes in the guestbook and went upstairs to make sure the rooms Syphus and Frisk occupied were orderly for future guests.

There was nothing wrong with Syphus’ bedroom. The innkeeper took the blanket and bedsheets off the bed, intending to pile them with the laundry for later. She opened the wardrobe of the room and took out white and dark blue blanket and bedsheets, replacing the ones she had just taken from the bed.

Once the room Syphus used was well fit for the next guest, the innkeeper went into the room Frisk had used, intending to do the same. When she opened the wardrobe, she noticed there was something wrong. A bit bewildered, she counted the bedsheets and blankets, including the ones on the bed. There was no mistake:

One white bedsheet and one blue blanket were missing from Frisk’s room.

-ooooo-

If Frisk had left not too long ago, chances were Syphus could catch up to them soon. After making a SAVE point, just in case he died in some stupid way again in Waterfall, Syphus hurried into that area of the Underground.

When Syphus passed in front of Papyrus and Sans’ house, he didn’t notice someone watching from the window. “It worked” Frisk murmured, smushing their face against the glass. Just like expected, Syphus had ran into Waterfall, intending to find them. It had been easy to think of a plan. All they did was go to the skeleton brothers’ house and knocked at the door.

They hadn’t come here just because they wanted to hide. Although escaping from Syphus had been part of the reason they had come here, their motive to come here was because they wanted to create their friendship with Papyrus and Sans. That was going rather well! Papyrus had opened the door, like they had hoped. When he opened the door, Papyrus let out a gasp before glancing for a moment towards Sans’ door. Once he was sure Sans was still ‘napping’ in his room and hadn’t heard the door opening, Papyrus talked in a barely passable indoor voice. “A HUMAN IN MY DOORSTEP!”

Papyrus unconsciously rekindled his friendship with Frisk, taking no time at all. As if it had been something he had done a thousand times, Papyrus introduced himself to Frisk, showed Frisk his room, served him badly-cooked spaghetti, and although all they did was ‘hanging out’, they had quickly turned into as close friends as they had been in countless other timelines.

Despite how well it went, Frisk couldn’t avoid feeling there was something off about it all. It took them a while to realize what it was: Papyrus had immediately recognized them as a human, and not only that, he had also tried to keep Sans unaware. Not that it had worked for long! Sans quickly found out about Frisk’s presence in the house. When Frisk, sitting on the couch, looked aside for a moment, Sans took the chance to appear on the other side of the couch “paps. did you notice there’s a human sitting on our couch?” he had said, his voice perfectly idle as if he was commenting about the sprinkles on the pet rock, and winked in Frisk’s direction.

Papyrus, who had been in the kitchen, let a pan fall down in false surprise. “OH! THAT IS STRANGE! I HADN’T NOTICED THERE WAS A HUMAN NEARBY! I THOUGHT IT WAS A ROCK!”

“relax, bro. this is a good human” Sans’ response made Papyrus peek from the kitchen and comment he had thought Sans would be more surprised to this. The truth was that Sans was aware Papyrus had been mingling with a human who usually spent time in their shed, but he hadn’t considered necessary to intervene in any way. Who was he to tell Papyrus who to mingle with?

Now that Sans was aware of Frisk’s presence, Papyrus continued his kitchen adventure with less restraint, making the usual racket Sans was used to. While Papyrus kept going, Sans sank in the couch cushion, content for a moment. Frisk was here, Papyrus was going to get along with Frisk...what else could he ask for? “what took you so long, bucko?”

“...what do you mean?” Frisk tilted their head, opening an eye slightly.

“do you know that feeling when you’re watching a tv show and you feel it’s that rerun you have watched a thousand time already?” Frisk didn’t say anything. They were aware Sans knew of the repeating timelines, or at least seriously suspected there was something afoot, but they never felt brave enough to touch the topic. Being silent was their way of trying to avoid the topic, hopefully without making it obvious they didn’t like it.

Sans, watching attentively for any change in Frisk’s wooden expression, found himself unable to know if Frisk was familiar with the possibility the timelines were repeating. “well, that’s how it felt, as if you should have been here since yesterday. it’s a funny feeling, and trust me, i know a lot about funny feelings”

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about” Good thing Frisk had millennia of practice. By now their face didn’t twitch nor they started sweating when Sans brought up that topic.

“nevermind. the name is sans, sans the skeleton. thanks for being my brother’s pal”

After a few minutes of talking, the child found out rekindling their friendship with Sans wasn’t as easy as it was with Papyrus. Unlike the taller skeleton, Sans was more reserved and didn’t really show any interest in Frisk, satisfied with following the flow. Frisk supposed it was no surprise, after all, the start of their friendship was always playing along Papyrus’ puzzles. No puzzles meant their friendship wouldn’t be as strong as other times, as much as it hurt. “why the hurt face, kiddo?”

“It’s nothing” Frisk said with a sigh. May as well ask for something that’d help them feel better and maybe bond with Sans... “I’m going to New Home”

“you want to meet with the king? that’s brave of you. no human would go visit a king who wants to take their SOUL” Sans said, making it look like it was no big deal “and what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know if I’ll be safe on the way to New Home” Frisk said. With some luck Sans would get the insinuation and accept to watch over them, like they always did in the other timelines.

Sans stared blankly at Frisk for a moment until something clicked in his head. So that’s what they were hinting at! Clever kid. “are you asking me to accompany you?”

“That—“

“i work very hard, kiddo. what would my bosses say if i ditched work just like that?”

“SANS, YOU ALWAYS DO THAT!”

“don’t pay attention to the skeleton in the kitchen” Sans patted Frisk on the back “i can’t go with you but i can keep an eye socket on you. is that good enough?”

“You promise?” Frisk looked at Sans to the eye sockets, knowing how much Sans hated to make promises. Sans didn’t look away or seem uncomfortable, all he did was shrug.

“you ask too much of me. i can’t promise that”

Figures. Frisk stared at their shoes, a tad discouraged. It was nice to be Papyrus’ friend again, but Sans’ reticence was a letdown.

“What did you expect, Frisk? You’re just a human kid who appeared in his living room because his brother got him inside, like a dog bringing a bone” Chara said, communicating directly into Frisk’s SOUL. Chara felt a bit of a perverse satisfaction at the possibility of Sans staying away, why not to encourage that? Not wanting to start talking to the air right in front of Sans, Frisk excused themselves and went to Papyrus’ room, saying they had forgotten something up there, and closed the door behind them.

“Sans is my friend. I must mean something to him”

Right now you’re just a human kid he knows nothing about. Even if he remembers other timelines, what reason does he have to admit it?” Chara said.

“I just...”

“You’re lucky he accepted to ‘keep an eye socket on you’. Not that it was of much help in other timelines, was it? No, there must be another reason for you to ask him to go with you” Chara’s voice acquired a malevolent edge “Be honest with yourself, Frisk. Why do you want Sans to go with you?”

Frisk lowered their eyes. It had been a very long time since the last time Chara had directly attacked Frisk’s feelings in any way. They had almost forgotten how much it hurt. Seeing Frisk was unwilling to budge yet, Chara continued pressuring. “Could it be you’re wary of that snake monster who has taken a shine to you? If you want that creep to leave you alone then just say that to him”

“No, he’s not a problem” Frisk hurried to say “It’s just that...I want Sans to go with me”

“Why? Say it already”

“Because that’s how it’s supposed to go” Frisk said, sounding more certain than they had sounded since arriving to the Underground “I don’t like how things are going differently. If that happens...does that mean monsters won’t be free? That I won’t be their friend, and that...that...it’s going to end? Is this the last timeline?” Chara said nothing, so Frisk continued, fretting “I think if I try to make things go like they’re supposed to go, it’ll all be okay. There must be a way, right?

“...I don’t know, Frisk. I’m as lost as you”

That was a bit comforting. “Chara, I...I’m sorry. This timeline is not what I’m used to, but we should keep going, right? We should do our best together.”

A curious warmth spread through Frisk’s SOUL. “Let’s not get sappy, Frisk. You always get sappy when you start saying stuff like that”

“You know you don’t mind that” Frisk smiled.

“Shut up”

-ooooo-

Syphus had completely forgotten about his promise to meet with Ananas. It was just by coincidence, in his searching of Frisk, that he came upon her. She wasn’t that far from the Hidden Village, but it was further than Syphus felt comfortable with. At least she wasn’t alone. Monster Kid came shortly behind her, recognizing the reptile monster from the day before. “Mister! You came!” she greeted when she saw him, running to meet him, but once she was close enough to take a better look she noticed it wasn’t the person she was waiting for, or at least she thought that. The new human in the village wasn’t this feathered monster, even if they had the same clothing! Stifling a gasp and stepping back with fright, having revealed herself to an unknown monster like this, her hand instinctively reached for the gun on her hip. “I-I’m sorry, I t-t-t-thought you were s-someone else...!”

“Yo, I know him!”

“You do?” Ananas calmed down a bit, whispering to Monster Kid “...is he your dad?”

“What? No! He is...okay, I don’t know who he is. But he doesn’t seem bad”

“Grandpa always says I shouldn’t talk with strange monsters”

Trying to take advantage of Ananas getting distracted, Syphus tried to judge if Frisk had come by, looking behind Ananas. When he was starting to mull how to ask Ananas if she had seen a human, without tipping to Monster Kid there were humans around, Ananas raised her voice. “H-Hey! You! S-Stop right there!”

“What are you doing?!” Monster Kid inquired mutedly. Syphus looked at the little girl. She had stepped forward, making a brave face and trying not look as scared as she felt. She was failing at that. Ananas was trembling lightly and she seemed to be about to run away at any moment, but her eyes were challenging and her hands were tightly curled in fists. She was trying so hard to face what could be a very dangerous and aggressive monster, for all she knew.

“S-Stop wanderin’ aroun’ here!”

Syphus stood up as tall as possible, glaring at Ananas. “You should go home”

Her trembling diminished a bit, even if she didn’t feel any less scared “I’ll ha-have to ask you to leave. P-P-Please”

“What are you doing? You’ll get in trouble!” Monster Kid urged her to back down, but she just extended her arm and blocked the way in case he wanted to move forward.

“Stay behind me, MK”

“I don’t think you have the authority to tell me where I can’t go” Syphus said coldly, trying to measure how far Ananas would go in her wish to keep monsters away from the area leading to the Hidden Village. Slowly, he stepped forward just once. Monster Kid backed off, but Ananas stodd her ground. She merely gulped, slowly took out her gun, clutched it as if her life depended on it, and started breathing raggedly. The little girl was barely keeping herself together, Syphus could see she’d like to back off, but she didn’t want to.

“What are you doing?!” Ananas’ actions were highly alarming! There was no way showing that gun and facing monsters like that would end well!

Syphus couldn’t avoid wondering how often Ananas did something like this. How many monsters who were simply walking through Waterfall had Ananas tried to drive away from this area? She was trying her best to be the guardian of the Hidden Village, but she was so clearly misguided on how to do that it was matter of time before she made a mistake and got killed, or worse: accidentally revealed the village’s location.

Her behavior wasn’t smart, and it was extremely reckless. That wasn’t a good combination.

You see Ananas’ determination and willpower

The Ananas Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Chariot Arcana has grown!

“...fine” After making a mental note to talk to her about this behavior, Syphus harrumphed and walked away.

“Dude, that was kinda cool...” he heard Monster Kid say to Ananas once Syphus was walking away. Don’t encourage her, kid!

“...yeah? I thought I was going to faint...” she replied. That was all Syphus could hear before he was out of hearing range.

-ooooo-

I can’t believe I was bamboozled like this! That kid...!

It had been around two hours since Syphus entered Waterfall in pursuit of Frisk. After making a SAVE point just in case, the piece walked through the path he was sure Frisk would take, finding no clue of the child. In fact, a while after encountering Ananas and Monster Kid, it seemed Waterfall had turned eerily empty. All the Royal Guard sentry booths were empty, too, including Sans’. A feeling of heavy dread and a sensation there was something deeply wrong in Waterfall permeated the air. The more time Syphus spent in that place, the more wrong it felt, which in turn made him look for Frisk faster and faster. Where had that kid gone?!

The air was getting colder, too. Syphus clutched the inside of his track jacket, uncomfortable, and tried to think of a new plan. Just when he was about to give up and return to Snowdin to ask if anyone knew where Frisk was, he glimpsed the child he was looking for. Frisk was finally starting their journey through Waterfall! Syphus was running out of time to stop Frisk before they went too far unprotected. Slowly, Syphus started walking in the same direction than Frisk, paying attention what the child was doing.

After a while of walking, Frisk stood near the shore of one of the many ponds in Waterfall, holding their hands in front of them. They seemed to be focusing very hard, as if they were trying to create something out of thin air. Nothing was happening, though. Frisk kept focusing for a minute or two more before sighing and dropping their arms in defeat. “It’s not working...” Syphus heard Frisk mutter.

“What’s not working?”

Frisk jumped in the air with a yelp, turning around. They seemed rather disheveled again, although this time they weren’t clutching anything nor seemed wounded. When they saw it was Syphus again, they straightened up, trying to not to look so messy. “Nothing”

That didn’t go unnoticed. “Are you okay, kid? You look like you went through a lot of trouble not too long ago”

“No! Nothing is wrong” Frisk said, looking around. That wasn’t a lie, but they weren’t feeling very well either.

“Are you trying to do magic?”

The child tilted their head. “Something like that” they started walking away, but they turned their head around once they were a bit far away. There was something nagging at them, and they really wanted to talk it with someone “Want to come with me?”

“Sure!” Syphus joined Frisk. The kid seemed to want to walk around Waterfall aimlessly. At first Syphus thought Frisk had finally wanted his company, but after a while Syphus started to get antsy. “Where are we going?”

“I want some ice cream” Frisk said, and before Syphus could protest by saying he was broke and had no cash to spare, the child showed a lot of gold coins, more than enough for two Nice Cream. Once they found the vendor and got the ice creams, Frisk once again led Syphus through Waterfall, saying there was a bench nearby to sit.

Along the way, they passed in front of Sans’ sentry station, where the skeleton was now sitting. When Frisk passed by Sans waved at him cheerfully, gesture Frisk returned. Syphus instead got an unreadable stare, something Syphus chose to interpret as a warning, even if he didn’t know what was going through Sans’ head right then. As soon as Sans was out of sight, Frisk’s shoulders slumped, their previous cheerfulness now gone. Sans being there was nice – he really was trying to take care of Frisk, in a way – but to Frisk it didn’t feel like it was enough to calm themselves down. In a way, it was a reminder of everything that was different, but they still wanted to cling onto Sans’ presence as a sign things would be okay.

It wasn’t long before they found the bench. Sitting there and unpacking the Nice Cream, Syphus decided to tackle the elephant in the room. “So, what’s in your mind?” Frisk focused on their own Nice Cream, as if that was going to be enough to make Syphus change the topic. “That’s not going to work. I know there’s something worrying you. Look, I can’t force you to tell me, but I wouldn’t mind listening to you if you want it”

There was silence once again, but this time it felt like there was something beneath it, a wish to actually talk. As if to gain time, Frisk looked around, and found the discarded and slashed training dummy to the side of the bench. The child took it out from where it had fallen and put it to their side, trying to distract themselves by picking into the slash marks on the dummy, but once it was clear Syphus wasn’t going to say anything else and didn’t seem like he was losing his patience, Frisk decided to talk.

“Uh, I’m not sure I understand, Frisk”

“What would you do if you forgot how to do something? Like, one moment you know how to brush your teeth and then the next moment you don’t?”

Syphus bit his Nice Cream. “I don’t know. I think I’d try to remember, if it’s easy to do”

“And if you try to remember and it still doesn’t work?”

“Then I’d try again, and again, and again, until I finally can remember how to brush my teeth” Syphus shook his head “And if that didn’t work, then what I would do is...well, I’d try to continue forward. Maybe I don’t need to brush my teeth ever again. I’d be willing to try to go on without that”

“I can’t just go on without that!” Frisk suddenly exclaimed “If I can’t remember how to do that, then I could—I could die permanently--” Frisk blurted out before shoving their Nice Cream in their mouth as if that were going to shut them up. Syphus stared at them for a moment, starting to understand what was Frisk’s concern.

You’re starting to see what Frisk’s worries are.

The Human Child Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Fool Arcana has grown!

Of course. Only the person with the most Determination can SAVE and LOAD. Since Syphus currently had that power, it made sense Frisk wouldn’t be able to do it. “Whatever you’re trying to do...you don’t have to do it alone. There are people willing to help you”

“It’s not something others can help me with” Frisk said, getting off the bench.

“Are you sure about that? Friends and people who want to help you don’t need to know what’s going on. You can tell them as much as you want”

 “I don’t know” this was way too complicated and new for Frisk to be sure how to feel. All they knew was that the future was looking quite daunting. The kid seemed conflicted between being determined and being desperate “All I know for sure is that I should keep going, even if I’m...

...even if I’m scared”

“What are you scared of?” Syphus asked, receiving no answer. Geez, kid...I wish you were a bit more open. “Fine, don’t answer that. Instead tell me: are you doing what you want to do?”

“I know I want it!” Frisk stood up. Their voice had turned a tad rougher “This is what anyone would do, I have done this many times already. I have to try again. I won’t give up. I’m not going to die. I won’t...

...I won’t die...”

Syphus didn’t say anything. He closed his eyes and sighed, trying to think of what to say. Once he ordered his thoughts he started. “Frisk, I can’t say I know how you fe—where are you going?!” Frisk was already continuing their way. Syphus stood up immediately, leaving the training dummy on the bench, and followed Frisk from a distance. “Look, Frisk, I beg you: think it twice, okay? Don’t just keep going! It won’t end well!”

“You know nothing” ‘Frisk’ spat, not even bothering to turn around.

“I know enough to know you need to stop! Please, consider it! There must be some other way!”

“There’s no other way!”

“This is ridiculous, you just—“ Syphus grabbed his head, forcing himself to calm down “You don’t understand a thing!”

“...creep”

“What?!”

“You don’t belong here” ‘Frisk’ turned their head around, an ugly expression of disdain in their face “I don’t know who you are or what you want. Stay away! Leave me alone!”

That was the truth. Syphus truly didn’t belong there, and he knew it. Getting such truth thrown against his face like that was still painful, though, even more when it came from that child. Syphus slowly stopped on his tracks, confused and unsure. Satisfied that Syphus had stopped, Frisk continued getting away.

That was it. He had ruined it.  This had been pretty much the last chance Syphus had to convince Frisk to stop and don’t go towards what could be their death, and he had screwed up. The feeling of wrongness in the air increased even more, an unpleasant thickness permeating the atmosphere. “...no. I can’t just give up now. One last try!” quickly gathering his wits and will to stop Frisk, Syphus followed the path Frisk had taken, trying to reach them before the child got too close to where Undyne was supposedly writing.

It wasn’t long before Syphus had to cross a field of Echo Flowers. The strange blue flowers were as tall as he was, and if he focused he could swear there was a faint murmur emanating from them, murmurs he wasn’t interested enough to find out what exactly those were saying. The tall flowers didn’t help find out where exactly Frisk had gone, too. Right when Syphus had been about to finish crossing the field of Echo Flowers, he heard the voice of that child, loud and clear.

“Hey! Behind you!”

Syphus turned around immediately. There were only Echo Flowers behind him, no sign of Frisk besides that voice. “...Frisk?”

“Hey! Behind you!” the voice repeated, echoing. Syphus very slowly started crossing the field of Echo Flowers again, trying to pinpoint where it had come from. The more time it took, the more times Frisk’s words repeated, until he realized what was going on. Set off by that first call, the flowers absorbed the same sentence, announcing it just as loud and clear as if had been the first time. “Hey! Behind you!” The phrase repeated over and over, increasing in quantity until the entire field was a cacophony of the same three words, the words blurring together, turning into an unintelligible jumbled mess. Syphus spun, searched over the flowers, tried to ignore the increasingly confusing echoing, but there was nothing he could do. I have to get out of here before I turn mad! Frightened and covering his ears, Syphus ran out of the field of Echo Flowers, returning the way he had come from.

Frisk had successfully escaped. All Syphus could do now was wait near Undyne and hope for the best.

-ooooo-

Sans leaned against the wall, wiping the red paint off his phalanges on his hoodie. He had just finished painting the rim of the telescope with the paint, a little practical prank for Frisk once he passed by.

Just like he expected, Frisk entered the area. “i’m thinking about getting into the telescope business” Sans said once Frisk was close enough “it’s normally 50000 gold to use this premium telescope, but...since i know you, you can use it for free. howzabout it? “

Frisk gave a tired smile and shook their head. Thankfully, they had met no monster since they entered Waterfall – something they thought was a bit strange, but at least it meant they weren’t in mortal danger yet – but their encounter with Syphus had left them a tad discouraged. They just weren’t in mood to play along with Sans’ fun right now.

“you okay, kiddo?”

Telling Sans what was going on wasn’t something Frisk wanted to go, so they instead nodded. The skeleton suspected the cause of their disheartened behavior, though. “hey. whatever that guy said to you, don’t take it to heart. i’m sure it’s not as big of a deal as it sounded like”

“Do you really mean that?”

“you need to learn to take everything in stride, like i do” it wasn’t a healthy behavior at all, but it worked for Sans.

Frisk smiled tiredly again and continued their way. This section of Waterfall was rather short. Frisk rounded the corner, so Sans immediately vanished and moved to the next corner Frisk would go through. The child would be surprised when they saw how quick he had moved! Sans calculated Frisk would turn the corner in a minute, so he leaned against the wall and prepared for the moment Frisk questioned how he got there so soon.

The minute passed, and Frisk didn’t arrive. Well, maybe they’re just dilly-dalling. No big deal. Another minute, another more...after ten minutes Sans started wondering if something had gone wrong. Maybe Frisk had turned around and gone back to Waterfall. Still, there was something...off about this delay. Something was wrong. Sans had a bad feeling about it all.

With some hesitation, Sans peered down the corner, looking at the short corridor that connected where he was standing to where he left the telescope. There was no sign of Frisk. “kiddo?” There was no response.

There were few benefits from having a mostly static grin on his face all the time, but not showing certain emotions was one of them, like the slight worry that was slowly worming into him. Sans stepped into the corridor, looking at the ground for any signs Frisk had passed by. There was nothing, just blue rocks, but in middle of the corridor he found a narrow tunnel that led to a small round alcove. It was dimly illuminated, the areas near the walls so dark Sans could barely see the outlines of the rocks near the walls, but despite the darkness Sans could see something on the floor near the furthest wall, something white and lumpy. “...kid, are you hiding here?” Sans raised his voice, sounding as idle as usual. There was still no response. Sans puts his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and entered the alcove, walking to the shape.

It was child-sized, completely unmoving, and covered with a white bedsheet. Sans pushed it slightly with his foot, finding it to be a bit malleable. There was definitely something underneath. Why would Frisk be hiding underneath a bedsheet in a place like this? “now, now, you should stand up already” Sans chuckled and removed the bedsheet.

Rocks. It was just a big pile of rocks, big enough for Sans to think it could have been the human child. Had Frisk done this? There was something on the rocks, though: an Echo Flower. Sans dropped the bedsheet on part of the pile of rocks and grabbed the flower, flipping it around with his phalanges and finding nothing off with it. Since it seemed it wouldn’t be dangerous, he put it closer to his face to listen if it would say anything.

Hey! Behind you!

“...huh?”

Sans listened to the message again. That was Frisk’s voice. He hadn’t talked with the human child for long, but he was sure he’d be able to recognize their voice accurately. Behind you? Should he turn around? Sans turned around, expecting to find nothing.

Instead he found Frisk. The child was limp on the ground, unresponsive.

“what...?” Sans dropped the flower and hurried to Frisk, turning them around to see their face. The child was unconscious, and although Sans tried to wake them up gently, they didn’t react at all. “kid. kid, wake up. come on” Sans pleaded, patting softly Frisk’s face. Alarmed, Sans quickly checked to see if Frisk had any wounds. The child was alive, that much he was sure of, but why were they unconscious? There were no wounds on their head, nothing that could show they had been knocked out violently. All Sans could find was a small bruise on the lowest point of the base of their neck, partially hidden by the collar of their sweater.

Carefully lifting the child, Sans prepared to teleport to Snowdin, planning to lie Frisk on the couch and wait for them to wake up, but right when the skeleton lifted them, he saw something else that wasn’t there before: another Echo Flower, near the threshold of the short tunnel that connected the alcove to the corridor. After adjusting Frisk in his arms, Sans approached the flower. He fumbled with Frisk, not wanting to leave the child down on the ground, and after a bit of trouble he managed to pick the flower up.

Hey! Behind you!

“again?”

Two Echo Flowers with the exact same message. For a moment Sans considered not doing what the flower said, but a morbid sense of curiosity spurred him to at least take a look behind him. Once again, something had appeared.

There was someone – or something – underneath a dark blue blanket. The only thing he could tell for sure is that it couldn’t be a pile of rocks. Fed up with what seemed to be teasing from someone, Sans aimed his palm towards the figure underneath the blanket. A bone made of magic sprung from the ground, grazing the figure and hooking onto the blanket. The bone extended tall and long, raising the blanket away from whatever had been underneath.

It was a training dummy, and a rather abused one, at that. It had two noticeable gashes, and there were short branches inserted in them, mimicking extended arms. Frustrated, Sans quickly entered the alcove again, looking around. He saw no one that could have placed the dummy underneath the blanket. Having seen enough and wanting to put Frisk in a safe place as soon as possible, Sans made the bone vanish and immediately moved to Snowdin, appearing inside his house’s living room with Frisk. He was sure someone was toying with him back in Waterfall, but how? There had been no one other than Frisk there!

It didn’t matter right now, though. Frisk was unconscious and didn’t seem bound to waking up anytime soon.

What had happened in the few minutes Frisk had stepped out of Sans’ sight?

CHECK IN ZERO MOVES.

CHECK.

Chapter Text

Papyrus reacted like anyone thought he’d react. Sans had barely put Frisk on the couch when a very loud shout sounded behind him. “SANS! WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?”

“i don’t know, bro. found ‘em like this in waterfall. they didn’t fall down, don’t worry” There was no need to tell Papyrus the details, in Sans’ opinion, and even if he did tell them Papyrus right now was more worried for Frisk than for what could have led to the child being unconscious.

“WE CAN’T LEAVE THEM HERE” Papyrus claimed, carefully picking up the kid. Frisk looked small, cradled in Papyrus’ arms “FOLLOW ME!”

“where are you going?”

“TO MY ROOM, OF COURSE! I HAVE TO HELP MY FRIEND” he said, jumping up the stairs quite fast. Sans followed and entered the room just in time to see Papyrus lie down Frisk on the car bed, trying to make Frisk as comfortable as he could. “ARE THEY HURT? I DON’T THINK THEY’RE HURT”

“guess not. i’m not sure”

“I SHALL BRING FIRST AID. IT’D BE A DISSERVICE IF THE HUMAN AWOKE, NEEDED SOMETHING AND WE DIDN’T HAVE IT READY! I’LL BE BACK IN A SECOND!” Papyrus left the room with such speed one would think he was trying as hard as possible to fulfill the ‘be back in a second’ part. Once Sans was left alone, the skeleton sat aside the bed.

Was this supposed to happen? Many things weren’t normal about the timeline. Way too many oddities had emerged since time ago, but how could he know for sure this was another of them? For all he knew in every other timeline they all returned to the surface Frisk fell unconscious like this at some point. Telling himself that didn’t help him feel better, though.

“we had a monumental derailing, didn’t we, bucko?” he said to Frisk, and sighed.

-ooooo-

Papyrus wasn’t the type of person to freak out or lose control. When he got in a tight spot he unconsciously refused to let show any nervousness or hesitation, that was reserved for when the situation got less urgent. Those who knew Papyrus well could know when the skeleton was worried or nervous: he got louder than usual, a feat for someone who was already remarkably loud. The shopkeeper wasn’t sure how to react when Papyrus entered the shop and dashed to the counter in the blink of an eye. “I REQUIRE YOUR WISDOM!” he boomed, making the shopkeeper recoil from the loudness.

Her uncertainty as to how to react increased when Papyrus started asking questions on how to take care of “A FRIEND WHO FAINTED”. She answered with honesty, though, giving all the tips she thought could come useful, and Papyrus diligently bought everything he thought would help.

“I could take a look at them” the shopkeeper offered “Just let me close the shop for a moment and—“

“OH! THAT WON’T BE NECESSARY!” Papyrus interrupted, raising a finger “IT’S THE DUTY OF A GOOD FRIEND TO TAKE CARE OF THE FRIEND WHO IS IN NEED. I HAVE THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL!” Anything to keep everyone except Sans from finding out there was a human in his house, defenseless and unconscious. Having rejected the shopkeeper’s offer for help, Papyrus left the store and hurried towards his house, his arms filled with everything he had bought. Right when he came closer to his house, he saw someone arriving to Snowdin, someone he knew. It was Syphus, looking rather dejected.

When Syphus saw Papyrus, his feathers fluffed up with what the skeleton interpreted as sincere joy. ”Here’s who I wanted to see! I need your help, Papyrus”

Papyrus glanced towards his house for a second before turning his attention towards Syphus, hesitating a bit. Frisk’s condition could be critical, but Papyrus couldn’t deny a friend help! The least he should do was listen. “HOW CAN THE GREAT PAPYRUS, HELP YOU TODAY?”

Syphus led Papyrus a bit further away into the road and looked around, making sure there was no one nearby. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he spoke mutedly. “I found a human and they’re in danger”

One of the many objects Papyrus had bought fell to the snow, dropped in surprise. It couldn’t be that the word spread so far already! The truth was that practically all of Snowdin knew already, since the Royal Guard members stationed in Snowdin and its forest had encountered Frisk, but since most of the rumors and hubbub regarding a human in the Underground was in Grillby’s, Papyrus was unaware of it all. Part of the Royal Guard had wanted to inform Undyne and the rest of the guards, but others had argued to consult with the Queen first. For the moment it seemed Frisk’s existence was something known only in Snowdin.

Not having noticed Papyrus’ sudden silence, Syphus continued. “He’s just a kid, harmless and without a mean bone in their body” Papyrus’ grin tensed a bit with annoyance at the pun and his struggle to keep silent about Frisk “The problem is that they don’t want protection. I think they don’t trust me specifically, so...I wanted to ask you to be with them”

“...ABOUT THE HUMAN...” Papyrus took a quick decision. A human child could only be Frisk, unless there were several milling around in the Underground for some reason, and since Syphus seemed to know them... Papyrus opened the door to the house and beckoned Syphus inside, who complied. Once the door was closed behind them Papyrus plopped on the table all the stuff he had brought and looked towards his room “THE HUMAN WAS ATTACKED”

“...what?”

“SANS FOUND THE HUMAN AND BROUGHT THEM HERE. THEY’RE NOW RESTING IN MY ROOM, CRUISING WHILE THEY SNOOZE! I WAS ABOUT TO STAY WITH THEM UNTIL THEY WOKE UP!”

Syphus felt as if a vice had grabbed him by the neck. The kid had been attacked. Less than half an hour after Frisk got away from them the child had gotten attacked. Had Undyne done it? No, she would have killed the child, it must have been someone else. He struggled to swallow, his voice croaked while he tried to form a coherent word or two. It took him a moment to snap out of the stupor. “Let me see them” he said hoarsely.

“I’M NOT SURE—“

“Papyrus, I need to make sure they’re okay!” Syphus interrupted, raising his voice. Sans, having heard him, opened Papyrus’ bedroom door to listen better “I want to make sure they’re okay. That’s all I ask”

Sans planted his forehead against the door for a moment, closing it. “here he comes” Knowing Papyrus, he was going to yield and allow Syphus check on Frisk. There was something about Syphus that seemed wrong, something was seriously off about him, but he still couldn’t pinpoint what it was. should CHECK his stats he thought. Maybe he should have done that from the beginning.

Just like expected, Syphus got to Papyrus’ room, slowly opening the door. When he saw Sans, the piece’s expression soured for a second before settling in a hesitant attitude “...hey, Sans. How’s the kid?”

“unconscious. paps’ taking care of him”

Syphus’ expression softened. “Of course Papyrus would do that. Wish people would be as cool as him”

“i know, right?” Syphus awkwardly approached where Frisk was resting and carefully rested a finger on the side of Frisk’s neck, looking for a pulse. It seemed normal, no signs of weakening...everything pointed at this being no more than a fainting.

While Syphus did that, Sans stepped back and subtly focused his magic, CHECKing that monster’s stats. The most basic data appeared immediately.

SYPHUS – 18 ATK 19 DEF

A piece owned by the apprentice of the Witch of Hope.

that gives me more questions than answers. A further look into the stats did show something a bit worrying, though: LV 3. not high, but bad enough. Most of the population of the Underground had LV 1, very few exceptions existed. That was one proof more Syphus was a highly unusual person, and not exactly in flattering ways.

Syphus didn’t notice Sans’ CHECK, too focused on the feeling he had to do something now. While he tried to order those thoughts, he asked Sans if he had found Frisk and what he knew, paying little attention to the information. Why do I feel like I have seen this before somewhere...?

...wait. That was it. It was a bit of a long shot, given that he had been barely aware of what had happened that time, but hadn’t...hadn’t Alphonse and him fainted when he...

“Sans, can you do me a favor?”

“hm?”

“Go check on Papyrus. He said he was going to prepare something for when Frisk woke up. Maybe he’ll need help”

“...i don’t think i care much for you getting me out of my own brother’s bedroom, bud”

Syphus gulped but held his ground. I should have said ‘please’. “I’m not giving you orders, Sans. It’s just a favor. Please...check on Papyrus” As if that had been its cue, a sudden clang sounded from the kitchen. “Just in case, please”

Sans stared at Syphus for a moment before sighing and shrugging. “sure, why not. keep an eye on the kid” As soon as Sans left the bedroom, Syphus hurried and left the door ajar, placing the end of the car bed so the door couldn’t be opened any further but anyone could look inside of the room from the hall. Syphus stepped out of sight of the door and took off the brooch, showing his human form.

“...it’ll take just a few seconds. If it doesn’t work, then I’ll...” I don’t know what I’ll do. Syphus clutched tightly the firefly brooch, gathering his courage for whatever could come. After making sure the dull collapsible halberd was still underneath his jacket and quickly made a SAVE point, Syphus returned to Frisk’s side, in plain sight from anyone standing in the hall. With trembling fingers and trying to moderate his breathing, Syphus secured the brooch to Frisk’s sweater, over the child’s chest. “Everything’s going to be okay. This is what I’m supposed to do” he murmured to assure himself, and raised his hand to press on the brooch and turn it on.

In that moment he felt a sudden tingle somewhere inside his chest, and before he could realize what was going on he felt himself being launched onto the wall, slamming against it without much strength. The abrupt movement elicited a yelp of surprise from Syphus, his hand too far away from the brooch still pinned to Frisk’s sweater.

 “you didn’t think i’d step out just like that, did you?

Sans came out of Papyrus’ closet as if he had always been in there, holding his hand and pinning Syphus against the wall with magic. He had reacted mostly out of instinct. Seeing that Syphus was human wasn’t big deal, but when he saw Syphus pining something on Frisk he felt the need to act quick, given that leaving Frisk alone had caused this situation in the first place. “S-Sans...” Syphus tried to talk, the pressure on his chest was making it difficult to talk. The skeleton stood in front of him, appraising Syphus.

“so that’s what was odd about you. i felt there was something off. guess that disguise of yours wasn’t that good” he sounded more amused than upset, which Syphus took as a good sign “wonder how many humans there are in the underground”

“T-There are others...?” Did Sans know about the village?

Sans raised three fingers. “i haven’t seen that many. you’re just the third. that’s two more than i thought there’d ever be” Calmly, Sans glanced at the firefly brooch, approaching to take a better look.

“Don’t touch it!”

“ok” Sans stared at it for a moment, nodding as if he had discovered something important “this is what made you look like a monster, isn’t it? you were wearing it before”

“D-Don’t tell anyone about me!” Syphus pleaded, extending his arm towards the brooch. The tip of his finger was a mere centimeter away of the brooch. If he could get just a bit further away...

Sans winked. “relax. i’m not angry or anything. i’m curious, i just want a few answers. mind if we talk?”

I can’t tell him the complete truth. There must be a few parts I could tell, but— The door of the bedroom opened, hitting the end of the car bed. “SANS? SYPHUS?”

“welp”

Papyrus peered through the open space, seeing Syphus held against the wall. The tall skeleton moved the car bed effortlessly and entered the room, carrying a bowl of a sludge that was supposed to be soup. “SANS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“hey. we’re just talking” Sans said, Syphus nodding in agreement. Damnit, no! Please leave, Papyrus! The last thing he needed right now was more people in the room.

“WHERE IS SYPHUS? WHO’S THE NEW HUMAN?”

“that’s syphus, paps. he had a costume”

Papyrus’ eye sockets widened a bit. “OH! WELL THAT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARE COSTUME!” Papyrus left the bowl aside, staring at Syphus with a bit of admiration “BUT YOU SHOULDN’T TREAT OUR FRIENDS LIKE THIS, SANS!”

“i’ll let him go in a moment. there’s just a few things i want to ask”

“YOU CAN TALK WITHOUT PINNING HIM TO THE WALL!”

“Papyrus, it’s okay. Everything is in o-order” Syphus managed to say, smiling dopily “We’re just talking”

“REALLY? EVERYTHING IS OKAY?”

“Peachy as peachy can be!” Please, just go! Syphus renewed his efforts to try to reach the brooch, once again the tip of his fingers mere millimeters away of the object. If he could reach just a bit more, enough to press it, it’d all be okay, especially now that Papyrus was distracting Sans, although Sans was hoping too Papyrus would leave for a moment.

“see? we’re just talking”

“I SEE, BUT I ALSO INSIST” Papyrus put his gloved hand on Sans’ shoulder “PLEASE LET HIM GO, SANS” The contact made Sans be distracted just enough for his magic to falter for a short moment, moment Syphus didn’t waste. Although he was still pinned to the wall, he managed to move to the right just enough to be able to reach the brooch. His fingers pressed the brooch, turning it on.

“what are you—?“

“SY--?”

What Syphus hadn’t realized was that he wasn’t going to dive into Frisk’s SOUL alone if he was in contact with someone else. Sans being in direct contact with Syphus’ SOUL via magic, and Papyrus being in direct contact with Sans meant there’d be two unexpected companions. The three of them lost consciousness, Syphus falling from the wall to the floor in a heap and Papyrus following suit, while Sans seemed to have fallen asleep standing up.

-ooooo-

The sound of gentle breeze was back again. Syphus groaned, holding his head, and rose from the floor with his eyes closed. Why did the dive into someone’s SOUL have to be so head-splitting? Slowly, the piece opened his eyes and examined his surroundings.

It seemed this time he had been the first one to wake up, Sans and Papyrus were out cold not too far away. “...this isn’t how I thought this’d go. I’m so sorry, guys...” The skeletons seemed to be okay, so Syphus focused on everything around him. “So this is Frisk’s SOUL...” Alphonse had mentioned the ruinous house they had appeared at was a place they cherished, so it’d make sense if Frisk’s SOUL had the form of a place important to them in some way. Isn’t this...?

There was no doubt, this was the surface of Mt. Ebott. Grass, rocks, bushes, a very cloudy sky over their heads...and a familiar city in the distance. Other than breeze there were no other sounds. The dirt and rocks seemed clay-like yet durable, but when Syphus moved a large rock he found there was nothing below it. It was as if he was standing on a thick layer of dirt and no more, underneath the dirt there was no more than an inky darkness that seemed to move. Gasping, Syphus stepped away from the hole. The plants all seemed to be strangely colored, as if the natural green and yellow tones were desaturated. The lighting in the mountain was what one would expect from such a heavily clouded sky, with one single exception:

One shaft of light descending from a hole on the sky, illuminating a section of the mountain far away. It was a strange light, clear and pristine, and Syphus felt strangely compelled to go to the illuminated place, like a moth to a flame. It was a strong feeling; one he barely was able to resist.

A loud groan behind him made Syphus turn around, the skeleton brothers were waking up. “...we got to the surface already?”

“THIS IS THE SURFACE? IT LOOKS...” Papyrus gestured around with his hands “...WEIRD. REALLY WEIRD!”

“hey, ‘phus, how did we get here?”

“’phus?” Syphus mumbled with distaste and shook his head “Okay, the nickname is no big deal right now. Listen, guys, we’re...we’re not on the surface”

Sans looked upwards. “there’s nothing above. we can’t be in the underground”

“The truth is that we are in...in...” Syphus twiddled his thumbs, mulling how he should say it. Since he had unwittingly dragged them here then they deserved to know the truth, didn’t they? “We’re in the human child’s SOUL”

“I SEE! YES, THAT’S AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION” Papyrus didn’t seem to really be taking too seriously the fact they were in a place directly linked to Frisk’s SOUL, while Sans stared at Syphus, his grin unmoving.

“...come again?” he finally asked.

“We’re in the child’s SOUL. This you see is like—it’s a representation of their SOUL. That’s all”

“right. mind telling me how we got here?”

Syphus smiled sheepishly. “That’s what the brooch was for, to be able to enter here. I was going to get here by myself, but things happened and now you two joined me for the ride! Haha...funny how life is, right?”

“WE SHOULDN’T STAY! I HAVE NEVER BEEN IN SOMEONE’S SOUL BEFORE, BUT I DON’T THINK IT’S A PLACE WE SHOULD BE AT” Papyrus ascended a bit further onto the mountain “HOW DO WE GET OUT?”

“That’s the problem here, I have reasons to believe Frisk has the brooch. To get out we need to find them” Easier said than done, of course. It was a mountain, not exactly a small place. Syphus took the halberd out of his jacket, extending it and slowly swinging it around. With some luck he wouldn’t need to fight too much with it, but knowing how things had gone so far, he wasn’t counting on that.

“THAT’S THEIR NAME? FRISK?” Syphus nodded “IT’S A NICE NAME. ALRIGHT! FRISK MAY BE OVER THERE, WHERE THE LIGHT IS! I FEEL THAT’S WHERE WE SHOULD GO”

“...it’s weird, i feel it too. what’s up with that?”

“I don’t know, but if we all think we should go there maybe Frisk felt it too” Syphus slammed the bottom of the halberd onto the ground, trying to look as serious as possible. “Listen, you two: don’t get away of me. This place could be dangerous”

Papyrus glanced at Sans with worried expression, knowing Sans was in particular danger, given his extremely low HP. “THERE’S NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL PROTECT US ALL!”

“we knew we could count on you, bro”

Syphus frowned. If he was given a Persona it was for a reason, wasn’t it? Fighting with the monsters’ magic or with physical weapons may not be enough. “We’ll see. Stay behind me, you two” Thankfully, they were reasonable enough and obeyed, getting behind Syphus “Keep your eye sockets and...whatever you hear with open. We don’t know if anything could ambush us” Syphus said, walking and looking around him. It was all pretty silent, except for the breeze moving the leaves of the desaturated plants. Do Shadows even make noise?

“what’s the danger, ‘phus?”

“Shadows. There could be Shadows in this place. You’ll understand once we encounter them” I’m hoping we won’t, of course.

It was as if this Mt. Ebott was crumbling away. The part where they had all arrived at had been largely intact, but once the three started the walk in direction of the light, the drier and more broken the path seemed. Cracks, holes, even sections of lands floating in ways that were obviously impossible, it all formed obstacles. Neither Sans, with his perchance for teleporting from one place to another in the blink of an eye, nor Papyrus, with his rather long legs, had trouble, unlike Syphus, who more than once was in danger of not being able to make the necessary jumps. After the third time his foot slipped when landing and he almost lost his balance, he started to consider Sans and Papyrus’ presence more as a blessing than as an unfortunate accident. They had saved him a couple times already.

Just like Syphus expected, there were Shadows loitering around, most likely emotions and thoughts from Frisk’s subconscious. “Stay back!” Syphus ordered, seeing a small group of Shadows not too far away, the first encounter they had. The Shadows seemed to be no more than black oily blobs, with masks and arms.

“those are shadows? they don’t seem very dangerous” Sans commented, although he stood between Papyrus and Syphus, just in case.

“THEY ALMOST LOOK LIKE MONSTERS”

“They’re not monsters!” Syphus categorically said “You can’t reason or appeal to Shadows”

“ARE YOU SURE? MAYBE WE SHOULD TRY!”

“i think we should listen to him, bro. he must know what he’s talking about” Joke’s on you, Sans, I’m as lost as you are. Syphus thought wryly and clutched the pole of the halberd, slowly stepping forward. None of the Shadows seemed to have noticed their presence yet, an advantage he was thankful for.

Well, here goes nothing. Maybe attacking first would give him some sort of advantage? The less trouble he had fighting these things, the better. Syphus slowly raised the halberd, slowed down his breathing, and with a cry of fear and determination he slammed the dull blade of the halberd onto one of the Shadows’ heads, a disgusting squelching noise indicating the blade had sliced deep into the Shadow, right behind the mask. Although it seemed the Shadow was little more than a jellified blob of ink and matter, the halberd did do sizable damage, although not enough to kill it immediately.

“Stay back!” Syphus shouted to the skeletons, just in case, and focused on his first fight. Depending from how things went here he’d know how well any future fights would go. What are these? Syphus wondered while the Shadows were approaching closer, crawling with surprising speed.

Frivolous Maya, a very basic type of Shadow. Its attacks tend to be of electric nature.

Desirous Maya, a very basic type of Shadow. It’s likely to try to weaken the party.

It seemed he had accidentally requested an analysis from a third party. A familiar female voice sounded in his mind, distracting him from the incoming attack from the so-called Desirous Maya. The blob raised one of its arms high, the edges acquiring some sharpness and swinging it towards Syphus, aiming to slice his torso. The man barely had time to dodge, the tip of the foe’s fingers grazing his jacket. The rest of the Shadows didn’t waste time either, two of them charging up a magic electric attack and aiming towards Syphus. Electrical arcs emerged from the fingers of the Mayas, ascending into the sky before going downwards and impacting on the ground around Syphus, close enough for him to feel the strength of the electrical current. The problem was clear: he was largely outnumbered, but he refused to stand down and regroup.

As soon as the electric current vanished Syphus jumped forward, using the weight of the halberd as a way to impulse himself, and slammed the spike right into one of the Mayas, right below the mask, and immediately pulling it off and swinging it to a side, impacting the Shadow he had hit and started the fight with, killing it and making it disappear into a puff of black smoke. “W-Whoa!” the disappearance of the Shadow was unexpected, the momentum of the halberd unbalanced him. He didn’t fall to the floor, but the split second he lost his footing was enough for the foes to strike him.

A sharpened arm slammed him on the back, knocking his breath off. While Syphus tried to regain his breath, he hurried to try to gain some distance, hearing the crackle of electricity and the sound of an impact right in the place he had been standing at. This better work! Syphus turned back, having gained a bit of time, and focused. He had barely recalled the name of his Persona when Ouroboros emerged from him in a flash of light, the big chained empty hood on the triquetra towering over the foes. The Persona’s arrival seemed to have deterred the Shadows, slowing them down momentarily, moment Syphus used to hit one with the halberd.

Commanding the Persona’s movements while staying focused on the fight was very difficult, having to move his body and mentally direct the Persona’s actions at the same time. The Shadows ignored the Persona altogether, focusing on attacking Syphus himself, forcing him to stay on his toes. Syphus instinctually had a faint inkling of what Ouroboros’ available attacks were. Crystals of ice formed in the core of the Shadows, encasing part of them before shattering and causing damage. A pattern emerged quickly, while Syphus fought with the closest Maya, through Ouroboros’ magic he dealt with the other two, whittling them down with ice.

“Done! Finally!” Syphus proclaimed, burying the spike of the halberd in the last Maya’s head and seeing the foe disappear. To Syphus the fight seemed to take a while, but to the skeletons it had all taken a minute and little more. Papyrus hurried to Syphus’ side, looking respectful and worried at the same time.

“ARE YOU OKAY? YOU GOT HIT!”

Syphus doubled over, feeling his back aching. He had been lucky he hadn’t received more damage, but his back hurt way too much to ignore it. “I’m fine, I’ll just...walk it off” It isn’t like I have any other option.

“you should let us lend you a hand” Sans said, appraising the Persona. How had it emerged from Syphus? Was it something anyone could do from within a SOUL or something? Although Sans tried, he couldn’t make anything like Syphus’ Persona appear.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if you don’t have one of those” Syphus said, slowly straightening up and trying not to hurt his back even more. When Sans asked what it was and how to summon one, Syphus’ mouth formed a thin line. “...I don’t know how you could get one”

“SINCE YOU’RE HURT YOU SHOULD HANG ONTO ME TO CROSS THE NEXT GAP. HANG ON TIGHT!”

Syphus raised his hands. “Papyrus, I don’t think it’ll be necessary to—aaah!” without even letting Syphus finish, Papyrus grabbed the back of his jacket and raised him in the air effortlessly.

“PLEASE DON’T PROTEST! YOU CAN’T DO THIS ALONE, AND WE MUST HELP EACH OTHER TO ARRIVE TO THE LIGHT SAFE AND SOUND. LET’S CONTINUE LOOKING FOR FRISK!” he said, taking Syphus away while approaching the next gap to get over onto. The Persona faded away, and Sans stood there for a moment, observing what seemed to be a city in the distance.

Things truly had derailed from any concept of normalcy he had, there were no doubts now. Before following Syphus and Papyrus, the former still protesting about having to cling to Papyrus to cross the gaps, Sans picked up several small metallic orbs that seemed to have fallen from the Shadows, materials he didn’t recognize. Maybe studying those would help him understand better what was going on with this supposed ‘Frisk’s SOUL’ world.

-ooooo-

The terrain progressively started getting more stable and with less rifts to cross, although the level of ink and matter in the inside of the mountain had increased, spilling onto the surface of the earth in several places. The closer they were getting to the illuminated area of the mountain, the stronger the Shadows were. Luckily for Syphus, he had also gained a couple Personas more, somehow. He couldn’t explain exactly how, all he knew was that after having finished a fight against another group of Shadows, he was suddenly aware he had a new Persona. So far he had gained a tiny fairy-like Persona – Pixie, that seemed to be its name – which had turned out to be rather useful to heal himself, and Omoikane – some sort of bizarre tentacled brain Persona Syphus felt really awkward summoning – providing some basic electric attacks and resistance towards the most common type of Mayas in Frisk’s SOUL. Overall he wasn’t doing too badly, but he could be doing much better.

Papyrus had carried Syphus on his back for quite a while. Since Syphus was just a foot or so shorter than Papyrus, he felt ridiculous having to be carried, feeling he voiced several times. “YOU NEED TO SAVE YOUR STRENGTH! UNDYNE SAYS THAT KNOWING YOUR LIMITS IS VERY IMPORTANT. ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT!” he had said after the third time Syphus tried to say he didn’t need to be carried. Sans had been more or less content with following from behind, picking up the debris and unusual materials Shadows left when they were defeated, although from time to time he told them to wait behind while he went ahead and checked what kind of Shadows were ahead.

“i may not look like it, but i’m rather good at dodging and staying safe” he had said with a wink when Syphus suggested him to stop going ahead. Sans vanished and was back in matter of seconds, the lights in his eye sockets a bit contracted “there are more of those fish Shadows ahead” Syphus groaned. The Calm Pesces had proven to be especially annoying, as they were completely immune to the ice magic and showed to be remarkably resistant to anything he did with the halberd.

“How many?”

“two. there’s also a beetle thing with them”

“That’s new” Syphus got off Papyrus’ back, swiveling from side to side to see if his back was any better. It didn’t hurt anymore, but it felt a bit stiff. Syphus readied the halberd, already making some sort of plan. Ouroboros should be able to get rid of the beetle Shadow while I kill the Calm Pesces. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem he thought, raising his halberd when the Shadows noticed him approaching. He was starting to get used to fighting, although being hit by the Shadows and by their magic attacks still hurt way too much to get used to. If it weren’t for Pixie he’d have died already.

The Calm Pesces moved first, hovering to Syphus to try to ram him with their noses. Syphus dodged to a side, taking advantage of the floating fishes’ slow movements, and summoned Ouroboros to deal with the beetle, having requested a quick analysis from the voice he had identified as Lucia.

Adamant Beetle. Rather strong physically.

Then I’ll have to blast it with magic and hope for the best. While Ouroboros kept the Adamant Beetle at bay with Bufu ice magic, Syphus aimed the blade of the halberd to the spaces between the coils of paper that formed one of the fish Shadows, swinging it straight into the empty shell that formed its body, trying to rip it apart. Having been struck directly onto the inside of its belly with the blade, the Pesce struggled to get away, but Syphus didn’t let it go, dragging it away and avoiding the other Pesce when it spun in the air and tried to hit him on the head with its tail. Syphus pressed the blade further, a satisfying tearing noise resonating when the Pesce turned inert and disappeared.

The noise seemed to have gotten the Beetle’s attention, as in a wrong move Syphus did with Ouroboros it moved away and focused on Syphus instead, charging towards him, his horn glowing with a threatening strength.

Syphus barely managed to turn around and block the horn with the handle of his halberd, the bamboo wood creaking under the impact, the Beetle recoiling and falling back. Seeing a chance to strike, Syphus raised the halberd high and swung it with all his might on the Beetle’s head.

That was a mistake. The halberd blade bounced on the Beetle, and Syphus felt the strength of his attack hurt him. With a cry of pain, Syphus stepped back, his halberd at the ready to block anything the Beetle would do and accidentally leaving his back unprotected. Syphus didn’t notice the Pesce approaching him, aiming with its nose towards the piece’s back for a rather damaging strike.

“WATCH OUT!”

Syphus jumped to a side, too late to avoid the hit, or at least it would have been too late if it weren’t because of the wall of bones that emerged between Syphus and the Pesce. The Shadow slammed against the bones, getting hurt gravely. A bit stunned, Syphus glanced towards the skeleton brothers.

Papyrus had extended his hand forward, making the bones appear from the ground, and while the Pesce tried to regain its bearings Sans followed up Papyrus’ attack, more bones emerging and moving across the field until they hit the Pesce. “you deal with that one” Sans said, preparing more bones while Papyrus raised walls to separate the Pesce from Syphus and dividing the field in two.

Sans’ attacks were rather weak, but a constant barrage of bones eliminated the threat. While the skeletons attacked the Pesce, Syphus fully focused on the Beetle, changing his Persona to Omoikane and firing electric Zio spells over and over, despite how taxing it was in his mind. Omoikane’s magic was reasonably strong and soon managed to kill the Beetle, ending the fight and letting Syphus rest. The piece plopped on the dirt, breathing raggedly. “You guys...saved my hide. Thanks for...for...for saving me” he puffed between breaths.

“WE WEREN’T GOING TO STAND BACK WHILE YOU WERE IN DANGER!” Papyrus affirmed, his cape billowing in the breeze.

“i’m not really the type to fight” Sans said, his hands deep into the pockets of his hoodie “but i guess i could give you a hand sometimes until we’re out of here“. Sans would have preferred to stand back and let things happen, but in a completely unfamiliar situation he guessed no other timeline had, he supposed he should do the bare minimum to get back to normalcy.

Syphus closed his eyes and sat, taking out of his pocket a strange viscous drop he had found around that supposedly would help him recover his strength to use the Personas. After crushing it and feeling his head get a little bit lighter and less pained, he sighed, nodding slowly. “Fine. I admit I may have been a bit over my head when I said I could fight alone”

“just a bit?” Sans’ grin seemed to enlarge a bit.

“Fine, more than just a bit. The point is that...your help will be useful. Just be careful. If your attacks get reflected like it happened to me I don’t think you two will survive it” Syphus pointedly looked at Sans, who shrugged nonchalantly.

“guess that’s something to reflect on”

Papyrus stifled a sudden laugh, making his best annoyed face. “SANS! NOW’S NOT THE TIME FOR JOKES!”

“if not now then when? during a fight?”

“...POINT TAKEN. JOKE ALL YOU WANT RIGHT NOW”

-ooooo-

“Sans!”

“SANS!”

Papyrus and Syphus were running down the cracked path. The most recent fight they had gotten into was unexpectedly difficult. Despite their best efforts, the Shadow had managed to decrease their defense, leaving them way too vulnerable to its ice attacks. Although Syphus would be okay, thanks to Ouroboros’ resistance to ice, Papyrus didn’t have the same advantage, forcing them to retreat. Sans was nowhere to be seen, having left when the fight started. For his sake he better be scouting ahead or I’m going to— The Tranquil Idol was slow, but its Bufu spells were still appearing all around them despite the distance.

There was Sans! Right ahead, at the bifurcation of the path, waving disinterestedly at them. “We have trouble behind us!” Syphus shouted at him, grasping his halberd and looking back. The Idol was levitating towards them, sitting on its pyramid altar and preparing more ice spells.

“alright, here you go” A thick wall of cyan bones erupted from the ground right in front of the Shadow, who, not knowing the intricacies of the attack, started crossing the wall, accumulating damage. It didn’t even get to half of the wall before dying. “done”

Huffing, Syphus scowled at Sans. “A bit more of timely help would be good, Sans!”

“WHERE WERE YOU?!”

“scouting ahead. we’ll be getting to the light in no time if we go through this road” Sans pointed with his thumb at a steep path that was crawling full of Shadows, then to another one that went downwards “this one will be a long walk but it has nothing in it”

“So, what should we do?”

“the second path is the best, obviously”

“ANY SIGNS OF THE HUMAN?”

“nope. they must be somewhere under the light”

Papyrus frowned and stepped towards the steep path. “WE SHOULD GET THERE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! WHAT DO YOU SAY, SYPHUS?”

“...I don’t think I’m ready for everything that’s in there” he said. It was true, his head was throbbing from the mental effort to summon Personas and use their magic, and his arms and shoulders were sore from swinging the halberd. Running into the swarm of Shadows would be too risky in that state “I say we don’t do much effort for a while”

“i second the motion”

Papyrus’s shoulders dropped. He was worried about Frisk and wanted to find them as soon as possible to escape this weird place full of creatures trying to kill them – he refused to believe this mountain could be Frisk’s SOUL – but he didn’t want to push Syphus beyond his limits, either. Sans seemed to be okay and he himself had more than enough energy to keep going, but Papyrus refused to ignore the needs of anyone in the team. “ALLOW ME” he said, taking the halberd out of Syphus’ hands. Syphus sighed in relief, rubbing his sore arms.

“Thanks, Papyrus”

“YOU DON’T NEED TO THANK ME! YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON PAPYRUS, YOUR PARTNER IN SOUL EXPLORING!”

The downwards path was like Sans had said: there were no Shadows at all, and although it was certainly longer than the more dangerous road, it wasn’t as long as Syphus feared. The light was almost above their heads, the three of them could see the illuminated terrain with detail. Encouraged by the closeness of their objective, Papyrus went ahead, still carrying the halberd.

“so, what’s your story?” Sans asked, deciding to ask now that his brother was away.

Syphus glanced at Sans with the corner of his eyes. “What do you mean?” he asked, trying to gain a few seconds to think what to say “If you’re going to ask about why one of the things I can summon is a scantily clad blonde angel I swear I don’t know”

“that’s still a very weird thing but that’s not what I was asking about” Sans shook his head, remembering the Persona Syphus was talking about “come on, bud. you’re a human pretending to be a monster. you have a brooch that opens portals into people’s SOULs. we’re walking inside a SOUL and fighting weird beings. there must be a story behind this all”

One didn’t need to be perceptive to notice Syphus was an extremely strange person with even stranger circumstances, and Syphus knew it, but he hadn’t thought yet of an explanation to give. He had hoped the topic would simply not come up. It was a childish hope, now that he thought about it. “There’s no big mystery, Sans. The brooch makes me look like a monster, and the whole SOUL thing is something I don’t understand yet”

“why do you have something to enter SOULs?” he almost added that Syphus knew he had to put it on Frisk and activate it in order to save the child, but he decided to leave that for some other time.

Stop asking questions I can’t answer, Sans! “A friend gave it to me and told me it’d come useful”

Sans closed his eye sockets, his grin getting a bit bigger. The brooch was something that went beyond the scope of what monsters could do with their magic. It could be done with technology, he guessed, but he was rather sure there was no technology involved. In that case, there was one single person Sans could think that could have given him that. “the witch of hope?”

Syphus’ head turned around so fast he thought he’d snap it off his neck. “Where did you hear that?!”

“i have my sources” he replied, nonchalant, as if he hadn’t just revealed something he shouldn’t know by any means “do you know what you’re doing with the SOUL exploring and the brooch?”

“...to be honest I don’t know anything. All I know is that I need to do this” that wasn’t entirely a lie, he felt woefully uninformed. Sans looked at Syphus, trying to determine if he was telling the truth. Something in Syphus’ face tipped him off that yes, it was the truth...mostly. Sans wasn’t sure if that was good, or if that was bad news.

“right. who are you?”

“I’m just a human who fell into the Underground” he refused to look at Sans. The skeleton didn’t need to be so good at reading expressions to know that was a complete lie.

“that’s it? no more to say?”

“I told you there’s no big mystery, Sans. Don’t pay attention to me” he refused to say anything else, so Sans didn’t waste time asking. Sans quietly decided something: he’d let Syphus do whatever he wanted. If Syphus wanted to traipse through SOULs and save unconscious people, then so be it. It was more important to know why and how Frisk had suffered this, and hope no one else in the Underground would experience something similar, monster or not.

-ooooo-

The golden light felt warm and nice compared to the humid air in the rest of the mountain. As soon as the three crossed the threshold into the light, they felt reenergized. The soreness didn’t go away, but Syphus felt with enough strength to fight again. “Alright, Frisk must be somewhere around here” Syphus said, looking around. The plants were lush and green, and the dirt had moss and small plants everywhere. It felt like a completely different place, compared to the rest of the mountain. “This must be the deepest part of his SOUL or something”

“why is their SOUL the mountain above the underground?”

“SOULs take the form of a place that’s important for the person” And since the mountain was the place Frisk went to – for reasons Syphus didn’t know – and found a whole new world and monsters residing under the mountain, it was no surprise it had caused such impression their SOUL took this form.

“HEY! WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE!” Papyrus had still been walking ahead, avoiding the Mayas and Bronze Dice that were crawling around the place. He pointed at what looked like a cave above a rocky plateau. Syphus froze, looking at the plateau. He recognized it. He had seen it in his original timeline, this was the place where Chara had stayed at for centuries, the place with a dozen caverns into the wall of mountain, the hole that’d led to...of course! The deepest part of Frisk’s SOUL could only be the point where their life changed and got turned upside-down, the place that marked the transition between their past life and their journey through the Underground:

The cave with the hole they had fell through.

Papyrus was already climbing the wall, inching closer and closer to the edge. It was very easy for him to climb, thanks to his long frame, and soon Papyrus was able to look over the rock. “YIKES!” he suddenly yelped, letting himself drop down to the ground where Syphus and Sans were waiting.

“What? What’s up there?”

“THERE’S A SHADOW IN FRONT OF THE CAVE. IT LOOKS VERY STRONG!”

“like one of those we already defeated?”

“IT’S A NEW ONE. IT LOOKS LIKE A WARRIOR!”

That sounded rather bad. Except for the Tranquil Idols, so far the Shadows had been generally simple: generic blobs, animals, objects like dice or tiaras with hair...nothing like ‘a warrior’. Syphus gripped his halberd and looked at the wall to climb. It was going to be a problem to get up there with the collapsible halberd weighing him down even if he kept it inside his jacket, and once he did, it was possible he wouldn’t have time to be ready before the Shadow attacked. “there’s no problem. follow me” Sans entered the small grove aside the path.

“SANS, YOU KNOW I HATE WARPING” he protested, but followed him nonetheless. The three walked between the trees for a couple meters before exiting right above the plateau, the Shadow they had been alerted about roaming there.

“W-Wait, how did we get up here...?”

“surprise, ‘phus”

Syphus shook his head, deciding to ask about Sans’ skill later. “Okay, nevermind that. Think we can run to the cave without being seen?”

“WE COULD WARP IN THERE!”

“nope we couldn’t. i have never been inside that cave”

“But then how did you warp up here—aw, nevermind!” You just don’t want to make the effort, don’t you, Sans? It wasn’t like anyone could force Sans to take them there, even if it’d be convenient beyond any measure, so instead Syphus focused on the Shadow.

It looked rather strong and unusually detailed, compared to every other Shadow so far. The Shadow was tall, armored, and seemed to have a sword prepared to attack. The cave the group was planning to go into was too far away, it was unavoidable they’d have to fight it, or at least keep it busy until they could pass through. This is going to be a tough one Syphus thought, mentally browsing all the Personas he had gathered so far. None seemed especially useful against that enemy, so he decided to use Ouroboros out of familiarity.

“LET ME TRY THIS” Papyrus raised his hand towards the Shadow and attempted to turn its SOUL blue to move it away. Nothing happened.

“I think most Shadows don’t have SOULs, Papyrus” Syphus tried to sharpen the halberd against a rock without achieving much “We’ll have to fight”

“welp. good luck, guys” Sans winked and sat against a tree. While Papyrus bellowed about how Sans should help too, Syphus started to approach slowly, taking deep breaths and with the halberd at the ready. Everything’s going to be fine. We defeat this thing, go inside the cave and find Frisk. No big deal he told himself over and over, trying to gather enough courage to attack without fear.

It didn’t work.

Hakurou Musha. Extremely agile.

Agile? The Musha took out the sword, holding it and moving forward towards Syphus. The Shadow didn’t seem to be that agile, its movements were predictable and the armor seemed rather heavy. When the Musha swung its sword, trying to slice Syphus, he dodged it easily and attempted to make a hit of his own.

It was as if time froze for a moment for Syphus. One moment the Musha was to his side, directly on the path of the halberd, the next moment it was on the other side of the plateau, the halberd hitting the floor instead of the Musha. “Wait, what?!” taking advantage of the situation, the Musha ran back, aiming the tip of the sword right at Syphus’ chest.

“I’M HERE!” Bones slid across the ground right to the point the Musha would be at, but it saw the attack coming, jumping back and dodging it with ease and moving to attack Papyrus. The skeleton, not expecting the Shadow to change targets that quickly, avoided the Musha’s onslaught with difficulty, the tip of the sword grazing his armor several times. “THIS IS BAD!”

Syphus focused, quickly thinking of a plan and changing Persona to Angel, he remembered a skill it had. Come on, what is its name...? Sukukaja! Having increased his own agility to evade and attack, Syphus chased after the Musha, raising the halberd blade high in the air to attempt to hit the foe in the back of its helmet, but despite his improved speed the Musha dodged it way too easily, instead the halberd almost hitting Papyrus. “Damn it!”

“STAY STILL!” Papyrus warned and summoned light blue bones, launching those through the ground towards the Musha and through where Syphus was standing, having frozen right in time. There was no way the Shadow could know it had to stay still! And indeed, it didn’t know. Instead it jumped high, way over the bones, and fell sword first towards Papyrus, who wouldn’t be able to move in time to dodge it, nor Syphus had enough time to attack.

Suddenly, a blast of magic came from the edge of the grove, hitting the Musha on its side and launching it away of Papyrus, hitting the ground with a loud thud. Looking towards the grove, Syphus saw Sans standing there, a large animal-like skull floating to his side. He didn’t even have time to thank Sans for his quick action when the Musha stood up in one swift move, using its sword as impulse to leap forward, trying to slash Papyrus again. “Don’t stop moving!” Syphus shouted to Papyrus and changed plans. If trying to hit the Musha with the halberd and with bones wasn’t going to work, then the Personas were the only option left.

And indeed, it was more effective! It didn’t seem like Angel’s Garu wind spells were hurting it much, but at least the Musha was being hit, and sometimes it would stun it for long enough for Papyrus’ bones to collide against it. The Musha, seemingly getting more furious at how the group was finally managing to harm it, used its sword to block all the bones Papyrus was throwing at him, moving through them towards Papyrus. Why is it so focused on him?!

It was matter of time before the Musha managed to strike Papyrus, despite Syphus and Sans’ efforts to keep him at bay. The Shadow’s sword swung through the air, the blade embedding into Papyrus’ chest plate, dust leaking from the hole in the armor. Papyrus shrieked, very alarmed and tried to get away, but the Musha got the sword out of the hole it had made and moved to strike again. Before it could do much more harm to Papyrus by attacking his head or through the hole it had made through the chest plate, Sans’ Blaster fired at the Musha, making it move away from Papyrus.

“you okay?!” Sans shouted from the grove. Papyrus, in shock, touched the hole in his chest plate while Syphus changed Personas and continued attacking the Musha with ice magic. That was way too close. If the sword had gotten just a little bit deeper, it’d have cut Papyrus’ spine in two. It was already very lucky the blade had been inserted between his ribs.

“YEAH...YEAH! I’M—I’M FINE! VERY FINE!” Papyrus shouted back, slowly snapping out of his shock, and focused back into the battle. Syphus’ Persona – Ouroboros – was moving against the Musha, following it while using ice spells and trying to push it away with its wide frame. Now that the Shadow had managed to harm Papyrus it had stopped focusing on him, instead going for Syphus.

“If you can keep it busy I can try something!” Syphus shouted, starting to sweat due to the fatigue. Papyrus nodded and restarted his regular attacks, forming patterns and attempting to slam the Shadow. Seeing his chance, Syphus quickly changed Personas, summoning Apsaras, which seemed to be exclusively geared towards healing and status boosts. Hoping the Persona’s skills would work even towards someone who didn’t have a Persona, Syphus attempted to heal Papyrus with it.

“Do you feel better?!” Syphus changed back to Ouroboros to continue his ice attacks. Papyrus stepped back, gaining some distance from the Musha just in case it changed targets, and nodded after thinking it for a second. He did feel better, less shaken up, and the dust had stopped.

The fight continued for quite a while. Despite Syphus’ attempts to find if the Musha had a weakness while Papyrus kept it busy dodging and sometimes scoring a hit, it seemed like the Shadow had no weaknesses. Neither ice nor wind nor electricity had hurt it more than normal, and its evasion of physical attacks was as remarkable as ever. Not only that, the Musha’s attacks had turned stronger, his sword glowing with a blinding shine when he tried to slash Syphus. He could feel the crackle of a strange power coming from the sword each time he dodged it.

“We’re getting nowhere!” Syphus shouted after a few minutes of fighting, starting to feel very tired from his constant moving and his use of Personas. The Musha strode through the plateau to the edge of the grove, near where Sans was, but ignored the skeleton. Instead the Musha stood completely still and raised its sword up, aiming at the sky. Its entire body and armor gained a subtle light.

“guys, don’t get hit! i think it charged up power”

“Agh, fantastic, just what we needed” Syphus mumbled, making sure to stay as far as possible from the Shadow, while moving Ouroboros closer to restart the ice spells. He felt he wouldn’t last much longer; his concentration was starting to fade and the Persona was starting to move erratically. That’s when the Musha did something Syphus never expected.

It attacked the Persona, striking it with its charged-up sword, a direct hit. The sword passed through Ouroboros, the Persona not reacting at all besides being moved aside, but Syphus felt the entire brunt of the attack.

It felt as if something had exploded inside his head. Suddenly, an immeasurably sharp pain erupted. Syphus doubled over in pain, clutching his head, unable to notice anything that wasn’t the pain. He cried in pain, tears starting to stream down his face, feeling dizzy and deaf. Slowly, Syphus fell on his knees, trying to stay conscious. The attack would have hurt a lot if done like normal, but since it was charged up it had brought Syphus to the brink of death. He wanted to stand up, but he couldn’t focus not even to do that simple task. He couldn’t see the Musha attacking Papyrus and hitting him, stunning him, then bolting towards the piece with its sword aiming to crack Syphus’ head open.

A strange noise sounded right above him. After a few seconds that seemed like eternity to him, Syphus blinked several times to dispel the tears and looked upwards, seeing a bone mere inches from his face, and the steel of the Shadow’s sword right behind it. “S-Sans...?” Sans was there, having warped from the grove to Syphus’ side, blocking the sword with a bone and struggling to keep the edge of the sword away from Syphus.

“move”

Trying not to lose focus and start throwing up from the throbbing inside his head, Syphus dragged himself away from Sans and the Musha, crawling backwards until he was far enough. The Shadow tried to follow Syphus, but Papyrus placed more bones in the way. Trembling and coughing, Syphus stood up shakily, something primal growing in his chest. “I...I had enough of this...” he muttered, then shouted: “Hold it down!” We won’t get anywhere if it keeps moving. We need to finish it off!

Sans didn’t acknowledge Syphus, simply making a Gaster Blaster appear right above the Shadow, and firing it at point blank. The strength of the impact forced the Musha flat onto the ground on its belly, hurting it constantly. Trying to use the last bits of his mental strength, Syphus summoned Ouroboros once more, but instead of attacking he simply let Ouroboros fall down onto the Musha with all its weight. The Persona fell right through the Blaster and onto the Shadow, pinning it to the ground. “P-Papyrus! Do something!”

“HERE I GO! A STRONG ATTACK!” Papyrus raised both hands, a veritable platform made of light blue bones went through the entire Musha without reaching Ouroboros. The Shadow’s struggles to get Ouroboros off it only hurt it further, a cycle that kept depleting its health constantly until it stopped moving altogether.

Syphus approached slowly, still trembling, expecting to see the Musha spring up at any moment. “Is it...fainted? Dead? Why hasn’t it poofed away?” he wondered, picking up the halberd he had dropped.

“dunno. paps, take away the bones” Sans said, and Papyrus did as indicated the Shadow still didn’t move “it may have fainted” Syphus poked it with the spike of the halberd, receiving no reaction at all.

“SYPHUS, ARE YOU OKAY? YOU SEEMED TO BE IN A LOT OF PAIN!”

“Y-Y-Yeah, I’m okay...” I feel like something ran me over. At least now he knew he should be more careful when handling Personas, if them getting hit would mean he’d receive damage too.

“I CAN CARRY YOU AGAIN IF YOU NEED”

“No, thanks. I just need a moment to recover” he was still dangerously close to death, after all. Syphus hobbled away, leaned on a tree of the grove, and looked in his pocket for several of those curious drops he had gathered during the trek. They were indeed effective in helping him recover his strength to use the Personas, and right now he needed to heal himself a lot. After consuming the Soul Drops, he summoned Apsaras again and healed himself over and over until the headache stopped and he was able to stand up without shaking like jello. “Done. Your turn, Papyrus” he said, returning with the rest and healing Papyrus until he was sure the skeleton was on top shape. The Musha continued unmoving. Could Shadows even faint? Was it faking dead, or something? Why hadn’t it vanished away yet?

“let’s get going. you think the kid is in here?”

“They must be in there. I don’t know where else they could be” They better be there because if not I don’t know what we’ll do.

Slowly, with hesitation, the three entered the cave. Right when they stepped inside, there was a noise behind them. The Musha was standing up, holding its sword as if nothing had happened. The three stared for a moment without saying a word, until Sans summoned a Blaster right above the Musha again, firing immediately. This time the Shadow dissolved into smoke. “finally. that one was tough”

The cave wasn’t very long. It seemed like trees were lining the walls, as if the mountain had grown around them. Bark and plants filled the cavern, leaving enough space for the three to walk through, until they reached a round chamber at the end.

And there was Frisk standing near the edge of a hole that could lead to an unescapable void, with a SAVE point in their hands and the firefly brooch attached to their sweater.

Chapter Text

The light pouring through the holes on the ceiling gave the scene a surreal look, as if it was out of a fairytale. Sans, Papyrus and Syphus advanced slowly, Syphus lowering his halberd. Frisk seemed to not to have heard the group arrive, they were still near the edge of the hole, the SAVE point hovering between their hands. The child was staring into the SAVE point as if it was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. “...Frisk?”

“FRISK! OVER HERE!” Frisk turned around, having recognized Papyrus’ voice.

“They seem to be okay. Come on, Frisk, let’s go back” said Syphus, relieved to see Frisk seemed to be safe.

Frisk didn’t reply to that nor moved towards Syphus, instead moving to a side so they could go towards Sans or Papyrus if they wanted. “Where am I?”

“It’s a long story. I’ll explain later” Syphus said, not really planning to tell Frisk anything. Frisk didn’t move, though. The SAVE point hovered closer to their hands while they looked away. “Frisk?”

“...mister...are you in the Underground?”

“Does that really matter?”

“something bothering you, kiddo?” Sans asked, trying to salvage the situation. Syphus in his human form was a complete stranger to Frisk, after all. Maybe talking to someone they already knew would help.

“Who is he?” Frisk asked mutedly to Sans. The question didn’t go unheard by Papyrus, who patted Syphus on the shoulder several times, unintentionally making the piece hunch over.

“THIS IS OUR FRIEND, SYPHUS! YOU MUST BE CONFUSED BY HIS HUMANNESS, BUT YOU HAVE MET HIM BEFORE!”

“...really?”

“HE WAS DISGUISED AS A MONSTER! AND HE SAID HE WAS YOUR FRIEND TOO!” Papyrus turned his head towards Syphus “RIGHT?”

“I did, and of course it was the tru—“

“Syphus...? Is that you? But you were a monster—“ Frisk shook their head, their expression twisting as if they were in pain. They’d have grabbed their head if they weren’t holding the SAVE point.

“Again, I’ll explain later. We need to leave, Frisk”

“I don’t understand...I don’t understand any of this. What’s going on?!”

“It’s a long story, but—“

Frisk raised their voice, stepping back closer to the hole “What’s happening in this timeline?!”

“frisk, calm down”

“I can’t calm down! I don’t understand...” Frisk closed their eyes, cringing, and grabbed their head with their right hand, still holding the SAVE point with the other. No one was sure how to react, none of them had foreseen that Frisk would be reacting like this. They didn’t even have time to approach Frisk before the situation got out of their control. How did this happen?

“WHAT’S GOING ON? DID WE SAY SOMETHING BAD?”

And then they opened their eyes.

Frisk’s eyes had turned golden. They seemed to be about to cry although they had no tears in their eyes, but they refused to get any closer to the group, instead clutching the SAVE point to them as if their life depended on that. “Why is everything SO DIFFERENT?!”

“frisk? is this still you?”

They ignored Sans’ concerned question, recoiling. “Nothing has gone like it should go! This timeline...it’s something I had never seen before. I don’t understand! What else is going to happen now?!”

“FRISK?”

“I don’t want any of this! I want—I want Mom, and I want to be able to SAVE, I want things to be like they were before!”

Sans started slowly stepping back, there was something very wrong going on with Frisk and he didn’t know what to do. Maybe... “you should drop that thing” he said, pointing at the SAVE point “it’s making you crazy”

“I’m not crazy, I’m—“ Frisk shook their head “This is what I need. If I can’t SAVE I’m going to die. I can’t continue ahead, but if I don’t then no one will leave the Underground. Everyone must leave. That’s what I always try to do...” their eyes started welling with tears.

In that moment the SAVE point started moving. While Frisk talked, it rippled and trembled as if it was a living being starting to wake up, and then long strands sprung from it, wrapping around Frisk’s arms and ascending to their torso. Black smoke and red particles, just like what the Shadows turned into when killed, surrounded Frisk, obscuring them. Frisk didn’t react at all to the smoke or to the tendrils of the SAVE point trapping them, instead taking a deep breath and stopping crying. “frisk, drop that!” Sans, alarmed, tried to approach, but Frisk turned around and started running. Both Syphus and Papyrus were stunned, caught by surprise by Frisk’s tirade and the change in their eyes. They could only stare, horrified, at the changes Frisk’s body was going through.

“That’s all I know to do...but now...” the SAVE point started engulfing Frisk’s body, phasing through their chest and into them. They started oozing a strange golden liquid, as if the SAVE point had melted, and it started enveloping them. Frisk fell down on the floor, and Papyrus, snapping off the stupor, hurried to approach Frisk.

“HANG ON, FRISK! WE’RE GOING TO HELP YOU!” Papyrus tried to grab the bright mass enveloping Frisk, but instead, as if the child had been pulled away, their body was dragged away in direction of the hole in the center.

“Stop them!” Syphus jumped and tried to catch Frisk before the child was dragged over the edge, but they were too slow, slamming against the rocky ground with a groan. During all that Frisk was mostly silent, but the few times they said something, their voice sounded strangely clear despite their body and head being almost entirely enveloped in the SAVE point.

“...I feel so lost...”

Frisk flew over the edge and towards the center of the hole full of ink, levitating in the air right over it, the light filtering from the ceiling shining on them. The slimy yellow film that had covered Frisk started to subside. What was that?! Slowly, Frisk started being shown, and what everyone could see started changing right in front of their eyes. Frisk was undergoing a freaky transformation, their Shadow completely overtaking them.  Slowly, their skin and clothing converted into a transparent and fragile glass.

The SAVE point was floating inside their chest. Thick black cords enveloped their wrists and ankles, all tied together and linked to their neck, imprisoning, forcing them to hunch over, not being able to move a limb without pulling everything else. They tried to straighten up, but the binds stopped every single attempt, the most they could do was arch their back and stare ahead. Their face had turned into a cast iron mask of their usual neutral expression, the yellow eyes of Shadow Frisk dimly glowing behind it.

It didn’t seem like a strong Shadow, despite it being as big as Papyrus. In fact, it was kind of underwhelming. The Musha had been a more intimidating Shadow, but if this thing had come out of the innermost places of Frisk’s SOUL, then it was likely it had something menacing and dangerous prepared. Hang in there, Frisk, we’re going to fix this!

Papyrus let out a scream of horror at the transformation and scooted back all the way to the wall while Syphus took out the halberd, trying to look braver than they felt. Sans wasn’t entirely calm, but he disguised most of his trepidation and hurried to Syphus. “okay, what’s going on now?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not good”

“believe it or not that was kinda obvious. what’s up with this...metaphorical thing that overtook frisk?”

“I said I don’t know! But we may need to fight” Syphus eyed Shadow Frisk. They seemed to be observing the three, waiting for anyone to make the first move.

“FIGHT? BUT THAT’S FRISK! I DON’T WANT TO HURT THEM!”

Frisk was overtaken by that thing. We either fight or we let it kill us. But was it even possible to hit Shadow Frisk without harming the child it had trapped inside?

Shadow Frisk, seemingly tired of waiting for the group to make their first move, started contorting, trying to move their arms but making their legs and neck twist and move as well. That didn’t stop them from using a command, though.

Summon

Oil and ink seeped through the rocky walls, streams of viscous matter pooling on the floor, forming Mayas, dozens and dozens of them, crawling all over the floor and towards the three. The skeletons and Syphus huddled together, looking around to try to see a way to escape from the Mayas, but there were too many to consider such plan. “WHAT DO WE DO? I DON’T WANT TO ATTACK FRISK!”

“any ideas, ‘phus?” Sans’ grin seemed to have weakened, he was looking around with attention, the Mayas getting closer and closer.

“...I don’t know! I never thought...” something like this would happen. Syphus swallowed, grasped the halberd until his knuckles turned white, and forced himself to calm down. “Keep those Shadows at bay, guys. I’ll try to deal with Frisk”

“DON’T HURT THEM!”

“be careful with them. that kid is counting on us”

Syphus nodded, wishing with all his heart he had a lot more knowledge about the situation, but there was no more time for commiserating about his lack of information. Shadow Frisk was too far away to be hit by the halberd, it seemed the only option would be to use a Persona, preferably one that wouldn’t harm it too much. What are we supposed to do, knock it out?!

“Here we go” Syphus didn’t drop the halberd, in case any Mayas got past the skeletons’ efforts, and summoned Angel. As it was the weakest Persona he had that could attack, he thought it’d be a good idea to use it, but he hesitated. The child...would they get injured if he attacked the Shadow? They hoped there’d be some other way of subduing the Shadow that had taken over Frisk, that it wouldn’t be necessary to hit it and risk harming Frisk, but they just couldn’t think of any alternatives.

Sans and Papyrus worked on their part of the fight, too, keeping the crowd of Mayas away. Every time one of the Mayas died, it was quickly replaced by a new one. Bolts of electricity from the Frivolous Mayas and clouds of poison from the Desirous Mayas drifted through the air, aiming towards the three. Papyrus had formed a wall of blue bones as a measure to guarantee the Mayas wouldn’t be able to reach them, but the attacks were an entirely different matter. Trying to deviate the electric spells and the poison with bones was a difficult task, but Papyrus didn’t hesitate to try. Sans was more focused on attacking the Mayas taking advantage of those minor Shadows’ reduced self-preservation instinct. Blasters and bones hit and hurt the Mayas relentlessly, those who tried to attack getting the brunt of Sans’ attacks.

Since the skeleton brothers were rather efficient at fighting back to the Mayas, Syphus had the liberty to focus on Shadow Frisk, being able to use his Personas. Before trying anything he decided to mentally ask for an analysis of the foe.

Shadow Frisk. Fool Arcana. No information available

That’s of no use at all, damn it!

“It’s your fault. You shouldn’t be in this timeline” Shadow Frisk said, glaring.

“It’s not my—“

“Shut up!”

Shadow Frisk writhed, unable to escape the bindings that sprung from themselves, and flipped in the air, spinning aimlessly. Their body acquired a dim glow, which exploded outwards before retreating back. Syphus raised the halberd, expecting a beam or any kind of attack, but nothing happened, Frisk continued floating up there. What was that?”

Their evasion has increased.

The voice said without Syphus requesting it. Oh, fantastic. Just what we needed, a harder time hitting it.

“what are you waiting for?!” Sans chided, a second Blaster appearing and firing on the increasingly numerous Mayas.

“I DON’T THINK WE CAN HOLD THEM AWAY FOR LONG!”

Spurred, Syphus directed Angel to move towards Shadow Frisk and start attacking with Garu wind spells. It was rather difficult, though. Shadow Frisk’s newfound evasion allowed them to spiral and propel through the air without any trouble despite their binds, curling and floating gracelessly. The wind gusts that tried to hit them missed by mere inches, Shadow Frisk being completely unaffected, even though Syphus willed Angel to use the spells in quick succession, forming a trail.

As soon as the foe had a chance, they uncurled and writhed again, this time focusing on Papyrus. The light blue wall of bones that used to pulverize Mayas effortlessly rapidly started to weaken, the Shadows slipping through the wall. “WHAT HAPPENED?!”

“...that thing possessing the kid isn’t going to attack us. they’re going to stall us all until we’re overcome by these Shadows” Sans’ assessment seemed correct, so far Shadow Frisk hadn’t tried to attack directly. Could they even attack?

Shadow Frisk seethed so hatefully Syphus shuddered. “You...you can SAVE. You stole that power. Give it back!”

Sans glanced at Syphus. “anything i should know, ‘phus?”

“I have no idea, but I need a Blaster here!” Syphus requested, starting to sweat from the mental effort of uselessly trying to hit Shadow Frisk. Attempting to corner them until their evasion boon ran out of juice seemed like a good idea. Sans, having heard that, made a third Blaster form, but the effort of keeping two constantly attacking, as well as using bones, was starting to weaken him. It was one thing to create various Blasters, fire for a couple seconds and make them disappear, what he was doing now was tiring him way more than he usually would be in a fight.

Since Angel didn’t work very well, Syphus changed to Ouroboros, hoping ice would work a bit better than wind despite Ouroboros’ bulkiness and lack of speed. He started attacking right when Shadow Frisk’s evasion returned to normal, the ice magic scoring a hit on them. A few cracks appeared on the glass forming the body, many chips of glass falling into the abyss and sinking into the viscous ink. In an attempt to fend off Syphus, Shadow Frisk reduced his attack again.

Being the only one able to attack Shadow Frisk was the biggest problem during the fight. While he was able to hit it a few more times, making the foe’s glass body break more until they started to be smaller, he never thought he wouldn’t be able to count with Sans and Papyrus’ help. Sans’ Blaster was helping a lot, limiting Shadow Frisk’s movements, but he hadn’t managed to hit the foe not even once. Shadow Frisk had kept Papyrus and Syphus’ attack down despite having to endure being hit a few times by Syphus’ Personas. It seemed more and more that this was more a battle of endurance than of strength. Who would fall apart first? Their defenses or Shadow Frisk?

“Stay away! Go away!” Shadow Frisk would shout at him while decreasing Syphus’ attack again. Syphus represented something ugly and unnatural Frisk wanted to avoid, and such feelings were getting overblown by the Shadow that had invaded them. There was no sense in trying to argue with them right now, as Syphus quickly found out. They’d simply refuse to listen, no matter what was said or who said it. Papyrus even tried to intervene, but Shadow Frisk ignored him, continuing their frantic dodging.

The Mayas had gotten closer and closer, passing through Papyrus’ wall of bones. Several times they had gotten close enough to physically attack the group, forcing Papyrus to attack them in close range. Sans, having only 1 HP of health, made sure to stay behind Papyrus, attacking as much as he could.

Papyrus had endured several blows already, both from electrical attacks and from the Mayas’ arms. Their chest plate was covered in scratches and holes, and a hit on one of his legs was making him have a bit of difficulty moving. The space between the Mayas and the group was getting smaller, and the number of Shadows kept increasing constantly.

“I DON’T MEAN TO ALARM ANYONE, BUT THIS IS GETTING TOUGH!”

“hurry up already!”

“I’m doing what I can!”

Shadow Frisk had increased their evasion again, but they had suffered considerable damage already, moving with less energy. They even were pretty close to Frisk’s size, the glass having been chipped away from the formerly larger frame. Trying to seize the advantage, Syphus decided to take a risk. He had no idea if it was even possible, but it was worth trying. Could this be done...? Getting Ouroboros close to him meant it was in the range of attack the Frivolous Mayas had. Several electric spells crossed the air, aiming to hit Ouroboros and achieving it a couple times. Syphus groaned in pain, cringing, feeling the electric current as if he had been hit, but forced himself to keep bringing Ouroboros closer. They were running out of time, he had no time to let something like the Mayas stop him from trying one last thing!

Personas were solid enough to be hit. They never showed damage, merely getting swatted away, and were otherwise solid to be touched. That was why Syphus took the kind of stupid decision to use Ouroboros as a way to get closer to Shadow Frisk. It was the only Persona bulky and large enough to be able to hold him. Grasping the halberd in one hand and immensely grateful it was rather light thanks to it being collapsible, Syphus grasped the empty-looking yet startlingly solid robe, standing on the edge of the triquetra that was the Persona’s base. “what’s he doing?” Sans muttered, stopping the third Blaster from firing any further.

“Don’t stop, Sans!” I’ll need that kid to stand still! Sans acknowledged the order, restarting the beam and trying to use it to force Shadow Frisk to move closer to Syphus.

“SANS, WATCH OUT!” Papyrus pulled from Sans just in time for him to dodge a stray bolt of thunder. They were all running out of time. Knowing that the possibility the skeletons would be swarmed by the Mayas and killed was more likely by the second, Syphus hurried up, trying not to look at the yawning void right underneath him.

Shadow Frisk was rather weakened, floating with their head hanging down, sluggishly moving and dodging Ouroboros’ magic attacks with difficulty. They were aware Syphus was approaching, halberd ready, but didn’t make much effort to get away, mostly because the Blaster Sans had in their direction was forcing them to move towards Syphus.

“HURRY UP!” a Maya tried to grab Papyrus’ arm, he managed to get it away with a bone, but more and more started swatting at him, trying to hit him. Syphus didn’t even look behind, he let go of Ouroboros’ robe, standing precariously on the edge of the triquetra, and swung the halberd, holding it from the bottom of the pole and moving it with great difficulty. He barely got to swing it without losing his balance and plummeting down the hole in the cave. The blade collided against Shadow Frisk’ glass body, a grating noise echoing in the cavern from the contact of glass against metal.

Shadow Frisk let out a pained cry, but Syphus didn’t give enough time for them to move away. He positioned their feet further ahead and mustered his strength to swing the halberd back in the opposite direction, hitting Shadow Frisk with the rather dull spikes on the back of the pole, a sound like glass breaking emanating from the body. The cracks extended more, the glass seemed to be about to break in a thousand pieces. There, I’m close! Syphus raised the halberd over his head, like an executioner, and swung the halberd blade with all his strength right on Shadow Frisk’s iron face.

Shadow Frisk levitated downwards, holding their face with their hands and spinning uncontrollably. Unable to be chipped away any further, the last layer of glass started falling apart, revealing fabric underneath. “Frisk!” Syphus, elated, followed them, grasping the halberd with strength as if he had a baseball bat, and got ready for the final strike “Sans! Be ready!”

Sans made the Blaster vanish and nodded, trusting Papyrus would be able to keep the Mayas’ attacks at bay for a moment. Without even waiting for a reply, Syphus swung the halberd for the last time, impacting Shadow Frisk with the flat part of the halberd blade. The foe was launched towards the rock wall, unable to deter what was going to happen, and crashed against the rocks with a resounding sound.

The glass body completely shattered, the metal mask snapped off Frisk’s face. The child seemed to be conscious, as soon as they were free from the glass, metal and SAVE point that had formed their Shadow they screamed. In a moment they felt a familiar tingling in their chest, one they knew very well by now.

“gotcha!” Sans, having turned Frisk’s SOUL blue and stopped their fall, held them away and out of reach of the Mayas. None of the Shadows paid attention to them, trying to finish their onslaught on the skeletons.

“HELP! I GOT CAUGHT!” Several Mayas grabbed Papyrus’ arms, pulling from them and trying to get him to fall down.

“see you outside, ‘phus” Sans said before vanishing with Papyrus and Frisk, the Mayas all piling up, their targets long vanished.

“Sans?!” Frisk seemed to be safe now, the main objective had been achieved. Trying to get away before the swarm of Mayas noticed Syphus was still there, Syphus moved Ouroboros and himself to the entrance of the cave, jumping off the triquetra and dispelling the Persona before running outside.

The movements didn’t go unnoticed. Syphus had barely ran a few feet when the Mayas turned around. A few dozen minor Shadows pursued him, dragging their oily bodies towards the outside, where Sans, Papyrus and Frisk were waiting. Frisk was sobbing, clinging to Papyrus. “IT’S OKAY, FRIEND. YOU’RE OKAY”

“Get ready!” Syphus shouted when he exited the cave, turning around when he reached them. Papyrus looked around awkwardly.

“come here, buddy” Sans took the sobbing child off Papyrus and led them aside, away from any Shadow that may come.

“This is it, our last stand. Do you need healing?” Syphus asked and smashed the halberd over the first Maya that arrived. Papyrus claimed to not to need healing – “THE GREAT PAPYRUS IS FULL OF ENERGY AND HEALTH!” – but Syphus used a Persona to heal him nonetheless, just in case. The Mayas kept coming out of the cave, one after another, and since Syphus was once again running out of energy to keep any Persona attacking, he restricted himself to using the halberd. Papyrus was doing most of the job, able to fight several Mayas at once without hitting Syphus, while Sans kept Frisk away. The child had stopped crying and was watching Syphus and Papyrus fight, trying to come to terms with the timeline’s strange deviations.

Since Shadow Frisk was defeated, no new Mayas emerged after any got killed. Slowly, the number of Mayas was reduced without any of them managing to hit Papyrus or Syphus, other Mayas running away once it was clear they were outnumbered. The clear signs their efforts were being successful lifted Papyrus and Syphus’ spirits, hitting the foes with more energy, until it was all done and the ground was littered with small metallic spheres dropped by the Mayas. “...ARE WE...DONE...?” Papyrus was finally showing signs of fatigue after fighting constantly during quite a while, having to rest his hands on his knees and somehow gasping for breath.

“Yes! We’re done. We can finally—“ no, there was something else coming, dragging itself slowly and pitifully. The tinkling of glass and metal sounded from deep inside the cave before the source of the sound was visible. Pieces of glass and half of the iron mask was slowly dragging itself towards the group, the SAVE point was trailing just behind. The foe didn’t even have the strength to attack or use any kind of command. A low moan sounded, undoubtedly from Shadow Frisk, unintelligible and garbled.

“What is that...?” Frisk had approached behind them, looking at what remained of their Shadow self. No one replied to them, unsure of really what to say. Frisk didn’t try to approach their Shadow self, looking from behind Papyrus.

“WHAT SHOULD WE DO?”

“...there’s nothing to be done other than...finishing it” It may have tried to smother them all with Mayas, but there was something very pitiful in seeing the remains of Shadow Frisk crawling like that. He didn’t really want to approach and callously split open the remains, even if it seemed that was a necessary thing to do.

“I’LL DO IT” Papyrus said solemnly, extending a hand towards the rests of Shadow Frisk. He sighed contritely, a single bone extending from the ground, striking the SAVE point. The SAVE point froze, shuddering.

“...I don’t...understand...anythiiiiing” Shadow Frisk’s distorted voice sounded before the SAVE point disappeared in the usual poof of black smoke and particles. The four looked at the now inanimate pieces of glass and metal, not saying anything. The adrenaline of fighting Frisk’s Shadow Self was gone, replaced with a feeling of melancholy.

“How is Frisk?” Syphus asked after a while, putting away the halberd.

“they’re fine. shaken up but who wouldn’t be after what happened”

“So they’re not hurt after everything I did?”

“nope. whatever that thing was it kept frisk protected” Sans gently pushed Frisk towards Syphus and Papyrus before going to pick up the glass.

Good. That’s a relief! Syphus gave a small smile. “Frisk, we’re going to return to the Underground, alright?” Frisk nodded, looking to the ground. Once Sans and Papyrus had their hands on Frisk’s shoulders, ready to return, Syphus crouched and pressed on the lighted-up firefly brooch that was still attached to Frisk’s sweater, turning it off. The environment around them turned black, no one could see anything. It was done. The first expedition was over.

-ooooo-

The second day of their stay in the Underground was getting to its end. Syphus stared at the ceiling, resting his hands on his chest and trying to keep his mind blank for now. What a day...

Syphus had been the last to wake up. Frisk was already sitting on Papyrus’ car bed, holding a bowl of Papyrus’ sludge-like soup. Sans was nowhere to be seen, and Papyrus apparently was bringing another bowl of soup, presumably for Syphus. Syphus had asked Frisk again if they were okay. The child hadn’t replied to that, staring into the soup without any expression.

Papyrus had returned shortly after that, bringing the soup for Syphus. “HERE YOU GO, SYPHUS! A BOWL OF SOUP AND A GOOD DEAL OF CARE WILL HAVE YOU AS GOOD AS NEW IN NO TIME!”

“...a good deal of care?”

“I HAVE PREPARED THE COUCH DOWNSTAIRS FOR YOU TO SPEND THE NIGHT HERE”

After a pause Syphus sighed with relief and plopped on the floor, smiling. “You’re too good, Papyrus. Thank you”

“I’LL WATCH OVER FRISK TONIGHT”

“Right, I’ll leave it up to you” Syphus raised his head “Where’s Sans?”

“I DON’T KNOW. GRILLBY’S? I TOLD HIM HE SHOULD TAKE ONE OF HIS LONG NAPS, BUT NOW THAT HE ACTUALLY SHOULD HE ISN’T DOING IT!”

Papyrus settled aside Frisk, laying a blanket on the floor and claiming that was where he was going to sleep, so Syphus stood up from the floor and descended to the ground floor of the house. Just like Papyrus had said, the couch had been prepared. There was a blanket over it and that was it. Perfect. Syphus got under the blanket, intending to quickly fall asleep from the fatigue of the day, but he didn’t. There were way too many things in his head.

Apparently, the whole Persona thing’s purpose had been revealed now, and it had been more difficult than he thought it’d be. He had no idea how many times Sans and Papyrus had saved his life during the exploration, and he was grateful for that, but now what? Papyrus seemed to be content with not being told all the details regarding Personas and Shadows, as well as that strange world, but Sans surely had a few questions about that. How to answer them, how much could Syphus tell? And what should he do in the future? It was very likely other monsters or humans would go through the same calamity Frisk had gone through, there was no way it’d be a one-time thing. The thought of bringing Papyrus and Sans with him didn’t seem like a good idea, mostly because of their lack of Personas. How can other people obtain one? The skeletons weren’t weak at all, but without Personas he wasn’t sure how long they’d last.

Talking to Alphonse about the matter was a good idea, though. If there was anyone who could tell him more, it’d be them. It’d also be a chance to find out what exactly were the Velvet Room’s services and tie up those loose ends. Overall, Syphus felt like he was starting to be in control of the situation, but there was a lot of work to do.

“SYPHUS?” Syphus turned his head around. Papyrus was peeking from his bedroom “FRISK WANTS TO TALK WITH YOU” Guess I should see what they want. Although he would have preferred to try to sleep, Syphus stood up and went to Papyrus’ room.

Frisk seemed to be feeling better than just a couple hours before. The bowl of sludge was still untouched, left beside Papyrus’ action figures, but Frisk seemed to be in a cheerful mood, several of Papyrus’ favorite books near them. When Syphus entered they waved at him, truly glad to see him. “I SHALL STEP OUT NOW!” Papyrus announced, doing exactly what he said. Once Papyrus was gone, Frisk exhaled, getting themselves comfortable.

“...I didn’t think you were a human too” they said, not getting a reply. What am I supposed to say? “Are you hurt?”

“Don’t worry about me. You’re the one who went through some tough things”

“But I remember I attacked you guys with...” Frisk made a face of confusion, looking at a side “...I don’t know what I attacked you with. What were those things?”

“You remember?” That was unexpected! Syphus had taken for granted that the moment Shadow Frisk overcame Frisk, the child wasn’t aware of what was going on. The thought that Frisk felt every blow and remembered almost successfully killing Sans and Papyrus was very nasty, he really hoped he was mistaken about that. “Did I hurt you?”

Frisk rubbed his forehead, where he had been hit by the halberd. There was no bruise or wound. “I...I felt you hitting me with that long axe thing, but it didn’t hurt” Okay, that wasn’t as bad as it could have been. “It was weird...I don’t know how to talk about the feelings I had during that fight”

“Do you really think not being able to SAVE will mean you’ll die?”

“...I’m scared I’ll die. If I can’t return, then does that mean everyone will have to stay down here?” Frisk looked at Syphus. The piece intertwined his hands, leaning his chin on his fingers.

“I understand you’re scared, but it doesn’t mean monsterkind will have to stay down here...or that you’ll die. Don’t lose hope, okay?”

Frisk raised their head with a determined stare. “I don’t plan to stop. Syphus, I want to keep going. I want to meet my friends and help, I want to find a way to break the Barrier” there was another pause. This was significantly more awkward than when they met in the inn the day before, but the slight animosity and lack of trust he had felt in Frisk that time was gone. That’s progress, I suppose.

“...why do you disguise yourself as a monster?” Frisk asked, looked at him with curiosity.

“I don’t know how many monsters know how humans look like, but I didn’t want to risk being attacked. There’s not a single human SOUL captured yet, you know”

“There isn’t?”

“Ours would be the first ones they’d obtain. Come on, Frisk, you know what happened to you with the Royal Guard when they saw you. They must have been more savage because you’d be the first step to achieve freedom”

Frisk frowned. The fact they were the only human to have fallen into the Underground besides Chara and Syphus was a deviation much bigger than any they had ever seen. How would that affect their friends? Would Undyne be more bloodthirsty, making it harder to befriend her? Would Alphys change in any way? Would Asgore be much less guilty about trying to kill them, not having six children’s SOULs already?

...was Flowey not showing up because Frisk was of no worth to them, being only one single SOUL?

Now that Frisk thought about it, would this drastic change explain why Papyrus wasn’t trying to hunt humans, or why he didn’t have anymore his ambitions of joining the Royal Guard? And they hadn’t seen Toriel at all yet, where was she?

Syphus extended his hand, conciliatory “I know I offered this to you a couple times already, so let me offer one last time: I could go with you. I’d protect you from any monsters that could attack you, and—“

That was the only thing Frisk had clear. While it was true being with Syphus would mean being generally safer, they thought having him around would make it much harder to befriend other monsters, whether it was because Syphus would shoo them away or because their friends wouldn’t react the same way than if they were alone. They wouldn’t be truly alone – despite everything they hoped Sans would stick around, watching over them from a distance – but they thought it’d be better than letting Syphus accompany them.

“Fine, I won’t insist anymore” Syphus said, meaning that. I’ll have to trust Frisk will be able to take care of themselves. They thought unhappily “I don’t know if wanting to go alone despite having been attacked by someone earlier is brave or stupid”

Frisk shrugged and managed to give a smile. “I’ll be okay. By the way...thanks for rescuing me from that place. I don’t know where I was, but I’m glad Sans, Papyrus and you found me”

Papyrus, Sans and you managed to rescue Frisk

The Human Child Social Link has reached Rank 4!

Your power to create Personas of the Fool Arcana has grown!

Syphus opened the door of the bedroom. “Frisk, since you won’t stop until you get to Asgore, the only thing I ask is that you remember you’re not in a time trial here. You don’t have to get there as soon as possible, or tomorrow, or in two days. Take your time, okay?” Frisk nodded. Once Syphus left the room, Frisk reclined on the pillow, closing their eyes. Until now they hadn’t been alone, Papyrus staying nearby with his vow to take care of them. Although a couple times they felt tempted to ask him to leave them alone for a moment, they hadn’t done it, glad to know Papyrus was concerned about them. Now they had the chance to talk with Chara about what happened, and they wanted to take advantage of it.

“...Chara?”

“I have no idea what happened

“What do you remember?”

I don’t know. I woke up at the same time than you” Chara said. From their point of view, they just blacked out like Frisk, but unlike them they saw nothing at all. Although they were rather confused, they hadn’t tried to talk to Frisk until now, trying to understand the situation from what everyone else said. Everyone may as well have talked about quantum physics, for as much Chara understood.

Frisk told Chara everything they remembered about their Shadow. They didn’t remember much from before Syphus and the skeletons had arrived, all they remembered was walking over the surface of Mt. Ebott, finding it completely empty, not even having Chara to talk with. Soon they had arrived to the cave, reaching the hole on the ground, and a SAVE point near it. They had taken the SAVE point in their hands. From there their memories were rather muddled up to the point Papyrus, Sans and Syphus arrived. “I’m not sure what happened. I know there was something inside me that fought my friends, but I don’t what it was” Frisk grasped the blanket tighter “It knew what I was feeling...” It was hard to talk about it. Chara knew what Frisk’s feelings regarding the timeline repeating – and their role in breaking monsterkind out of the mountain over and over – so despite their curiosity they didn’t press any further about that matter. “I don’t even know how I got knocked out. I remember I was walking through Waterfall, and then...” Frisk touched the back of their neck, not reaching the spot where the bruise was “...someone grabbed me from my back. They were too strong! They dragged me into that cave, they let me go...and something hit me on the back before I could turn around or run away. Do you remember anything, Chara?”

“I’m in the same body than you. If you know nothing, how do you expect me to know?” Chara said “Want to know what I think? I think that Syphus guy did it”

“Him? But you got him to go away with the Echo Flowers”

“He could have returned later”

“Papyrus said Syphus came out of Waterfall right after Sans brought me here. I don’t think he could have run from so deep in Waterfall all the way to Snowdin”

That seemed to have silenced Chara for a second. “I don’t trust that guy. Frisk, humans can’t be trusted. We both know that”

“So you don’t trust me? I’m human”

If Frisk’s rebuttal regarding Syphus possibly having attacked them got them to hesitate, that line truly deterred Chara. It took a while before they replied, and when they did, they sounded almost contrite. “I never said I don’t trust you”

“You’re human too and I trust you” Frisk added. It was times like this that Chara was glad they didn’t have a face Frisk could see.

“Stop that! You’re doing it on purpose!”

“I trust you, and I trust Syphus too”

“F-Fine. But if not him then who? Sans?”

“Sans wouldn’t do that!” Frisk replied with much more emphasis than when they defended Syphus. Chara had been about to reply when Papyrus peeked inside. “HOW DID IT GO, FRISK?”

The child waved vaguely. “We talked...” The vague reply seemed to be enough for Papyrus, who beamed with cheerfulness.

“YOU SHOULD DRINK YOUR SOUP! IT’LL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE NEW”

Frisk took the bowl of sludge, moving it around with the spoon. “I didn’t know you knew how to make soup”

“MASTER CHEF PAPYRUS ISN’T SOME KIND OF ONE-TRICK PONY! I KNOW HOW TO MAKE PASTA. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE SOUP. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE PASTA WITHIN SOUP” he replied, settling onto his makeshift bed right beside the car bed. Frisk prepared to sleep, not really sure what to do the next day. They felt okay now, at least physically, but losing their SAVE skills was forcing them to take it all much slower than they’d like to. Syphus’ insistence made them reconsider going immediately towards Undyne, too. Maybe they could afford to be in Snowdin for a while, hang out with Sans and Papyrus...

Wait. Now that they thought about it, they accused Syphus of having that power, didn’t they? Was that true? They wouldn’t be surprised, but then why hadn’t Syphus told them that yet? Was it something they needed to hide?

A bit uneasy, Frisk got comfy and fell asleep, trying not to overthink anything about Syphus’ intentions and plans.

-ooooo-

The surface of Mt. Ebott was in complete calm. It was a cold night, there was no one on the mountain. Being the real Mt. Ebott, there were no Shadow, and everything had a solid base of rock.

Inside the cave with the hole Frisk always fell through, something bubbled among the tree roots and rocks. Slowly, a puddle of ink formed, reaching a meter of diameter. It didn’t get any larger, but it also didn’t stop bubbling, as if something nasty and dangerous was right under the surface of the puddle.

It was still there the next day.

CHECK IN ZERO MOVES

CHECK IN FOUR MOVES

Chapter Text

“Hello hello, dear Alphonse”

Alphonse raised their sight from their book about Personas, not showing any surprise at seeing Lucia in the Velvet Room. Igor, sitting in his usual spot, bowed slightly. “It’s not common to see a former guest return to the Velvet Room”

“She’s a former guest?” Alphonse inquired to Igor, but all he did as a reply was gesture towards Lucia. The witch touched the blindfold over her eyes, adjusting it.

“It’s a long story. Is it okay if I steal your assistant for a while, Mr. Igor?” She sounded strangely deferential when talking to Igor, something Alphonse, although they didn’t know her very well, knew was unusual. Igor nodded, so Alphonse stood up and walked to Lucia. The witch led Alphonse to the couch near the entrance of the Velvet Room and sat with a sigh, leaning her head on the soft edge of the back of the couch. “Has Sisyphus or his piece returned here yet?”

“Not yet. My master says our guest is starting to realize the scope of the Wild Card ability, but I don’t know yet what that means” There was a short pause while Alphonse sat too, closing and opening their fists while thinking what to say “How’s the game going?”

“Not good. Sisyphus isn’t very good at playing this kind of games. I thought I had prepared him well, but...” Lucia shook her hands, exasperated “He’s so frustrating to work with!”

“What about the Social Links?”

“Oh, that? Syphus listens to them, I’ll give him credit for that. I don’t know yet if he will do the right thing and point them in the right direction without meddling too much” she scratched the bridge of her nose “They’re interested on Frisk. It’s no surprise...I think he still feels guilty about that”

“Is he treating them well?” Alphonse’s tone changed, gaining an undertone of anxiety that didn’t go unnoticed to Lucia. She grinned deviously, for some reason.

“He’s a bit overzealous about protecting them, but other than that he’s doing fine. The child has just started trusting him” Alphonse seemed like a weight had been raised off their shoulders, so Lucia continued “He decided to let Frisk do their thing. I thought that’d make you happy” Lucia sat straighter “Okay, enough small talk. Want to play a game?”

“A game?” Alphonse tilted their head “You should go back to your house before the game continues”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. We’re on another break right now. Look, I even brought a diagram” The space between Lucia’s hands shone for a moment before a large sheet of paper appeared “How about you try to solve the conundrum of the first Victim?” Refusing to play along Lucia’s game was only going to make her stay around for longer, so Alphonse nodded, hesitant. Smiling, Lucia showed Alphonse the diagram.

It was a rather simple and childish diagram, showing no more than a deformed circle and a short rectangle on the south area that seemed to represent a corridor, while a white blob on a small plateau seemed to show the white bedsheet and the rocks underneath it. Small stickers showed things like the second Echo Flower found, Sans, and the dummy. Alphonse refrained on commenting on how it looked. “This is the room Frisk was found in. The person who found them was Sans. Allow me to tell you the basic details:

There’s only one entry and exit

Only up to three people ever entered this alcove. It doesn’t mean three people entered, of course I won’t say anything about that.

There’s no place in this alcove anyone could hide in.

 Alphonse stared at the diagram. “Really? No place at all?”

“Nope! It’s all in the open. Sans could have looked around and he’d have seen no one. In fact: Sans saw no one except Frisk, and Sans only saw Frisk once they were unconscious and in middle of the alcove” That made things a bit more complicated. When Alphonse asked for more details of what happened, Lucia told everything Sans had seen.

“There was a blue blanket, a white bedsheet, and a dummy with branches stuck in it...where did the branches come from?”

“That’s irrelevant”

“Are you sure there was nothing else in the alcove?”

“Not exactly. Besides those objects, there was also a pile of rocks. Now that’s all. How about it? Got an answer yet?” Lucia leaned her chin on her closed fist. Alphonse could sense the amusement in her eyes despite the blindfold, so they tried to ignore it and observed the diagram, tracing Sans’ movements with a finger.

“...Sans saw nothing strange, right?”

“That’s right!”

Alphonse thought for a moment before they suddenly gasped, grinning. “How dark was it in that place?” She didn’t seem very amused by the smirk, though.

“Sans would have seen anyone no matter how dark it was”

“But was it dark?”

“It was...there was little light” it was moments like these Lucia was glad she always had a blindfold. Alphonse wouldn’t be able to see her eyes nervously looking away.

“I got it!” Alphonse started telling the solution they had thought, weaving together every element Lucia had mentioned and moving their finger on the diagram. The more they talked, the surer they felt about their reasoning, while Lucia said nothing and looked at them inexpressively. Once Alphonse was done, the witch stayed silent until she took the diagram, meticulously folding it seven, eight, nine times before making it disappear in the air with magic.

“I honestly thought you’d have more trouble than this. Way too easy, right? That’s what I thought”

“You made this puzzle?”

“Me? No! If it had been me it’d be much more complicated. No, Cornio made it. It reeks of inexperience, doesn’t it? If anyone else had made it, I’d have sneered at them until they apologized for wasting my time with such trivialities” Lucia said “But that’s okay. We don’t intend to stump each other this time.

In this game, the reason why these puzzles are necessary is to stump everyone inside the game board. It may be simple for us, watching from above, but for those who see it happen or hear about it, it’s supposed to be unsolvable. Do you understand?”

“I think I do” They didn’t understand at all.

“Hell, who is the attacker isn’t even an important matter. If Sisyphus or anyone focuses on the who, they’ll be mightily disappointed” Lucia stood up, smoothing over her dress. “I don’t want to continue sitting around playing the role of assistant, so I’ll meddle a bit, make things jolly!” she tilted her head “You don’t mind hosting W.D. Gaster in this room for a while, do you?”

-ooooo-

I should have checked the couch for gold before sleeping. His back ached a lot. Syphus rubbed his sides, grimacing, and leaned against the wall, facing the skeleton brothers.

He had just finished explaining some details regarding the expedition into Frisk’s SOUL, avoiding everything that was related to Syphus’ true role as a piece for witches to control. Papyrus had taken it rather well, nodding and saying ‘I SEE!’, while Sans listened in silence. Once Syphus was finished, Papyrus made an expression of enlightenment, looking almost comical.

“there’s a flaw in your tale, ‘phus” Sans languidly said “if we were inside that kid’s SOUL how did i turn it blue?”

“Uh...” That was a good question, and something Syphus hadn’t thought about. How was that place supposed to work? “I don’t know”

“figures” Sans closed his eye sockets, resting on the armrest of the couch “so will that whole mess with the Shadows happen again or what?”

“It will. I don’t know who could be the next one to fall down like Frisk did, but it’ll happen again”

“I’LL PREPARE MYSELF FOR THE NEXT TIME!”

“good luck, bro. i ain’t the hero type so i’m not going” Sans barely opened an eye socket “i have a lot of work to do. those hot dogs aren’t going to sell themselves”

“NYEH HEH HEH! I’LL PRACTICE MY SPECIAL ATTACKS!”

“Papyrus, I’m grateful for your offer and you’re cool, but I don’t think it’d be a good idea for you to come with me again” Syphus said firmly. Papyrus immediately asked why, and Sans seemed more awake once Syphus said that. “I don’t think you should go without a Persona”

“DO YOU MEAN ONE OF THE MAGIC ATTACKS YOU USED?”

“what are those personas, tho?”

“I can’t explain what it is. They’re like...” Syphus gestured vaguely with his hands “...like manifestations of a person’s SOUL, using it to attack and defend. It’s something like that”

“I COULD TRY TO OBTAIN ONE!”

“The problem here is that I don’t know how you could get one. I could try to find out, but—“

“THEN IT’S SETTLED! THANKS, SYPHUS!” ...tell me I didn’t accidentally make Papyrus join my team. It wasn’t that Syphus wouldn’t be happy about Papyrus being a pal and going with him next time this mess happened again, it was more like Syphus didn’t want to promise something he may not even be able to fulfill. Who knew what Papyrus would have to do to obtain a Persona? It could be dangerous, or traumatic, or anything else. Papyrus had more than enough enthusiasm and fortitude to endure anything, but that didn’t mean Syphus was willing to let it happen without protesting.

Papyrus has declared his intention to join you on your task.

The Papyrus Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Sun Arcana has grown!

While Papyrus excitedly talked about being of help and Syphus tried to get him to listen for a second, Sans took out a large bag, filled to the brim with objects. “’phus, take this” he said, passing the bag without effort

“What’s this?” Syphus took the bag and immediately fell to the floor with it. Damn it, what’s this filled with?! Syphus looked inside, finding stones and other materials. “Did you give me a bag of leather, Sans?”

“kinda” Sans shrugged “this stuff came from the Shadows when they died. see if it’s of use to you”

“Why would any of this be of use to me?” Syphus stuck his hand inside the bag, his hand covered with powder that felt like talc “I guess I could try throwing this at a Shadow’s eyes but—“

“do whatever you want, bud” Syphus opened the bag further, taking out everything. A large board of armor he recognized from the Musha, glass and iron from Shadow Frisk, pieces of hide and long strings, and more of that talc covering everything.

“Thanks, Sans...I guess” He didn’t really see any use to these objects, but he wasn’t going to protest. There was a smaller bag inside, filled with other items. “What’s this?”

“eh, i experimented on some of the stuff i picked up and made all that. enjoy.” A bit curious as to what things Sans could have made with those materials, Syphus looked inside the smaller bag. A coin, a mask that looked like the Shadows’ masks, a piece of paper, a sphere of glass with something weird inside, even a small statue of Sans – depressingly represented as a lump with the word ‘sans’ engraved on it. Syphus turned the statue around in his hands, unimpressed.

“How did you even make all this stuff?”

“MY BROTHER HAS MANY MACHINES AND SCIENCE THINGAMAJIGS IN THE BASEMENT! HE MUST HAVE USED EVERYTHING HE HAD” Papyrus took the coin “HOW DID YOU MAKE THIS STUFF, SANS?”

“the usual, bro. it’s science”

“THAT EXPLAINED ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

“it’s no big deal, paps” Sans said without enthusiasm, not even looking at Papyrus. The taller skeleton put the coin back in the bag, a bit subdued.

“...FINE...”

Syphus frowned. “Are you okay, Papyrus?”

“OF COURSE I’M OKAY! DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME!” he quickly started sounding like usual, as if nothing had happened, while Sans seemingly didn’t notice Papyrus’ momentary dispirited reply. If he did notice he did absolutely nothing about it.

“Alright...” Syphus put everything back in the large bag and put it over his shoulder like a sack, accidentally hitting his back. Agh! That’s going to leave a mark “I’ll get going. Papyrus, you should think very, very carefully if you want to join me. It’s not going to be fun times or anything as heroic as you think it’ll be.

You’d be in mortal danger. You wouldn’t be able to say anything to anyone. Other than those we help; no one would ever find out about what we do. Are you sure you want to be part of this?”

Papyrus didn’t even hesitate. “I’M POSITIVELY SURE I WANT TO HELP! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, WILL BE A VALUABLE TEAMMATE!” Syphus sighed at that response, managing to clip the firefly brooch to his clothes with his free hand, activating it. It had been nice to show himself as a human for a while, but the disguise was needed once again.

“Okay, but...please think about it”

“WAIT! SYPHUS, WAIT!” Papyrus crossed the place in two, three steps when Syphus opened the door to leave “DO YOU HAVE A PLACE TO LIVE?”

“what?” Sans straightened up a bit, his grin tensing a tad “paps, what’re you thinking?”

“HE’S A—“ Papyrus lowered his voice since the door was open “—HUMAN—“ he raised his voice again “SO PERHAPS HE DOESN’T HAVE A PLACE TO STAY? HE COULD SLEEP ON OUR COUCH, SANS”

“bro, i’m not sure this is a good idea”

Syphus smiled, touched “Thanks, but I have a place already” The less said about the village, the better. It wasn’t that Syphus didn’t trust Papyrus – he trusted him implicitly to not to reveal things like that Syphus was human – it was more that Papyrus didn’t need to know, in Syphus’ opinion. After saying farewell again to the skeletons Syphus left in direction to Waterfall. Now that Syphus was gone, Papyrus focused his attention on Sans, who had ‘conveniently’ fallen asleep.

“SANS” There was no response “SANS!” Sans opened his eye sockets sleepily.

“hm?”

“...YOU DON’T LIKE HIM” Papyrus had already suspected that since the day they met Syphus for the first time, but now he thought it’d be good to confront Sans about the topic. Sans shrugged, looking aside.

“we know nothing about that guy. you know me, paps, i don’t want to trust him before knowing him first”

“I SEE. THAT’S FINE, BUT I HAVE A GOOD FEELING ABOUT HIM, SANS! HE’S A GOOD PERSON” Sans winced for a moment. Papyrus’ beliefs about everyone’s inherent goodness could bring trouble, in his opinion.

“you’re misinterpreting me, bro. if he stayed on the couch where’d you sleep?” Since Syphus was meddling with the timeline and it was likely the events wouldn’t be the same than in any other timeline, Sans was considering asking Frisk to not to continue yet. The child would need a place to stay, wouldn’t they? Papyrus was about to answer to that, but he realized what Sans was insinuating.

“OH! FRISK IS GOING TO STAY! YOU’RE RIGHT, I’LL NEED THE COUCH”

“see? told ya” Sans stuck his hands in his pockets “it’s time for work. see you later, paps”

“YES! CONTINUE CULTIVATING A GOOD WORK ETHIC! WELL DONE, BROTHER” Sans nodded in acknowledgement and warped away, although he didn’t go to one of the many sentry stations/hot dog stands he manned. Before that he wanted to check on the machine again, see if anything had changed. Sans expertly appeared right in front of the screen, not having to move not even an inch to be able to see the screen clearly.

There were no changes – changes he could distinguish, that is. The timeline itself was as erratic and unstable as before. Now that he knew a bit more what may be causing such distortions he supposed the whole thing with the brooch, the Shadows and the Personas was what made everything so fragile, but he had no way to prove it. Scientists couldn’t rely on hypothesis just like that, they needed a way to prove a hypothesis, and although Sans wasn’t seriously dedicated to science anymore, he still liked to think he still had a bit of a scientist’s mind. “what’s your goal, syphus...” Sans murmured, approaching his work table.

On it there were still some of the crystals and stones he had gathered during the expedition to the mountain Syphus had said was Frisk’s SOUL, -- something he didn’t believe yet – having spent most of the night analyzing the materials out of curiosity. All the materials looked normal, but Sans had found out everything had strange properties he wasn’t sure how to interpret yet. In an attempt to find out more, Sans had used the materials to create simple objects, the same ones Syphus had taken with him. If there was anyone who could discover if those materials had some sort of strange effect it’d be Syphus, Sans supposed, and he believed that person would tell him any remarkable effects as soon as they happened.

There was something a tad concerning, though: the glass he had picked up from the remains of Shadow Frisk had showed a lot of magical potential, waiting to be tapped into. He hadn’t dared to try to do anything with that glass, just in case he screwed up and caused something bad to happen. His “laboratory” didn’t have any sophisticated machines or utensils beyond the one in the corner, he had no way to analyze the glass any further.

“i’ll think of something” Sans decided, taking most of the stones and crystals on his work table to take it all with him to one of the sentry stations and keep fiddling with it. He felt there was something to find out about the materials, and he kind of wanted to see what he could do with all that. The scope of what was going on with the timeline – coupled with Syphus’ sudden appearance and the strange blurb that had appeared when he CHECKed Syphus – seemed to be very large, and Sans, despite his general lack of enthusiasm, was starting to feel a small spark of curiosity, if only to know how screwed everyone was this time.

He just hoped Papyrus wouldn’t suffer much when things almost inevitably take a turn for the worse.

-ooooo-

It’d be a lie to say he wasn’t feeling nervous about going back to the Hidden Village after being away for more than 24 hours, but it wasn’t like he couldn’t not return there. Syphus exhaled, looking from side to side of the tunnel, and having checked there was no one nearby he deactivated the brooch and descended into the crevice and the path that’d lead to the village, still carrying the bag with the materials Sans had given him.

There was no way the humans didn’t notice he hadn’t been in the village for a while. He was actually expecting Cohen or someone else to be waiting for him to demand for an explanation, but what could Syphus say? I should have started thinking about this on the way here. Much to his relief, no one received him when he arrived to the outskirts of the village, so he started ascending towards the cabins. He could see a few wooden beams halfway buried into the ground in a spacious area to the side of the village, but other than that there hadn’t been any changes during his absence.

“Alright, where the hell have you been?”

Syphus put the bag on the ground and slowly turned around, trying to look apologetic. “Uh, I can explain, Cohen, I—“

“Shut up with your excuses” Cohen scowled “Some of us were already thinking you had been killed and your SOUL taken. Do you have any idea how worried some of us were?”

“I’m sorry—“

Syphus’ hand unconsciously went to the firefly brooch without activating it. “Yeah, I think I can”

“Then fine, you can go outside the village, but I have one condition for you” Cohen stood up a bit straighter, his spine loudly creaking at the effort “I want you to return here during the nights. You must return and sleep here. All we want is to make sure you’re okay, that we haven’t lost one of our own. Understood?”

...I hope that won’t be a problem. Promising that would be easy, but he didn’t know if he could guarantee it, but Syphus had the feeling saying ‘no’ wasn’t an option. “Understood?” Cohen repeated, Syphus was taking too long to answer.

“Y-Yeah, I understand” Syphus turned his head to the beams “Will I sleep in your cabin all the time?”

“Only until your cottage is ready. Graham is working hard on that” Cohen extended his hand towards Syphus’ bag of items “Gimme that, I’ll carry it”

Syphus glanced at the bag for a moment, then looking at Cohen with doubt. “It’s pretty heavy, I don’t know if you—“

“I may be old, but I’m as strong as a Boss Monster” Cohen boasted, taking the bag without giving Syphus time to protest. He lifted it with ease! Wow... “See? Now let’s go. By the way, that was a lie. I’d have said ‘as an ox’, but what I said sounded more impressive” he admitted with a smirk. Consider me impressed.

You sense genuine concern behind Cohen’s assertion of authority.

The Cohen Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Emperor Arcana has grown!

Syphus followed Cohen with his hands in his pocket, a bit cowed by Cohen’s forceful attitude. It was nice to have a guardian who was willing to be tough yet reasonable, but Cohen wasn’t exactly a young person, nor looked healthy beyond his strength. How much life left did he have?

Along the way they encountered Ananas, who was now wearing the same type of white robe and the shawl every human in the village except Syphus were wearing. Without the cowboy hat and clothes she liked so much, she looked older than she actually was. Ananas glared at Syphus when he passed by and didn’t say a word. “She told me you promised to play with her but didn’t come. Did you forget or what?”

“I...I was busy” It was true he had been busy, but in hindsight he should have taken the time to tell Ananas he’d be busy. He even stumbled upon her, it’d have taken only a few minutes!

“You should apologize to her. I haven’t ever heard about she asking anyone to play with her. Having that promise broken from the one person she asked to must hurt”

“...if you’re trying to guilt-trip me...then it’s working” Syphus had a knot in his throat at thinking how much he disappointed Ananas, and promised himself he’d compensate her. Cohen shook his head sternly.

“I wasn’t trying to guilt-trip you, but if you feel guilty then that’s good! You know you did something wrong. Solve it when you can” he gritted his teeth “At least someone here has the balls to apologize for something”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that ungrateful four-eyes is being an asshole again! Blaming me for anything that happens to him!” Cohen shook his free hand in exasperation “It’s true I don’t like him leaving the village almost every day, but that doesn’t mean I’d go as far as to sabotage him!”

“Sabotage?”

“Someone stole his antlers” the old man said “He can’t leave until he makes new ones, but it isn’t like there are many branches in here. It’ll be a while before he leaves again. I’m sorry for him, but he can’t go blaming anyone he doesn’t get along! What kind of person does that?”

“You and him don’t get along?”

Cohen looked at him with a face that spelled he had no patience for stupidity right now. “Stop parroting everything I say. But yeah, we don’t get along. We have been like that since he was a kid. If he has trouble with me watching over everyone then he should say it already!”

Syphus tried to be diplomatic. “You’re doing a good job, there’s no need to stir up trouble. I’m sure he knows that”

“I don’t doubt I have been doing a good job, because if I don’t do it who will? Celia is too old. Byssa is selfish and doesn’t care about any of us. Graham is a nice kid, but he has no spine, he wouldn’t be able to fight anyone, and you...” Cohen looked Syphus from head to toe twice “...I don’t know you”

“What about Ananas? She’s young, determined and cares a lot about everyone”

Cohen gravely looked at the ground. He didn’t say anything for a moment, but then he shook his head emphatically. “No. Too young”

“Just because she’s, what, eight years old doesn’t mean she can’t do a good job. She just needs training”

“You say that because it’s not you who’d have to train her” Cohen grumbled “Look, I don’t think she’d do a good job. It’s up to me to be the guardian, end of story”

“Why? You must have a reason to reject her help, right?”

“Because I say so! Syphus, if I say I’m the only person in this village who is both qualified and willing to guard everyone, then I’m the only person who can do it” Cohen glared at Syphus, but the piece refused to back down, stopping as well to try to look much more assertive than he actually was.

“And I say Ananas has what’s needed. Are you not going to give her a chance to prove herself?”

“Not if I get a say!”

“Why? What does she not have that you do?!”

“I...I...” Cohen threw his hands up in exasperation “Stop it. I don’t want to talk about it”

“Come on, Cohen, there must be something—“

“I told you I don’t want to talk about this. Stop it or so help me you’re going to carry this bag of yours the rest of the way” he said as if his cottage wasn’t ten meters away, but the message was clear enough. Syphus closed his mouth tightly. Cohen, you’re as stubborn as always. In his home timeline, Cohen had been a rather stubborn young man too, having pursued Asriel for quite a while and having been the last human obstacle in the way. His motivations and reasons to be stubborn were different now, but he was as headstrong as back then, if not more.

It was comforting to see that some people didn’t change that much, despite growing in a tiny portion of the Underground.

Cohen left the bag to the side of the door and muttered something about going to his sentry spot, leaving Syphus alone without even saying goodbye. Syphus had been about to enter the door when he felt observed. Slowly, he turned around and found Ananas a few feet away.

“...you heard all that, didn’t you?” Syphus inquired softly. Ananas’ hands moved as if she was going to pull down a hat to cover her face, but when she realized she had none, instead she ran away. “Hey, wait! Annie!” she didn’t come back. Syphus frowned but entered the cottage, deciding to talk to her later. He still had to go to the Velvet Room, after all.

-ooooo-

Alphys looked again at the recording of the cameras, unsure of how to feel. That was a human! A real, true human! Here in the Underground! And...they looked nothing like the humans from her animes. She knew there was no way they’d look like the anime characters, but that didn’t stop her from harboring a faint hope they would. Said hope got dashed once she saw them for the first time.

There were no big eyes, nor hairstyles that were both striking and stylish. The human she was seeing was just a child, homely and with a blue and pink sweater. Still, what mattered wasn’t the human’s appearance, what mattered is that there was a human in the Underground! So now what? What should she do?

The recording of the cameras showed the human had gone to Waterfall but later they had appeared in Snowdin. Sans had been interacting with the human, that explained how they got all the way to that town. “I still have t-time!” She had no idea what the human wanted to do, but surely they’d want to leave the Underground, and for that they’d need to go to New Home...and also kill Asgore. That was something she definitely wanted to stop. How to discourage them, though? How to convince them to stop trying to leave a place that’d surely want them dead?

The only thing Alphys had clear right now was that telling Undyne may...it may not be the best idea. Her claws shook, the thought of having to hide something from Undyne made her feel horrible. “I-I can’t...I shouldn’t hide anything from her...she’d find out sooner or later...” but she knew very well that if Undyne found out about the human she’d immediately try to find them and take their SOUL. The human hadn’t even done anything wrong! The video feed was proof. All the interactions, the FIGHTs ending without anyone dying, all that was proof.

No, Alphys was sure she had to keep it hidden from Undyne no matter how much she hated to do that. She also couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. So instead... “Wait! I got it!” Alphys started pacing around frantically, many ideas forming in her head. Yeah, that may work! It was all matter of convincing the human to stay in the Underground, and for that, the human would need a friend, someone they could trust. How to get the human to trust her? Wait, wait, what if--? Yeah! Maybe that’d work!

She’d need to prepare a few things, polish up all the plans...it shouldn’t be too difficult. Quickly thinking of scenarios and dramatic things to say, she went to her work table on this part of her laboratory over the surface of Hotland, looking for what she’d need. Alphys had been about to take a cellphone and start working on it when she remembered something she had to do: put back the camera she repaired. It was right there to the side, cleaned and prepared to be connected back to the network. “I’ll have to ask Undyne to help me with that...” she mumbled, taking her phone. After a few minutes of fretting and putting away the phone – several times, in fact – she finally was ready to make a few calls.

Chapter Text

Once Syphus left the bag of Shadow remains in Cohen’s cottage and examined the halberd to make sure the pole wasn’t going to break in two anytime soon – it was fine, but the blade looked duller than before, to the point it was more like a blunt weapon than a blade – he left the village, looking for the door to the Velvet Room. Thankfull, it wasn’t too far away from the Hidden Village, but it was in a path that seemed to be decently transited. A few monsters passed by, not really paying attention to Syphus, but he still felt a bit nervous, thinking someone could see him disappear in midair when entering through that door. Once he was sure no one would see him, he opened the door and entered, the brooch losing its effects immediately.

Going from the tepidness of Waterfall to the pleasantly cool atmosphere of the Velvet Room was almost jarring. Igor was there, exactly like the last time Syphus had seen him, while Alphonse smiled welcomingly from the armchair. “Welcome to the Velvet Room” Igor said, beckoning Syphus to sit on the seat on the other side of the table. Syphus obeyed, a bit excited to see what could be done with all the Personas he had gathered. “It seems you have made the first few steps in your journey” Igor pointed with his hands at the cogs lining the walls. Several cogs that weren’t moving before were fully active now.

“Mind telling me what I did?” Maybe if he could find out what he did, he could repeat that action as many times as needed and get done with it more effectively!

“That’s a question you’ll have to answer by yourself” Igor’s grin seemed to widen, Syphus blinked a few times “Now, I shall introduce you to the main service of the Velvet Room: fusing Personas”

The explanation was long and convoluted. At the end Syphus could barely remember all the details about the exceptions, the different arcanas, how helpful it’d be to register Personas, the inheriting conditions of the magic skills Personas could give when fusing...everything. Although he did pay attention, at some point Igor’s words turned rather nebulous and confusing. “Did you understand?” Igor asked at the end every time he finished a section, Syphus nodding, trying not to make his confusion obvious. Once Igor explained the last part and Syphus confirmed he understood, the master of the Velvet Room bowed slightly “Splendid. Now, would you like to make use of our services?”

“Yeah. So, first I should register the Personas I have...”

“My assistant shall help you with that. Alphonse?”

“Yes” Alphonse opened their book and got closer to the table, taking a pen “Let’s start working”

It seemed that the Velvet Room services were mostly told to Alphonse, while Igor performed the fusions and summoning of the Personas. Alphonse helped with the registration, patiently explaining every detail of the Personas Syphus had. Stats, magic skills, everything was crammed in Syphus’ head to the point he wasn’t sure what data belonged to what. It didn’t help that most of what Alphonse said reminded him he had just started the journey. Literally all the Personas he had gathered so far belonged to arcanas he hadn’t even touched yet in any of the Social Links. Lovers. Hierophant. Justice. Temperance. Syphus couldn’t help but wonder who in the Underground represented such arcanas. “How about the ones I’m developing already? Is there any Persona I could fuse included among them?”

Alphonse drummed their fingers on the cover of their book. “Um, not really...right now there are eleven Personas you could fuse and only one is from any of those arcanas: Agathion, from the Chariot arcana. It’d receive power from your Social Link, but I don’t recommend it. It’d still be too weak”

“Then what should I do? Help me here, Alphonse, this is the first time I do something like this”

“Let me see...” Alphonse flipped the pages until they found one that showed a green woman with a long red dress. She wasn’t exactly the image of a strong Persona, but then again, none of the Personas he had screamed ‘power’ either “This is Silky, of the Priestess arcana. She specializes in both Bufu and Dia magic, in other words, ice and healing. You could have the main powers of two of your Personas in a single one”

“Then let’s do that!” The less Personas he had in his head at one time, the better...maybe. Alphonse’ palm pointed at Syphus’ chest, and in a flash two cards appeared on the table, the images on them showing two Personas: Ouroboros and Apsaras. After confirming again Syphus was okay with the fusion and informed him of the skills it’d have, they passed the cards to Igor for the fusion. While Igor performed the fusion Syphus rested his chin on his fist, looking at Alphonse with curiosity. “You sure seem to know what you’re doing. Have you been working with Igor for long?”

“Time doesn’t pass linearly in this place” Alphonse replied while Igor passed the Persona Silky into Syphus’ soul “One day I was a soul without a vessel...next I knew was that Igor’s master found me, and I was given a duty in the Velvet Room” Alphonse glanced at Igor with gratitude “I can only guess the reasons why Philemon chose to help me”

“So...you weren’t always, uh...” what was someone like Alphonse called, again? They didn’t seem to be human. Alphonse closed their eyes, leaning back on their chair.

“I’m not human, and I’m not a monster. I’m not even the same type of being than Igor, I’m...I’m just a...” Alphonse opened an eye to look at Igor inquisitively.

“Alphonse is a soul given form, residing in the vast realm of unconsciousness” Igor said. Syphus wasn’t sure if Igor meant SOUL or soul.

“Yes. That” Alphonse closed his eyes “My master once told me the Velvet Room’s form and attendants vary according to the guest. This room isn’t always a machinery room! And the reason why I’m the attendant you were assigned...” the attendant went silent. Syphus waited a couple minutes before requesting Alphonse to continue.

Alphonse didn’t comply immediately, their face contorting in an expression of concentration. After a moment of internal conflict, they deferred to Igor for advice. “You may have revealed something you didn’t intend to. I recommend you clarify and stop while you’re ahead”

“Thank you” Alphonse squared their shoulders, preparing for what they were going to say.

Syphus furrowed his brow, processing that tidbit of information. So Alphonse made it happen... “How did you do that?”

“That’s something I don’t want to tell you about right now” they said. Syphus narrowed his eyes, noticing their choice of words. Want, not can’t.

“Will you ever tell me?”

Alphonse sighed glumly “Maybe I will. I’ll have to think about it”

You saw a glimpse of Alphonse’s machinations.

The Velvet Room Attendant Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Jester Arcana has grown!

After making another fusion and summoning back Ouroboros for sentimental reasons – and spending his last gold on that -- Syphus stood up from his seat. It certainly had been a good idea to come to the Velvet Room, he had used the Personas obtained while inside Frisk’s SOUL and felt prepared for whatever could happen. May as well get out and see where things would go, but before that... “Igor, I’m not sure I’ll be able to journey through the SOULs all by myself. At some point I could encounter something too strong for me to defeat by myself. Is there a way for other people to obtain Personas?”

“Hmmmm...indeed, there is” Igor nodded “However, it’s a matter out of your control. Those who may obtain Personas will have to do it by themselves, and you won’t have a way to predict who will succeed and who won’t” he refused to say anything further. He had guessed correctly that, if Syphus knew what it entailed to obtain Personas and how it could happen, he’d force the matter and worsen the situation.

“...I see. Thank you” So all he could do was wait and hope for the best. That’s not a good plan! “One last question:

How’s any of this going to help me find a way to shatter the Barrier?” He hadn’t forgotten that was the key to leading the timeline to a good end. Although the whole Persona thing was exciting and he felt he was starting to understand a bit what was going on with that, he saw no relation between that and the Barrier. Igor looked at Alphonse, who pushed his repairman cap higher in their head.

“Did you pick up the remains of Shadow Frisk?” Syphus nossws. Sans had done that, not him, but surely that was good enough “That’s going to be of help to shatter the Barrier, but you’ll need more materials as strong as that one. Can you guess where to get them?”

“...no way...so that’s why this is all happening! I see!” Syphus’ eyes widened in realization, his voice raising with joy at finally understanding – or at least hoping he understood “If we keep defeating and collecting materials from the toughest Shadows in people’s SOULs, we would have—“

“You’d have enough magical energy to shatter the Barrier” Alphonse completed, smiling “Seven human SOULs are needed, but a mix of the innermost and pure energy from monsters and humans’ SOULs could work too. If calibrated and wielded correctly, perhaps you could reach an equivalent force to seven human SOULs?”

“How many pieces will I need?”

Alphonse thought for a moment. “At least a dozen, maybe?”

“Okay, a dozen! Only eleven more and this’ll end. Thanks!” with lifted spirits, Syphus grabbed Alphonse’s hand, shaking it vigorously, before turning around to wait.

“Syphus, wait!”

Syphus turned around, noting Alphonse had stood up. The attendant adjusted their cap, stalling as if before saying anything they needed to convince themselves to do it. “I’d like to ask you for a favor. If you do it, I’ll tell you more about myself”

“A favor? What favor?”

“The world is a wide place, but I can’t explore it. I shouldn’t stray away from my duties, so I ask you to bring a bit of the world to me. That’ll do for now. I request you to bring me...” Alphonse thought for a moment before nodding, they had an idea “...fingerpaint. That’s what I want”

“Fingerpaint?” That was an unexpected request “Where can I find that?”

“I don’t know. Bring it and I’ll give you some more information. Good luck!” Alphonse sat down, satisfied, and although Syphus waited for a moment to see if they’d say anything else, the attendant refused to tell why they wanted such object. Well that was odd... It had been odd but Syphus had to admit he was intrigued. He did intend to look for the fingerpaint, if only to hear more about Alphonse.

The problem was...where in the Underground could such thing be found? Syphus passed by the couch near the door, stopping for a moment. There was something on that couch...nothing visible, but he felt like there was something...someone sitting there. A very, very faint outline sat there, almost invisible. If it hadn’t been because to Syphus it felt something familiar was there, he wouldn’t have noticed. “Hey, is there something here?” he asked, pointing at the couch and looking at Alphonse and Igor. The first just shrugged and the second didn’t do anything. Not having received an answer, Syphus slowly opened the door and exited, without taking his eyes off the couch. Once the door closed, Alphonse sighed, looking at the couch.

“At this rate there will be”

-ooooo-

If the remains of the Shadows were going to be the key to shatter the Barrier, then he had to talk with someone who could help, and as far as he knew, Sans was the best choice for this. He had been the one to create stuff out of materials from the false Mt. Ebott, it was likely he’d know what to do. With that in mind, Syphus returned to the skeletons’ house, being greeted by Papyrus. Frisk and he were watching television, watching one of Mettaton’s programs. Once Syphus asked where Sans was, Papyrus told him Sans was working in one of his sentry stations. “HE’S FINALLY STARTING TO TAKE HIS JOB SERIOUSLY! I’M PROUD OF HIM!” he had praised “I SHALL PROVIDE YOU OF INDICATIONS OF WHERE HIS MANY STATIONS ARE!” While Papyrus made the list with as many easy instructions as possible, Syphus watched the TV with some interest. The square robot was showing a wide array of products, most of them of the type anyone could obtain in any random store.

“Looks like Mettaton actually started a shopping program” Syphus commented.

“HE DID! TODAY IS THE FIRST BROADCAST, AND I HAVE ALREADY BROUGHT SEVERAL OF HIS NEWEST PRODUCTS!” Mettaton was enthusiastically showing new MTT products, most of which looked of decent quality. Nothing impressive, but it didn’t seem like a complete waste of gold either...and then Mettaton mentioned the prize for the kit of makeup products he had been talking about.

“Oh my god” Syphus felt goosebumps at the rather high prize “Is everything as expensive as that?”

“THAT IS ONE OF THE CHEAPEST OFFERS SO FAR”

“Oh geez” That did allow him to realize there was a severe disadvantage he hadn’t thought about yet: his lack of gold. Syphus had already spent everything he had, and it didn’t seem like he’d be so lucky as to find free gold anytime soon. How to earn gold, then? “I’m going to need a job” he mumbled.

“SORRY, I DIDN’T HEAR WHAT YOU SAID. COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?” Papyrus was finishing the last lines in his instructions.

“I said I’m going to need a job” he said a bit clearly, feeling awkward. Could Syphus even get a job?

“YOU COULD TRY JOINING THE ROYAL GUARD! WITH YOUR FIGHTING SKILLS, YOU’D FIT RIGHT IN!”

Syphus frowned. “...I’d rather stay away from Undyne as far as possible, Papyrus” Not having any other suggestion, Papyrus gave Syphus the list of sentry stations Sans manned and wished him good luck in finding a job. Thankfully, Papyrus didn’t ask about if Syphus had found out how to obtain a Persona. It wasn’t like the piece would be able to give a straight answer, after all.

Luckily for Syphus, the very first station he checked is where Sans was napping. He was near the Ruins, reclined on his seat and sleeping, a few condiment bottles strewn on the counter. “Sans. We need to talk”

“hm?” Sans didn’t even bother opening his eye sockets.

“I’m going to tell you a couple truths because, well, because I need your help. Can you help me?”

“maybe i can” Sans opened an eye socket “what is it?” Syphus, after a pause to think twice what he was going to say, he carefully told the details regarding how to shatter the Barrier without using human SOULs. It was a tale with a few holes he wouldn’t be able to explain if Sans chose to try to delve deeper into his words, but Sans didn’t bother to do that. Instead he nodded, satisfied with what he heard. “so you need to do somethin’ with that glass and iron but you don’t know what to do”

“Exactly! And I’ll have more stuff later, too”

“i don’t think i can help you with this” Sans said plainly, taking a bottle of ketchup and playing with it in his hands. Syphus’ feathers fluffed up.

“What? Why not?!”

“i don’t have the equipment to do anything with that stuff”

“But everything you made – that coin, the lump that said ‘Sans’...”

“those were no big deal, but making something to shatter the barrier? that’s a tall order, bud. you’re going to have to ask someone else”

“Who should I ask? I know no one else in the Underground besides you, Papyrus and the child, and I’m pretty sure neither Papyrus nor Frisk can do a thing with those”

Sans didn’t seem very concerned about Syphus’ supposed lack of connections, instead pointing in direction of Waterfall. “there’s a lab on the other side of waterfall. you can’t miss it, it has ‘lab’ written all over it. talk with the royal scientist, she’ll help you”

“The Royal Scientist?” Alphys? Syphus hadn’t really planned to meet her yet – what to say to her? He couldn’t just walk to her and introduce himself, right? “Can I really enter the laboratory and talk to her?”

“why not? take this, it could be of help” Sans produced from under the sentry a DVD case, passing it to Syphus. It was of an anime Syphus didn’t recognize at all. Mew Mew Kissy Cutie? This doesn’t sound like a good one. “don’t look at it like that. it won’t bite”

“I’m not a fan of anime”

Sans chuckled in amusement “try not to say that when she’s nearby. is this all you need?”

Syphus took the DVD and put it in his pocket, right beside the collapsible halberd. “Yeah, I’m leaving now. Hotland isn’t exactly around the corner”

“don’t you need a job?”

The piece stopped in his tracks, turning around slowly. “How do you know that?”

“don’t tell paps, but i arrived here right before you” Sans winked, his grin widening slightly “i’ll lend you a hand with this problem too, but I have a favor to ask”

“What is it?”

“don’t get my brother involved in your Persona antics unless you really need his help, okay?” Sans’ voice got a little bit harsher “i don’t know everything, but i’m not sure i like what i have seen so far. keep papyrus out of danger”

Syphus could understand that, of course Sans wouldn’t want Papyrus to be in danger unnecessarily, and the piece was fine with that. He nodded. “I won’t drag him into this. Thanks, Sans” Satisfied, Sans leaned back on his chair.

“cool. once you’re done talking to alphys meet me at grillbys, ‘kay?”

-ooooo-

Just like Sans had said, the building at the entrance of Hotland had ‘LAB’ written in rather large letters, right above the entrance. It truly was impossible to miss. Syphus loosened his jacket, starting to feel the heat of this part of the Underground, made sure that he had the items from Shadow Frisk, having retrieved them right before coming, and took out the DVD case. Alright, time to meet Alphys... Syphus knocked on the door, waiting for the scientist to open. After a minute or so, there was a voice behind the door. “Who is it?”

“Uh, it’s...” Saying his name wasn’t going to be of help, so maybe... “I have something from Sans”

“From Sans? Uh, h-hey! I’m opening!” The door of the laboratory entered, Alphys standing right behind the door threshold. Syphus held the DVD case forward, being careful to keep his illusionary claws away from Alphys in an attempt to not to blow his cover. Alphys took the case, her eyes glinting with joy behind her glasses “I lent this one to him long ago! What did he say? Did he like it?”

“I’m sure he found it...interesting” Syphus’ eyes darted around “I should introduce myself. My name is Syphus, and I, hm, I live in Snowdin” he almost extended his hand, but refrained at the last moment, instead tucking it in his pocket. The refusal to shake claws didn’t go unnoticed to Alphys, who started looking at the ground, a bit too awkward to look him to the face.

“A-Alright, nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Alphys, I’m the Royal Scientist, and...that’s about it! I...heheh, I should get going” she smiled apologetically and turned around, but Syphus stopped her with a ‘wait!’.

“Doctor, I need your help with a problem. Sans told me you were the right person for the job, so here I am. Mind if we talk about it?”

“Uh, if you think I’m going to be of help then I suppose y-you can come in! This way, please” she led Syphus into the laboratory, passing in front of a very large covering, right where Syphus remembered the screen to observe Frisk was located at. Why’s she covering it up? This didn’t happen any other time. “What’s this? An experiment?”

“T-that? Yes, it’s an experiment! Please don’t touch it!” Alphys hurried to try to guide Syphus quicker to the other side of the laboratory, as if he had gotten lost along the way somehow. Once Syphus was seated far away from the screen and Alphys offered soda, she stood nearby, idly clicking her claws together “S-So...what’s this you wanted to talk about?”

Syphus tried to look confident and assertive. If he was going to lie his ass off, then he had to be convincing. “Dr. Alphys, I have heard about what you need to do. Breaking the Barrier isn’t an easy job, much less when it’s by using some sort of artificial SOUL method”

“Ah, that? Yeah, it’s tough...but I’m w-w-working very hard on it” Alphys stared to the floor. It was common knowledge how she had obtained the Royal Scientist job, and she knew what everyone expected of her. Didn’t make it less stressful, though. Is that what this guy came for? To prod and pressure her? Just what she needed, some random guy doing that. What a wonderful day. Alphys wondered for the umpteenth time what she was doing playing Royal Scientist like this. She truly was a scientist, and a rather skillful one, but what Asgore and monsterkind expected from her was something she had no idea how to do yet. Syphus nodded.

“Wonderful! But you have an alternate plan, right?”

“...an alternate plan? I’m not sure what you—what you mean”

“If the artificial SOUL thing doesn’t work you’re going to need some other way to shatter the Barrier”

If Alphys could pale she would have. She hadn’t thought of an alternate plan! Did such thing even exist, when she couldn’t even think of a main plan? “Y-Yeah! I have one. You don’t have to worry about it”

Syphus smiled just a bit, looking queasy instead of confident. “I have something to offer you. If it works, the Barrier will be broken! And we’ll all be free. It’s worth a try, right?”

Alphys wasn’t as naïve or stupid as to jump onto the offer without asking questions. She froze, processing what she just heard, and then slowly looked at him. “What’s your proposal?”

“Here, look at this” Syphus took out of his pocket the glass and iron from Shadow Frisk, passing them to Alphys “I found these objects in a very deep part of the Underground, and it has a lot of magical energy embedded inside!”

The scientist took the glass, immediately sensing the abundant magic contained in those worthless-looking objects. “How’s this possible...?”

“I don’t know! But I think these aren’t the only materials in the Underground containing this much magic inside. If I can find enough of these materials, some kind of machine or tool to break the Barrier could be made!”

“I-I see, but...” To Alphys it was nothing she hadn’t heard about before. The CORE itself had been made created not only to create magical electricity for the Underground, but also as an attempt to shatter the Barrier with monumental amounts of energy. Not even the CORE had managed to do that. How would a few pieces of glass and iron have the energy to do something the CORE couldn’t do? It didn’t make sense at all.  “I-I’m not sure this is going to work...”

“But it’s worth a try, right?”

“I don’t know...this is unexpected, I don’t know if I can help you” Alphys stammered for a second, hurrying to add something else “I-I-I-I’m not saying ‘no’, I just want some time to think! Dedicating time to your proposal would mean investing less time to the other projects, I need to check the status of everything, so I--”

“It’s fine. There’s no hurry” Syphus said a bit flatly, standing up “It was nice to meet you, Dr. Alphys”

“The s-same to you, Mr. Syphus...I—if you find more of these things you could bring them. I’ll take a look and...” she wiped some sweat from her brow “We’ll talk later, okay?” It was better than nothing, at least. Syphus nodded. “And if you see Sans, tell him I said thank you. For recommending me to you. It’s...it feels nice to know he believes I’m good enough for this”

“How do you know Sans, anyway?”

“Sans used to work with the former Royal Scientist...I used to come and talk to him a bit, you know, I always was interested in science. H-He was a very motivated s-skeleton back then”

“...we’re still talking about Sans, right?” It was a bit hard to have ‘Sans’ and ‘motivated’ in the same sentence, that much Syphus knew. Alphys nodded, smiling nostalgically.

“He was laidback but there was something about science that made him a-actually work. I d-don’t know why he doesn’t care much anymore, but...but he’s always going to be a scientist, even if he doesn’t do science anymore...that’s what I think”

Syphus scratched the side of his face, luckily Alphys didn’t realize the way his claws were clipping into his scales. “That’s a bit hard to believe. He’s not the most enthusiastic monster nowadays”

“I-I know! I hope he’s alright...” Alphys muttered “Everyone has days where they feel sad and useless, I know that, but Sans tries to hide how he feels and I think he doesn’t want help. I don’t know if he thinks no one notices it but...everyone knows it...and no one knows what to do”

...I had no idea it was that bad. “Is there something I can do?”

“Try to be a friend to him. I think...that’s the most you c-can do right now” Alphys said, and Syphus looked away, inexpressive. That was going to be rather difficult. Sans was trying to keep him away at arm distance – at the very least. Actually connecting with Sans was going to be a challenge. Does he even have a Social Link? If he had, then the moment he managed to start a link with Sans would be the moment he’d know Sans had finally accepted him.

“I better get going” Syphus said, adjusting his jacket “Thanks for everything, Dr. Alphys”

“C-Come back anytime! And I mean it, bring me those scraps of things you find, and I’ll see what I can d-do” Alphys extended her claw, but Syphus again refused to shake hands, instead bowing his head.

You have established a cooperation agreement with Alphys.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Alphys

Alphys started leading Syphus out, as if fearing Syphus would run to the screen behind the curtain and find out about the human. “T-Tell Sans I say hi” along the way she glanced at the repaired camera, considering for a moment to ask Syphus to go put the camera where it was supposed to go, but she decided not to bother him with that.

This went well. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fine. At least he had the possibility of maybe relying on Alphys to make something with the remains of the Shadow selves of people, it was one step closer to shattering the Barrier.

He was finally feeling like he was achieving something.

-ooooo-

Grillby’s was a place Syphus hadn’t really thought he’d visit. When he entered he had barely gone five feet forward when the usual patrons started realizing something unusual was happening. The Royal Guard dogs raised their noses, being the first ones to notice the stranger amidst the usual population of Snowdin. The conversations quieted without completely disappearing, everyone looking at Syphus with a mix of curiosity and wariness. It wasn’t every day that someone new strode into Grillby’s, and while everyone was usually willing to welcome a new patron, they wanted to get used to the new person’s presence before trying to even talk to them. Syphus stopped, not having expected everyone to look at him, but took a deep breath and went towards the counter, where Sans was waiting.

Sans waved at him without even turning around. Once Syphus sat on the stool beside Sans the skeleton turned his head around. “sup, ‘phus. how did it go?” he signaled at Grillby’s, who put a plate of fries in front of Syphus. Sans already had his.

“Are we sure we should talk in a public place like this one?” No one was paying attention to Syphus anymore, but it still made Syphus a tad uneasy to discuss such matters in here. Sans shrugged.

“no one will listen. it may be hard to believe, but people don’t have the hobby of eavesdropping” It didn’t matter that there were patrons just a few feet away, Sans was sure no one would care enough to really try to listen. Syphus poked the fries, still a bit wary of talking in a pub about the recent developments, but Sans looked like he had no intentions of moving from his seat.

“Fine. Alphys...she didn’t exactly jump onto the chance, but she didn’t reject it either. I think we can rely on her once I get more materials”

“great. told you she was the right one for the task” Sans said. Syphus bit onto some of the fries. They weren’t bad at all.

“So, how’s Frisk?”

“they’re going to stay with papyrus and I for a while” the skeleton said, Syphus breathing in relief. Good! Frisk was listening to him! He had no idea for how long Frisk would stay in the skeleton brother’s house, but it was good enough they were delaying their journey for the moment. Sans grabbed a bottle of ketchup, drinking it all in a single swig.

“How long are they going to stay with you?”

“dunno. maybe a week or two” That wasn’t really that long, but maybe it’d delay things enough for Undyne to not to get in Frisk’s way, or something.  “since you talked with alphys i’ll lend you a hand with your job problem”

“You mean you can get me a job?” Is it going to be selling hot dogs, Sans?

“watch this” Sans turned to Grillby’s “hey. this guy here’s looking for a job. got something for him?”

“........” Grillby didn’t even look at Syphus, he was drying glasses. A nearby monster, a bird of a faded red color, raised a wing, getting Syphus’ attention.

“Grillby asks about your qualifications”

“Oh? Oh! Uh...” Syphus glared at Sans for a moment for putting him on the spot so suddenly, and looked at Grillby “I have worked in customer support, and I know how to deal with customers” It had been decades since he truly had a job, but it wasn’t like Grillby needed to know about that.

“......”

“Have you ever worked at a pub?” the bird ‘translated’.

“Not really, I worked in—“ Syphus hadn’t finished talking when Grillby reached under the counter and pulled a rag, passing it to Syphus. The piece stared at it for a moment before taking it, momentarily wondering how Grillby could hold something like the rag without burning it to cinders.

The bird, having seen Grillby’s action, hurried to say something. “And also he says you’re hired!”

“...oh. Thanks, Mr. Grillby...” Syphus said happily and a bit louder than necessary, taking the rag and looking at Sans “Guess I got a job now”

“congratulations, bud” Sans raised his empty bottle of ketchup in Syphus’ honor, making him chuckle.

“How did you even manage to get me a job in five minutes?”

“magic” the skeleton did jazz hands and refused to say anything else about that.

“.......”

“Sans promised to pay his tab in full if Grillby helped you” the bird explained. Isn’t that a bribe?! Well, whatever worked, Syphus supposed. What mattered was that at least he’d have some gold available, and that was good enough. While the bird started telling Syphus about his duties and what Grillby expected from him – mostly keeping everything in the pub clean -- Sans got off the stool.

“good luck, ‘phus. here’s some handy tips” Sans pointed at the regulars of the pub “the dogs like to have scraps fed under the table, but don’t take personal if they don’t trust you at first. keep the drinks coming for that bunny over there. the jukebox doesn’t work. ah, and if you can tell the toothy fellow over there facts about human food then do it. see ya” he walked away after telling Grillby to add the fries to his tab, leaving Syphus to continue receiving the improvised induction to his new part-time job.

Chapter Text

Alphys watched the screen. The human child seemed to be staying in Sans and Papyrus’ house, they hadn’t gone out in quite a while. The camera in this area of Snowdin was positioned in a way she could see most of the street. Since no other camera in the Underground had shown the human child at all, she could only suppose they were still in there, unless somehow the human child had acquired excellent stealth skills.

“Around here?” Undyne’s voice came from the cellphone Alphys had requested her to carry for a moment. Alphys stopped looking at the feed from Snowdin and focused on the transmission from the camera Undyne had.

“Y-Yeah! You’re near where it was. It’s on the right, and—“

“I got a better idea. How about here?” Undyne jumped and managed to leave the camera on a ledge, rather tall on the wall. From that point Alphys could see all the way down the hall instead of just the space inside the chamber it had been at before. There was Undyne with her usual toothy grin, looking at the camera with pride. Alphys felt something fluttering inside her, smiling foolishly for a moment before pressing the phone against the side of her head.

“That’s perfect! Thanks, Undyne” Alphys said and hanged up, watching Undyne jog away, intending to finish her daily duties as the Captain of the Royal Guard. She could always rely on Undyne for even the smallest things...how lucky she was to have her. Cheered up, Alphys went to her work table and continued working on one of the many cell phones she had, starting her plan to add a jetpack function. It was going to work only for a little while, but that was enough for what she hoped would happen.

-ooooo-

Nothing happened during the night in the Hidden Village. It was now the start of the fourth day of the game. Syphus stifled a yawn, stretching his arms and swiveling from side to side. His back ached. Why did Cohen need such stiff mattresses? Seriously. I shouldn’t complain he thought, smacking his face a few times. It was nice enough of him to give Syphus a place to rest while his cottage was finished. Behaving like he deserved more was very ungrateful, and he knew it. Syphus grimaced, a tad disgusted with himself.

It was the first day of his part-time job at Grillby’s. The pay was far from fantastic – after a while Grillby had made clear he didn’t really need an employee, that he had given Syphus a job mostly as a favor to Sans – but every single bit of gold was good to Syphus. The piece wasn’t going to slack off, though. He was going to show he was thankful, and he’d do his best. That was why after making sure to not to look like he was dragged all the way up Mt. Ebott by the back of his jacket, Syphus started the walk to Snowdin.

He was actually a bit nervous. Could he really be able to work half a day in a pub full of monsters without blowing his cover? He really hoped so, but what if someone tried to touch him? What if he accidentally disabled the brooch’s magic and revealed himself as a human in front of everyone? I can’t let those possibilities stop me. I really need the gold! He told himself before entering Grillby’s. Many of the regulars were already inside. Some of the Royal Guard dogs turned their heads around when Syphus passed by, but everyone else ignored him.

As a whole it wasn’t a bad day of work. Following the red bird’s instruction supposedly relayed by Grillby, Syphus cleaned every inch of the counter, the floor behind the counter, the jukebox...everything on the back of the pub. “What about the rest?” Syphus asked, wringing the almost-dry rag in his hands.

“........”

“Grillby says he takes care of all that after closing” the bird said. Right at that moment, one of the dogs moved, a plate with leftovers falling to the floor. Syphus glanced at Grillby, who nodded. Syphus approached the table, crouching to pick up the leftovers from the floor. Just like before, all the dogs paid attention to him, observing every single of his movements. Do they know I’m not...? there was something unnerving in having so many canine eyes on him, and after a few seconds Syphus dared to look up.

All the Royal Guard dogs seemed to be on edge. Dogamy looked away with a whine, avoiding to make eye contact. Dogaressa growled softly, baring her fangs, warning him to not to come any closer. Doggo, his fur standing on end, slowly chewed on a dog biscuit, looking as if he was about to say something, but thinking it twice. Syphus gulped and mumbled a ‘Uuuuh...’ while haltingly slinking away, glancing at the other two dogs. Greater Dog hid their face behind the cards they were holding, while Lesser Dog, away in another table, warily looked from the corner of their eyes, trembling slightly. Syphus shrunk, crouching and getting away to the counter as quick as possible with the plate and leftovers.

“That’s not normal...” the bird mumbled, having seen the Royal Guard dogs’ reaction to Syphus. Grillby looked at Syphus inquisitively.

“I don’t know what happened” Syphus said, confused and looking back at that table. The dogs had continued their game, although they all looked rather uneasy. There was a stain on the floorboards where the plate had fallen, as Syphus had retired instead of cleaning it up. “I should go back and—“

“.......”

“You don’t have to do that” the bird waved his wing. Syphus exhaled through his nose, the feathers on his head and back flattening, and nodded. As much as he hated to admit it, it was for the better to not to approach the dogs.

A couple hours later Sans and Frisk arrived. Everyone greeted Sans with high spirits, not questioning the presence of Frisk. Once Sans and Frisk were seated to the counter, Frisk greeted Syphus cheerfully. “Hello!”

“hey. how’s the job going?” Sans asked and ordered ‘the usual’ to Grillby.

“So far? It’s nice. I think I’m doing well” Syphus continued scrubbing the floorboards of the wall near the jukebox.

“no problems so far?”

“Um, actually...the dogs don’t like me very much. It’s a bit strange”

Frisk raised their eyebrows, getting off their stool and approaching the dogs with abandon while Syphus observed from the corner of his eyes. The dogs reacted completely different to how they had done with Syphus. Frisk was even allowed to pet them, scratch Greater Dog behind the ears, and although it seemed like they knew there was something a bit off with Frisk, they didn’t react with hostility like they had done with the piece.

“.......”

“Something wrong?” the bird asked. Syphus jumped in surprise, noticed he had stopped scrubbing, and continued with the task. There was something about the Royal Guard dogs’ reaction that bothered him, but he wasn’t sure what it was. A few minutes later Frisk returned to their seat with a big and satisfied smile on their face.

“you look like you had fun, kiddo” Sans commented, Frisk nodding enthusiastically.

“Do they know about...um...” Syphus moved a hand in Frisk’s direction, hoping Sans would understand the meaning of his question. The skeleton did seem to catch on. The points of light in his eye sockets shone with what seemed a bit like amusement.

“’course they know frisk is a human. did ya really think we could keep them with us without no one knowing they’re human?”

“...actually, that’s what I thought”

“rumors fly, ‘phus. no one beyond snowdin knows about frisk, though” That was a bit of a consolation, at least. The fact the whole town seemed to be okay with Frisk being around was a tad mindboggling for Syphus. I thought some would be trying to get their SOUL... “hey, don’t look at them like that. most people don’t want to sacrifice a kid to get their SOUL, you know”

“...no comment” Better not to speak about the events in other timelines, Syphus guessed. The piece stepped back to check better the jukebox, trying to see where it was dirtier.

“The dogs were talking about you, mister” Frisk said, half-climbing on the counter to lean towards Syphus “They said there was something strange about how you smelled”

“I haven’t bathed in four days” Syphus continued cleaning the jukebox.

“maybe you should keep that to yourself”

“No, that’s not what they meant” Frisk leaned their face on their hand, thinking “They said something like...you smelled like motor oil and plastic” Syphus froze, not turning around. If his claws had been real, they’d have torn through the rag. Frisk smiled, unaware of the implications of what they said “Weird, right?”

“yeah. weird” Sans didn’t miss the meaning of what Frisk said. The skeleton got off the stool and looked at Grillby “hey. i have to tell your helper something very important. mind if i take him outside for a sec?”

“.......go ahead” Grillby actually replied.

“great. let’s go, ‘phus, the burgers will freeze if we take too long. the perks of living in snowdin, yanno” Sans went outside. Syphus, after a moment of hesitation, left the rag aside and followed him. Given that Sans before hadn’t been worried at all about talking about stuff inside Grillby’s, he requesting to go outside to talk was rather alarming for Syphus. He swallowed, feeling his throat suddenly dry. Frisk glanced, mouthing ‘sorry’, unsure of what they had said that had made Sans want to talk with Syphus alone.

Snowdin started seeming foreboding to Syphus. The quietness, the cold, the trees surrounding the town...it all seemed more menacing now that Sans had called him outside to talk. The skeleton was standing nearby, looking upwards. Once Syphus approached, Sans sighed. “i don’t think you’re a bad guy, syphus, but there’s something about you i don’t like. it’s how you don’t fit at all in the world. something’s going on and you’re the cause of it all”

“...what do you want me to say, Sans?”

“tell me if I’m right or wrong” Sans stuck his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, nonchalant “you’re not a monster or a human. i think you’re a Shadow”

“Why do you think that?” Syphus crossed his arms, listening carefully.

“besides what those dogs said? your eyes when you were in human form. i don’t know much about humans, but i don’t think having golden eyes like yours is normal in humans” Sans turned his head around, looking at Syphus “i saw the eyes of that thing when it took over frisk. they had the same golden eyes than you.

you’re someone else’s Shadow, the Shadow of someone who is ‘the apprentice of the witch of hope’. did i hit jackpot?”

Syphus stared at Sans in silence, closing his eyes. After a pause he shrugged. “I underestimated you, Sans. I guessed you’d find out most of these things, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon”

“so i’m right”

“To be honest I don’t really know much about myself. I know I’m someone’s...um...’puppet’, and that I have no past or anything, but other than that I know nothing about myself” Syphus narrowed his eyes, deep in thought “Maybe you’re right and I’m his Shadow. I don’t know”

“what are you here for?”

“I know the goal I was assigned: shatter the Barrier without using human SOULs. That’s all I know”

“who’s this witch of hope person and the apprentice?”

...how do I explain that one. “Do you believe there’s someone watching us? People from a higher plane of existence, or something like that?”

“like gods?” Sans looked up again as if he expected someone to be literally watching from the ceiling of the cavern.

“Witches can be outrageously powerful, but they aren’t gods. They’re more like...” Syphus gestured with his hands helplessly. It was very difficult to explain; he hadn’t rehearsed this! Damn it, Sans! “...witches are like asteroids”

“...like asteroids” The lights in Sans’ eye sockets got brighter and a little bit bigger.

“Yeah. They’re there, floating away from you, and then, in an astronomically low chance, one of them chooses to mess with you or your world by crashing and destroying everything”

Sans chuckled. “well, you do your thing with the witches and the Personas. i’m not going to meddle with your personal business” he winked while Syphus simply looked bemused “just try not to wreck the timeline” That went okay. At least Sans had taken his explanations at face value. Either he had been rather convincing and not confusing at all – yeah, right – or Sans simply didn’t really care about that.

“How can you not care, Sans?”

“...i have reasons to think whatever happens doesn’t matter in the long run” Sans said before entering back to Grillby’s. Syphus, a bit uneasy from the short talk with Sans, followed him back inside. There was a job to be done, after all. It was a bit nice that he wouldn’t have to hide from Sans some details, but he hoped no one else would find out. He could at least trust Sans not to tell anyone, that was good enough.

Sans, despite his otherwise blasé way to take the information, wasn’t feeling as calm as he had looked. When he sat back to Frisk’s side, the child looked at him inquisitively. “t’was nothing, kiddo. we just had a talk” that was enough for Frisk, not really daring to ask more. The skeleton sighed, his shoulders slumping.

Witches. Right. So that was it. That must have been the cause of the mess with the timelines. A bunch of beings from a higher plane had decided to have fun at the world’s expense. So many lives were nothing to them, apparently. All the rest of the theories, all the thoughts about the causes, everything had to be revised. Perhaps the skill to SAVE and RESET, the one Frisk had said to have, was given to them by a witch? It didn’t really matter. All Sans knew was that it was useless. There was nothing to be done, even if he wanted, and it wasn’t like he had felt like trying anything, either way.

“...oh well. come on, kid. let’s go home” he said to Frisk. If the timeline events were likely to turn into a major disaster, then maybe the least he should do was give Frisk and Papyrus safety until things unavoidably went into the deep end.

-ooooo-

“...Lucia...did he...do that to this world?”

Cornio had murmured that softly, looking at Sisyphus. The apprentice winced, knowing exactly what Cornio meant. As far as he was concerned, yes, he was the one responsible for everything bad that was happening with the timelines. Lucia didn’t hurry to throw Sisyphus under the bus, though. She took her time before talking, smoothing over her dress and pressing her hands together over and over again, until she finally moved her head lackadaisically, going ‘uuuuh’.

“...it’s not as simple as that. I can tell you that Sisyphus was the one who created the circumstances that led to the repeating timelines, but he’s not entirely responsible for that”

“So who did it?”

Lucia stopped moving, lifted her blindfold enough for one single eye to be shown, gave him a withering glance and then slowly said, her eye opening so wide Cornio shuddered, unable to look away.

“N-No, I just...” Cornio’s voice got meek “I was just wondering”

Lucia stared at him for a moment before lowering the blindfold over her eye. “You have seen all the information I gave you, dear Cornio, you should know. Sisyphus’ timeline manipulation was just the catalyst. There were some people inside this world had a lot to do with it: Frisk, Flowey and Chara. Sisyphus made the land fertile, and those three made grow the plants. You didn’t think Sisyphus created all those millions of timelines all by himself, did you?”

Something in Lucia’s voice discouraged any kind of wish to argue about it, but she had made clear enough that it’d be incorrect to blame Sisyphus for everything. Sisyphus himself was looking at Lucia with perplexed expression. Did he even know he wasn’t entirely to blame for all the timelines? “I understand” Cornio said, scooting his chair a bit further away from Lucia. There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment before Sisyphus, in an attempt to break it, stood up and crouched near Cornio for a strategic question.

“Should I ever tell Sans more about this?” Sisyphus wondered aloud. Cornio, thankful for the possibility of Lucia diverting her attention away from the other topic, nodded immediately.

“You should!” he said

“You shouldn’t” she said.

The decision is up to me? Dang it... Better not, at least for the time being. After telling Cornio they should talk, know each other better during the next break, Sisyphus took a piece and moved it forward. Cornio was close to making another attack, he could see it. The only thing to do right now was try to strengthen up his Social Links and be prepared for the second assault.

-ooooo-

Grillby wasn’t a bad boss at all! After checking around to see the result of Syphus’ work he paid him, giving him a couple hundred gold for the day of work. It was way more than Syphus expected! “Oh my god, thank you, thank you!” Syphus said, clutching the gold.

“.......”

“Don’t mention it. Sans’s actually paying part of his tab” the bird ‘translated’, getting out of the pub. He was still a long way away from affording anything Mettaton showed in his shopping show, but a few hundred gold was a nice enough pay for one single day. Not having anything else to do in Snowdin for now, so Syphus started making his way back to the Hidden Village. While passing in front of the trees lining the roads, he slowed down, having an idea. Cohen had said Ciruel had lost his antlers, hadn’t he?

Fifty minutes later the piece was in front of the door to Ciruel’s cabin, brooch deactivated and with a few branches in his hands. “Ciruel, it’s me, Syphus. I don’t think we have introduced formally yet?”

“...fine” Ciruel sighed so loudly Syphus could hear it from outside. The person who Syphus knew as a scholar in the timeline he came from had taken off the purple make-up off his face, and he seemed rather grouchy. “My name is Ciruel, and what I do for this village is...pretty much nothing. That’s it”

“I’m Syphus and I bring you this” the piece showed the branches he had collected from Snowdin “Cohen told me you lost part of some disguise you had, so I brought you these” The gift was something Ciruel hadn’t expected at all. He looked at the branches, hesitating, and slowly extended his hands.

“T-Thanks!” he sounded grateful despite how hesitant he was. Ciruel stepped aside. “Come in, let’s talk” The inside of Ciruel’s cabin was mostly identical to Cohen’s. The only difference was that Ciruel had a desk, where several boxes of something were stacked. Ciruel took out from one of them a long strand of leather, and started taking off most of the leaves from the branches “You didn’t have to bring me this. We don’t even know each other”

“It’s simple courtesy! We’re from the same village now”

“I guess...” the rather short conversation died. Syphus tilted his head, a bit surprised. It seemed that growing trapped in the Underground had made Ciruel a tad shyer than how he had been in the first timeline, he even refused to look Syphus to the face.

“What’s up with the costume, by the way?” Syphus inquired as an attempt to get him to talk. Ciruel smiled almost imperceptibly, working on the leather.

“I don’t know what Cohen has told you, so I better set the record straight just in case: yes, I like to get out of this village pretty often. No. I’m not some kind of useless bum. It’s simple as that” Ciruel tilted his head “...I just believe humans aren’t made to be locked like this in one place”

“What about monsters?”

Ciruel winced. “Monsters aren’t made to be locked under a mountain either! Sorry, I misspoke” he continued working on the leather “So I get out of here with a monster disguise and explore” he stopped working, smiling widely “Monsters are interesting creatures! I’m happy I can get out of here and talk to them”

“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?”

The scholar’s smile vanished immediately. He looked away, greatly uncomfortable. “...w-well, of course I do, but if it happens then it happens. That’s that” Ah. Ciruel’s fate in the original universe had been especially grim, having voluntarily given his SOUL to monsterkind through suicide. All Syphus hoped was that Ciruel wasn’t leaning towards doing those same actions. Ciruel smiled tensely. “Hey! I know you like to leave the village too! How about we go together next time?”

“Do you really want that?”

“Yes! It’ll be fun. I don’t know how you manage to go outside and not get attacked by monsters, but if you want you can join me next time. It’s the least I should do as thanks for you bringing me the branches. What do you say?”

It was comforting to know that Ciruel didn’t seem to be considering giving his SOUL away. If he had, he wouldn’t be offering Syphus to go with him, right? Syphus nodded, relieved. “I’d like that. Thanks, pal”

You feel Ciruel’s genuine gratefulness.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Ciruel

Hierophant Arcana? Wasn’t that his Persona Omoikane’s arcana? Good news, I think! Syphus opened his mouth to say something else when they heard a loud commotion from outside. It sounded like two people were arguing rather loudly. Having heard it too, Ciruel went and opened the window a bit, taking a look outside. He grimaced. “Those two are at it again. This got old ages ago”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Cohen and Annie. They have fights like this one once or twice a week” he stepped aside so Syphus could join him to the window and listen. Ananas and Cohen were standing not too far away from Ciruel’s cottage, shouting at each other. Ananas was rather red-faced, while Cohen looked livid.

“...you don’t trust me! I know I can do it!” she yelled.

“We have talked about this many times: no, you can’t do it! Stop it already!”

“Why?! What’s wrong with me?!”

Cohen grit his teeth and raised a few fingers. “You’re too young, too inexperienced and if any monsters came here they’d kill you immediately”

“I can defend myself!”

“You can’t! You’re just eight years old! Know your place, Annie”

Ananas recoiled as if Cohen had just hit her. Blinking quickly to try to hide her tears, she tried to refute what Cohen had said, but all she could do was blubber incoherently, chance Cohen took advantage of to continue enumerating the many reasons why Ananas was unfit to be the guardian. Almost none of the points Cohen mentioned were valid, they were more like personal attacks, and with every word, Ananas recoiled more and more, getting redder each time. “...do you really think pretending to be a cowboy will keep monsters away? Grow up already, Annie! Enough with the childish games!...”

“...I hadn’t realized Cohen could be so ruthless...” Syphus whispered, horrified. Ananas was looking as if she wanted the ground to open and make her disappear.

“That person is the one who’s taking care of the village. Can you believe it?” Ciruel had stopped looking outside, leaning on the wall with upset expression. “We hate that guy. Celia is the only one who wants him around”

“Does this happen every week?”

“Without fail. I like Annie, and I like that she hasn’t given up, but someday she’ll have to learn it’s useless to argue against Cohen” Ciruel murmured “He’s way too stubborn”

“I’m doing my best! I just want to help!” Ananas was openly crying now, shouting higher but her voice was starting to crack. She knew she wouldn’t last much longer arguing against Cohen, and the old man knew it as well. That’s why he took a deep breath and steeled himself to end the argument.

“You’ll be of more help if you stop trying. Annie, you’ll never be guardian as long as I’m here. Forget about it”

“B-B-But—“

“I told you to forget about it!”

He simply wasn’t going to listen. Ananas hiccupped, crying with such intensity Syphus felt as if something was twisting inside him, compelling him to go outside and help Ananas. “Do you think anyone would mind if I go and punch Cohen?”

“Don’t. You’ll lose” Ciruel shook his head “He’s way too good at punching. Let it end, like it always does” at that moment Graham appeared in scene, approaching Cohen and Ananas. He looked at them, realizing immediately what was going on.

“Again?” he asked in disbelief.

“It’s not my—“ Cohen tried to defend himself, but Graham ignored him and went to Ananas. He helped Ananas stand up, whispering to her.

“It’s okay. Don’t listen to him, Annie. You’re a capable girl”

“This is why she keeps asking, you’re all feeding her hopes” Cohen mumbled, crossing his arms. Graham turned his head around.

“Shut up! Can’t you see how much you’re hurting her?” that seemed to snap Cohen out of his behavior. He looked at Ananas, his mouth forming a thin line, then murmured a ‘sorry’ and walked away to his usual sentry station on the edge of the village. Once Cohen was far enough, Graham said to Ananas something softly enough Syphus couldn’t hear it.

It had been a rather ugly scene, one that had changed Syphus’ opinion of Cohen. “Come on, let’s go outside” Syphus said, opening the door, but the scholar refused.

“I’m staying here. I’m not getting involved in this mess”

“How can you just stand aside and do nothing?!”

Ciruel raised his hands defensively. “What do you want me to do? I’d be useless, Syphus. Go if you want, I want nothing to do with this”

“Are you making excuses to not to help Annie?” Syphus’ accusing question was a wake-up call. Ciruel looked at the floor for a moment before nodding.

“...yes. I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to do” That’s the worst excuse you could give! There were few things worse than refusing to do something just because he didn’t know what to do, that’s what Syphus thought, but this wasn’t the time to give anyone a moral speech. Rolling his eyes, Syphus exited the cabin to where Graham and Annie were talking, approaching slowly.

“Sheriff? Are you okay?”

“M-Mister Syphus...I...I tried to talk to him, but—“

“How may I help you?” Graham interrupted, looking at Syphus with distrust. What? Did I do something wrong?

“I just want to talk to her” the piece said softly. Graham looked at Ananas, leaving it up to her, and the girl nodded after a pause. Accepting Ananas’ wishes, Graham stood up and walked away. Ananas, still sitting, grabbed her knees, looking at the rocky floor with melancholy. She had stopped crying but she looked very dispirited, like she was bound to crying again at the slightest provocation. Her face was still very red. “...will you be okay, Annie?”

“...I don’t know” she said, rubbing her eyes fiercely as if that was going to dry her tears “I don’t want to see Cohen again. I hate him! W-Why did he say—“

“Annie, don’t say that. He just...he cares for you and doesn’t want to see you hurt” Syphus himself didn’t believe that. He had no idea why Cohen had gone for the jugular like that, destroying Ananas’ hopes, but he chose to give Cohen the benefit of the doubt.

“Why everyone says that?!” It seemed this wasn’t the first time someone tried to think for excuses for Cohen’s behavior. How many times had they fought like that? Ciruel had hinted it happened way too often, but how long had it been happening? Ananas hid her face with her shawl. “I don’t care. I just want him to stop saying that

Every time he says I’ll never be the guardian, or that I’m too weak, or that it’s better I stay out of the way and stop bothering him...I want to show him he’s wrong. I’m not useless! I’ll show him!” she made a move to stand up, but Syphus softly pressed on her shoulders, forcing her to stay sitting on the ground. Once she stopped resisting he let her go, the girl staying sitting down. Once again she was showing to be excessively impulsive, although it was no surprise after what happened. Anyone would want to prove their worth.

“And what are you going to do?” Better to try to find out and convince her not to do something that may prove not to be wise. Ananas clenched her fists, holding them in front of her face, until her shoulders dropped and she laid on the floor, looking at the ceiling of the cave.

I don’t know either, Annie. Syphus slowly passed his hands through his hair, trying to think of something to say. Just saying ‘I don’t know’ was bound not to be taken well, in his opinion, so he had to think of something, and quick, before she got impatient. “Uh, do you want my...honest, true to heart opinion?”

“Yeah” she seemed honest, paying attention to him.

“Okay, so, what I think is that, hm, you should...you know...do that thing, and then, you get it...” Syphus snapped his fingers, having thought of something “You should think it twice. Annie, if something happened to you it’d be a big loss for the village, and—“

Ananas rolled on the floor and kneeled, looking at Syphus with uncertainty. “What? What did you think I was going to do?”

“...show Cohen you’re not weak? Maybe by, uh, picking a fight with the first monster you saw?”

“Why’d I do that?” Syphus’ expression must have turned particularly severe, because Ananas looked away, contrite “I won’t”

“Great. Have patience, Annie. Maybe when you’re a bit older he’ll let you be the guardian”

“I don’t want to wait until I’m older. I’m eight, I can do it” she muttered quietly, pressing her teeth together “I’ll keep training, he can’t stop me from training”

“What kind of training do you do?”

“Push-ups! I need to be strong!” she said. Syphus stared at her, deadpan. She seemed to be entirely serious. Syphus nodded, trying not look dismissive. Keep trying, Annie.

Ananas is determined to fulfill her goals

The Ananas Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Chariot Arcana has grown!

“By the way...mister?” Ananas looked at the ground, her hand reflexively going to her hip, where her gun would usually be. “Thanks for talking with Cohen yesterday. Having someone who believes in me and doesn’t think I’m a stupid child...it’s nice. Thank you”

Syphus frowned. “That’s what you think people think of you?”

“...yeah. What else would they think?”

...things are worse around here than I thought. “Why don’t I go talk with Cohen again?” the girl’s expression got dark for a moment when Cohen was mentioned, she shrugged noncommittally.

“I don’t care”

“You can’t stay angry with him forever, he’s one of us”

“Don’t tell me what to do” Ananas spat. Seeing that merely mentioning Cohen was a sure way to get her upset again, Syphus decided to give it a rest for the time being. After helping Ananas stand up from the ground, she went to hang out with Graham, saying she was going to play with Monster Kid the next day. Syphus watched her go, mulling the fight he had witnessed not long ago. What were Cohen’s true reasons to deny Ananas the chance to prove herself? It must be a really good reason, if he’s willing to go as far as hurting Annie so much he thought, walking towards the sentry point.

Cohen wasn’t inside. He was standing outside of the hole on the wall he watched from, looking at his hands. He had taken off his worn gloves, and was now rubbing his knuckles, with pained expression. “Cohen” The old man looked in Syphus’ direction, breathing deeply. He looked...like he was feeling guilty.

“Good evening, Syphus. Had a good day?”

“I had a better day than somebody we both know”

The fingers of Cohen’s left hand curled tightly around his knuckles. “So you heard us” he entered into the sentry hole, dragging his feet “Since you did, could you pass this to her?” after a few seconds he took out what seemed to be some sort of quilt.

“What’s this?”

“An apology” Cohen muttered, trying to get Syphus to take the quilt. The piece stared at what Cohen was giving him, with an expression of mild disgust. Then he said rather slowly, trying not to sound as upset as he felt.

“Cohen. Do you really think a quilt is going to fix everything?”

The old man was silent for a moment, then left the quilt aside. “No, this won’t work. I’m sorry, that was stupid of me”

“You should apologize to her in person. Annie needs an apology”

Cohen started putting on his gloves back, trying hard not to look at Syphus to the face. “She won’t accept an apology from me. I have hurt her way too many times already. It’s too late for apologies” after a pause he glaced at him just for a moment. There was something in his eyes Syphus wasn’t sure what it was. Regret? He hoped it was regret. “How is she?”

“She’s very upset, don’t ask stupid questions” Syphus said before he could control himself. Although he had mellowed a bit when he saw Cohen was upset, his anger at the old man was slowly returning “Cohen, have you realized how much you’re making everyone hate you?”

“Of course I know! I’m not stupid, Syphus, I know it very well!” Cohen suddenly shouted in response, gesturing towards the village “I know that. There’s not a single person in this village that likes me. And you know what? That’s fine!”

“Why? Because you’re protecting them, and it’s good to be hated? Why?!” Syphus raised his voice, unable to understand just what Cohen was thinking. Why is it so hard to understand someone?

“Because I deserve it!” Cohen threw his hands in the air “I’m not a kind person, Syphus! I know I drive everyone away! I just...” he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down “I’m not going to tell you some bullshit about being strict because I want to protect them. That’s not true. I didn’t want to be hated”

“Have you tried to make amends?”

He went outside of the sentry station “It doesn’t matter, but...you know what?” Syphus didn’t reply. He was listening carefully, but stayed away from Cohen “I wish things weren’t like that. These people...they’re the only family I have now.

My former life over the surface was so long ago I don’t even remember much of it. Instead I grew up with these people, and I saw almost all of them grow up. They’re...they’re like my family now. We’re all the only family we have, all of us and Toriel” he sighed “Guess all families have someone who doesn’t get along with the rest”

Syphus touched the quilt, examining it. It was a rather detailed work, Cohen had a lot of skill. “It’s not too late to apologize”

“Maybe someday I will” Cohen shook his head “This is stupid. I’m not brave enough to apologize. How infantile of me”

You feel you understand Cohen’s heart a bit more.

The Cohen Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Emperor Arcana has grown!

At least Cohen knew he wasn’t behaving like he should, and as far as Syphus was concerned, that was the first step towards a healthier relationship with everyone in the village. “...Cohen, please, be honest: why don’t you want Annie to be the guardian?” Cohen pointedly avoided looking at him “Cohen!”

“I don’t have to explain anything to you”

“Come on! Is it so bad you can’t tell anyone?” Why does everyone have to be so damn recalcitrant?!

Cohen looked towards the stairs that led out of the village. “I’m tired, and I have to do my duty. Please leave me alone”

“But—“

“I’m not going to change my mind, Syphus. Leave” his face had tensed, it seemed whatever reason he had to deny Ananas the role was deeply ingrained into his feelings. Syphus tried again to convince Cohen to speak, but he refused to, not even bothering to say another word. Seeing it was useless to try to convince him, Syphus walked away towards the rest of the village, immersed in his thoughts.

The Hidden Village’s morale was Cohen versus everyone else. There should be some way to convince him to try to mend his relationships with everyone, but how? The piece grimaced and entered Cohen’s cabin, intending to spend the rest of the day trying to sharpen his halberd and try to solve the emotional puzzles that were all the Social Links he had gathered so far. Those in the village seemed the most important right now. As if the whole Persona thing wasn’t enough, he had arrived to the Underground at a rather delicate moment of the village’s life. If nothing was done to correct the matter, tensions could escalate even more, if that was possible.

The problem was that he didn’t know if he could do something to help. He wasn’t some sort of magic problem solver, and he never would be. Lucia had ingrained in Syphus one clear creed: ‘A witch of Hope doesn’t meddle in people’s affairs. We’re guides, like stars. All we do is point in a direction and encourage them to follow. What they do is completely up to them’ If he was going to be Lucia’s apprentice, then he had to follow that self-imposed rule. How? How can I point them in a direction when I don’t even know what’s the right one?

You’re starting to grasp the delicate situations in the Hidden Village

The Last Timeline Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Aeon Arcana has grown!

-ooooo-

During the night, a heavy feeling of foreboding settled on Waterfall, like it had happened before Frisk was found unconscious.

That hazy feeling was still around the next day.

Chapter Text

The fifth day started with a heavy feeling of dread and hollowness over everyone in Waterfall. It was a while before Syphus had the energy to stand up and get ready to go all the way to Snowdin. Unlike the day before he didn’t feel particularly excited about his new part-time job – did my enthusiasm really last one single day?! – but soon he realized it wasn’t a matter of enthusiasm. His actual sullen mood was much more than that. Everyone in the Hidden Village looked rather jumpy and wary, looking around with suspicion. Byssa passed by, walking so fast one would have thought her life depended on it. Grahan and Ciruel were talking in front of the communal cabin, making sure to not to say more than a few words in each sentence, and Celia was inside her cottage, or at least Syphus supposed that. Syphus didn’t say a word to anyone, trying to fight that feeling of wanting to lie down on the ground and hope nothing bad happened, and started ascending towards the plateau in front of the way out of the village.

“Do you really have to go outside today?”

Cohen was right there in his sentry station, holding his head with both hands. Syphus clutched his brooch, tensing. “Uh, yeah, there’s something I need to do outside...”

“...it’d be nice if you didn’t leave today. Don’t you feel it? There’s something in the air” Yeah, I feel it. That feeling...Syphus was sure he had felt it very recently before, but he couldn’t remember exactly in what situation, a feeling similar to suffocation like something was constantly pressing his chest.

“I can’t stay in here just because of a feeling” Syphus uttered, ascending another stair. Cohen raised his head from his hands to argue and attempt convince Syphus to stay, but instead he let his head fall again into his palms, holding it as if he was in pain.

“...take care. You’re an adult, you take care of yourself. I’ll keep Annie from going out” he said. Syphus nodded and ascended to the tunnel, activating the brooch and walking towards Snowdin, making a SAVE point like he always did every morning. The bad feelings didn’t vanish, not even when he left Waterfall and stepped on the cold grounds of this part of the Underground. All the residents of Snowdin who were going on their everyday lives seemed annoyingly cheerful to Syphus, who crossed the town, hunched over and not bothering to acknowledge anyone with anything further than a glance. When he entered Grillby’s he went straight to the counter, barely waving at the red bird, and settled to receive instructions for the day. Grillby turned his head around, looking at Syphus with attention. The pub was mostly empty, most of the regulars not having arrived yet.

“.......are you okay?” he inquired, leaving aside the glass he had been cleaning. Syphus took a deep breath, waving without energy.

“Yes, sir, I’m just feeling under the weather today”

“You’re not used to the cold?” the bird asked “I heard someone say you live in Waterfall” What? Has people been talking about me? That wasn’t really a good sign. Had he been so obviously out-of-place people couldn’t avoid talking him? He’d have preferred not to have people gossiping about him, but it seemed like it was too late to stop that. Syphus nodded, trying to end the conversation by asking Grillby what needed to be done today. Instead of answering and telling him his tasks for today, Grillby crossed his arms.

“........take the day off”

“What?”

“Grillby said you should take the day off. You don’t look good, go rest” the bird said. Syphus looked intermittently at each one, unsure on how to take that. He really needed the gold, but could he work while having this horrendous sickening sensation? Syphus shuddered, deciding to take the offer. After thanking Grillby for his kindness, Syphus left the pub, sticking his hands as deep as possible in the pockets of his coat, looking at the snow of the road.

He felt like there was something he should be remembering, what was it? Why did he feel like whatever he was forgetting was so vital having forgotten it was the worst thing he could have done? Syphus wracked his mind, thinking back to the past days, but he couldn’t recall what situation he had felt it into.

His foot sunk into a particularly soft patch of snow, almost making Syphus lose his balance. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to plop down in middle of the road, he pulled from his leg with his hands, freeing himself. When he did that, he noticed one of his hands was leaking that black and viscous fluid Shadows were made of, seeping through the green scales of his hand. The scarce white feathers on the back of his hand were literally melting away into oil, ink, or something resembling tar. Again?! Why was this happening to him? Was he falling apart, what was going on? Drops of ink plopped heavily in the snow, sinking out of sight. Syphus mumbled something under his breath, using his other hand to try to keep the ink from flowing.

“Yo!”

A familiar voice sounded near him. Syphus hurried to put his dripping hand deep into his pocket and turned around, hoping no other parts of his body would start melting too. Monster Kid was running towards him, falling into the snow once he was close enough. The kid stood up before Syphus could offer to help him, and grinned blithely. Syphus waved with his undamaged claws. “Good morning, kid”

“Are you going to Waterfall, mister? Me too! Let’s go together! Annie is waiting for me”

Ah, right. Hadn’t Ananas said something about playing with Monster Kid today? Judging by what Cohen had said, that plan was doomed not to happen anymore. No way Cohen would let her go out of the village. “I heard she’s not going to leave her house today” Syphus said flatly, continuing his way towards Waterfall. That statement didn’t deter Monster Kid at all, thought, he caught up with Syphus almost immediately, as if he hadn’t said anything. Syphus didn’t make any physical effort to stop him from following.

“Hey, you know what? I haven’t seen Annie’s house. Can you take me there?”

I’d rather not. No way that’d end well. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I have heard Annie’s parents are very strict, they wouldn’t be happy” Monster Kid didn’t seem bothered at all about the perspective of strict parents, though. He managed to shrug and hurried ahead, having ignored Syphus’ protest. Telling the child to not to go hadn’t worked, and unless Syphus physically grabbed him and dragged him all the way to Snowdin – something he didn’t want to do out of respect to Monster Kid and because he feared his hands were still melting – it seemed the only option was to try to lose the kid at some point. How hard could that be?

Ten minutes later he decided it was much easier said than done. Monster Kid had boundless energy and kept running ahead, talking loudly and not paying much attention to the lack of monsters along the way nor the disquietingly cold air. From time to time, ethereal balls of light traversed through the emptiness, the only comfort to the otherwise unnatural state of Waterfall.

After an attempt of losing the kid by straying behind and hiding in another corridor – somehow Monster Kid found him pretty much immediately – Syphus gave at trying to lose him, feeling too dispirited to try. While the oppressive feeling of constriction was gone and it didn’t seem like he was melting anymore, he still didn’t feel any energy besides the necessary to walk. “Yo, are you okay?” He must have looked rather bad, because Monster Kid returned and asked that question, toning down the enthusiasm for a moment.

“...sorry, I must be coming down with something” Syphus responded. Then, after a moment of doubt, he inquired: “How can you be so chipper? You don’t feel sick?”

Monster Kid wrapped his tail around himself, shuddering a bit at the coldness of Waterfall. “It’s nothing bad. No big deal” Syphus narrowed his eyes a bit, unconvinced “Don’t look at me like that! It’s true, I’m okay”

“If you don’t feel well you should return to Snowdin” the piece said patiently, huddling a bit further into his coat.

“No, Annie says that when one doesn’t feel well one should keep going. I believe in that”

Syphus resumed walking. “...you put that much stock in what she says?” Monster Kid didn’t reply, instead looking at Syphus as if he had talked in riddles. ...right, I should phrase it in a simpler way “You believe what she says?”

“Of course I do! Friends believe each other, right? And she’s my best friend” Monster Kid once again ran ahead, he continued talking by raising his voice enough for Syphus to listen despite the distance “You know how we met?”

That was a chance to know a bit more about Ananas, chance Syphus intended to take. It was possible this was something she shouldn’t tell, but if Monster Kid was going to spill the beans then Syphus wasn’t going to object. “No. How did it happen?”

Monster Kid slowed down a bit, looking upwards. “I was exploring Waterfall and trying to find Undyne’s house, but I got lost after that one patch of grass, you know which one. I thought I was going to be lost forever! But then I turned the corner and I found her”

“Was she happy to see you?”

The kid laughed with a bit of disbelief. “No, dude! She aimed that gun at me. She was shaking like a leaf! And I wasn’t any better, I thought I was going to scream, but then I said ‘Yo! I-I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you!’ I was ready to run, but before I could move...

...she put the gun away and apologized. She said it was her first time exploring Waterfall, so we started walking together. She told me many things about her, and I tried to take her to see Undyne, but she refused. I think she was...scared?”

...no surprise there. Going to see Undyne would have been the worst mistake any human could do, except Frisk...maybe. Monster Kid, unaware of how Syphus’ expression had turned grave, continued talking. “I told her there was nothing to be scared of, that Undyne was so cool and she’d love to meet her, but Annie didn’t want to keep going”

“...do you know why?”

“Nope. I dunno. But it must be really bad if Annie was scared. She’s not the type that gets scared easily!” Monster Kid slowed down, waiting for Syphus “Maybe Undyne intimidates her. But there’s nothing to be scared of! Undyne would never harm anyone. Only bad guys would be scared of her” what followed that was silence. Feeling he had said something wrong, Monster Kid chuckled nervously “What?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking something” Syphus looked away. A very uncomfortable pause replaced the conversation, the two walking with no more sound than their steps and the splashing of water around them.

After a few minutes of awkward journeying through Waterfall, Syphus noticed he was running out of time. He calculated they’d be arriving to the place Monster Kid and Ananas played often at, and he still had no idea how he could distract the child for enough time to run to the Hidden Village. He didn’t have to think it through, because as soon as they passed nearby, they saw Ananas there. “What?!” Syphus exclaimed. Cohen, why’s she out here?! Monster Kid was delighted, though.

“Annie!”

Ananas turned around, her eyes widening with joy when she saw Monster Kid. She was wearing her western clothing, including her hat. “Howdy! And you—“ Ananas shut up when she saw Syphus. She tensed, her hand going towards the holster, looking at him like she expected him to attack her at any moment. Monster Kid looked between them, realizing the danger.

“Wait, Annie! You don’t have to fight! He’s my friend” he said. She didn’t lower her guard, though, she advanced a few steps, trying to suppress any fear she felt.

“State your i-intentions”

“...I mean no harm” Syphus said bluntly, glancing at Ananas’ gun. She hadn’t taken it out yet, that was a good sign, right? Ananas glared at him, but after a moment she took her hand off the holster.

“I’ll have to request you to l-leave, mister, p-p-please”

“Why?” Monster Kid questioned “We can trust him!”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll leave” Syphus said. Better to go away while he had his monster illusion intact. After giving Ananas the most disdainful stare he could make, his face tensing and making him look like a viper about to strike, Syphus turned around and walked away quickly before Monster Kid could protest. With some luck he wouldn’t follow him, now that he was with Ananas. Syphus turned around the corner, chose the closest hallway and walked to the end until he turned another corner, and deactivated the firefly brooch, showing his human form. Showing himself in this form to Monster Kid was risky, but what other option did he have if he wanted Ananas to come peacefully? The piece sighed and leaned against the wall, looking at the ceiling with helpless expression.

Ananas was out of the village. Somehow she had gotten past Cohen and gone outside. At least that meant Monster Kid wouldn’t have followed Syphus to the Hidden Village, but in his opinion this was a worse situation. Why do things have to go wrong in some way? Cornio must have set up this scenario, that was likely. If that was true...

...what were Cornio and Sisyphus planning right now?

The only thing Syphus had clear was that leaving Ananas in the company of just one or two people may not be a good idea. Sans hadn’t said much, but as far as Syphus knew, Frisk had been attacked when they had been isolated, even if it was for a few minutes. No, that couldn’t be allowed to happen again. He had to take Ananas back to the village as soon as possible. Syphus coughed, his throat feeling like it was in a vice. It’d be better if it didn’t feel like Waterfall is going to crumble down on us at any moment!

After smoothing over his track coat and hoping that neither Ananas or Monster Kid would notice the fact he was wearing the exact same clothing than the weird feathered snake monster who just left, Syphus backtracked to where he had left the children. They weren’t there anymore, but Syphus could hear them a bit further away, most likely they had continued their way to the chamber where they usually played at. Syphus took a deep breath, creaked his neck and went in that direction, finding the children standing near one of the corridors, talking to each other mutedly.

“...go and play! There’s no camera, I covered it in mud”

“But it wasn’t there yesterday! What if the Royal Scientist found out...?”

Ananas put her hands on her hips, considering what Monster Kid had said. “...think she found out...?”

Syphus chose that moment to approach. “Annie, we need to return to the village” Ananas turned around, having recognized the voice, although judging by the way her shoulder slumped she wasn’t happy to see him “This isn’t a good day to go outside”

Monster Kid looked at them with curiosity. “Oh! So Syphus was right...you have strict parents!”

“You said Syphus? You knew him already—?“

Anyways...” Syphus quickly interrupted, stepping forward “Let’s go, Annie” she didn’t move towards Syphus, though. Instead she looked at the ground, her hat hiding her expression “Annie, I’m serious! We need to return”

“...why?” she asked, still looking at the ground.

“Because...” Because I have a bad feeling and it’s too cold out here? That wasn’t going to work. “Because this isn’t a good day to be outside. Please, Annie, we need to return...”

Ananas suddenly looked upwards, eyeing Syphus with suspicion. “Cohen sent you!”

“No one sent me! Please don’t start with that. I’m serious, this isn’t a good time to be outside” Ananas crossed her arms, skeptical, but at least she wasn’t accusing him from conspiring with Cohen to keep her inside the village. Monster Kid shuffled around, embarrassed of being caught what seemed to him like a family dispute.

“Uh, yo, I...I think you should listen to him” he said “We’ll play tomorrow” Ananas glanced at him before nodding.

“Yeah...I’ll go with you, Syphus...”

“Excellent! Thanks, now let’s—“

“...if you catch me!” Ananas suddenly grinned and turned around, running away towards the chambers and tunnels where Monster Kid and she liked to play in. Syphus didn’t even react until she had run further than the corner. ...this has to be a bad joke. Tell me this is a joke! It was useless to mentally grumble and clench his fists, though, so Syphus set to pursue Ananas and try to catch her before too much time passed.

“Hey! Wait!” Monster Kid, not really knowing what to do, followed Syphus. When Syphus asked how many paths were ahead, he was told it all led to a single chamber, but that there were several tunnels left before arriving there. It wasn’t like Ananas could get anywhere else, though. So it’s matter of time before I catch up to her! In his opinion, Ananas’ dislike of Cohen had reached such intensity she simply couldn’t bear to be near him, and this was no more than an attempt to delay the return to the village. While Syphus couldn’t blame her for not wanting to see Cohen, he wished she didn’t let such feelings lead her to danger.

“Catch meeeee~!” they could hear Ananas’ voice echoing from further ahead. She wasn’t slow at all! Although she had run away just a few seconds before Syphus, she had gotten so far away they couldn’t hear her steps or the splashing she made when stepping into the many puddles in Waterfall. Monster Kid wasn’t having any problems following Syphus, but it seemed to him that the child wanted nothing more than catch Ananas so he could go home.

Syphus had been so focused on pursuing Ananas he hadn’t been paying much attention to where he was stepping. Suddenly, his foot hit a protruding rock in the path, getting stuck underneath. “W-Woah!” the piece fell like a sack of bricks on some puddles, soaking himself and getting winded.

“Are you okay?!” Monster Kid asked, getting to Syphus’ side and offering him his tail to help stand up. Syphus didn’t grab it, instead clutching his chest and gasping for breath.

“I-I...I’m okay...don’t wait for—for me” he struggled to say, managing to sit on dry land “Ouch...”

“I-I’ll get help!” Monster Kid tried to run in the opposite direction, but Syphus managed to grab the child’s stripped shirt.

“Don’t let Annie get away!”

Monster Kid hesitated, but after getting told again to hurry he ran towards where Ananas had gone, leaving Syphus trying to stand up. Ananas wasn’t shouting anymore, but Monster Kid guessed she was going towards the chamber where they usually played at.

The tunnel bifurcated, both paths technically leading towards the same corridor, but the left path ended high on the wall, too high for him to descend onto the tunnel near the chamber. Not having any other option, Monster Kid went to the right, to the longer tunnel.

The path went further towards the right before doing a sharp turn, forming a straight corridor that’d need a minute or two to be traversed. Monster Kid ran through the completely dry path, getting to the end and turning to the left. He didn’t notice the camera recording from a ledge at the end of the corridor, broadcasting everything through most of the tunnel.

“Annie!” Monster Kid called when he left that tunnel, getting closer to the chamber Ananas should be at. There was no reply. The air started to feel heavy, the former uncomfortable sensations growing stronger, making him feel like something horrible was happening or was about to happen. The drops of water falling from the ceiling seemed to have intensified in sound, and the air felt abnormally cold, breathing it was like shoving ice cubes down his windpipe. It all melded together to turn the formerly familiar Waterfall into an ominous and threatening place.

A big hole on the wall showed the place where the path from the left ended, too high for him to climb onto, and it was very unlikely Ananas had gone up there, too. “Annie!” Monster Kid shouted again, running faster and getting to the end, he turned to the right and entered the chamber right when somewhere in the corridor he had just ran through a strange sound like steel being scrapped against rock echoed. The child didn’t pay attention to that, instead looking around the chamber. It was a rather large and round chamber, with many platforms and columns the children liked to climb and hide behind of, a veritable playground for them. Monster Kid quickly browsed the chamber, checking all the spots and places.

There was no one in there.

“...what...?” But Ananas could only have gone this way! If she wasn’t here, then where did she go?

“Heeey! Did you find her?” Syphus’ voice sounded in the distance. That snapped the child out of his stupefaction, immediately turning around and running back.

“She’s not here! Annie is gone!” Monster Kid yelled back, trying not to sound as panicked as he felt. Syphus bellowed in alarm, the sound of his steps resonating in the elevated path. The piece stuck his head out of the large hole.

“What do you mean she isn’t here? Where did she go?!”

“I don’t know!” Monster Kid didn’t understand anything, how had she vanished in thin air?! Syphus jumped off the hole, landing on her feet with a wince. He hadn’t twisted or broken his ankle back then, but it was painful and uncomfortable.

“I didn’t see her coming this way. Are you sure she isn’t over there?” he asked, already stepping in direction of the chamber. Monster Kid didn’t reply, instead running to the path he had come from. Ananas could have gone that way, couldn’t she? It was the only option! “Where are you--?” Syphus tried to reach him, but as soon as Monster Kid turned the corner to the straight tunnel he screamed loudly, startling Syphus, and bolted forward so fast it was amazing he didn’t trip and crash against the ground. Alarmed, Syphus followed him, but didn’t have to go further than the corner to see why the child had been so terrified.

Ananas was lying unconscious in middle of the hallway, her cowboy hat having fallen to the floor. Monster Kid had gotten to her, managing to turn her on her back, and nudged her with his head. “Annie...Annie, wake up! You—you can’t fall down yet! Annie!” he sounded on the verge of tears. The piece gasped and immediately got to Ananas’ side, softly raising her head and checking for a pulse. She was alive, merely unconscious, but that was bad enough. Only Monster Kid and Syphus were in the area, as far as Syphus knew. Then who had...? “Y-Yo, is she okay?” Monster Kid struggled to keep the tears at bay, but he was far from a breakdown, thankfully.

“I think she’s okay. I have to take her home now” If this was the same situation than Frisk went through, then he had to use the firefly brooch on her once she was at a safe place. With some luck he’d be able to put Ananas into her cabin without Cohen or anyone else realizing it. “I can carry her. I’ll just—huh” Syphus frowned, having noticed something strange about Ananas.

Despite being on a completely dry tunnel, Ananas’ front and back were damp. Only her boots and legs were dry and clean. Now that he thought about it, it could be a good idea to see if there were any clues about the attacker somewhere nearby. “Okay, this is what we’ll do. I’ll take her home...in a moment. First I want to check something. How many paths are in this area?”

“I—uh” Monster Kid quickly thought “Only two! This and the other one”

“Then the attacker must have gone through here or through the other tunnel. Let’s see...” Syphus managed to lift Ananas, carefully holding her against his chest, with her head against his shoulder. She wasn’t heavy, but he wasn’t going to be able to carry her forever “The other tunnel is...what’s that?” Syphus had looked upwards, seeing the ledge.

“What? What’s what?”

“There’s something up there” Syphus momentarily left Ananas on the ground before going to the wall, managing to lift himself enough to check on the ledge. “It’s a camera!” A camera placed on that ledge would have recorded everything! Syphus stared at the object on top of the ledge for a moment before letting himself fall, dusting his hands off. Monster Kid asked about the camera, but Syphus ignored him, mulling what he had just seen, and picked Ananas up again “Let’s go. This tunnel is shorter” he said, leaving Ananas in the hole on the wall. Monster Kid was too short to reach it, but someone of Syphus’ height was able to, albeit with some effort. After getting Monster Kid up, the piece lifted himself up.

Indeed, that tunnel was shorter, and many parts of it were full of mud. The group hurried, walking through it with haste, but Syphus stayed alert in case there were any clues, and indeed, there was something: a very well-defined shoeprint on the mud, child-sized. It didn’t match Ananas’ boots, and a quick look at Monster Kid’s feet it wasn’t his, mainly because of the lack of shoes. Shaking his head, Syphus continued leading the way.

-ooooo-

Monster Kid cared a lot about his friends, and in other circumstances Syphus would have applauded that, but right now that was a hindrance. During the way from the tunnels to the hall where the crevice that hid the entrance to the Hidden Village’s stairways Syphus tried his best to tell him to go back to Snowdin, but Monster Kid refused. “Annie is my friend, and I want to know if she’s okay!” he had said every time Syphus had tried to convince him to go away “How’s she? D-Did she fall down?”

“No. She’s just asleep” Syphus slowed down, having seen the crevice in the distance. Having run out of time, Syphus sighed and looked at the child with severity. “You need to go back to Snowdin. Now”

“But—“

“I said now! I’ll keep her safe” Syphus gently pushed Monster Kid on the back with his foot, nudging him away “I’m serious. Stay away” Monster Kid didn’t look happy at all, but reluctantly obeyed, dragging his feet. Once the child was gone, Syphus descended into the crevice, holding Ananas tightly. Everything’ll be okay. Once I wake her up it’ll be like nothing happened. It was a good thing neither Sans nor Papyrus was nearby. Taking them to what would be Ananas’ SOUL didn’t seem like a good idea, despite their excellent attacks. Syphus descended the stairs towards the Hidden Village. If he could get to Ananas’ cottage without being seen, he could avoid there being panic—

“Annie?!” Damn it.

Cohen. Of course he was going to be in his sentry station. The old man got out of it so fast Syphus didn’t have time to think of an excuse, and Cohen demanded an explanation immediately. “She got attacked. I found her not too far from here” Cohen’s face acquired a nasty gray tone, and he took Ananas out of Syphus’ arms, looking at the piece with suspicion. “H-Hey, I did nothing! I simply found her”

“If I find out you hurt Annie—“

“I said I did nothing!” Cohen looked at Syphus for a moment more before taking Ananas to her cottage, leaving her on the bed. Syphus followed him, looking to the ground with apologetic expression. Once the girl was on her bed, Syphus examined the frame of the door and asked: “How did she get out of the village? I thought you said you wouldn’t let her out”

“She knows how to sneak out, that little brat...” Cohen said, although he sounded more worried than annoyed. He took off Ananas’ hat, putting it aside “She seems okay...monsters didn’t take her SOUL, or she wouldn’t be alive. I don’t get it, if she was attacked why wouldn’t the attacker take her SOUL?”

“I don’t know, I found her near where she used to play with” Syphus stepped away of the frame, looking at the few things in the cottage “She may have fell and hit her head” Cohen examined Ananas’ head, finding nothing.

“Syphus, be honest: did you have anything to do with this?”

“No! Cohen, I would never harm Annie!”

“...I’ll take your word for it” Cohen said in a tone that made obvious his lack of trust towards Syphus. For a moment Syphus saw in his mind the Emperor card that represented his bond with Cohen, it was trembling like it was going to reverse and indicate the link was going badly, but thankfully it stayed in its upright position. “You should leave. I’ll stay here until she wakes up”

“Uh, alright...” Damn it. I need to get Cohen out of here for just enough for me to put the brooch on her! Taking Cohen with him was something Syphus preferred to avoid. Doing the same mistake he had done with Sans and Papyrus would be the height of stupidity, in his opinion. But how to get Cohen outside? Syphus exited the cottage slowly, taking the brooch out of his pocket and turning it in his hands, when he heard a scream coming from the other side of the tiny village.

“A monster!” That sounded like Byssa. Syphus looked up, surprised. Had monsters found the village? Cohen exited the cottage, having heard the scream too, cursing under his breath. Syphus thought quickly and hid to the side of the cottage, listening.

“This can’t be happening!” Cohen muttered before going towards where the scream had come from. Although Syphus felt a lot of curiosity regarding what monster had entered, Ananas seemed like a bigger priority. After making a SAVE point, just in case, Syphus opened the door of the girl’s cottage and entered.

It was likely he wouldn’t have long to act. Syphus opened Ananas’ leather vest, placing the firefly brooch on the inside. He didn’t want to find out if someone taking off the brooch while he was inside the SOUL would affect him, better to be safe than sorry. He had just managed to get the brooch’s needle to pierce the tough leather when someone entered the cabin at full speed. Syphus turned his head around, startled and expecting to see Cohen.

It was Monster Kid. “You?!” Syphus screeched rather ungracefully. Monster Kid grinned sheepishly.

“Y-Yo, Syphus...didn’t think you’d be here, eh?” Before Syphus could reply, they both heard noises of people approaching the cottage. Syphus yelped and pointed at the door, gritting his teeth, and thankfully Monster Kid didn’t need to be told. The child closed the door with a kick and threw himself on it, holding it back the best he could. “What’s going on? Are you—is Annie a human? Are you a human?”

“This isn’t the time to talk about this! Hold the door!” it was rather unfortunate that Monster Kid had followed him to the village, and even more that he had found out everyone in there was a human. Everyone shouting that a monster had arrived must have been what tipped him off Syphus guessed while he secured the brooch, making sure no one would see it from the outside. Someone hit the door, Monster Kid dug his heels on the rocky ground the best he could and tried to resist.

“Dude, I don’t think I can—“

Leaving it up to a child to fend off a bunch of adult humans was something that wouldn’t ever work. Monster Kid didn’t even have time to complete the sentence before Cohen, Graham and Byssa all hit the door together, making the child propel forward towards Syphus. Syphus had just put his hand on the outside of the vest over where the firefly brooch was located when he noticed Monster Kid careening him. “No!” Syphus’ hand pressed on the brooch, activating it, while he instinctively raised the other hand to keep Monster Kid from crashing against the piece’s torso, making contact with Monster Kid’s face right when the firefly brooch did what it was designed to do.

The three humans that barged into the cottage arrived just in time to see Syphus and Monster Kid fall unconscious. “...what’s going on?!” Cohen exclaimed, not having expected that. Byssa hurried to pick up Monster Kid while Graham went to Syphus. The woman sighed in relief when she confirmed Monster Kid didn’t seem to be injured.

“I think we could have handled the monster’s presence much better” Graham loosened Syphus’ jacket, faintly remembering first aid techniques he had once heard when he lived over the surface, and looked at Cohen “What do we do now?”

Cohen looked at the three unconscious people, greatly confused, his mouth ganging open a bit. Was this what that bad feeling from a couple hours ago was all about? The old man gulped, forcing himself to snap out of it. “We need to call Toriel. She’ll know what to do”

“They’re just a kid...” Byssa extended her arms, as if nobody had noticed how young the monster in her arms was.

“That’s why she’ll know what to do. This...uuuuuh...” was this monster male or female? Cohen wasn’t sure “This monster will accept an explanation if it comes from the Queen”

“I’m sure there’ll be a way to convince him not to tell anyone about us...” Graham stood up. He had managed to drag Syphus to the couch, leaving him there “Annie told me about this little guy”

“So that’s what she sneaks away for...” Cohen directed Byssa to leave Monster Kid on the bed, beside Ananas. Although he didn’t approve about Ananas exiting the village, he was glad she had managed to make a friend. That should make her days much more bearable. Cohen took out his cellphone from his pocket and started looking for Toriel’s number.

The Queen would know what to do. For now, he decided he should keep an eye on the three unconscious people, just in case any of them woke up. After arranging Graham to bring food and Byssa to make sure no one else was going to enter the Hidden Village, Cohen dragged a rickety chair and sat on it with grave expression, watching over the three unconscious people, and initiated the call.

Chapter Text

“Mister human! Wake up! Don’t fall down too, please!”

Syphus didn’t open his eyes, still on the verge of unconsciousness, that voice sounded way too soft and garbled. Something sounded in the distance, it sounded like something had scuttled not too far away from here. Right immediately after that, something smacked the side of Syphus’ face, completely waking him up. The piece barely had time to sit up before a small person tackled him, shouting with joy and relief. “What the...”

“I’m sorry! I thought you had fallen down like Annie, and Waterfall looks all weird and wrong, and when I turned around I hit you on the face with my tail – that was an accident, I’m sorry!” Monster Kid said in one tirade, sticking to Syphus’ chest as if he was trying to burrow inside. Syphus softly pushed Monster Kid aside to stand up, stumbling ahead, disoriented.

“Waterfall? We are back in Waterfall?”

“There are bad monsters here! I tried to get help, but they attacked me! I almost couldn’t get away from them!”

That made the remaining daze Syphus felt vanish immediately. Bad monsters attacking a child? Syphus immediately got on guard, hearing the sounds getting closer. Monster Kid was right; they were back in Waterfall. The blue environment was unmistakable. We’re in Annie’s SOUL, right? If it was similar to what happened to Frisk, then Waterfall was a significant place for Ananas. What kind of Shadows could her SOUL be filled with? Judging by the sounds, he was going to find out now.

Those were only two Shadows, but they weren’t simple Mayas. Syphus recognized the Idol type he had fought once in Frisk’s SOUL – although the version he was seeing now looked different -- but the other one was completely new for him. It looked like some kind of morbidly bloated mobster, with a very large hole in the center of its body, holding a key inside. “Kid...get back” Syphus pointed behind him, to the back of the small room they were at.

“Dude, what are you--?”

“Now!” Syphus shouted, taking out the halberd from his jacket and extending the pole. He really hoped the Shadows would focus on him and not on the potentially defenseless child. Thankfully, Monster Kid realized the obvious danger and ran to the back, leaving Syphus to deal with the Shadows. “Ouroboros!” Syphus summoned the first Persona he could think of, the by-now familiar shape of the empty hood and robe forming immediately. As soon as Ouroboros was there, Syphus jumped forward to start attacking, focusing on the Liberating Idol first.

The Idol was rather slow, but it was positioned on top of a large pedestal. The Idol leaned towards its back, lifting the edge of the pedestal and blocking the halberd’s swing with it. A loud clank echoed through the chamber, Syphus grit his teeth, feeling the vibrations of the clash of his weapon against the pedestal. “Damn it!” Syphus muttered, stepping back and mentally using his Persona to attack the Fuzz.

The ice spell Syphus used through Ouroboros hit the Fuzz, but it wasn’t affected at all by the ice. Instead the spell bounced off it, hitting Ouroboros back and affecting Syphus. The sudden coldness that enveloped him made Syphus hunch over and step back, getting away from the Idol he had been attacking. Seeing that using ice spells against the Fuzz wasn’t going to work, Syphus decided to reverse the strategy, try to attack the Fuzz with the halberd and use the Persona against the Idol.

That showed to be far more effective. The Fuzz raised its revolver, aiming at Syphus, chance the piece used to attack with the halberd to its hand and try to disable it and avoid any chance of being attacked. He swung the halberd, aiming to the hand, and managed to hit the revolver before the Fuzz had a fire. The bullet-like projectile that’d have harmed Syphus crashed against the ground, splattering tiny rocks, while Syphus tried to focus and direct Ouroboros to attack the Idol with Bufu ice spells.

It was extremely difficult to try to attack two targets at once, despite using a Persona. The problem wasn’t controlling the Persona, or trying to stay out of the way of harm, the problem was that he wasn’t trained yet to be able to focus both in his physical attacks with the halberd and anything he did with the Persona. Attacking one single target with both was no problem, but having to decide what to do with the Persona – often out of his sight, as the Fuzz and the Idol had gone to opposite sides of the room – while at the same time attempting to kill the Fuzz was exhausting. Even though the Shadows he was fighting were rather slow and the Idol had no strength at all to harm, he was finding himself evenly matched. It was just matter of time before any of the Shadows did something that could potentially tilt the tables to their favor.

And it happened when Syphus focused too much on dodging the Fuzz’s bullets and accidentally left Ouroboros unattended for a moment. The Persona vanished, Syphus having given no thought at all about what to do with Ouroboros, so the Idol approached Syphus without the piece noticing. It didn’t have to get too close to him to use the only skills it had. Syphus barely had turned his head around, having felt the Liberating Idol approaching, when that Shadow screeched and raised its arms high, a strange symbol appearing in the air.

The effects were immediate. Syphus literally started seeing red, everything was tinted with a crimson shade. Monster Kid, huddled as far away as possible, saw no difference in the environment, he just saw Syphus gripping the halberd so tightly its bamboo handle creaked under his fingers. Syphus’ breathing accelerated while an unbridled fury took over him, all thoughts about his Persona sealed away. He didn’t care about that, all he wanted was beat up the Shadows and kill them, nothing else mattered, not even his personal safety or any thoughts about strategies or attempts to be clever. With a cry of rage, Syphus raised his halberd and sprinted towards the Idol while the Persistent Fuzz behind him raised its revolver and shot.

Syphus completely ignored the projectile that flew mere inches aside of his head, focused on attempting to kill the Idol. He jumped onto the Idol’s pedestal, climbing onto it with ease and getting very close to the Shadow, who tried to shove him off. Syphus grit his teeth and shoved the spike of the halberd right on the Idol’s torso, and kicked it as strong as he could, making the pedestal tilt and giving him the chance to raise the weapon to deliver the final blow. Another bullet passed way too close by, this time hitting the halberd blade and knocking the weapon out of Syphus’ hands, but he didn’t try to pick it up, instead pounding the Idol on its masked face over and over with his bare fists.

It wasn’t long before the Idol’s health was completely depleted. The Idol faded away in a black cloud, Syphus falling onto the floor and half-consciously picking up the halberd to focus on the Shadow that was left. The Fuzz stepped back instinctually, shooting again while Syphus ran as fast as possible towards it, intending to swing the halberd blade onto the side of the Fuzz’s large body, and leaving himself wide open for any attacks.

The next bullet hit Syphus right under his ribcage, but all he felt was a dull pain that didn’t seem as grave as it actually was. Syphus swung the halberd, cutting deep into the Fuzz despite the lack of sharpness, and tackled it to the ground, grabbing the Shadow’s clothing and managing to make it lie down on the ground for the enough time for him to raise the halberd and jam the spike right in the Shadow’s face, ending the fight.

Monster Kid had watched the fight without saying a word, huddling against the wall and trying to not be noticed. It had been a short fight, just a minute or two of fighting, but he didn’t understand anything of what he just saw. Those...human-like beings had attacked them, and Syphus had fought, but what was that...that thing that had appeared out of nowhere? And the amount of anger and deranged fury Syphus had while fighting...was that how Syphus really was, or was it all the effect of that weird symbol one of the foes showed that one time? Monster Kid didn’t move, seeing Syphus breathing heavily, leaning on his halberd and staring at the ground where the Fuzz had been at.

Slowly, Syphus calmed down, the effect of the Idol’s attack finally vanishing. He rubbed his face with his hand, starting to feel the pain from where the Fuzz’s bullet had hit him. He doubled over, using the halberd to support himself, but refrained from shouting despite the intense pain he was feeling. Trying not to move too much to not to increase the pain, Syphus turned his head towards Monster Kid. “He-Hey...do me a favor and—“ Syphus almost groaned, feeling a bit dizzy. After taking a moment to recover he pointed in the distance with his thumb “Do me a f-f-favor and check if the coast is clear...” Monster Kid didn’t move. Syphus straightened up a bit, feeling ripples of pain from his wound “What’s—what’s wrong?”

“...what happened? What was all that?”

Syphus looked away. “I’ll explain it to you in a moment” Kinda “Just do that...please” he begged, feeling his eyes involuntarily filling with tears. Monster Kid reluctantly stood up and advanced, looking at Syphus with wide eyes. He wanted to approach, see if Syphus was okay, ask what was all that about humans and how it was possible there were so many humans Underground, but honestly...

...he was afraid of Syphus right now. He feared that without warning Syphus would raise that halberd and try to hit him, and for that reason the child made sure to keep his distance when crossing the room, always looking at Syphus. Once Monster Kid was far enough, Syphus finally allowed himself to double over, almost falling to the floor, and mouthed breathlessly “HOLY SHIT!” Syphus opened his track jacket and touched the spot where he had been hurt, not daring to look. There was no blood nor gore, but he didn’t like how that spot felt. “...what did I get myself into...?”

This wasn’t going to work well. Just fighting two common Shadows that didn’t even seem to be notably strong had been tiring enough, and Shadows seldom were alone unless it was rather powerful. How was he supposed to deal with any foes? Coming alone was a bad move, and now he realized it. He should have took his chances with the skeletons, somehow. Gritting his teeth, Syphus closed his eyes and tried to focus to LOAD and return to the moment Cohen had left the cottage, but nothing happened. Damn it, no! True, he couldn’t SAVE or LOAD while in a SOUL, the only way to LOAD would be...it’d be to die. “No, I’m not going to die...” Syphus murmured, changing Personas and looking for Silky. It was fortunate he had a Persona he could use to heal himself, or the situation would look even worse than it already did.

-ooooo-

Fools can be immensely lucky. While it was true the Shadows were driving Syphus to the edge of his skills, he soon received respite. After a particularly easy fight against five Merciless Mayas at once – vulnerable to three types of magic? How couldn’t it be easy? – Syphus managed to acquire another Persona. Titan? It seemed rather strong, towering half a meter over Syphus and looking like an ancient gladiator, but the size wasn’t what Syphus was relieved about the most: he finally had the possibility of hitting more than one target at once with electricity magic. Having acquired Titan, the journey through the labyrinth that was this version of Waterfall wasn’t as troublesome as before.

It didn’t mean everything was going well, though. Monster Kid refused to approach Syphus. The piece had been rather patient, talking to Monster Kid without raising his voice and telling him to stay behind every time a Shadow was seen, trying his best to protect the child. Sometimes Syphus tried to thaw the ice between them, but Monster Kid either didn’t reply or mumbled one-syllable answers.

“Hey, can you pass me that?” Syphus requested, pointing at a few rock-like objects that fell from recently defeated Shadows. Monster Kid didn’t move; he was trying his hardest not to look at Syphus. The piece furrowed his brow, a tad frustrated, but didn’t take it out in the child. Instead he stopped walking, deciding to get done with this once and for all. “Okay, what’s going on?”

“I...dude, what do you mean?” Monster Kid refused to look at Syphus.

“You have been acting strange all this time. Are you scared of this place?”

When Syphus said ‘scared’, Monster Kid turned his head around rather quickly, looking at Syphus in shock for a moment. “No! I’m not scared of this place. It’s like Waterfall, just...larger and strange...”

“It’s okay if you’re scared. You’re here with me, you’ll be okay” Syphus said softly, but Monster Kid didn’t reply. Syphus started moving his halberd to the other hand, intending to flex his stiff fingers, talking while doing it “You can trust m—“

“I’m sorry!” Monster Kid suddenly shouted, stepping back so quickly his back slammed against the wall “Please don’t hurt me! I don’t want to be hurt!” The child’s shouting cut off Syphus’ attempt to calm him down, shutting him into silence. What...? Syphus noticed that Monster Kid was staring at the halberd. His mind quickly made the connection. If Monster Kid was scared of the halberd, after everything Syphus had done with it, after how Syphus had fought against the Shadows, wouldn’t that mean he was scared of him? ...oh.

Syphus slowly left the halberd against the wall, near enough so he’d have time to grab it if a Shadow attacked, but far enough for Monster Kid to see the meaning of the gesture. After showing his hands were empty, Syphus crouched, getting on eye level with the child. “I’m not going to hurt you. Why are you scared of me?”

“I...” What Syphus fought like wasn’t how a hero would do that, like what Undyne or anyone in the Royal Guard would behave, that was what Monster Kid thought “I don’t get what’s going on! What are those monsters, why are they attacking us, how can you kill them like that?!”

“Those aren’t monsters; they want to kill us!” What can I say, that the Shadows are representations of emotions and feelings? There had to be an easier way to explain it, but Syphus didn’t know what it’d be like “They’re the kind of bad guys Undyne would fight, and if we do nothing, we’re going to die here” The mention of Undyne and the risk of death seemed to have helped a bit. Monster Kid was still fearful, staying on the other side of the tunnel, but at least he didn’t look like he was about to run away at the slightest provocation. Hoping there had been progress, Syphus tried to give his voice a conciliatory tone “I’m not going to hurt you. I want nothing more than to help you and get out of this place. Don’t be scared of me, I’m your friend”

Monster Kid didn’t seem completely convinced Syphus was honest about not wanting to hurt him, but something about the way Syphus said it resonated in him. Slowly, Monster Kid started approaching. “...promise you won’t hurt me?”

“I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die” Syphus vowed. Monster Kid nodded reluctantly, kicking up in the air one of the stones Syphus had indicated him earlier and catching it with his teeth before leaving it in Syphus’ hand. Taking that as a sign the child had agreed to give him a chance, Syphus put the stone in his pocket and smiled weakly. “I also promise you I’ll return you back home safe and sound. You can trust me on that too! Just stay close to me and I’ll protect you from anything that comes”

“Do you know where to go?” Monster Kid’s eyes brightened up.

“...no, I don’t have the slightest idea” he admitted sheepishly “But not all lost! You know Waterfall better than I do. If you see something that looks familiar, tell me and we’ll see what we do” Syphus extended his hand as if he expected a handshake “Deal?”

After a pause, Monster Kid grinned and headbutted Syphus’ hand. “Deal” In that moment, something sounded not too far away in the tunnel. Syphus immediately grabbed his halberd, getting his guard up and peering deep into the corridor. A group of fearsome Shadows was blocking the way. One of those beetle Shadows that repelled Physical attacks, a very large knight on a sinister horse, and a strange tall thing that looked like a wizard in pajamas started approaching. Enough rest, time to fight. “Step back! I’ll take care of this in a second” Syphus said, selecting one of the Personas he had fused a couple days before, and sounding way more confident than he actually felt.

Monster Kid ran to a safe distance, staying alert in case any Shadows tried to sneak from the back. Maybe that Syphus human wasn’t so bad. Monster Kid still wasn’t sure what to think, but at least he did feel like Syphus meant it when he said he’d help him.

He was willing to give Syphus a chance, at least.

-ooooo-

Syphus was fed up about being on the brink of death so often.

It was bad enough that doing physical moves with the Personas cut through his health like hot butter. He also didn’t need to be almost skewered by a stupidly large lance, yet it happened. If it hadn’t been because that Persona Obariyon’s physical attack had the chance of disabling the skills of the Shadows, he’d have suffered a horrible death right in front of Monster Kid. The strange-looking bright orange imp that emerged from Syphus’ SOUL shot several bright and small arrows at the Shadows’ faces, silencing them, before Syphus jumped forward and cleaved them with the halberd.

But Syphus managed to survive, if only barely. Once the fight was over, Syphus flopped to the floor and stared at the ceiling for a second before healing himself. “I’m never coming here alone ever again” Monster Kid offered to help fighting, but Syphus immediately rejected that idea “You’ll stay back and let me deal with this by myself” Despite what he was saying aloud, there was no way he’d let Monster Kid put himself in danger. It was true Syphus needed a partner to fight with – or a team, hopefully – but he wasn’t going to stand aside and let a child fight and risk their life. Thankfully, Monster Kid didn’t try to convince him to let him help.

At one point during the walk, Monster Kid suddenly ran ahead, shouting. “Yo! I think I recognize this place!”

“Really?” About time! Maybe now they’d be able to find Ananas!

“There’s a sentry station near here! Look, it’s there!” the child got ahead, jumping on the counter and getting on the other side, disappearing underneath the table “It’s almost empty. I don’t think anyone stands back here”

“That’s not unexpected. We’re the only ones in this place, besides Annie”

Monster Kid left a few bottles of sauce on the counter, picking them with his mouth. “I think this is Sans’ station” he mumbled, his voice garbled because of how he held the bottle.

“You know Sans?”

“Everybody knows Sans!”

And if this is Sans’ station... It did help to know in which area of Waterfall they were at, at least “Great work! Okay, this is the plan: we need to get to the village”

“You mean Snowdin?”

“No, the human village. That’s where Annie must be. Think you can take us to your playground? I’ll lead the way from there” Monster Kid nodded, jumped back on the path, and started leading the way towards where he was sure where he often played with Annie was. The walk didn’t last for long, though.

There was a very large lake that wasn’t supposed to be there, filled with bright light blue water. It extended into the distance, filling the flooded corridors and littered with water sausages and tall grass. “Uh-oh. I didn’t know this was here...” Monster Kid tried to see if he could see anything under the surface, but the water was so bright he could see nothing.

“How odd...” So the SOUL isn’t completely similar to the place it’s based on? With some luck that didn’t mean the place the village was located at had changed, but by now Syphus had learned not to rely on luck and hope “We need to cross this lake. It’d take too long to look for another way to the other side”

“Yo! Why don’t we make a boat?”

“We don’t have anything to make a boat, all we have here is swamp plants and—“ Monster Kid didn’t bother to finish listening to Syphus, he ran back to the sentry station. Syphus raised his eyebrows, pleasantly surprised “That could work!”

“Let’s make a raft!”

It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but it was better than doing nothing. Syphus returned to the sentry station and used his halberd to chop off one of the walls of the station, managing to separate it through brute force and without damaging the wood too much. He carried the wall and a thin beam to the water with some difficulty before slowly placing the wall on the surface, letting it go. The makeshift raft floated, but it didn’t seem too stable. “...hm. Do you know to swim?”

“Uh...yeah. I’m no pro at swimming, but I can stay afloat” Monster Kid said without much enthusiasm, looking at the raft with doubt “Do we have to ride this...?”

“We should be fine as long as we stay away from the edges. Allow me” Syphus carefully helped Monster Kid get on the center of the raft. It sank a bit, but it popped back up without tilting to any side. “My turn...” I wish I had learned how to swim. If the raft capsized things were going to get very difficult. Praying that no Shadow would attack them while they were on the raft, Syphus slowly got on the raft, clinging to the improvised oar as if he feared it’d vanish in thin air. The raft sank for a moment, the water getting to Syphus’ knees and submerging half of Monster Kid, but before any of them could panic the raft floated back to the surface.  

It was a slow journey, but it was going well, Syphus managed to keep the raft going without submerging it every couple seconds. There were no signs of any Shadows nearby, too. Monster Kid sat down against Syphus’ legs while the adult rowed, relaxing but ready to stand up if the raft started sinking again. “...so...you’re human and Annie is human too” he said after a while.

“Yes. What about it?”

Monster Kid didn’t reply for a moment, but when he did he sounded rather disheartened. “The Royal Guard...would they try to harm Annie? I know Undyne wouldn’t, but what about everyone else?”

“We have no way to know. I’m not a guard, kid, I’m just another human” Syphus shook the beam, having gotten grass on it “But she should stay away from other monsters, just in case” That didn’t seem to be the answer Monster Kid had hoped for. He curled up, his knees touching his face, and stayed silent for quite a while before starting talking again:

“Annie once told me she wanted to explore the Underground, but she said she couldn’t. I asked her if it was because of her parents told her not to, but she said...she said it was because she didn’t want to leave them alone”

Syphus looked at Monster Kid. “She really said that?”

Monster Kid nodded “She said there were some in her family she didn’t get along with, but that she didn’t want to see them hurt. But you know what, yo? I think she’s very scared” Monster Kid unburied his face from his knees “She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but she’s human and...someday someone will try to hurt her and the other humans, right? I mean, we’re supposed to hate humans, right?

I think she wants to fight, but at the same time she wants to run away. Weird, right?”

“It’s not weird. Many would want to do the same” Syphus said quietly.

“So one day I told her ‘Hey, you know what’d be cool? If we could both be in the Royal Guard!’ and Annie made this face” Monster Kid proceeded to demonstrate Ananas’ expression. It showed fear “I don’t want to hate Annie. She’s my friend! I don’t want to hate her because she’s human and her SOUL is needed for something”

“Tell her that next time you see her”

“No! She’d laugh at me.  But you know what? I’ll help her. I’m going to help her be strong and nobody will be able to defeat her”

“Not even Undyne?”

Monster Kid lightly hit Syphus’ legs with the back of his head. “I don’t know! But she’ll be able to do it, because you know what? Annie doesn’t give up. I bet if Undyne arrived one day and attacked, Annie would fight her” he smiled dreamily “And not even I know who’d win. Cool, huh?”

Through Monster Kid’s words you feel you understand Ananas a bit more.

The Ananas Social Link has reached Rank 4!

Your power to create Personas of the Chariot Arcana has grown!

It was nice that Monster Kid had such faith in Ananas’ strength and skills, but Syphus had doubts about it. If she tried to fight...that’d almost certainly lead to her death. A stray Muttering Tiara floated by, impacting Syphus with fire magic, but he mostly shrugged it off thanks to Obariyon’s resistances. “Has Annie said something about learning to fight?” Syphus asked while Obariyon punched the Shadow, making it puff away, while he simply continued rowing.

“Learning to fight? Uh, sometimes we fight” Monster Kid warily eyed the Persona, glad it was vanishing. It creeped him out, honestly. “She’s strong” Syphus took it like Monster Kid didn’t know. The more the piece heard about Ananas’ wish to be stronger and protect the village, the more concerned he grew. Everyone had a limit, especially children. If Ananas was pushed far enough, she could do something irrational and stupid. I really need to talk to her once this is done. Even if she denied she had thought of doing it, he needed to make clear that trying to ‘prove herself’ or anythng similar to was a terrible idea.

The fact that all Shadows encountered so far had references to fighting and stubbornness in their names didn’t help assuage his fears. Brave Wheel, Champion Knight, Adamant Beetle, Conviction Sword...if the Shadows in Ananas’ SOUL represented what she felt then she certainly was on the brink of a mistake that could prove fatal to her.

-ooooo-

It seemed the flooded tunnels were the only big change this Waterfall had. Once they managed to cross to the other side of the lake and left the unstable raft behind, Monster Kid claimed this place was completely familiar to him. “That’s the way to Snowdin” he had said, looking into the distance. Shadows roamed not too far away “Uh...we shouldn’t go over there”

“If that’s the way to Snowdin then the way to the Hidden Village would be – whoa!” Syphus had peered into another tunnel but jumped aside at the last second, a Brave Wheel almost running him over, trails of fire emanating from its head.

The surreal living wheel with the head of a lion spun in circles, leaving tracks on the rocky floor, and focused on Monster Kid. The child yelped and jumped away when the Wheel revved in his direction and crashed against the wall, pieces of rock falling from the place of impact. “Over there, kid!” Syphus pointed towards the corridor the Wheel had come from, while Ouroboros formed in the air. The Wheel immediately aimed towards Ouroboros, starting to go in circles around it with increasing speed. Is that an attack? He didn’t intend to find out, though. Ouroboros was dispelled right when in the center of the circle erupted a burst of energy, reaching the ceiling, leaving a crater right where Ouroboros had been floating over just a moment ago. Confused, the Wheel slowed down, moment Syphus took to attack, Ouroboros emerging from him again.

Before the Wheel could react, a large purple sigil appeared over it, making the Shadow glow before dying immediately.

“Wooow...” Monster Kid’s head peeked from the corridor he had run into “That was fast...”

“Darkness attacks. Looks like it can make some Shadows die in an instant” It was convenient, although not guaranteed to work. It was the last attack Ouroboros could learn, that Persona had reached its limit regarding abilities. “Shadows are getting more violent...we must be near Annie”

“C-Could Annie be attacked by one of those things?”

Syphus shook his head, trying not to think about how she’d fare against a Shadow. “Maybe. Come on, let’s hurry” the Hidden Village was not too far from the place they were at, he knew it. And indeed, it took them just a few minutes to find the crevice where the way to the Hidden Village was away from the sight of those who passed by. Syphus jumped into the crevice without hesitation, but Monster Kid was more reluctant. “What’s wrong?”

“...I don’t think I should go. Nobody seemed to be happy to see me”

“That’s because everyone was afraid you’d tell someone about the Village. Nobody was going to hurt you”

“Really?” he didn’t seem convinced. Syphus returned up and put his hand on top of Monster Kid’s head in what he hoped was a comforting gesture.

“Listen, it’s true nobody was jumping with joy about you being there, but I can tell you no one would hurt you. Annie wouldn’t allow it, I wouldn’t allow it, and no human is going to let it happen. Trust me on that, I know what I’m talking about”

Monster Kid didn’t move to get Syphus’ hand off his head, instead looking at the ground with hesitant expression. “Mom once brought a book of history, and it said...it said human SOULs didn’t need hope or compassion to exist” What kind of history book would say something like that?!

“Humans do have hope, love and compassion. It’s just that...there are other things too” The existence of Shadows and Shadow Selves gave credence to such thought, at least. Would a monster’s SOUL be any different? It was possible he’d find out sooner or later “Let’s go. Be careful, we don’t know what could be waiting in here”

The tunnel towards the Hidden Village was completely devoid of Shadows. Once Monster Kid and Syphus stood up at the end, on the plateau where the village could be seen from, they tried to see any signs of activity. It didn’t seem like there was anything, all the lights of the cottages were turned off. They couldn’t just walk away, though. They needed to check if Ananas was there. Where else would she be, really? The few minutes that it took to reach the village itself were uneventful, with no Shadow in sight. The cottages looked completely intact and normal, except for the lack of lights in their windows. Now that Syphus thought about it, he hadn’t seen the cottages with no light at all before. During the nights the lights dimmed, but never went out. “Mister? Why are you staring at the window like that?” Monster Kid asked, standing on the tip of his toes to look inside.

“N-No, I just was thinking of something” he said, trying to ignore how nervous he felt “Let’s take a look inside” Syphus opened the door of the cabin, peering inside. It was almost pitch black; no sound came from inside. “Annie?”

“I can’t see her...”

“I don’t think she’s in this one. Let’s go to the next. Keep your eyes open, kid” Syphus closed the door and started ascending the stairs to the upper area of the village. Monster Kid looked down at the floor before hurrying to reach Syphus.

“Why don’t we call for her? She should hear us”

“Shadows could hear us too. We need to be careful” Ananas wasn’t in the second cabin either, and it was just as dark as the first. Syphus was about to get to the third when Monster Kid bumped his head onto him, getting his attention.

“Yo, the ground feels weird” Monster Kid looked at the floor again. Now he had no doubts, it hadn’t been his imagination before “It’s vibrating?”

“Vibrating?” Syphus crouched and placed his hand on the ground. Indeed, it felt like the ground was moving very slightly, he could feel vibrations in his hand. ...I don’t like this. For the ground to vibrate like this something very heavy or large would have to be walking around nearby. Syphus looked around. There was nothing besides the buildings. Can Shadows turn invisible now? Could they? Because there was no Shadow nearby!  Just in case, Syphus prepared his halberd and mentally selected Ouroboros as his actual Persona “Stay alert. There could be something nearby”

Monster Kid and Syphus hurried to check the other cabins, not finding Ananas in any of them. Where is she? She was supposed to be here! If she wasn’t in the Hidden Village, where else could she be? Waterfall was a very large place, and the fact her SOUL had emulated it and turned the place into more of a labyrinth than it already was didn’t help at all. At some point Monster Kid notified Syphus the vibrations had stopped. “I can’t feel them anymore” he said, patting the ground with a foot.

“She’s not here. I can’t believe she’s not here!” Syphus looked around as if he hoped Ananas was hiding nearby.

“Yo! We haven’t checked there!” Monster Kid looked at the Communal Building, the two-story cottage that housed a stage and a warehouse “We need to see inside”

“...yeah, I guess you’re right” Syphus conceded. Monster Kid, hoping Ananas was there and they could all get out from the foreboding location they were all at, got ahead and hurried to the door, despite Syphus’ warnings. The child went inside, walking slowly to not to trip with anything in the darkness and calling for Ananas. “I told you not to get ahead—“

A sudden scream of surprise emerged from inside the building right before Syphus could cross the doorway. Monster Kid ran out of the building as fast as he could, shouting: “There’s something there! Something huge!”

“Huge?!” The shaking ground... A horrifically loud noise reverberated inside the building. A cannonball of considerable size destroyed the wooden walls above the door, shattering the planks as if it all was made of balsa wood. “Watch out!” Syphus turned around and started running towards the back of the village, looking over his head and with Monster Kid to his side. Something was pushing from behind the wall, something as large as the building itself. The wood creaked, making a lot of noise, until it all broke and the Shadow that had invaded this area of Ananas’ SOUL showed itself. What’s that?!

It was one of the most bizarre Shadows Syphus had seen so far, a literal building on legs. A fortress over a miniature mountain towered over Syphus and Monster Kid, standing on two thick elephant legs. They could see cannons through the windows of the fortress that was the Shadow, all of the cannons aiming at them. The mask that denoted the arcana of the Shadow was on the highest part of the fortress, did it work as the eyes of the Shadow? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that the Shadow was approaching, and surely what it lacked in speed was compensated in attack power. “...get back. Run away. I’m going to take care of this” Syphus said, raising the halberd.

“It’s going to hurt you! L-look at that, it’s a castle!”

“Get out!” There was no time for hesitation. Syphus immediately summoned his Persona Ouroboros, trying to use a Darkness spell like he had done to the Wheel Shadow from earlier. The purple sigil appeared on one of the walls of the fortress, but nothing happened. “Damn it! What’s that thing?!” Syphus shouted to the air, hoping that’d be enough to get information from the female voice that did the analysis.

The shout got the Shadow’s full attention. One of the cannons extended more, aiming towards Syphus, and fired a cannonball towards him. Syphus jumped back, the cannonball crashing on the floor and spreading bits of rock in the vicinity. More cannons aimed at him, firing in quick sequence. It was going to be impossible to dodge all the projectiles unless he started running away. How was he supposed to attack?

Solid Castle

Weak to Garu spells. That’s wind, in case you forgot.

“Wind? None of my Personas can use wind!” Syphus shouted, frustrated. With no Wind magic, and the Darkness magic not working on this target, there was no way this’d end easily. Attacking with the halberd seemed ineffective, too. How did anyone expect his dull blade to hurt those thick elephant legs? In an attempt to get the upper hand, Syphus changed his Persona to Titan, hoping to use its electricity attacks to hurt it.

As soon as the Solid Castle stopped firing so many projectiles, Syphus put the halberd away and focused exclusively on his Persona, making it appear and use Zio. The bolt of electricity hit the mask on top of the Castle, but the Shadow wasn’t deterred at all. It retaliated with an attack of its own. A ball of fire was expelled through one of the cannons, homing towards Syphus. “No!” Was the Castle immune to electricity? That crippled even more Syphus’ options. The ball of fire hit Titan before Syphus could dispel it. It felt as if something had been set on fire inside of him. Syphus gasped, grabbing his chest, and stepped back while the Shadow prepared the cannons to continue attacking with fire.

“Yo! Over here!” a stone hit one of the walls of the Castle. The Shadow slowly turned around, the cannons twitching in anticipation of what could be a new target. Monster Kid didn’t let himself be intimidated by the Castle, though. He kicked another stone in the air and batted it with his tail, hitting the Castle again “Leave him alone!”

“What are you DOING?!” Syphus yelled “Go away!”

The Castle emitted a sound like stones scrapping against each other and fired towards Monster Kid, the cannonballs having enough strength to end the child’s life if it impacted against him. Monster Kid didn’t stay in the same place, though. He yelped and ran aside, letting out a shout of alarm. In an attempt to divert the Castle’s attention and force it to attack him again, Syphus changed Personas once again. If it fires those balls and has fire attacks then... Obariyon seemed like the best option, given that it had resistance against physical and fire attacks. Obariyon only had physical attacks, but it wasn’t like he had any better options. “Get moving, kid!” Syphus shouted right when Obariyon emerged from his chest, rapidly reaching the Castle and punching the base of the fortress. That effectively drew the Castle’s attention, forcing it to divide its attention between Syphus and Monster Kid. The cannons were mostly in the front of the Shadow; it was impossible for it to aim at two targets at once. Yeah! This can work!

Right when Syphus started to think things were starting to be better, the cannons retracted, the Castle shaking as if it was cold. After a second the cannons sprung back out, releasing clouds of greenish smoke that started to seep down towards the floor. Poison! “Don’t let that touch you!” he shouted “And go away! This isn’t safe!”

“I can help!”

“I don’t want you to help! I want you safe and away from here!” If Monster Kid died Syphus wasn’t sure he’d take it well. Most likely he’d roll over and let the Castle turn him into mincemeat. The loud of poison started to slowly descend to the floor, covering the area around the Castle and expanding slowly. Seemingly expecting the poison to keep Syphus at bay, the Castle focused on Monster Kid. The child started to step back, looking at the cannons that slowly turned to face him. The Castle advanced slowly, its elephant legs making the ground vibrate. “I told you to leave him alone!” Syphus shouted to the Shadow and looked around, looking for a way to get to Monster Kid before the Castle attacked. There was no way to get there in time. ...this is going to hurt Syphus thought, using Obariyon to increase his defense.

Monster Kid ran behind one of the cottages, almost out of breath. He leaned against the wall, hoping he had managed to outrun the Castle enough for it not to notice to which cabin he had gone to. Effectively, he had managed to do that, but that wasn’t going to deter the Castle. A crackling noise sounded right before thunder emerged from the ceiling of Waterfall, hitting one of the cottages and setting it on fire. Monster Kid jumped, startled, and got away from the cottage he was hiding behind of, in case it was the next cabin to be targeted. He moved right before another thunder stroke, obliterating the cottage he had been touched a moment ago. “H-Help!” Monster Kid couldn’t stop himself from shouting, the Castle starting to be seen over the smoldering remains of the cottage.

“Got it!” Syphus shouted right when a large pair of hands grabbed the sides of the Castle, stopping it from continuing waddling towards Monster Kid. The Persona Titan’s size was smaller than the Castle, but it was large enough to stop it. The Shadow, bemused, turned around a few of its cannons and fired at the easy target that was grabbing it, hitting Titan right on the face and chest, but Syphus didn’t lose his concentration. Groaning, Syphus forced himself to not let the Persona vanish even if his health kept depleting with every blow, continuing attracting the Castle’s projectiles. There has to be a way to defeat this thing, but how? Its defenses seemed impenetrable, and approaching to attack was impossible without risking getting hit by the cannonballs or its fire and electric magic. Syphus couldn’t see Monster Kid anymore. Had he run away?

He finally had. Monster Kid reached the stairs that’d take him to the plateau, safe from the Castle’s onslaught. “I should have stayed away from the beginning...” Monster Kid muttered, struggling to regain his breath, and looked back to where Titan was still enduring all the attacks from the Castle. It had changed from using normal cannonballs to continue summoning thunder from the ceiling, and Titan seemed to be faring a bit better, but for how long could that go?

Soon Syphus couldn’t continue taking the constant attacks, even if Titan resisted electricity. The Persona vanished, forcing Syphus to quickly retreat to avoid being seen by the Castle and hopefully have enough time to heal himself before getting back into the fray. The legs are too sturdy, the walls are impenetrable, I can’t get close to the cannons without getting hurt...what’s left? Mentally kicking himself for not bringing a Persona with wind skills that’d have finished the fight in no time, Syphus stayed near the wall, trying to blend with the darkness. The Castle very slowly turned around, looking for the piece and not seeing him. ...it moves rather slowly. If I can take that in my advantage... That could be the key to defeating the Castle.

“Yooooo!” Monster Kid called from the distance “Try to topple it over!” Toppling it over? That...that could work. It was a Castle on a large boulder, standing on two legs. It wasn’t precisely a shining example of balance, but a lot of strength would be needed to topple the Castle. The Shadow, having heard Monster Kid, turned around and started waddling towards where the voice had come from. Syphus hesitantly stepped out of the darkness, eyeing the Castle with attention, a plan forming in his mind. It wasn’t as impossible as it sounded, now he realized it. Picking up a stone from the floor, Syphus took a deep breath, preparing himself for what he was going to do.

The stone impacted on the back of the Shadow, right where its head would be, causing the Castle to stop and haltingly turning around. Syphus didn’t wait for it to finish, though. As soon as the stone hit the Castle, Syphus sprinted forward, running straight towards the Shadow, and jumped right underneath it, between the elephant legs. There wasn’t much space, he was forced to crouch, but the Shadow was too slow for it to stomp on Syphus or anything like that. Seeing it wouldn’t be able to impact Syphus with any attacks while he was hiding underneath it, the Castle retracted its cannons and released another cloud of poison, letting it descend towards the ground. “Let’s get done with this!”

Monster Kid had started to approach back to the village, watching out for any signs he was being attacked again. He wanted to make sure Syphus had heard what he shouted. He got to the village just in time to see Titan emerge from Syphus despite the small space he was at. The large Persona immediately grabbed the Castle’s boulder, lifting it in the air just a bit, but Titan was too large for it to fit underneath the Castle. The poison got to the ground and enveloped Syphus, who held his breath. Titan rose to its full height, the Castle losing its footing and tilting back. “It’s over!” Syphus shouted with joy, using Titan to deliver a physical attack to the top turrets. The turrets cracked, bits of stone fell from the walls before vanishing in swirls of black smoke. The rest of the Castle slammed the ground, making it tremble noticeably, and vanished in a large cloud of smoke that disappeared quickly. The poison vanished immediately, too. Syphus let out a loud sigh of relief and tiredness, flopping on the ground on his back again.

That fight had been way too much of a hassle, and apparently it had been for naught. Ananas was nowhere in the Hidden Village. Monster Kid approached, offering his tail to help Syphus stand up. “Are you okay? You were hit many times!”

“My everything hurts” Syphus murmured without standing up “I don’t get it; Annie was likely to be here! Where else would she be? This is the only place in Waterfall that can be important to her!”

“Maybe she went somewhere else?” Monster Kid sat beside Syphus, looking at the spot where the Castle had been standing not too long ago. There were pieces of stone there, leftovers of the Shadow to be picked up.

“Somewhere else? Where would she have gone?!”

Monster Kid shrugged. “I dunno...to Snowdin?”

“I don’t think she even knows where Snowdin is. She supposedly hasn’t gone far from the village; she shouldn’t know where anything in this place is” Syphus said. Monster Kid laughed sheepishly for a moment, scratching the ground with the claws of one feet.

“I...I told Annie how to get to a few places”

“What?!” Syphus sat up so fast his back creaked. Holding it and hoping the fight with the Castle hadn’t injured him “Where else could she have gone?”

“Uh—to where we play...I also showed her a lake, and the way to Undyne’s house—“

“You told her how to get to Undyne’s house?!” Before Monster Kid could finish saying that he had wanted her to meet Undyne, Syphus had stood up and gone towards the entrance plateau. How didn’t he think it before? He had forgotten one important detail: the Shadow Self. Supposing that Ananas was undergoing to same level of emotional turmoil Frisk had undergone, it was possible Ananas’ Shadow Self had overtaken her. In that case, what’d her Shadow Self do? Prove herself? Fight Cohen? Judging everything Monster Kid had told him...Syphus had the bad feeling Ananas may be trying to assert herself as someone strong enough to defend the human village.

And what better way to assert that than defeating the captain of the Royal Guard? I hope there’s no Shadow equivalent of Undyne here or Ananas may be dead already!

“Hey! Wait for me!” Monster Kid shouted, hurrying to reach Syphus before the piece went in direction of the rest of Waterfall. Syphus took out his halberd, preparing himself for whatever obstacles could be on the way.

“Show me the way to Undyne’s house” Syphus requested “Annie may be there”

“Uh—it’s this way” Monster Kid entered a nearby tunnel “Are you sure she’s there?”

“No. I don’t know. It makes sense, though”

“...I don’t understand”

-ooooo-

More Persistent Fuzz Shadows blocked the way to Undyne’s house, but Syphus didn’t have time to deal with them. At first he had tried to use Ouroboros to get rid of them with Mudo darkness spells, but when it didn’t work he instead resorted to pummeling them with Obariyon. Monster Kid followed quietly, letting Syphus clear the way. Syphus wasn’t in mood to fight Shadows extensively, satisfied with letting his Persona push them away with physical attacks. He was more worried about Ananas and how long she had been inside her own SOUL. Please let her be okay. Please let it not be too late!

“See this small pond? That’s how we know this is the right path” Monster Kid explained, looking at a small elliptical pond in middle of the place they were at “The tunnels over there lead to the snail farm, so Undyne’s house is...over here!” Syphus mumbled a ‘thank you’ and went into the tunnel Monster Kid mentioned. It wasn’t long before he got to the end.

There she was. Ananas was standing near the mouth of the room where Undyne’s house was located at, staring straight at the house and with her gun in her hand, at the ready to shoot.

Chapter Text

Undyne’s house was shaped like the upper half of a fish’s head, furious and intimidating. It was quite fitting for its owner, that was for sure. Monster Kid was the first one to run towards Ananas, dashing forward as soon as he saw her. Syphus tried to stop him, but the child moved too fast for the piece to stop him. “Annie!” Monster Kid shouted with notable relief in his voice, hurrying to get to her “We were looking for you!” she didn’t turn around. Monster Kid laughed nervously for a moment “Come on, we should go”

“...I’ll leave later” she replied.

Syphus reached Monster Kid, grabbing him from the back of his shirt and pulling him back rather forcefully. “Why do you have to do everything without thinking?” he growled at him rather rudely, keeping his eyes on Ananas. What she said sounded worryingly distant, not at all like the warm and boisterous tone she usually had. “Annie? Are you feeling okay?”

“I feel great”

“Please, Annie, we have to leave. Don’t fight Undyne”

“...no. I must fight Undyne. I’ll finally do it” Ananas finally turned around. It was like Syphus feared: the bright yellow eyes Ananas had showed they had arrived quite late. Her Shadow Self had already overtaken her.

“You don’t need to do that—“ Syphus tried to argue, but Ananas raised her gun, aiming at the house.

“I will do it. I must prove to everyone that I’m capable of fighting. I...I must prove to myself that I’m capable of fighting”

“This isn’t going to prove anything. You have to understand that” Wait, why am I trying to argue? It was useless to try to convince her Shadow Self of anything, as far as he knew. Wasn’t it a better idea to find what the Shadow had used to ensnare Ananas? With Frisk it had been the SAVE point, what did Ananas have? The gun, perhaps?

“You can’t do that!” Monster Kid said “You can’t hurt Undyne!”

The way Monster Kid worded what was a real concern – that it’d be useless to attack Undyne – riled up Ananas more. Her visage turned sour, glaring at Monster Kid with no friendliness or care she was talking to who may be the only friend of her age she’d have for a long time.

“What do you know? Who are you to tell me what I’m not capable of?”

“Annie, I—“

“Shut up! I’m tired of everyone telling me I’m not capable of doing something! I can protect everyone I love, and I will! I’ll do it even if no one believes in me!” Ananas turned around, stepping closer to the house “Undyne is a danger. If I defeat her, no monster will be rival for the humans, not even the king!”

Monster Kid had been about to say something else, but Syphus gently stopped him. The piece put a finger on his lips “It’s no use. She won’t listen” he said to the child. Ananas, not paying attention to them, continued raving:

“Once I defeat Undyne everyone will have no option but accept I’m not some defenseless little girl. I’ll—I’ll show everyone---I’ll show myself I have the strength to be the guardian!” Ananas stopped, pulling her cowboy hat over her head, holding it with distress “I’m not scared of anything...I’m not scared of dying, I’m not scared of hurting anyone, I won’t—I can’t let any of that stop me!”

Trying to get close enough to take away Ananas’ gun, Syphus tried to distract her by talking. “...are you scared of getting hurt and dying?” Ananas turned around, the bright golden eyes of her Shadow Self shining furiously.

“I’m not scared! Why’d you think I am scared? You’re scared!” her lie was so transparent Syphus couldn’t avoid feeling pity for Ananas “I’ll prove...I can do it” Ananas got away before Syphus could even try taking the gun, running to Undyne’s house and stopping right in front of the door “Do you hear me, Undyne! I’m here to fight you! Come out and fight me! I’m not scared of anything!”

The moment thin black smoke started emanating from Undyne’s house Syphus realized he had gotten it wrong. What has ensnared Ananas wasn’t the gun, that hadn’t been the form her Shadow Self had at first. It was the house. The door of the house opened, thick tendrils of smoke darting towards Ananas, trapping her. She didn’t make any effort to fight it. Instead the girl ran inside the house, holding the gun high. “Annie!” Syphus shouted ineffectively.

“Why’s she acting like that?” Monster Kid had stayed away while Syphus tried to deal with the girl, but now that she had gone inside he was finally approaching “You have to go get her! If she fights Undyne--”

Suddenly, Undyne’s house started shaking violently as if it was going to rot out of the ground at any moment. Syphus and Monster Kid stepped back, the piece taking out the halberd. This was it, Shadow Ananas was going to take its eldritch form and try to kill them. With some luck it’ll be kind of harmless, like Frisk’s. What were the odds of having to fight another Shadow that didn’t attempt to hurt them directly?

The house didn’t get off the ground, though. Instead it crashed down noisily and violently. The debris covered the place where Undyne’s house had been at. The inside of Undyne’s house was covered in steel. ...Is that supposed to be like that? “Nooo!” Monster Kid shouted, running to the remains of the house to try to dig Ananas out of the debris, but he had barely approached when large wisps of black smoke and red particles burst out of it. Slowly, the debris started to coalesce together. Lumpy shapes rose from the ground, the steel and plastic of the house melding and giving life to Shadow Ananas’ form.

“...kid, make sure to stay back. This isn’t Ananas. She won’t recognize you” Syphus advised, always looking at the rising Shadow. Monster Kid obeyed, very confused and not understanding what happened to Ananas or why Syphus wasn’t trying to unbury her from among the debris, or why the debris was moving in the first place.

Slowly, the debris of Undyne’s house formed a slightly deformed hulking creature with blue scales, clad in a shiny black armor, with long spikes protruding from the shoulders and the knuckles. A mouth like a lamprey’s mouth covered almost the entire face, not leaving any space for any other facial features. The red hair-like fins on the head was braided, looking like Ananas’ braid. In the hands there was a terrifyingly large spear, so large the Shadow needed both hands to hold it, the sharp end of the spear as large as Syphus, and on fire, bathing the room in a sinister red and orange glow. A large SOUL-shaped glass shone on its torso, yellow and bright.

What’s that supposed to be?! Ananas’ fears, the image she had of Undyne -- distorted by her terror -- and her wish to be strong enough to be the guardian of the human village, it all had joined together to form the bizarre mockery of Undyne that stood where the house once was. Whatever. I’ll get Annie out of that thing.

Shadow Ananas, Chariot arcana. No information available

The analysis was rather unhelpful, much to Syphus’ frustration. Shadow Ananas stepped forward, hunching over and focusing on Syphus despite the lack of eyes on its face. “I’ll prove it...I can do it!” Syphus couldn’t stop himself from prudently stepping back, getting ready for whatever the Shadow’s first attack would be. Shadow Ananas took the initiative, raising the humongous spear and trying to impale Syphus against the floor with it. He jumped back, feeling the heat emanating from the head of the spear. The spear sank into the ground as if it was a red hot knife passing through butter. Chunks of rock and earth were thrown upwards with strength, cracks extended up to the edges of the room, but that wasn’t the extent of Shadow Ananas’ attack. A red bright light shone underneath the floor, through the cracks that were visible. What the...?

It was as if something had been turned on underneath the cavern. Starting from where Ananas was standing columns of fire erupted from the cracks, extending rather high in the air, scorching heat filled the room. Alarmed, Syphus changed his Persona to Obariyon and braced for impact, hoping the Persona’s resistance to fire would be enough to withstand the eruption.

Luckily for Syphus, it was enough, but it didn’t mean the attack didn’t hurt. When the fire erupted underneath Syphus he was hit by the brunt of the fire. The column of fire lasted no more than a second or two, but it felt like an eternity to him. The air was so hot he reflexively held his breath, fearing he could scorch his insides if he dared to breathe. Shadow Ananas wasn’t going to stand around and wait for the piece to recover, it wanted to end the fight as brutally and quickly as possible. It jumped forward and swung the spear as if it was a baseball bat, slamming the metallic pole against Syphus’ chest and hurtling him against the wall. Syphus didn’t see it coming, having tried to protect his eyes against the heat. All he knew was that one moment he was bracing for the fire and the next something hit him and now his back had crashed against the wall with a rather nasty noise. Syphus crumpled to the floor, his fingernails scraping against the rocks, and summoned Obariyon. He had to do something! What attacks did Obariyon have that could help?

Nothing more than physical attacks. Trying to gain some time to think of a plan before Shadow Ananas could get close enough to use that spear again, Syphus mentally focused on using Obariyon to punch the foe, hitting it right on the armored chest. It didn’t faze the Shadow at all.

“Watch out!” shouted Monster Kid from some distance away. Syphus used the pole of the halberd to stand up, his legs trembling from the effort. Shadow Ananas raised the spear, intending to nail Syphus against the wall.

Syphus yelled in horror and surprise, raising his hand and trying to use Obariyon to stop the spear from descending. The strange orange imp that was his Persona hung onto the pole, pushing down and managing to deviate the spear away from him. The head of the spear sank just inches away from Syphus, burying deep without trying to use the weapon to call for fire like it had done before.

“Run!” Monster Kid had already hightailed away. Syphus followed him without thinking, just wanting to get away from Shadow Ananas. While the Shadow tried to get the spear unstuck from the ground, Syphus took his halberd, hit the Shadow right above its mouth with the blade, and started running away. “Come back here!” Shadow Ananas roared, furious, while Syphus finally got in the corridor that led back to the small pond Monster Kid had found before.  Behind him, the Shadow pulled out the spear and waved it towards Syphus, a ball of fire appearing in front of the piece and exploding, scorch marks appearing on the rocks of the tunnel. He managed to stop before he ran right into it. Hoping to gain some time, Syphus changed to Ouroboros to use Bufu. If this Shadow was proficient with Agi spells, wouldn’t it be logical for it to be weak to ice? Syphus knew he was placing himself at risk by having active a Persona weak to fire, but he thought this was a good enough risk to take.

It wasn’t as effective as he hoped. The ice crystals covered the Shadow’s armor before pushing through the minuscule weak points in it, and while it did recoil, ice wasn’t a weakness Syphus could exploit. Damn it! Does it have no weaknesses at all?! Running away seemed more and more like a better idea, even though he knew Shadow Ananas was simply going to chase him and Monster Kid.

The child was already on the other side of the pond, jumping up and down to get Syphus’ attention. It wasn’t a bad idea to be here, this room was bigger than where Syphus had been fighting before. Syphus placed himself beside Monster Kid, preparing Obariyon again. I’m going to hate myself for even suggesting this. How desperate am I?! “Kid, I want you to look in nearby rooms for anything that could be of use” while he gave instructions, Obariyon waved a hand, firing thin arrows at Shadow Ananas’ face “If you see a Shadow don’t approach! Don’t risk it!”

“A-Are you sure about this?”

“I’m absolutely unsure about this!” It was a nicer way of saying ‘I don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m doing’. “But we’re running out of options, I—no!” Syphus pushed Monster Kid out of the way before a ball of fire erupted right where the child had been standing a moment ago “Get going!”

Monster Kid looked at Syphus, at the Shadow he was now running at to attack with the halberd while Obariyon hung onto the fins of the foe’s face, and nodded. Syphus was relying on him, he had to help! “Leave it to me!” he shouted back while running towards the first tunnel he found.

He didn’t run for long. Just a few feet away after leaving the run, Monster Kid encountered a small gap, filled with water. The bright blue water was leaking towards the ground as if it threatened to cover it in any moment. “Oh, the gap!” the child looked around, hoping to find the bird that’d carry anyone to the other side, but it was nowhere to be seen. Could that big Undyne-like thing pass over water? Surely it couldn’t, right? “I’ll tell that human!” the child told himself as encouragement. He really didn’t want to return to a place where there was someone waving a spear bigger than he was!

But he had to.

“Come over here!” the child yelled once he could see Syphus. Syphus had jumped on the Shadow and was hanging for dear life from the braid it had, clutching it as if it was a lifeline while Shadow Ananas shook its head, trying to get him away. Obariyon was nowhere to be seen, instead Titan was slashing over and over with its sword the Shadow’s armor, attempting to wear down the foe. Given the spikes on the Shadow’s shoulders, hanging from the braid was far from being a smart decision from Syphus.

“I’ll—whoa!—give me a minute!” Syphus barely managed to shout despite the wild swinging.

It took him a while to be able to let go of the braid. It was kind of a miracle that he hadn’t ended impaled on any of the spikes on the Shadow’s armor. In a moment of danger, Syphus had used Titan to aim to the head, giving it a resounding blow with Titan’s sword. Shadow Ananas roared but was forced to bow down, moment Syphus took to let go of the braid and pick up the halberd he had dropped on the floor. Trying to keep Shadow Ananas busy with Titan’s attacks while he and Monster Kid went towards where the child had said, the two ran until they reached the gap. Titan vanished, too far away from Syphus for the piece to be able to control the Persona, leaving Shadow Ananas free to pursue them again.

“There’s nothing here!” Syphus said, looking around with worried expression. It was just a gap and water; why did Monster Kid call him here?

“She uses fire, right? And fire can be defeated with water, so try to bring her to the water here!”

“...I’ll see what I can do” not that there was much time to think about it, Shadow Ananas’ stomping was coming closer and closer, but how was he going to use water against that Shadow? The piece’s mind was blank, no ideas sprung forth. We’ll have to keep running away! Without warning, Syphus grabbed without warning Monster Kid’s shirt, raised him in the air and ran as fast as he could, trying to jump over the gap. He didn’t get all the way to the other side. Syphus crashed and sank in the water, around three feet away from the other shore. The water got up to his chest, while Monster Kid ended completely submerged for a moment. The child got his head out of the water, gasping for breath “Sorry!” Syphus muttered, immediately getting the child out of the water and onto the shore. While Monster Kid recovered from the unexpected swim, Syphus started climbing to the other side. He just managed to get a knee over the shore when Shadow Ananas found them. “That is a monster...hey! You! Fight me if you can!” it shouted, aiming at the child.

Monster Kid ran away immediately, not looking back when he heard the impact of that large spear against the rocks. Syphus ducked underneath the spear that was sticking out of the wall where Monster Kid had ran by, trying again to think of a plan. He was alone on this. If he had at least a teammate, he would be able to fight back, but since he was alone he had to look for alternate ways to cause damage to the Shadow. But how to do that? “It’s flooded over here!” Syphus heard not too far away, while behind him Shadow Ananas pulled the spear out of the wall.

The place they were at was a relatively long corridor, mostly flooded with water up to his knees. There was a sizable island in middle of the corridor, high enough for it to be completely dry. “Any other Shadows over there?!”

“I don’t think—AAAH!” Monster Kid yelled in surprise, making Syphus hurry more to reach him. One single Merciless Maya had cornered Monster Kid against the wall, preparing to slash at the monster with its sharp fingers. Syphus didn’t waste any time on hitting the Maya with the halberd, obliterating it immediately. Monster Kid looked as if he was about to freak out, but instead of fainting or anything similar, his eyes widened. “Look out!”

It was too late to move. The head of Shadow Ananas’ spear impacted right against Syphus’ back, stabbing him. It was so large it couldn’t even impale Syphus further than a couple centimeters, but that didn’t stop the wound from hurting him a lot. The heat from the spear didn’t help, either. Syphus froze, shuddering and feeling his muscles spasm, barely suppressing the urge to shout in pain. If he showed how hurt he was then Monster Kid would get scared, much more than he already was. “G-Get...get away...kid...” he managed to say. No blood dripped from his back.

“Please be okay! I’ll—I’ll look for help!”

“N-No, it’s...” Syphus was trying very, very hard not to lose control over his pain management and make Monster Kid panic. It was not a minor wound, but it shouldn’t be something a normal Dia healing spell couldn’t fix, right? Shadow Ananas removed the spear off Syphus’ back, making the piece fall back, slamming against the water and sinking under the surface. The cold of the water was like a punch to the wound on his back, keeping him awake enough to realize that he needed to heal himself immediately. Only one of his Personas had healing skills, it was a Persona he hadn’t ever used before – Senri, the ancient mountain cat that could transform into a human. Once Dia was casted on himself, he felt the wound on his back close as if it was never there. The pain didn’t fully go away, but at least he wasn’t in danger of paralyzing himself if he moved. Syphus rolled around in the water, holding his breath, and once he judged Shadow Ananas may have lost sight of where he was, he stood up, receiving a fire spell to the face for his trouble. Syphus instinctively closed his eyes, the fire impacting him right on the face...without causing any damage at all. Wait what? In a moment of realization, Syphus facepalmed.

He hadn’t done the basic task of checking all of his available Personas’ weaknesses and resistances. He hadn’t realized Senri was completely immune to fire. “...I’m so stupid...!” everything would have been easier if he had realized it before! Syphus grabbed his halberd tighter and held it at the ready, noticing Monster Kid had gone to the other end of the corridor. Syphus was getting onto the dry island, chance Shadow Ananas used to plant the spear into the ground and again cause columns of fire to erupt, all of them concentrated in the dry island. Syphus looked down just in time to see fire ascending right beneath him through the cracks on the ground, but he felt nothing. Having Senri as the active Persona had effectively turned him invulnerable to the fire.

It wasn’t going to turn him invulnerable to the spear, though. Seeing that the fire attacks wouldn’t work, Shadow Ananas changed strategies, trying to get the spear out of the ground. Taking advantage of the moment of reprieve, Syphus quickly looked around, ignoring his sore back.

Shadow Ananas was in the water, he was on dry ground and Monster Kid was at the end of the corridor – looking at him with horror and hoping nothing bad would happen, but on dry ground too nonetheless. May as well... Would it work? Syphus changed Personas back to Titan, summoning from the sea of his soul the large gladiator, and focused on the Shadow. “Let’s see if water conducts magical electricity too!” Syphus shouted, raising his arm high like Titan did. From the ceiling of the cavern, many bolts of electricity descended and impacted the water. The group electric attack – Mazio—was indeed able to travel through the water and right onto the Shadow. Shadow Ananas stood still, falling in the water from the strength of the attack, but after a moment it stood up. It had barely advanced when Syphus used Mazio again, stopping it again. Smoke was emanating from Shadow Ananas, and Syphus wasn’t sure if that meant it was greatly damaged or if it was just a consequence of striking something over and over with thunder.

“Yo...did you defeat it?” Monster Kid asked, approaching Syphus. The piece put his hand on Monster Kid’s head, keeping him away from the Shadow.

“I don’t think it’s done yet—“ he had started saying when Shadow Ananas tried to use the spear to stand up, chance Syphus used to strike with Mazio again. The Shadow hobbled before falling forward, the back of the armor clanking and breaking, a gap forming on the steel. Slowly, as if she was waking up from a dream, Ananas stood up from there, moving very slowly “Now it’s over!” Syphus left the halberd on the ground and hurried towards Ananas, followed by Monster Kid “Annie? Annie, are you okay?”

“...Syphus? Where...?” Ananas shook her head, rubbing her eyes “What happened?” Syphus carefully grabbed her to help her get off the hole in the armor, leaving her on dry ground.

“Annie!” Monster Kid tackled Ananas, making her stumble. It wasn’t a hug, but it was the best he could do. Ananas gasped, surprised, but after a moment she grinned excitedly and pushed Monster Kid aside.

“What do you think you’re doing, pardner?” she tussled with him playfully, laughing. Monster Kid wasn’t laughing, though. Instead he pushed Ananas away a bit, looking as if he was about to cry.

“I thought you had fallen down! What happened to you?”

“What happened to...” the girl looked around her, especially at her Shadow lying in the water “Oh...now I remember...”

“Did you see who attacked you?” Syphus asked, picking up his halberd and folding it.

“No. I was grabbed from the back and then I fell asleep. I don’t know who did it” she frowned “But when I find out who did I’ll kick them in the shins!”

“There’ll be time for that later”

After making sure Ananas was unharmed despite everything Syphus did to attack her Shadow, she took off her hat, staring at the creature she had been enveloped by before. “I attacked you guys with that thing...I’m sorry”

“What’s that? Why does it look like Undyne?” Monster Kid asked, trying to approach the armored Shadow.

“...I know what it is” Ananas muttered “I want to be the guardian of the Hidden Village, but I...” she looked away “I’m starting to think I can’t do it”

“What? But you’re strong! You know how to fight, and you—“

“That was play fighting! That doesn’t mean I’ll be okay in a real fight” Ananas crossed her arms “I...please don’t tell anyone this, guys, but I...” Ananas muttered something unintelligible.

“Hm? What did you say?” Syphus asked patiently.

“I’m scared! I want to think I can do it, but I’m scared. What if I’m not strong enough? I’ll die—everyone will die and it’d be my fault! I want to prove that I can do it...but not just to Cohen, or to everyone else. I want to know I can do it”

“But—Annie, you can do it! I believe you can fight!” Monster Kid tried to encourage, but Ananas still didn’t seem convinced. At a loss of what to say, Monster Kid looked at Syphus “Yo, mister, can’t you tell her she can fight?”

“Right, uuuh...” But what can I say? It wasn’t like Syphus was particularly confident about Ananas’ fighting skills. Maybe that approach wasn’t the right one “Annie, you don’t have to be strong right now. You’ll turn stronger with time”

“Yeah! I’ll help you get stronger” Monster Kid offered “You can do it, Annie, you don’t have to give up!”

“...would you really do that...for me?” Ananas asked Monster Kid, who nodded immediately, grinning. After a moment of pause she returned the smile “I’d like that”

“Don’t give up, one day you’ll be as strong as Undyne! I promise you will!”

“As strong as her? Do you think I could do it?”

“Yeah!” the monster child said without any hesitation. Ananas looked at Syphus as if hoping for confirmation. The piece simply shrugged.

“If you believe you can then you can. You have someone who wants to help you, I say you take the chance”

The girl stared into her hat, mulling that. Maybe she wasn’t strong enough yet, but she could grow to be worthy of being who she wanted to be. It was a matter of working hard, right? That’s what everyone would say. Backing off wasn’t an option for her, she’d make sure of it! “I promise I’ll get stronger. I’ll be the best guardian the Hidden Village could hope to have!” she put her hat back on, with confident expression “Thanks, guys...I needed to hear that” Monster Kid was going to reply to that when Shadow Ananas moved. It slowly stood up, gripping the giant spear. Syphus immediately moved to take the halberd out, and Monster Kid stepped back with a cry of fear, but Ananas didn’t recoil. Instead she gripped her gun, taking out and aiming to her Shadow. “It’s okay. I got this. That is what I’ll overcome, you’ll see!”

“What? Annie, I should—“ Syphus tried to convince her to leave this up to him, but the girl shook her head rather emphatically.

“That thing is mine. I’ll start getting strong by defeating it!” Ananas put her finger on the trigger “H-Hey! You! Over here!” The Shadow turned its head towards Ananas, its mouth opening in a roar “You don’t scare me! I’m—I’m not afraid! And even if I’m scared anytime I won’t stop! I believe I won’t!”

And then she fired the gun.

The bullet impacted the Shadow right above its mouth, and Ananas, not having expected the recoil of the gun, stepped backwards. The Shadow slowly tipped forward, slamming the ground with a very loud metallic noise. Ananas stared at it, sweating and clenching her teeth, and took a deep breath, shaking “If I’m not strong enough yet...then I’ll try to be strong in the future. I’m scared but—but that won’t stop me anymore!”

The Shadow, having been given the final blow by the person who had spawned it in the first place, started glowing. Blue particles and lights started flowing out of the Shadow. What’s going on? Syphus, Ananas and Monster Kid could only stare until slowly something rose from the remains of the Shadow, enveloped in that bright blue glow.

It looked like a short human. A very oversized helmet with fins to the sides like Undyne covered its head, a large red plume came out of the top of the head and extended down its back. The strange apparition was dressed with a white flowing dress, gauntlets, shoulder pads and metallic cowboy boots, as well as a red girdle that emanated a subtle glow. On its hands there was a gigantic battle axe, so large it couldn’t be lifted with ease. The apparition looked like a child playing to dress like a warrior, but there was a seriousness in it that made everyone who was observing admire it as if it was a true fighter.

Ananas has taken the decision to break her self-imposed chains and reach her true potential. The strength of her heart has bestowed her the Persona Hippolyta

The Persona vanished. For a moment no one said a thing, staring with awe at where the Persona had been. ...so that’s how it’s done? Of all people Annie got a Persona... Did it mean that in order to obtain a Persona someone not only needed to be attacked and fall down, they also needed to defeat their own Shadow?

“Consarn it, what was that?!” Ananas finally breaking the silence.

“Uuuuh...yo, is that something all humans can do?” Monster Kid asked. Ananas looked at Syphus, putting away her gun.

“Wait, you have something like that too! I remember it” she said to him. Syphus glanced at Monster Kid. Going into a long explanation as to what was that Persona thing wasn’t something Syphus wanted to do right now. Besides, to be completely honest with himself, he wasn’t entirely happy Ananas had obtained a Persona. That meant that if he didn’t want to put his life in excessive risk, he had to take Ananas with him. Things were bound to get more difficult, it was urgent he had a teammate with a Persona, and now that he may have one...he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about it. Damn it, I shouldn’t be feeling like that! I should be grateful! But the thought of getting Ananas into all this...it just didn’t sit well with him. There had to be some other way, right? A way that didn’t involve putting her in danger “Syphus? Why are you staring blankly like that?”

“S-Sorry, I got distracted” Syphus cleared his throat, avoiding to look at Ananas “We should return home”

“Right! The village was this way!” Monster Kid started going towards the part of Waterfall where the Hidden Village was at, but Syphus stopped him, telling him they didn’t have to do that. When Ananas asked what he meant, Syphus pointed at her vest.

“Look in the inside of your vest, on the right side. There should be a brooch there” he instructed while he picked up pieces of the Shadow’s armor. Ananas obeyed, opening her vest and finding the firefly brooch Syphus had placed there to enter her SOUL. “Wait, don’t touch it”

“What’s this?”

“I’ll explain later. Let’s return” Syphus put his hand on Monster Kid’s head, making sure he’d come with them once they returned, and pressed on the brooch. Just like it had happened the other time, the false Waterfall around them distorted and vanished.

-ooooo-

The first thing Syphus heard when he started to wake up was panicked shouting. It took him a moment to realize it was from Ananas. As soon as he realized that, he sat up, looking in direction of the screams. He didn’t even have time to move when Cohen and Graham entered, rushing towards her. “Annie! What’s wrong?” Graham asked, leaving aside the bowl he had brought. Ananas stopped screaming and breathed heavily, gulping and looking around with fear.

“I...where am I?”

“You’re at home. We’re all here, you’re safe” Graham said soothingly. Ananas shuddered once and fell back on the bed, looking at the ceiling.

“That was...I’m sorry. I had a bad dream” she murmured, sounding like she didn’t believe it herself. She looked at Cohen, who was looking at her with worried expression “Oh. Hi”

“How’re you feeling, Annie?” he asked, sounding surprisingly soft.

“I’m okay. Really” she tried to roll and get out of the bed but Graham impeded it, blocking her way.

The old man crossed his arms. “You’re going to stay on that bed for some time. You have been unconscious for a few hours”

Ananas looked like she was about to protest the order to stay on bed, but instead she plopped on the mattress, frowning “Fine. I’m going to rest”

“Um, mister?” Syphus heard someone whispering to his side. It was Monster Kid, apparently he just woke up too. Syphus gestured him to stay silent while the situation developed, unsure of where things would go. Obviously everyone in the village must be aware by now a monster had gotten in. What’d they do?

After making sure Ananas would stay on bed, Graham approached Syphus and Monster Kid. “Want some food?” he asked them. It wasn’t long before he returned with a couple plates of food. Monster Kid started stuffing his face as soon as he received the food, while Syphus stared at it with contemplative expression, not having appetite for the moment.

“Yo, are you going to eat that?” Monster Kid asked with his mouth full. Syphus wordlessly passed him the plate, deciding to talk with Graham for a moment.

“What are we going to do with the kid?”

Graham pointed with his thumb behind him, to where Cohen was sitting outside the cabin. “Cohen called Mom Toriel. She’s going to pick him up”

“The Queen is coming here?!” the child almost stood up, dropping the plates, but he managed to stop himself right in time. Graham nodded, avoiding to look at Syphus.

“Yep! Don’t worry, she’s cool. She may be the Queen but she’s a sweet old lady” he said “But you have to listen to her. She’s going to ask you a favor, and you need to do what she says” It wasn’t much of a stretch to think that Toriel was going to ask for Monster Kid’s silence. It was unlikely she’d explain much about the village and all the humans living there.

Just like Graham said, Toriel arrived to the village. By then Syphus had retired to Cohen’s cottage, saying he felt exhausted and wanted to sleep on his mattress. The Queen entered at a speed that hinted how worried she was, looking around the cabin and going straight to where Ananas was resting. “My child, what happened to you?”

“I, um...I hit my head” Ananas lied, sounding curiously timid. Was it because she was lying or because lying to Toriel’s face wasn’t easy for her? Toriel seemed satisfied with the excuse, after a couple minutes of fussing, she stood up to talk with Monster Kid “Wait!”

“Yes, my child?”

“I found this in my pocket, but it’s not mine. Can you put it somewhere?” she put an object in Toriel’s hand. The Queen observed the object, turning it around in her hand.

It was a child’s shoe, the sole caked with mud.

-ooooo-

The rest of the day was dedicated to damage control, so to speak. Toriel had talked with Monster Kid and convince him to not tell anyone about the Hidden Village. The child was starstruck, talking with the Queen of All Monsters! He accepted every word without question, nodding and looking at her with awe. “Yes! I promise!” he had said many times. Cohen and Byssa had privately asked Toriel if she really believed Monster Kid wouldn’t tell about the village, but the Queen assured them he wasn’t going to say a word.

Ananas stayed in bed for the rest of the day, being unusually cooperative. She let Graham take care of her and bring her food, and although she still refused to see Cohen for more time than necessary, she at least talked to him without growling or trying to get away.

The next day Cohen insisted she continued resting, and that was the end of her good will. Syphus could hear her shouting from outside. ...I’m not going to go inside he vowed, walking away and trying to pretend he didn’t hear Ananas screaming her vocal chords off in frustration. Sometimes that girl could be a bit of a brat, not that he blamed her. For someone as active as Ananas, the perspective of staying in bed for a whole day doing pretty much nothing must have been incredibly frustrating.

Syphus had wanted to talk with Ananas about the Persona, what it all was about and what it entailed, but since Cohen and Graham both stayed inside the cabin taking care of Ananas he never had the chance. May as well find a few details. Fusing some new Personas, making sure he understood what Ananas had done to obtain it, tell Papyrus that it’s unlikely he’ll be able to join Syphus in the future unless something bad happened to him...it was going to be a busy day after working at Grillby’s again.

Grillby turned out to be way more patient than Syphus expected, although the piece had the feeling Grillby still wasn’t entirely happy about hiring him. “This is not an official job” the translator bird had said “Grillby says you can come here to work if you feel like it, don’t force yourself if you don’t want to” It was both a relief and insulting.

The excursion into the Velvet Room after the part-time job was very productive. When Syphus entered, he found out Alphonse wasn’t there. When asked about where Alphonse had gone, Igor indicated Syphus to sit down. “I sent them on an errand” he explained “For today I shall do all the services of the Velvet Room” And he did, he completed the Persona fusions with just as much patience as Alphonse did.

“Someone I know obtained a Persona” Syphus said while trying to get the right skills on the Persona he wanted “She shot her own Shadow Self and it just...it turned into a Persona”

“Ah, yes. Your Chariot Social Link obtained the façade she uses to face life’s hardships”

“How did that happen, what did she do?”

Igor’s eternal grin seemed to widen. In a way it reminded Syphus of Sans. “Shadows are pieces of consciousness and emotions given form, and it could be said a Persona is a tamed Shadow. To obtain a Persona one needs to accept their Shadow Self in some way. Some people find their true potential when they or someone they love is in danger. Others obtain it by accepting their flaws. Others have acquired a Persona by forcing themselves to face painful truths about the world and themselves.

In your friend’s case – and it’ll happen for everyone who will obtain a Persona during your journey – it’ll be by deciding to face the obstacles and worries their Shadow Self represents”

That made some sense. At least it did explain how Ananas delivering the final blow and taking a new resolve had led to obtaining the Persona. “I see...can anyone obtain a Persona?”

“Only those who face their own weaknesses and suffering will obtain a Persona. Whether they’re human or a monster won’t influence anything” Igor extended a hand “Some of your partners will be monsters, others will be humans, and others won’t fit neither category. All that matters is that they face their Shadow Self and win”

Syphus nodded and extended his choice of skills for the Persona he requested for fusion. “And what’d happen if we fail and the Shadow Self, uh...wins?”

Igor prepared the fusion. “Then their Shadow Self will overwhelm them. Their decisions and actions shall be dictated by their Shadow Self. As you may imagine, the consequences from following such unbridled fears and courage has the potential to be...catastrophic

Syphus gulped, trying not to think too much about what Ananas would have done if her Shadow Self had ended overwhelming her.

After getting reminded that the items Sans had given him had a use inside their SOULs and that he should try his best to use the gathered materials to obtain more items – “what’s my life now, a RPG?” the piece had said -- Syphus went to Papyrus’ house to deliver the news regarding obtaining a Persona. When Syphus arrived to the skeleton brothers’ house he found Frisk looking outside with wistful expression. “Hey there, Frisk” Syphus greeted. The child merely glanced at him, acknowledged his presence and went back to look outside. “Is there something wrong?”

“THEY HAVE BEEN STARING OUTSIDE FOR A WHILE ALREADY, AND THEY DID YESTERDAY TOO. WHEN I ASKED IF SOMETHING WAS WRONG THEY SAID THEY WANTED TO CONTINUE THEIR ADVENTURE”

“Oh” So Frisk was growing antsy about having to stay in the house...Syphus immediately went to remind Frisk why they were staying in Snowdin, but it seemed like Frisk wasn’t listening. It was matter of time before Frisk decided they had waited enough. It had just been three days so far, but to them it was as if weeks had passed, they wanted to see their friends, go all the way to the Barrier.

“...yes...” Frisk mumbled without even looking at Syphus. The piece shook his head but decided to trust Frisk on this, hoping the child would understand it was prudent to stay put for the time being.

Explaining to Papyrus that obtaining a Persona was impossible unless he was at some point attacked went much more smoothly than Syphus expected. Papyrus listened and didn’t seem upset that Syphus had pretty much benched him for the time being. “I SEE! DO NOT FRET, FRIEND! EVEN IF I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, AM ATTACKED, I WILL FACE MY FEARS WITHOUT...WITHOUT FEAR!”

“It can’t be that easy—“

“IT IS EASIER IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!”

“Well, yeah, you’re right about that” If there was something Papyrus had a lot of, it was confidence in his own skills and strengths. What kind of Shadow Self could a guy like him have? Syphus couldn’t imagine what it could be “Look, I’m not saying you won’t ever accompany me again, but it’s something that’s out of my hands. It’s better if you’re not attacked, either way”

Papyrus didn’t seem particularly concerned about the possibility of being attacked and forced to endure his own Shadow Self. The skeleton raised a gloved finger, telling Syphus to wait, and lifted something from the floor, leaving it on the table. “UNTIL THE TIME COMES FOR ME TO HELP YOU BY YOUR SIDE, I’LL CHEER FOR YOU FROM THE SIDELINES. HERE IS A GIFT, FROM ME TO YOU!”

“A gift? What’s this?” Syphus took the box Papyrus was passing him. It had a dozen tiny beads, it seemed to be medicine. A price tag in the corner showed an exorbitant number that made Syphus dizzy just from thinking for how long he’d need to work to be able to buy something like this.

“I BOUGHT IT FROM METTATON’S SHOPPING SHOW. HE SAID THESE BEADS ARE REVITALIZING! I THOUGHT IT’D BE USEFUL FOR YOU”

Syphus stared at the box, feeling a strange mixture of gratitude and concern. Did Papyrus have enough gold to throw around like this? “Papyrus, I’ll pay you for this. I can’t take something so expensive just like that”

“PLEASE DON’T! IT’S A GIFT”

You have obtained twelve Revival Beads

After failing to convince Papyrus to let him pay with the little money he had, Syphus told Papyrus he had left more debris and stuff from the Shadows right there by the entrance, and left. His feathers were flat against his scales, he was hunched over and deep in his thoughts. Papyrus would do anything to be of help, that much was for sure. If he does get a Persona I’ll take him with me...at least he knows about humans already. That should be one problem less.

-ooooo-

Toriel, having finished cleaning the shoe Ananas had given her, entered the extra room in her house. The shoe looked familiar...didn’t she have shoes like that one in the closet of that room? The Queen opened the closet and looked among the shoes. Indeed, there was the matching shoe.

How did Ananas find a shoe that was supposed to be at the Ruins?

-ooooo-

The seventh day started. Given what Grillby had said about not needing to go to the job every day, Syphus decided to try to talk with Ananas about the Persona. Ananas, fully rested and looking more energetic than two days ago. When she came out of the Hidden Village, dressed with her wild west clothing, Syphus waved at her, he had the illusion on. Ananas didn’t seem happy when she saw the reptile that had been too close to finding the village – as far as she knew – but unlike the other times she didn’t try to aim the gun at him. “...good morning” Ananas said, managing to repress the trembling in her voice.

“Annie, don’t say a word of this to anyone” Syphus said before deactivating the firefly brooch, showing himself as a human. Ananas stepped back, surprised.

“That was you? Oh—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to aim the gun at you before” Ananas rubbed her eyes “How did you do that?!”

“Magic” That seemed to be enough explanation for Annie. How many times did she receive that explanation before about other things?

“Can I get a monster costume too?”

“No, but I have something for you that’s good enough” Syphus showed the cloak he still had from when Toriel had taken him to the Hidden Village and helped her to put it on “We’re going somewhere to talk about Personas” he said before walking away. Ananas hurried to reach him, clutching the cloak and its hood in an attempt to not to show her face at all.

“W-Wait! Where are we going?! I don’t think we should go too far away”

“Don’t you want to see more than just a few tunnels in Waterfall?” Syphus turned his head around, smiling at her before activating his illusion again “You’ll be safe as long as you’re with me”

Ananas’ eyes widened a bit. “Really? We can...see other places?” her voice sounded very hopeful, as if Syphus had just offered her something impossible yet wanted for quite a long time.

“Did you know that there are places where you can talk and people are so focused on their own lives they don’t pay any attention to you? If we go there, we can talk and be sure no one will listen to what we say. If we did it in any random cave there’s always the risk a passerby would be around and listen, so—“

“Wait, I don’t get it. Where did you say we’re going?” the temperature was getting higher, until Ananas wished she wasn’t wearing that heavy cloak and hood. Syphus grinned, feeling curiously giddy.

“You’ll see. Welcome to Hotland!” It wasn’t long before they got to their destination: a large building, luxuriously decorated and with a large fountain in the lobby. Ananas looked around, enjoying the sight. This was nothing at all like she thought other parts of the Underground looked like! It was welcoming yet daunting, but there was a tingle of excitement in the air that felt invigorating and made her want to return at some point. Syphus led Ananas to a pair of large glass doors visible from the lobby, opening them for her “Here we go!”

“What’s this place?”

“A fast food restaurant” Syphus did jazz hands as if he had just announced something of impressive proportions. Ananas’ initial excitement faded in record time, her formerly natural grin turning a bit strained. The inside of the MTT-Brand Burger Emporium didn’t look bad at all, but it wasn’t really the marvel Ananas had expected.

“I’m not sure this is a good place to talk about our plans, Syphus”

The MTT-Brand Burger Emporium had a few monsters sitting at the tables, but it was unlikely anyone would pay much attention to them. It was true a couple monsters glanced at Ananas, but none of them seemed to notice she was actually human. Feeling a bit calmer, Ananas sat onto an empty table, drumming her fingers in anticipation. “I have never been here at one of these restaurants before!”

“I’ll try to see if I can buy you something later, but for now we need to talk” Syphus sat on the other side of the table, looked around and lowered his voice. “Let’s go straight to the point. Annie, I’m going to be honest: this isn’t going to be fun and games”

“I know...I remember the things that filled that place” she whispered back.

“You may have gained a Persona but that doesn’t mean you’d be safe”

“I have a gun and five bullets left” her hand went to the holster on her hip. Syphus nodded, mentally praying Ananas had the common sense not to draw it out in middle of the restaurant. Thankfully, Ananas kept it hidden.

“We can’t rely only on your revolver or on my halberd. Personas would be our best bet” he proceeded to explain that a Persona was ‘like an extension of you, not a sentient creature you control’. The girl listened with attention, unsure if she understood everything, but she was sure she got the gist of it all.

Ananas tipped her hat forward. “Personas are so cool...I don’t understand them, but it looks like it could be magic! I can’t believe I’ll be doing magic!” her voice gained volume near the end, her excitement overcoming her prudence. Syphus gestured her to keep her voice down.

“Look, this is dangerous, and I don’t feel completely comfortable taking a kid with me into this mess, so I need you to promise me—“

The girl didn’t let him finish his thought, she glared at Syphus from underneath her hat. “You’re saving people”

“That’s true—“

“Then I want to help. I want to be a hero too! I want to help humans and monsters” she said eagerly.

“Again, you need to think this through—“

“This is my chance to get stronger! We’ll go together, fight against evil, and then--”

“Can you stop interrupting me?!” Syphus’s reptilian irises narrowed for a moment “It’s not a matter of strength. You have to understand this is dangerous!” Syphus said. The girl stared at the table, gripping the edge with trepidation. After a moment of silence, Syphus sighed and stood up. “Look, I’m not rejecting your help. I just want you to think this through”

“ Yeah, you said that already” Ananas was silent for a moment before nodding slowly “...I...I want to help...”

“You don’t have to accept right in this moment. Here, I’ll get you something to eat while you think” It would be a harsh blow to Syphus’ finances, but he felt bad breaking Ananas’ panache like he did. It was true Ananas was just a little girl, but even at this age Syphus could see the determination and will to protect other people he remembered from Ananas in his timeline. She was always like this...some things never change no matter what. It was rather comforting, although Syphus wouldn’t admit that to anyone. Syphus approached the counter of the Burger Emporium, looking for gold in his pockets.

The orange cat-like monster behind the counter seemed bored to death, leaning his head against his fist and staring at the ceiling as if he was daydreaming. The way his eyes were glazed over and he looked about to fall asleep showed he was just...doing absolutely nothing. When Syphus approached, the monster subtly sighed and straightened up and showed a smile that proved he had a lot of practice in retail hell. “Welcome to MTT-Brand Burger Emporium, home of the Glamburger. Sparkle up your day – trademark registered”

“Glamburger? What’s that?”

The worker’s smile got tighter, between his teeth he mumbled something like ‘Is this guy for real? What kind of question is that?’, then took a deep breath and talked louder. “It’s our specialty, and its price is affordable. Please buy one. Please

Okay, maybe he didn’t have as much practice as Syphus had supposed. Scowling at the price that meant he was going to have no more than 5 Gold in total left, Syphus caved and bought the Glamburger. The worker’s grin turned nightmarishly wide, practically shouting a thank you for buying it. Weirded out, Syphus hurried to run to the table, sitting in front of Ananas and passing the Glamburger to her. She didn’t take it, though, instead Ananas raised her head and looked at Syphus to the eyes. “I know what I’ll do”

“Oh?”

“I will help you” Ananas said, determination sparkling in her eyes “I know it’ll be dangerous, but I can help you with my Persona. We’ll save everyone who goes through the same I did! And I don’t mean just our friends from the village, we’ll help monsters too. That’s something I want to take part of, I want to protect everyone! Let me help you!”

The way her determination and will to help showed in her eyes...it’ be a monumental task to convince her not to get involved. That was why, after a moment, Syphus sighed and nodded. “Good. You’re in the team. For now it’s just you and me, but with some luck there’ll be more people later, we’ll need a lot of people to reach our big objective”

“If we’re going to be a team we’re going to need a name!” Ananas practically started vibrating with excitement, before going ‘hmmm’ “Wait, what’s the big objective?”

Syphus smirked and made a dramatic pause, acting enigmatically. “Why, the plan is to shatter the Barrier and free everyone” he said, watching for Ananas’ reaction.

He wasn’t disappointed. Ananas’s eyes went wide open, and she let out a ‘woooow’, practically exuding admiration “We’re going to shatter the Barrier? That’s awesome! How are we going to do it?”

“That’s...a plan in progress” Syphus said, remembering he still needed to give Alphys the pieces of Shadow Ananas’ armor “But it’ll involve a lot of fighting against Shadows, that’s for sure”

“Ah...great” Ananas nodded “We still need a name for the team. How about--?”

“Nothing western-related would be nice”

“Aw, you’re a jerk! I haven’t been able to play sheriff for real since I fell down here” Ananas pouted for a second “How about ‘Barrier Breakers’?”

Barrier Breakers? Well that was an on-the-nose name, and it had a bit of an infantile sound to it, but did the name of the team really matter that much?  “Sure, why not?”

“Nice! That’s it, we formed our team! Yeah!” Ananas stood up, accidentally hitting the table and attracting everyone’s attention. The girl raised her arms to the air and shouted: “Barrier Breakers!” The restaurant, having gone silent, stared at her, and Syphus laughed awkwardly while trying to get Ananas to sit down again. Getting everyone’s attention like this was a tad unsettling, he was glad he had given her the cloak. Welcome to the club, Annie. Have fun.

Suddenly, Syphus felt a familiar warmth in his chest.

Ananas has officially joined you!

Judgement?! The arcana obtained was rather intimidating and sounded rather important, and it seemed to be directly linked to the team, instead to a specific person. How was he supposed to make the Social Link grow, then? Before Syphus could continue considering that, everything around him started moving again, as if nothing had happened. Syphus looked around with confusion, caught off-guard by the Social Link, but after noticing Ananas was staring at him as if she was about to ask if there was something wrong, he made sure to hide how puzzled he felt. “Be subtle, Annie, and remember: we need to be careful. Don’t go around shouting what we’ll try to do”

“I promise I won’t” Ananas nodded with excitement, holding back some laughter. She thought she understood the situation, and although she did feel a bit unsettled by the whole SOUL exploring and the weird Shadows things, she refused to show any apprehension. The guardian of the human village can’t show fear. The guardian must be brave, and fight no matter what. That’s how she thought it worked.

Syphus was feeling more nervous about having to take care of a child during this adventure, though. His track record in dealing with children in middle of journeys was...not very good. I really, really hope she won’t die... Ananas took the burger, staring at it with curiosity. “Hey, Syphus, what is the meat made of?”

That was actually a rather good question! And it was one Syphus had no idea how to answer. The piece shrugged. “Who knows...maybe it’s snails?”

“Snails?!” Ananas dropped the burger as if it was piping hot, with expression of disgust. Syphus, not wanting to see his gold wasted, smiled soothingly.

“It was a joke. I’m sure it’s nothing bad. Come on, try it”

“But I don’t think there are...” she looked around, as if she was making sure there were none of those in the restaurant “...cows down here”

“Someday I’ll ask, but for now just eat your Glamburger, okay?” he said. Ananas, looking like she would like nothing less than give the Glamburger to someone else, sighed and grabbed it, sequins sticking to her fingers. She bit into it, tasting the flavor with attention.

It wasn’t as bad as she thought it’d be.

-ooooo-

Hippolyta had fire magic and physical attacks, was resistant to fire and was weak to electricity. It didn’t sound bad, Syphus could provide the magic and healing Hippolyta lacked, he could work with that.

Not that Ananas cared very much about that. On the way back to the village she had started to try to summon her Persona even though Syphus told her it was impossible. She didn’t stop, trying different poses and shouting ‘Persona!’ and ‘Come to me, Hippolyta!’. “Why doesn’t it work?” she asked after the eleventh try.

“I told you, it can only be done while inside a SOUL. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know”

“Oh. By the way, I want to learn to fight for real. I think I can do the very basic moves already” Even though Syphus warned her trying to fight a Shadow with punches wasn’t going to end well, she insisted until Syphus caved. “Alright, I guess there’s no harm in you having some fighting skills. Do you want to fight me?”

“Yes! You know how to fight?”

“I think I can defend myself” How hard could it be to defend oneself against a small eight-year-old girl like Ananas? It was more difficult than Syphus expected, that was for sure. As soon as Syphus said that, Ananas took off the cloak and hood, throwing them aside, and jumped on him, trying to tackle him. Syphus tried to stop her, holding his hands forward to catch her, but she acted quickly, grabbing his palms and pushing back. She had a surprising amount of strength for someone of her age, managing to make him step back. Ananas didn’t pay attention to how his claws phased through her fists, focused on trying to push him towards the wall.

Letting her do that wasn’t an option. Syphus, in a change of strategy, managed to lift her off the floor, surprising her. “W-Woah!” she yelled, flailing her legs and trying to touch the ground again. Syphus lightly threw her back, letting her fall to the floor. Ananas hit the rocks with her backside, but soon was back up on her feet and charging towards him. He prepared to repeat what he had just done, but an intelligent fighter didn’t do the same thing over and over in quick succession, like Ananas was going to prove now. Instead of grappling his hands, she ducked and tackled Syphus’ legs, making him lose his balance. “Gotcha!” she shouted, victorious, when Syphus fell to the floor, and got on his back, pushing down with her knees.

But despite her strength, she was just a little girl. Syphus stood up, forcing Ananas to cling to him from his neck, and tried to shake her off. Ananas held on as strongly as she could, grabbing the neck of his track jacket and resisting every movement he did. “You can’t hold me down!” Syphus claimed, trying to grab her from his back, but she had expected that. To avoid getting caught she pressed herself against him, using her weight to force him to keep moving forward. Syphus stumbled across a few tunnels in Waterfall, not noticing they were starting to walk away from the safe areas without cameras Ananas and Monster Kid played at.

 “Take this!” Ananas was shouting, hitting Syphus’ head with her fist over and over. It was more annoying than painful, but it was enough to make Syphus raise his hands in defeat.

“Fine! I surrender. You win”

“See?” Ananas let go of Syphus’ back, jumping to the floor and smiling widely “I can fight”

“It’d be better if you used a Persona. I don’t think a Shadow would let you hang from their necks like that. Some of them don’t even have necks

Ananas had been about to reply to that when they heard steps coming in their direction. Realizing she had stepped out of the safe areas, she yelped and hurried in direction of the Village while Syphus was too surprised to move. When Monster Kid appeared from around the corner, Syphus relaxed, hunching over in such a way it was amazing his monster illusion’s head didn’t hit the ground. “Oh, it’s you”

“Yo! Where’s Annie?”

“She is...“ ...where did she go? “I think she just ran away towards the Village”

“Okay! I’ll find her” he didn’t even step more than ten feet away when Ananas tackled him, yelling like a madwoman.

Their play fighting lasted around fifteen minutes until Monster Kid finally managed to get Ananas off him, and by then the two were too tired to go somewhere else. The three sat on rocks, Ananas wearing the cloak again. Monster Kid was briefed about Syphus the monster and Syphus the human being the same person – “Oh, uh, I already kind of...knew that? You have the same clothes, dude”. Ananas avoided saying she hadn’t deduced it. She put her hands on her knees and tried to change topic.

“Hey! If what happened to me ever happens to you Syphus and I will rescue you, okay?”

“You think I’ll be attacked too?” Monster Kid looked around as if he expected someone to try to knock him out right now.

“It could happen--” Syphus tried to talk but Ananas drowned out what he attempted to say.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll protect you if it happens, okay? That’s what friends are for”

Monster Kid stared at her for a moment before a grin spread on his face. “Shucks, I...thanks. Hey! I brought something for you! It’s—“ he looked to the floor at his side, finding nothing “Uh—I think I left it somewhere on the way here” he apologized and left, intending to look for whatever he had intended to bring with him. While he was away, Ananas went silent, her hat obscuring her face, until she finally spoke.

“I’m happy he’s my friend. I don’t know what I’d have done if I hadn’t ever met him...did he tell you how we met?”

“He told me a few things, but not that” Syphus said “Want to talk about that?”

“Yesterday I was thinking about that day. It had been a month since I fell, and I was so bored...” she took out her gun, opening and closing the bullet chamber “Everyone had told me what’d happen to any human who went outside, that we’d be killed...so I had decided to do something about it.

I was going to fight the King”

“You what?!” Syphus shouted before realizing what he was doing. The pupils in his reptilian eyes had narrowed so much they were almost invisible against the yellow irises “What were you thinking?!”

Ananas didn’t look up, focused on her gun. “I know, I know. That was bad, but that day I just...I thought it needed to be done, the King needed to be punished. I wanted to go home...so I sneaked out of the village. I got lost – Waterfall is so big, I only got to that place where MK and I play. That’s where he found me”

-ooooo-

Monster Kid had never seen a monster like the one that was standing there. Was that a boy or a girl? How old were they? They weren’t wearing the striped clothing kids used to wear, but they were so short. “Hello?”

“Who’s there?!” the unknown monster turned around, gritting their teeth – her teeth. She seemed to be a girl. She stepped back, looking at him with distrust “What do you want?”

“Yo! Are you a kid too? Where is your striped shirt?”

“My what?” she tilted her head, her hand went to her hip. There was something attached there but he couldn’t distinguish what was in that holster “Forget it. Take me to the King’s castle”

“Why do you want to go there?”

“Shut up and take me to the castle! You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you” she was sweating heavily; Monster Kid was sure she had started to tremble “I have a gun!”

“A gun?” That just couldn’t be true. Why was she so upset, anyways? Unsure if he had said something wrong, Monster Kid stepped a bit closer “Hey, why do you want to go to the castle? That’s very far from here!”

“Very far? How far is it?”

“It’s on the other side of Hotland. You never seen Hotland? It’s like this big place full of lava, I’m not allowed to go there”

“L-Lava...?” did she get paler?

“Yeah! It fills the whole place, bubbling and bright red, and it’s so hot, too. It’d be amazing if you got through without getting lost”

“I...I see...” the girl pulled the brim of her cowboy hat down, hiding her eyes. For a moment they stood there, waiting for the other to say something, until Monster Kid tried to get her to talk more.

“What’s your name?”

That got the girl to look at him. After a pause she scratched her head, hesitant. “I’m the Sheriff around here, pardner, the arm of the law”

-ooooo-

“You sure know a lot about what Monster Kid felt and thought that day” Syphus commented.

Ananas smiled, a bit red. “Sometimes he and I talk about that” she stopped smiling “I had wanted to fight the King because I thought he deserved it, for wanting to kill humans...and I had thought that all monsters would be the same. Well, almost all, besides Toriel.  And you know what? After playing with MK for some time I started thinking that, you know...it’s not everyone’s fault that the King wants to kill humans” she lowered her voice, sounding pensive “I was blaming all monsters, but then that’d mean MK wanted humans dead too, and I don’t think he does. I was being unfair towards monsters. I don’t know what happened in that whole war thing Toriel once told me about, but that’s nothing these monsters did. And also, I think...

Ananas has confided in you

The Ananas Social Link has reached Rank 5!

Your power to create Personas of the Chariot Arcana has grown!

Syphus leaned against the wall, thinking. What’d have happened if Ananas had continued her way? She wasn’t mistaken, it was likely she’d have been caught by some other monster. That’s what had happened countless times in thousands of timelines, she always got caught while trying to go through Waterfall. “You should tell him that he saved you. I think he’d like to hear that” Ananas shook her head immediately.

“No. He’s nice, but I think he’d laugh at me if I said that” Kids, thinking the other is going to laugh when being honest to each other...what’s up with that? “Don’t tell him what I told you”

“I won’t, but I think you’re being kind of silly. He’s going to understand”

Ananas flicked the brim of her hat upwards. She could hear Monster Kid coming back. She turned her head, whispering. “When we break the Barrier and everyone is free I’ll tell him. I promise”

“I’m going to make you keep that promise, Sheriff! Don’t think I won’t” Syphus extended his pinky, intending to seal the promise. Ananas stared at it for a moment, unsure if she should, but she hooked her pinky, smiling.

It was a promise to be fulfilled no matter what.

-ooooo-

Alphys almost couldn’t believe what she had seen. There was another human child in the Underground.

She had been repairing a smashed camera from Waterfall when the feed showed a human girl pummeling a monster. “Syphus?” she gasped, aghast. He was being attacked by a human! And...well he wasn’t dead, but he was clearly losing the fight. Alphys rewinded the video feed, watching the short fight again until the moment both Syphus and the human girl got into a part of Waterfall there wasn’t a camera at. The new human’s fighting didn’t end there, though. Alphys saw glimpses of the human girl trying to hold a monster child against the ground, the child barely managed to get her off them, before the two got away from the camera again.

Had something happened to Syphus? Could that human have killed him? Alphys watched feeds throughout Waterfall and Snowdin, but Syphus didn’t appear anywhere. With trembling claws, Alphys grabbed her cellphone and looked for a number before changing her mind, dropping the cellphone on the table. It took her another two tries to gather enough courage to call Sans. “Sans i-i-it’s Alphys”

“sup. you got the dvd back?”

“F-Forget the DVD! Uh, for the record, yes, I received it, b-but that’s not important right now!” Alphys asked Sans to get in contact with Syphus. If there was someone who could do that it was Sans, wasn’t he? Syphus had said the skeleton was their mutual friend. If something had happened to Syphus, Sans would find out. They both lived in Snowdin – right? – he was bound to know!

After a pause that only had the sounds of Sans’ phalanges against the cellphone, he talked again. “you sure you saw another human?”

“Completely sure! I mean, I had seen s-someone with cowboy clothes wandering around Waterfall b-before, but that hat was in the way – I didn’t think that was a human...b-but now I saw her!” Alphys switched the feed of the cameras, looking for Syphus “I think she may have killed S-Syphus!” Alphys had already planned to keep Sans informed if the human child with the striped sweater killed any monsters – Sans needed information for his judgment if the need arose, after all – but the unexpected human going rogue made chills go down her spine.

What to do, though? Should she tell Undyne? There were two humans in the Underground. No, wait, if Syphus was okay then she shouldn’t tell Undyne...she’d look for the human girl. If she had done nothing wrong then...agh, what to do?

For the moment Alphys decided not to tell Undyne.

-ooooo-

In Snowdin, Sans listened, nodding every few seconds even though Alphys couldn’t see it. “got it. keep me informed” he said before hanging. He sighed, shaking his head. “really now” Sans let the phone fall on the couch, and he sank more in the pillows, not making any effort to do something about the other human or about contacting Syphus. He just...would let things follow their course and not interfere.

Frisk was sitting nearby, reading the quantum physics/joke books. They looked up from it inquisitively, what was that call? Sans simply waved his hand dispiritedly “relax, kiddo. t’was nothing”

CHECK IN ZERO MOVES

CHECKMATE IN TWO MOVES

 

Chapter Text

Alphonse stared at the map Cornio had given him. The witch had arrived, intending to do what Lucia had done not too long ago: give Alphonse a puzzle to solve. Cornio looked rather out of place in the Velvet Room – with his tattered clothes and his unkempt mane of hair – but Alphonse didn’t mind. Igor didn’t make any comments, either, all he did was stare at Cornio with interest.

Cornio was grinning like a child with a secret, barely withholding his excitement while Alphonse looked at the map. He looked like he was about to start bouncing on his seat. “So? Any ideas yet?”

“Uh...so the camera can watch from end to end of the hall, I get that. Okay, the attacker blocked the view of the camera before attacking Ananas”

Cornio sputtered rather ungraciously, holding his hands in front of his face with glee. “No. The camera’s view wasn’t hindered at any point!

“Then it was turned off! All the attacker would have to do is turn it off and they’d be able to do whatever they wanted in that corridor”

Only Alphys can turn off a camera

“Then Alphys may have been an accomplice”

That theory made Cornio be far less amused. His grin disappeared, although he didn’t lose the playful mood, it was much more subdued now. “...no. There were no accomplices. And Alphys wouldn’t do that”

Alphonse took off their repairman cap and scratched their head, puzzled. “I don’t get it...how can Ananas have been attacked without the camera seeing anyone except her?”

“I told you the attacker grabbed her with their own hands and made her fall down”

“I know! That’s why I don’t understand how they got away without the camera catching them”

Cornio smiled. “Magic?”

“Aw, don’t say that again! That can’t be the default answer for everything”

“Monster and witches can explain everything with ‘magic’” Cornio seemed to be much more at ease with Alphonse than while playing the game with Lucia and Syphus. He was smiling more often, and sounded more carefree. He sank in his seat, relaxing “All witches say everything is done through magic, but there’s always a solution, trust me!”

“Do you mean it?”

“There’s always an explanation that doesn’t involve magic! It’s a cruel game, but it’s supposed to be fair

Alphonse rolled up the map. “I don’t get it...the first case was easier than this one. I can’t solve it” But there had to be a way for the attacker to have done it, he knew it. All the clues were there. The camera, the kids’ shoe, the print in the mud...” the attendant put his cap back on, thinking, until they finally managed to notice a possible way to get to an answer. “Cornio, say this: the culprit was wearing the shoe” Maybe this way they could narrow down who the attacker was! Cornio noticed too what Alphonse was trying to do, he shook his head.

“I refuse”

“What? Why?”

“I have a reason to refuse. I’m sorry”

Well that was a dead end.

-ooooo-

It had been a week since the game started and progress had been made. Two materials charged with magic had been gathered already, ten more were needed. By a rate of two per week that’d mean the Barrier would be broken after just a month and half. That wasn’t too bad of a timeframe! Not as quick as some would have hoped, but it was better than having to spend a year working on this. I really hope I didn’t just jinx it.

Life was going to be deceptively simple until the next time someone was attacked. Until it happened again, he had to live a normal life, as if he was one monster more and not a witch’s piece who fights with a personification of his psyche. It wasn’t going to be that difficult. Having a part-time job, having to return to the village every night...it was certainly ‘normal’, in some ways.

It didn’t mean he had forgotten he was supposed to get stronger until it was time for another trip into somebody’s SOUL. The Social Links weren’t going to rank up by themselves, and there were many that hadn’t been started yet. Where could they be? Which ones could he improve?

Two days after the Barrier Breakers team was established, he decided to visit the MTT burger parlor before going to Snowdin to work. He didn’t intend to buy anything, but that worker...could it be that he could be a Social Link? It was worth a try. Just a few minutes after the MTT-Brand Burger Emporium opened, Syphus strolled inside, going straight towards the counter.

Just like last time, the worker had been staring into space until Syphus approached, even though it had been just minutes since the place opened. The worker gave his fakest grin and recited the usual welcome spiel. What did that reptile want now, he wondered? Once he was done, Syphus leaned on the counter. “So, I was wondering something...do you know--?”

“I’m sorry, mister” the worker’s smile didn’t falter, but he sounded anything but apologetic “It’s against company policy to talk with customers who haven’t bought anything”

“...oh” Syphus looked at the menu and asked for the cheapest product he could see, which was still rather expensive. Did I just buy a milkshake full of glitter? After receiving the Starfait he left it aside, he didn’t come here for a Starfait. “So, what’s cooking?”

The worker’s eyes darted around, clearly uncomfortable. Uh. Syphus was starting to regret coming here to shoot the breeze. “Would you like to buy anything else, mister?”

“...no, I just wanted to talk”

The smile strained a lot, he started shaking slightly. “It’s against company policy to talk with the customers”

This was quickly going nowhere. Syphus sighed, unless he salvaged this conversation, this could only end in disaster. “Want to hang out after you’re done with your job?”

Why?” the worker abandoned all pretense of mild professionalism and showed how annoyed he was. “I don’t even know you!”

“Oh, my bad. My name is Syphus. What’s your name?” I should have thought this through before coming here. Syphus wasn’t the only one wishing for someone to save them from this awkward conversation, judging by the worker’s twitching.

“Do you have a question or anything, mister?” he said, his voice shaking. Syphus had been about to reply he had nothing to say, when he remembered a certain thing Ananas and he had been wondering for a while already.

“Now that you mention it, yeah, I do!” Syphus gestured towards a Glamburger “What are those made of?”

The worker didn’t like it. The smile didn’t break away, but his eye twitched before he replied to such asinine question, his voice dripping hostility. “What do you think?”

“...nevermind” that was it, better to go away before Syphus begged for the earth to swallow him. He had been about to step away when another customer approached the counter, looking at the menu.

“I’d like a Glamburger, Burgerpants”

Syphus looked at Burgerpants, who quickly gave the client the requested food item. Once the customer had gone away, Burgerpants noticed Syphus glancing at him. ‘Why haven’t you gone away yet’ he muttered before saying aloud: “It’s a nickname, not my name”

“Believe it or not, I didn’t think for a second that was your name” there was a very tense silence for a moment “It doesn’t seem you’re fond of the nickname”

Somehow, the answer was apparently unexpected to Burgerpants. Perhaps he expected Syphus  to start calling him that? He froze for a moment, unsure of how to reply, before shrugging. “It doesn’t really bother me, it’s just a bit. You know. Annoying. But that’s what everyone calls me”

“Mind if I call you ‘BP’? It isn’t as bad as ‘Burgerpants”

Burgerpants shrugged. He didn’t really care about that. This insufferable monster would get out and hopefully never return, and for that to happen Burgerpants was almost willing to let Syphus call him whatever he wanted. “That’s fine”

There! Progress. May as well get moving, leave before Syphus said anything that’d ruin everything. “I’ll come back some other time, BP. Sorry for bothering you”

The relief of being freed from this badly done social interaction flooded Burgerpants. “I, uh, I’m sorry for being rude. I didn’t want to be reprimanded” the worker blurted before realizing what he had said. Mentally berating himself for what sounded way more welcoming than he actually felt, he sighed and resigned himself to being hassled by a customer “It is against company policy to talk with the customers”

“You’re really patient, you know. I’d have snapped already if I were you!”

“Talking to you was better than. You know. Staring at the ceiling” Burgerpants moved around awkwardly “But I think you should leave”

“Fine” The situation was barely salvaged, it could all have gone much better. Before he could step away he did feel the familiar warmth of a Social Link being established. Yes!

Burgerpants has begrudgingly accepted your presence.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Burgerpants.

Mission accomplished. Syphus hadn’t been sure if Burgerpants was a good option for a Social Link, but now that it had been achieved it wasn’t like he had any other option than nurturing that Social Link the best he could. He wasn’t sure how, and Burgerpants wasn’t exactly the most amicable person to ever exist, but Syphus was willing to try.

“See you someday, BP” It was possible Syphus wasn’t going to return tomorrow, or the day after that, so maybe it was for the better to leave it vague and come by surprise whenever it was time. Burgerpants nodded and didn’t bother to look at Syphus, instead falling once again in the same usual boredom. Well, that was almost a trainwreck, but beggars can’t be choosers Syphus thought, exiting the restaurant.

-ooooo-

Despite how many times Syphus had worked at Grillby’s, the Royal Guard dogs didn’t get any calmer. All of them still were very wary of him, looking at him while he cleaned around. “It’s odd. Usually they don’t fear anyone” the red bird had commented.

“I hadn’t even talked to them before working here!”

“Relax. Surely it’s a misunderstanding” the bird took his glass, drinking it in one gulp “You smell like a human? That’d explain it”

Syphus stopped scrubbing a particularly tough stain, glad he was facing the floor or the bird would have seen the uncomfortable expression of his face. “How exactly would that explain it?”

“The dogs once said there has been this weird smell around town since a year ago”

“...I wasn’t around here a year ago. It’s not me” And no way it was Frisk. It was more likely it was Ciruel, going around with his fake antlers and his makeup. It had been a relief that Snowdin and the Royal Guard stationed there were rather accepting of Frisk, but Syphus really doubted they’d appreciate the presence of a second human, especially an adult.

As if they had been waiting right for that moment to move, all the dogs suddenly raised their snouts, sniffing the air. Two of them – Lesser Dog and Dogamy – went to the door, sticking their noses outside and looking in direction of the skeletons’ house. After a few seconds Dogamy exhaled, shaking his head.

“...the child again” Syphus heard him whisper once he returned to the table with Lesser Dog. Lesser Dog was tilting their head, looking a bit confused.

“You sure? The smell is different” Doggo bit into the dog biscuit he had in his mouth.

“It has to be them. There’s no other human around here”

Syphus plopped the rag on the counter, wiping his hands on his jacket. It had to be Ciruel. He had to be with Papyrus right now. “Boss, can I go on break?”

“..........go ahead”

Fifteen minutes, that’s all he was given, but that was enough. As soon as Grillby gave his approval Syphus went to the door, hurrying towards Sans and Papyrus’ house. He knocked on the door, pounding it with his fist. “Hey! Papyrus! We need to talk!” There was no answer from inside the house. Syphus had been about to try to peek through a window when the door of the shed opened, Papyrus peeking outside.

“OVER HERE! FOLLOW MY VOICE!” Papyrus waved. Syphus entered the shed, disabling the firefly brooch, while Papyrus left the shed and closed the door. Right there, underneath a window patched up with duct tape and a wooden plank, was Ciruel, his face covered with that purple gunk he used as a disguise. The former scholar greeted with his head, focused on what he was writing.

“Please be silent, I’m in middle of something here” he said. Syphus didn’t really have time to wait for Ciruel to finish, though. He approached, looking outside the broken window.

“The dogs know. If they catch you – I don’t know what’ll happen, don’t let them catch you” he said, talking faster than usual. Ciruel didn’t seem worried at all, nodding and making ‘hmhm’ noises as if Syphus had said something completely unimportant.

“I’ll be fine. You don’t have to worry about me”

“That’s—that’s all you have to say?”

“I have been coming and going for a year already, I can take care of myself”

He had a bit of a point there. Ciruel wouldn’t have survived until now if he wasn’t careful or smart. It wasn’t going to stop Syphus from worrying about Ciruel, but it wasn’t like the scholar would accept anyone trying to limit his actions. “How have you been avoiding being caught, anyways? I doubt putting branches on your head is enough”

“I have my ways. Never had to deal with those dogs, though” Ciruel pushed his glasses higher up his nose “Hey, read this and tell me if it sounds right” Syphus took the notebook and read what Ciruel had written. What’s this...? Whatever Syphus had imagined it sure wasn’t this.

It was a recipe for spaghetti, and not a very good one. Syphus was by no means an expert cook, but he was pretty sure that making spaghetti didn’t involve setting the stove on fire. “Papyrus is learning cooking and I’m the official taster. He made me credentials” Ciruel flashed a card that proclaimed him as Papyrus’ aide in the kitchen, all said in the most endearing terms Syphus could imagine.

Right then Papyrus opened the door, bringing a few pots full of spaghetti. “HERE IT IS! THE LATEST BATCHES OF MASTER CHER PAPYRUS’ HOMECOOKED PASTA!” he slammed the pots on the table, beaming with pride. Ciruel stood up from the floor and slowly walked to the table, looking into the pots with appraising expression. After a few seconds of watching, he stuck his face almost to the rim of one of the pots, taking a deep breath.

“Hmmmmm...no smell at all. That’s an improvement”

“Improvement?” Syphus raised his eyebrows.

“Last batch had a, uh, unflattering aroma” Ciruel gestured vaguely, taking a fork from one of the pots “Alright, Paps, ready to take notes?”

“I’M READY FOR THE VERDICT!”

Ciruel spun the fork in the pasta and raised it. His face curled into a slight expression of disgust. The pasta was almost melting. “Paps, did you hold it to the fire before placing it in the pot?”

“YES! JUST LIKE WE AGREED”

“I think we made a big mistake”

“HERE, SYPHUS! YOU GET TO TASTE MY COOKING TOO” Papyrus pushed the pot towards Syphus, who gingerly took some of the spaghetti. After glancing at Papyrus, who was staring at Syphus with a hopeful grin, Syphus put the pasta in his mouth.

He regretted it mere seconds later. The spaghetti was terribly chewy yet it felt like a lot of powder had suddenly filled his mouth. Syphus held back coughing, not having expected the lack of quality of Papyrus’ cooking. “I-I see...alright” Syphus murmured with raspy voice.

“IS IT GOOD?”

“It is...” Syphus swallowed, trying not to shudder. Papyrus was looking at him with excitement, his eye sockets almost sparkling from the illusion of hearing praise for his cooking. How to tell the truth to someone looking at him with such joy? Syphus cleared his throat and smiled weakly “It’s fantastic!”

Papyrus gasped rather exaggeratedly, sounding as if he was about to explode from joy. “REALLY?! WOWIE! CIRUEL, I DID IT!”

“Let me see” Ciruel put a forkful of spaghetti in his mouth. His face immediately turned sour, almost resembling a raisin. He dropped the fork and held his head in his hand for a moment.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK?”

“It’s awful. Two out of ten”

“Ciruel!” Syphus blurted out, horrified. Ciruel had said that in such blunt tone Syphus couldn’t stop himself from shouting in protest. Papyrus wasn’t the slightest bit offended, though. The skeleton let out a ‘A FAILED ATTEMPT!’ and took that pot away, getting another one on the table.

“HERE YOU GO. UNDYNE HELPED ME WITH THIS ONE!”

“Did she punch the tomatoes again?” the corners of Ciruel’s mouth twitched upwards.

“SHE DID! THIS IS OUR COLLABORATION” Papyrus seemed much happier announcing this one than the one he had made by himself. Ciruel took the fork and sampled the spaghetti, choking almost immediately. He held his hand against his mouth until he swallowed.

The former scholar sighed heavily, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Paps. Another two out of ten”

“OH. I THOUGHT THIS WAS THE GOOD ONE!”

“It’s a bit of an improvement, but not enough”

The other two pots didn’t fare much better, although one registered an uptick in Ciruel’s approval scale. Papyrus was elated when he heard ‘three out of ten’ -- “SUCCESS! JUST AS EXPECTED!”. Despite the bluntness of his criticism and how stoic he was during the tasting, once it was done Ciruel lightened up considerably, with a joyful attitude one would have expected from a child, not from a thirty-something man. Papyrus and he discussed how to attempt to improve the paste cooking a bit more, talking quickly and loudly. They seem to be good friends...can’t say I expected that! Once Papyrus left the shed, leaving behind one of the failed pots, Syphus approached Ciruel.

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit tough with Papyrus?”

“Tough? No, not at all. It’s my sincere opinion”

“He was so proud about what he cooked, you could have softened the blow”

Ciruel was silent for a moment. He grabbed the pot Papyrus left behind, staring into it. “Papyrus isn’t going to improve at all if he keeps being told what he does is excellent without that being true”

“Still, saying it was awful was harsh”

“Do you think so badly of Papyrus you think he can’t take a little bit of criticism? Now that’s insulting” Ciruel scowled “Papyrus isn’t some kind of child for you to mince words” Ciruel stuck his hand into the pot, slathering it with sauce, and started rubbing his hand over his neck and the back of his head. That should help disguise his smell, just in case the dogs were paying attention “My father used to say something:

I believe in that. Papyrus may be doing his best, but he can do even better. I just want to help him with that”

You feel you understand Ciruel a bit more.

The Ciruel Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Hierophant Arcana has grown!

Ciruel continued covering himself with sauce, looking a bit uncomfortable with the slightly burnt smell emanating from it. Okay...Ciruel isn’t wrong, but still... “I still think you could have been a bit less blunt about it”

“Come on! Why do you want me to coddle Paps?” Ciruel looked away, his already cloudy glasses turning opaque. He even sounded slightly bitter. “I’m not going to, no matter what you say”

It was useless to try to argue with Ciruel on this, that much was obvious now. While Ciruel’s persevering nature influenced him Syphus felt there was something else going on, something tinging Ciruel’s behavior. He’d have liked to try to find out, but given the fifteen minutes Grillby had allowed were almost over, he had to leave right now. “Fine. Just be careful, okay? If something happens to you—“

“I know. Trust me, I’ll be okay” I’m going to hold you onto that promise. Just in case, as soon as Syphus stepped outside he made a SAVE point. If Ciruel died he was going to return and escort him back to the village, even if he had to drag Ciruel by the neck of his ugly sweater all the way to the depths of Waterfall.

-ooooo-

Alphys was the Royal Scientist, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t anything that could stump her. This glass, for example. She had examined it in every way she could think yet she hadn’t found out how exactly it had so much magic inside, or why. What was stranger was that although the readings showed the glass was so full of magic, accessing it was rather difficult. That didn’t discourage her, though. It was a challenge, and although Alphys wasn’t into challenges as much as Undyne, this was interesting enough for her to want to work with it.

And then Syphus came by during the evening, bringing her what seemed to be pieces of armor, some of them just as filled with magic as the glass. A couple pieces even had more. “O-Okay, where are you finding this stuff?”

“You know, around. These were in Waterfall” Syphus had said.

It was a relief that Syphus was alive. As soon as Alphys saw him, she blurted out ‘are you alive?’ and then hid her face behind her claws because who asks that?

“Yeah, I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“S-So, um...do you remember...meeting a human?”

“Not really” Syphus tilted his head “I think I’d have noticed if I had”

He was lying. There was no way he wasn’t lying. Unless there was more than one snake monster with limbs and feathers in the Underground, it had to be Syphus. He had the same clothes, the same colors, everything was just like the monster she had seen attacked by that girl dressed like a cowboy. Alphys left him enter the Laboratory and took the pieces of armor, turning them around in her claws. “What do you want me to do with these?”

“Can you combine them with the stuff I gave you last time? I was thinking about a...” Syphus extended his hands in a straight line from side to side “A weapon that could pierce the Barrier. You know, something sharp!”

“Oh! I can do something like that!” Alphys cheered up a bit. She had immediately thought of a spear “I-I’ll start drawing the specs later, you keep bringing materials. Now...” Alphys put the armor away “Syphus, are you sure you d-don’t remember a human?”

Syphus faced Alphys but his eyes looked to a side. “Completely sure. Why do you ask?”

“I want you t-to watch this” Alphys went towards the large screen and picked up a few discs and tapes. She grabbed the right one, the one that showed the human girl’s attack on him, but all she did was stare at it, unsure. Why did Syphus deny it? She didn’t understand, it was a lie that could be easily debunked, he knew that, right? There had to be a reason for him to lie so transparently! And if there was a reason...was it really a good idea to confront him? It was bad enough that Sans hadn’t made the slightest effort to tell her Syphus hadn’t died at the hands of a human – thanks a lot, Sans – she didn’t want to get into more unneeded trouble. Things were complicated enough already; she didn’t need to add worries about people she didn’t even know well.

A few seconds passed, Alphys staring at the box intently. “Hmmm...is everything okay?” Syphus asked.

“Oh? Oh! I-I’m fine. I just...got distracted” Alphys turned around, hiding the disc with her body, and looked around “I left this disc outside of its box, give me a second” Alphys took the case of the DVD Syphus had returned not too long ago, taking out the anime DVD and putting inside the disc with the recording of the human girl attacking. That’d keep it out of his reach. “I wanted you to watch this! It’s a good anime, I think you’d like it”

“...anime?” the feathered snake monster looked at a side with reluctant expression while Alphys started to sweat. He didn’t sound interested at all. For a moment Alphys panicked, her mind immediately going ‘oh god, I shouldn’t have said anything’ several times, until Syphus looked at her without turning her head around. The visible yellow eye focusing on her showed a lot of doubt “What’s it about?”

“I...uh...it’s called...Mew Mew Kissy Cutie and...it’s very good” Alphys smiled nervously “Y-You should give it a chance, you’ll l-like it”

“Yeah, but what’s it about?” Syphus repeated, finally turning his head and looking at her with stony expression. Alphys took air, ready to explain her favorite anime.

“I’ll try not to give you spoilers, but here I go...the main character is a human w-with cat ears, and she...” it wasn’t long before she launched into a very extensive speech about the anime, taking faster with every word, to the point where Syphus had difficulty following her train of thought. Plots, chapters, names of characters, events, it all mixed together in a litany he just didn’t understand. It was a bit amazing how Alphys was able to say all that without stopping for air for long.

After a couple minutes of Alphys explaining extensively while Syphus stared, dumbfounded, she finally stopped, huffing for air. “...and that is...Mew Mew Kissy Cutie...so you want to watch it?”

Syphus stuck his claws in his pockets and shrugged. “Sure, why not? You lead the way, Alphys”

What started for Alphys as a mere way to distract Syphus and hide that she was going to show him something turned into genuine enjoyment for her. Once the DVD was inserted in the machine and the anime started she relaxed considerably, watching it with happiness. Syphus, seated nearby, stared at the screen, looking more confused than anything else. I don’t understand anime. After around ten minutes Alphys seemed to remember she had a guest. “I watch this often with Undyne...we like the plot”

“Captain Undyne of the Royal Guard?”

“Yeah, she is my, uh...my best friend?” It wasn’t anything further than that yet, much to her disappointment “We watch anime a couple times per week” there was a very subtle red glow in Alphys’ face, one she tried to hide. It wasn’t like more people needed to know about her crush on Undyne.

The captain’s tastes on entertainment were old news for Syphus, but he feigned ignorance. He smirked, amused “Undyne didn’t seem to me like the type to like anime!”

“She does! Especially if it has a good fight...and sometimes p-princesses!” Alphys leaned forward, her eyes watching the TV screen with attention “I-I’m sure if you ask her she’ll tell you some good a-anime...” they watched the screen in silence for a few minutes more before Alphys stammered something else “B-But yeah, you wouldn’t guess Undyne likes anime, just by looking at her...”

“Ah, that’s how people are”

“W-Well, yes, but if you asked Undyne if she liked anime she’d reply something like...” Alphys clenched her fists “’NGAAAH! So what if I do?!’” she enjoyed that private moment of amusement, judging by the way she was holding her face in bliss “And I like that of her, she’d reply without fear immediately...not like me”

Syphus frowned. “I thought you were proud of watching anime”

“I am! And I’d tell anyone who asks if I like anime, but...but Undyne feels a lot more confident about that than me...

The piece slammed a hand against the side of his seat, startling Alphys with the loud noise. “What are you talking about?! You’re overthinking it. Alphys, you’re no lesser than anyone, not even Undyne”

“Really?” Alphys didn’t sound convinced at all.

“I’m serious. Why’d you even think that?”

“...I have...many reasons to think it...no, to know I’m lesser than her...”

You saw a glimpse of some of Alphys’ insecurities

The Alphys Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Priestess Arcana has grown!

It was a rather depressing thought, and Alphys wasn’t able to immerse herself in the anime. After several minutes of staring blankly at the TV without realizing what she was seeing, she shook her head and stood up from the couch. “Sorry, I can’t focus on this tonight...would you...please leave?”

Syphus frowned. “Are you okay?” Did I say something bad?

“...no. Just leave, p-please...”

It was useless to try to talk with her right now. For a moment Syphus considered LOADing to undo the last few hours, even if it cost him the rank up with Alphys’ Social Link, but that was a bad reason to LOAD. If he rewinded the timeline every time a social interaction with anyone didn’t go okay, he’d be stuck in the first few days, never progressing. Syphus simply stood up and exited the Laboratory after saying his farewell.

Alphys didn’t even watch him leave. She had blurted out a lot of ridiculous stuff, hadn’t she? Why had she said anything about that? In times like these she’d just lie on her bed and eat ice cream in her pajamas, but she didn’t feel like doing that. Thirty minutes later, right when she was going to retire to her bedroom to try to sleep, her phone started to ring. “Who...?” she grabbed it, seriously considering not answering. Such thoughts were thrown away when she realized it was Undyne. “H-Hello, Undyne...”

“Alphys! Still up for watching something fun tonight?”

Oh. Right. Alphys slapped herself, she completely forgot tonight Undyne was supposed to come! And she had told Syphus about that, how could she have forgotten? “S-Sorry, Undyne...I’m not feeling well tonight”

“What?!” Alphys had barely said the final syllable when Undyne shouted that into the phone, forcing her to separate the phone from her head a bit “Are you sick? I’m on my way”

“You don’t have to, Undyne...” Alphys said, grinning to herself bashfully. It wasn’t like she was going to try too hard to stop Undyne. Surely she was already running as fast as possible towards Hotland. She may hate that part of the Underground, but she endured it if it meant coming to the Lab. Indeed, she arrived to the place in matter of minutes.

Once Undyne arrived Alphys had to tell her that things weren’t grave at all, and that there wasn’t really a need for her to make the effort of coming all the way here. Not that it stopped Undyne from declaring she was going to stay for a while, if only to make sure Alphys was going to be fine. Alphys, cheered up from everything she had told to Syphus, simply relaxed and let Undyne do whatever she wished. That was the mistake.

Wanting to make Alphys feel better, Undyne took the Mew Mew Kissy Cutie DVD case. “Come over here, we’re going to watch the one you like the most” she said, inserting the disc into the DVD player. When Alphys entered, there was the human girl in cowboy clothes, slamming a monster over and over with her fist. Undyne was staring at the screen, not having expected to see it...but it was undeniable. That was a human in the Underground.

“U-Undyne...?” Alphys tried to get her attention. Mentally she was kicking herself for forgetting about the disc, there was no way she’d be able to pass this as anything but what it seemed to be.

“Did you know about this?” Undyne asked, the eye uncovered by the eye-patch glaring at the screen. That human girl was attacking Monster Kid too! Alphys gulped and lied without even realizing that was her first reaction.

“No! I didn’t know”

Undyne glanced at Alphys, she saw she believed her lie without a shred of doubt. Once Alphys realized she had just lied, she opened her mouth to try to explain herself, but no words came out. Not that Undyne gave her time for that. She immediately left the Lab before Alphys could stop her, walking away with celerity.

That place...Undyne had recognized which part of Waterfall that was. So there may be a human nearby? That video was from the day before; the human could be far away! But nobody had alerted her about the presence of a human, it was unlikely she had gotten into Hotlands or into Snowdin. No, the human had to still be in Waterfall.

First things first: gather backup. Humans were tough, and that girl had attacked monsters already. Usually Undyne would confront the human by herself, but this was going to be her first time fighting a real human. Making a mistake would be too dangerous, she couldn’t allow that! What’d happen to the Underground if she failed to acquire the first human SOUL?

No, this was the start of monsterkind’s liberation from their imprisonment, and all first steps needed to be flawless. She’d gather a few guards more and explore the area with them.

She’d find that human girl.

Chapter Text

The Royal Guard weren’t considered by many a large group Their standards were strict, meant to be the composed by the very best guardians the Underground had to offer. Including Undyne, there were only forty-eight guards, all of them under the command of the King and the Queen of All Monsters, and although since quite some time ago there were divisions and dissensions among its members, all of them had the same goal in mind: the well-being and protection of monsterkind. So what if half of the Royal Guard supported Toriel and her orders more than Asgore? So what if those people reported only to Toriel and refused to follow Undyne’s orders without talking about them with Toriel first? Undyne knew there were people loyal to her and Asgore, and it’s to them that she’d ask their help.

“Listen up! There’s a human in the Underground!” she started, shouting loudly to rouse up the few guards selected “This is our chance!”

“Uh...Captain, are you positive there’s a human?” 046 asked, raising a paw.

“I saw her myself!” Undyne’s emphatic reply made the five guards stand up straight. If Undyne said she saw a human, then there was no room for mistake “And she’s dangerous. We must stop her before she hurts any more innocent monsters!”

025 shuddered, her armor clanking “N-No way!”

“She attacked an adult, she also attacked a child!” Undyne stomped on the ground, bits of stone scattering “We are going to stop her TONIGHT!” Her sentiment was echoed by the guards. A human -- a dangerous one, to boot...of course she had to be stopped! The number of monsters a dangerous human, one truly aiming to kill, could be staggering. It was their duty to find her and make sure she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else! All the guards present grabbed their weapons, psyching themselves up.

“Where is she, Captain? Tell us!” 027 demanded to know. Undyne, liking the guard’s will and desire to get moving, grinned widely.

“Follow me! To Waterfall!”

It didn’t take long for the six guards to arrive to the place where Undyne had seen the human girl at. There seemed to be nothing abnormal around. The rocks, the murmur of water, everything was normal. There wasn’t even a bit of dust that could hint where a couple monsters died. Undyne grit her teeth, that just meant the water must have cleaned the remains of those monsters, or someone had taken It to their families! “Start looking! She must be nearby!”

“But if she was here yesterday then she must have gotten away. We must alert the King!” 023 proposed. Undyne knew he had a point, if that girl had gotten away from Waterfall then she must be trying to get to the Barrier...and through Asgore. She didn’t want to say anything yet to the King, though. If the human girl was nearby there was no need to possibly cause panic in the capital.

“We’re looking around first” she said in a tone that showed there was no room for argument. Undyne formed a magic spear and pointed with it towards the depths of Waterfall “This is the place where the human was seen. Start searching! Look under every rock, don’t let anything go unchecked! Get moving, everyone!”

And they did. The six guards Undyne took with her did their best to look around, trying to find anything that could indicate where the human girl had gone to. Nobody, not even Undyne, seriously thought the human was hiding behind any random rock, but they all were hoping to find any sign of where she could have gone.

01 and 02 were the ones who managed to find what Undyne had hoped to see. “Over here” 02 said, entering a corridor where luminescent mushrooms hung from the ceiling and littered the floor. The two of them slowly traversed the corridor, looking around with attention, until 01 found the crevice.

“Bro? You think the human went down here?” 01 laid on the floor to try to peer into the crevice, finding a hole at the bottom. 02 shrugged in response, but it was a possible way. Reporting it to Undyne was the right thing to do, though, she immediately followed them to the crevice, followed by 025.

“Good job” Undyne praised, clapping 02 on the back with a lot of force, something the stoic dragon took without even reacting. 025, being the smallest guard, descended into the crevice to see how far it went.

“There’s a tunnel, captain! It’s dark, but it goes on and on!”

“Keep walking, quick!” Undyne ordered. 025’s metallic steps vanished into the distance. The rest of the guards waited, not saying anything beyond exchanging unsure glances. This could be nothing; or this could be just what they were looking for. The hardest part was to wait. Undyne had a tense expression, clenching and unclenching her fists, until after a couple minutes the steps started approaching. 025 was running, judging by how quick her steps sounded. “Ca-Captain, you won’t believe this!”

“Is she there?”

“I didn’t see her, but – I saw a human...I think there’s more than one here. They even have a tiny village over there!”

Undyne could only stare, both baffled and surprised. There was no pleasure or joy, it was more like for a moment she didn’t know what to do. More than one human? How...how did many humans settle down in the Underground? How long had they been around? Should she have noticed something?

But this wasn’t the time for thinking, it was time for moving. Undyne would leave the thinking for later, what mattered now was that this was their chance to obtain SOULs. “01, 02, you two stay here. Stop anyone who tries to go in or out of this tunnel. If a human comes by, defeat them”

“Right, captain”

“Yes”

Undyne turned to everyone else “The rest of us will go inside. Follow me! We’re ending this tonight!”

-ooooo-

It was late in the night when the attack to the Hidden Village happened.

Mere hours earlier the thought that soon they’d all be attacked hadn’t even crossed Syphus’ mind. He had felt sure this place was well hidden, that no monster would find them. He had gone to sleep at Cohen’s cabin, just like he had done many nights before, he made a SAVE point and went to sleep. It wasn’t until someone started hitting the door very loudly that he woke up.

“...hmmmmm...?” he sat on his mattress, rubbing his eyes “Who is it?”

“Wake up and escape!” someone shouted before running away. It was Byssa, he recognized her voice. Syphus stood up, rather groggy, and slowly walked to the door, not realizing how bad the situation was. Only when he opened the door and stepped outside he realized what was going on: The Royal Guard had found the village.

It didn’t seem like a battalion or anything had come. Instead there were just five or six monsters around. In normal circumstances they wouldn’t be a match for a group of humans truly determined to fight back. The humans could even kill them, if they felt it was necessary to survive! The problem was that none of the humans of the Hidden Village wanted to kill monsters. That, coupled with how the Royal Guard had arrived during the night and caught the humans by surprise, gave the monsters an advantage they wouldn’t have otherwise, advantage that’d prove to be decisive.

There were no dog monsters. All monsters had armors, covering them enough for Syphus to be unable to be sure what they were like. All of the attackers had the same black and dark blue armor, fitted with fins, space for ears, everything so the monsters inside would be comfortable. There were more important matters than knowing for sure what the monsters looked like, though. Syphus yelped and rushed back inside the cabin, looking around frantically. The halberd! Where’s the halberd?! It was there, beside the mattress. Syphus took it and inhaled noisily, steeling himself. Could the situation be salvaged?

Syphus rushed outside the cabin, holding the halberd high, so rattled and scared he completely forgot about the firefly brooch and the illusion it carried. All the guards saw him as one human more, just that this one held a dangerous weapon with him. The piece took a look around, evaluating the situation.

A couple guards were kicking down the door to one of the cabins – Celia’s cabin – while Byssa tried to stop them, shouting and attempting to attack them. She wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, although she jumped and tried to kick as ferociously as possible, the monsters dodged her with ease, until one of them decided to stop her. “Ah....heeelp!” she screamed once the guard pointed their sword at her, a thin magic bullet coming out of it and crossing the air towards Byssa. The woman barely managed to avoid it before jumping behind Celia’s cabin, disappearing from sight. The guard who continued kicking the door finally tore it open, a violent CRACK echoing in the cavern.

“Stop that!” Syphus shouted, running towards Celia’s cabin, but before he could get there an irregularly-shaped magic bullet flew right in front of his face, stopping him in his tracks. Another guard had seen them, having heard Syphus’ shout, and was arriving to stop him, aiming at the halberd to knock it off Syphus’ hands. The monster missed, and Syphus saw no more option than run away. Where’s everyone else?! Graham, Annie, Cohen, where are them?! He looked around frantically. Over there! There was Ciruel.

Ciruel was running towards the exit of the village, jumping up the wooden staircase as fast as he could. Ananas was near it, screaming like a madwoman and holding her gun, aiming at the guard coming at her. She wasn’t trying to shoot, though. Her fingers trembled, she looked like she was about to faint. And to a side, right near to the sentry station...Cohen laid on the floor, limp and seemingly uninjured. He had been the first and only human so far to be defeated, that much was clear: the monster right beside him was holding an orange SOUL. The armor, the red plume on her helmet, it all made her unmistakable.

“HOW DARE YOU?!” Syphus screamed at Undyne, running towards her, seeing red. She had done it, she had killed Cohen. It was to be expected the guardian of the village would be the first to fall, but that didn’t mean he deserved it. Syphus jumped forward, raising the halberd high, but Undyne wasn’t worried at all. She grinned and stepped back, cradling the orange SOUL in one hand. Dodging the halberd strike was very easy, she identified Syphus as an amateur.

“Yeah, now we’re talking! Raise that halberd of yours, you’ll fight me!” she seemed way more excited than she should be, in Syphus’ opinion. The piece merely growled, shuddering in anticipation of what he expected to be an even fight.

It was nothing like an even fight. The combination of the late hour and his lack of skill worked against him. Undyne was a well-trained and strong soldier, the Captain of the Royal Guard, while Syphus wasn’t neither in top shape nor knew how to use a halberd effectively. Undyne was nothing like the Shadows, too.

Undyne made a spear, swinging it in Syphus’ direction and turning his SOUL green. It was now impossible for him to run away, and although he wasn’t given a spear to defend himself, Undyne expected him to use the halberd as a shield. “Take this!” small arrows formed around, zooming towards Syphus, forcing him to interrupt any attempt to reach Undyne, instead having to block the arrows.

Arrows impacted against the halberd. Syphus managed to stop the first barrage, and then dashed forward, directing the spike of the halberd towards Undyne. She stopped grinning and raised an arm, intending to block the spike with her armor. Right before the spike made contact, Syphus felt himself losing the intent he had about hurting Undyne. No, he couldn’t do that...he wasn’t in this place to kill. He couldn’t kill...right?

The doubts greatly diminished any attack power Syphus had. The spike clashed against Undyne’s armored arm, a metallic noise echoing. Undyne winced and stepped back, conjuring more arrows in the air.

“Wait! I’ll help!” Ananas tried to approach, but the guard she had been dealing with – 027 – stuck her sword into the ground, magic bullets shaped like leaves erupting in front of Ananas, stopping her. Syphus glanced for a second before focusing back in his own fight. That moment was enough for Undyne, taking advantage of this mistake to summon several spears in the air.

With a cry of war, the spears whooshed through the air towards Syphus, forcing him to move. Dodging every single spear was unlikely for someone like him, who not only was a full-grown adult instead of a small child, he also wasn’t as nimble. Some of the spears touched him, sending a strange painful sensation throughout his body, focusing into his chest. The small piece of SOUL that gave him an identity felt the brunt of the magic attack, half of his HP disappearing immediately. I can’t let myself die...!

Undyne was relentless. Noticing her attacks did manage to make a dent in Syphus’ health, she turned his SOUL green again, forcing him to defend himself against more small arrows. She hated the thought of playing with one’s foe, what she wanted to do was wear Syphus down until he’d be defeated as quick as possible. Undyne wasn’t some kind of sadist, even if her intent was to obtain a SOUL she didn’t want to make things longer unnecessarily. All of her thoughts were focused on trying to touch Syphus with any of the bullets again.

The moment his SOUL returned to normal, Syphus lunged forward, aiming with the blade of his halberd to Undyne’s shoulder. Undyne would have been more than capable to dodge it, but she felt confident. The blow of the halberd did hurt, but she didn’t falter, a loud clank of metal against metal resounding. Syphus, emboldened, tried to swing the halberd from a side, but she wasn’t going to let him hit her again. She caught the halberd in her left hand. In a second he pulled from it, dragging Syphus towards her. The piece yelped, surprised, and barely had time to react when Undyne’s right fist swung towards him.

She hit him right in the solar plexus. Syphus was thrown in the air and crashed against the rock wall, falling in a heap on the ground, coughing. Everything hurt, he wanted nothing more than lie down and rest, but that wasn’t an option. Undyne sighed. “That’s enough. You fought valiantly but losing isn’t an option for me”

“I won’t...lose...” Syphus coughed, wheezing for breath, and buried the bottom of the halberd pole between the rocks, using it to stand up. It took him a whole minute, more than enough time for Undyne to have attacked again, but she didn’t. She was looking at him with a strange mix of concern and a stoic determination to defeat him. Syphus bared his teeth, trying to ignore his aching body, and clutching the halberd. “Give back...g-give that SOUL...” Instead of replying, the Captain of the Royal Guard swung her spear, the arrows appearing again, all of them above him. Seven, eight, nine arrows descended in a row. Blocking them was easy, Syphus raised the halberd and blocked them all with the pole of the halberd. Each time an arrow made contact, the bamboo creaked, each arrow causing more and more damage, until it broke.

The bamboo, not resisting the constant hits on the same place, snapped in half. Syphus felt a knot of dread inside him, pieces of bamboo fell on him. “Nooo!” Syphus howled, dropping the pieces of his broken weapon and cowering against the wall.

“It’s over” Undyne said before several large magic spears materialized around her, aiming at Syphus. Syphus could only stare, defeated, before all the spears came crashing down on him. Not a single one made a wound, all of them pierced and went through him without leaving a mark. All his HP depleted, unable to withstand the assault. What happened next happened in the span of a second or two, but to Syphus it felt much longer than that.

It was the strangest sensation Syphus had ever experienced. He felt numb, no pain at all. Slowly, as if he didn’t understand what was going on, he stumbled forward, dazed. His vision started to fade, soon he felt strangely light, while he faintly realized he was turning pitch black, all of him. The tiny red piece of SOUL given to him by the witch he belonged to came out of him while he fell to the floor, the SOUL shattered without leaving a trace.

And during all that, Ananas screamed with horror, seeing it all happen.

Syphus didn’t even reach the floor before he vanished in a puff of black smoke and red particles, like any lesser Shadow.

...

...

...

The goal had been achieved. After centuries of imprisonment, monsterkind finally had the necessary SOULs to be freed. The Royal Guard’s efforts provided of seven SOULs, taken to King Asgore before the night ended. Despite it being the early hours of the morning, the word about the SOULs spread throughout the Underground almost immediately. Everyone gathered at New Home, wanting to see with their own eyes how the Barrier would be shattered once and for all.

The King didn’t take the SOULs immediately, and although the Queen was told the SOULs had been obtained, she never arrived to New Home to see it by herself. It took a lot of convincing by Undyne for Asgore to decide to use the SOULs. Everyone gathered at the capital gasped at the sight of their king turned god. It was the most intimidating and the most wonderful sight they had ever witnessed.

Asgore raised his trident and, with a single move, he broke the Barrier. The noise was monumental, heard in every corner of the Underground, and after it vanished for a moment everyone was silent. Nobody could believe freedom was so close, but it was true...they were free. Astonishment turned into euphoria, all monsters hurried back to their homes to share the news and prepare to leave the Underground. During the celebration, Asgore waited for the Queen to come, but she never did.

Not everyone chose to leave the Underground immediately. Only a few decided to go, leaving the rest behind while they made the first contact with humans. It shouldn’t be too difficult. The nearest human city was around five hours away, from what the monsters could see from Mt. Ebott. They had time to plan how they’d make first contact. King Asgore went with a small group of monsters, hoping to bring good news.

Monsterkind’s joy did not last not even one hour.

***

xx/xx/21xx

RE: Mt. Ebott

Sir:

The Barrier was shattered. Monsters emerged 43 minutes later. Confrontation. The seven weren’t with them, presumed dead. Retaliation protocol ensued. King surrendered, other monsters were defeated and killed.

Troops entered the mountain to retrieve human bodies. No problems so far.

---Sergeant Roger Wilco, Third Brigade.

***

GAME RESULT:

Celia: Dead. Her SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Cohen: Dead. His SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Byssa: Dead. Her SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Ciruel: Dead. His SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Graham: Dead. His SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Ananas: Dead. Her SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Frisk: Dead. Their SOUL was sacrificed to open the Barrier.

Syphus: Dead. A failure, nothing more.

-*-

Asgore – Dead. Surrendered despite his powers.

Toriel – Missing. Losing six children in one night...

Asriel – Dead. That never changed.

Chara – Dead. It’s doubtful their spirit will ever find peace.

-*-

Sans – Alive and hiding.

Papyrus – Dead. Innocent casualty.

Undyne – Dead. Fought valiantly.

Alphys – Missing. Was the guilt about her carelessness too much for her to endure?

Mettaton – Alive and trying to survive on the surface.

Burgerpants -- Dead. Innocent casualty.

9% of the monsters in the Underground died. How many will more die in the future?

-*-

The winner is Cornio. All humans in the Underground are dead. Monsterkind is not going to be okay.

-ooooo-

Cornio’s narration was very grim. Despite having won the game, there was absolutely no joy in his voice. It sounded monotone and defeated, he didn’t even look up from the board. “...I win” he muttered, knocking over with a bishop the pawn that represented Syphus, cornering the king.

“...what?” Sisyphus stared at the board in disbelief. Really? He had lost? That was how the timeline was going to end?!

“You were warned. Not even a single human SOUL must be used to shatter the Barrier” Lucia said, staring at the ceiling. She sounded...upset.

“B-But – wait a second, everyone is dead?! That’s ridiculous! It can’t be that everyone –“ Sisyphus passed his hands through his hair. Had he played so badly this was the end result? “There has to be a way to fix this. I refuse to let the game end like this!”

Cornio raised his head, looking at Sisyphus with indescribable expression. “Yes, let’s fix this! Syphus can SAVE and LOAD, you need to return to an earlier point! When’s the last time he made a SAVE point?” Sisyphus had been about to reply when Lucia punched the board, making the chess pieces jump up. With a swift move she suspended the pieces in the air, taking the board and turning it around. A small crystal emerged from it, and from the crystal Lucia extracted a golden thread: the timeline itself.

“Okay, you two seriously need the guidance of someone experienced. You’re lucky I’m here” she definitely wasn’t in good mood “You two must understand that actions have consequences. Tell me this: what led to this bad ending?”

“Undyne found the village, that’s it” Sisyphus replied.

“But that’s because Alphys left the disc where Undyne could find it”

“I can’t control Alphys, I have only my piece right now, and the SAVE point is after he returned to the village. It’s too late to stop Alphys”

“Run to the lab, quick!”

“I don’t think I can arrive before Undyne!”

“Then—wait. I know!” Cornio’s face lightened up “Distract her! If you can distract Undyne you could arrive to the lab before her!”

“But how can I distract her? It’s the middle of the night, there are no monsters I can control”

“I...I don’t know. There must be a way!” For someone who had cornered Sisyphus he sure seemed a bit clueless about how exactly it had happened.

Lucia, stretching and examining the timeline attentively, started moving the chess pieces in the air. “You two are focusing too much at the present, you need to look at past days. Let me put it like this: how can you convince Undyne to not to want to kill humans for their SOULs?”

“Frisk usually did it. They’d have to FIGHT her first—“

In that moment, Sisyphus sank in his seat, staring at the floating pieces with disbelief. ...no way... “It’s my fault. I made a mistake”

“W-What? What do you—“

“I got Frisk to stay in Snowdin all this time...that’s it, that’s what I did wrong. If I hadn’t – maybe they’d have met Undyne and survived...” he sighed. He was so stupid, at the time it had seemed like a reasonable thing to do, but now...

“Oh” Cornio looked at him sympathetically “It’s not your fault, you were trying to protect Frisk”

“I should have looked for some other way!”

 “It was a good decision at the time, you couldn’t have known it’d end like this” Cornio tried to sound encouraging, but Sisyphus didn’t seem fully convinced yet “And this is your chance to fix it, you can think of something!” He was right, and Sisyphus knew it, but still...

The crystal fueling the gameboard descended back where it came from, the chess pieces settled back on the surface. It had all been rewinded to the moment of the SAVE point, to the smallest detail. “Try to focus on the immediate crisis, and once that’s solved do what you need to do with Frisk”

“I’m not sure how I can—“

“And you, Cornio” Lucia talked with a severe tone she didn’t use often “I know you want everyone to be okay instead of causing everyone’s doom, but don’t you dare holding back. You need to play like you mean it” Cornio didn’t reply to that. Satisfied, Lucia leaned back on her seat, making a cup of tea appear on her hand and making a flourish with her other hand “You may continue now”

-ooooo-

Syphus blinked several times, realizing belatedly he was alive. His memories were hazy, the last thing he remembered was the spears coming towards him. Maybe it was for the better he didn’t remember the exact moment his last HP depleted, but the mere memory of that made Syphus furious momentarily. “Oh, come on!” he shouted, kicking the wall of Cohen’s cabin and earning aching toes. While Syphus jumped on one foot, regretting kicking the solid cottage, Cohen came out of it.

“What happen—did you just kick my cabin?” Cohen quickly made the connection, but there wasn’t much time to argue about it. Without even bothering to apologize, Syphus turned around and started running towards the stairs that led outside of the village, trying to ignore the pain on his toes “Where are you going?!”

“I forgot something!” Syphus shouted without looking back. By his calculations from the information the witch controlling him had funneled into his head, he didn’t have more than ten or so minutes before Undyne arrived to the laboratory. The advantage was that Syphus was near the laboratory already, given the location of the Hidden Village, so he had a bit of time to think of a way to distract Undyne so he could arrive first to the laboratory. There has to be a way...I have to think of something! He thought while activating the firefly brooch to disguise himself.

What he hadn’t expected nor was properly conveyed in the information the witch gave him was how fast Undyne was. He had just seen the main road not too far away – the only way to enter Hotland, as far as he knew – when Undyne passed by, running at full speed. “Already?!” Syphus gasped, instinctively slowing down for a moment before trying to increase his speed. There was no time for hesitation now! Taking out the halberd and throwing it aside to be able to run faster, Syphus set to try to reach Undyne.

That was an impossible task. Undyne not only was more athletic, younger and had the advantage of already being ahead by a lot, she also focused hard in everything she did, so right now she was fully focused with running towards the lab. Syphus wasn’t even close to reaching her, she always stayed quite some distance ahead. If it wasn’t because there was only one way into Hotland Syphus would have thought he had lost sight of her. The perspective of failing and all the humans dying again was one he wanted to avoid at all costs. Syphus forced himself to ignore how tired he felt, how his legs were starting to cramp and how the air in Waterfall hindered his sight and made him feel more winded than he should be, he had to reach her! She couldn’t be allowed to enter the lab!

The most he was able to do was close the distance a bit. By the time Undyne turned the corner near the large electronic sign that welcomed people to Waterfall, Syphus was barely going underneath the stone arch where she usually waited for Frisk. Syphus could see her in the distance, a light blue shape moving at considerable speed towards Hotland. Syphus tried to shout, say something to stop her, but he was unable to, he had no air in his lungs. As if that was what his body had been waiting for, he started slowing down, having reached his limits. Away, in a straight line, was Undyne, running through the bridge after the sentry station. She’d get to the laboratory doors in matter of seconds. In a desperate attempt to try to stop her, Syphus inhaled, gasping like a fish, and poured the very little energy he had left in screaming as loudly as possible.

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAYIIIEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIT!”

That wail was so incredibly undignified and shrill Syphus couldn’t believe he had made that sound. A simple word like ‘wait’ had gotten distorted that much? At least it seemed to have done what he wanted, because Undyne stopped, just a few feet away from the doors, and turned around. Syphus, grabbing his knees and more tired than he had felt in a long time, weakly waved at Undyne. She looked at him, back at the laboratory, and decided to approach Syphus. He may need help, after all.

“You okay?” she inquired once she was close enough to take a better look at him. Syphus, hunched over and with his hands on his knees, gasped and wheezed.

“...h-help...you have...Undyne...wait...”

“What? What is it?”

What am I supposed to say now?! At least he had her attention, but he needed to get her go away for the enough time for him to enter the laboratory. He needed two things: something urgent that merited such a panicked behavior, and a location that wasn’t so far away it’d be suspicious. ...I better be careful... “Human...I saw a human...”

“What?!” she would have grabbed him from the shoulders if he hadn’t been so obviously fatigued “Where?!”

“Uh...I saw a human in—I saw them at—“ Scratch that, it had to be close enough to where they were right now and far enough from the Hidden Village for them to not be in any danger. There weren’t that many places that fit such requirements, but maybe, just maybe... “...the garbage dump”

Undyne looked towards Waterfall. The garbage dump wasn’t too far away, she could go, check it and return, all in no time. It wasn’t like she could risk not taking a look. Humans were a matter of utmost importance. “Got it” Undyne nodded, immediately running away towards the place indicated. Syphus watched her run away, gathering his breath, before he shambled towards the laboratory, moving as if he was going to trip and fall at any moment. He managed to get to the steel doors, and knocked on them.

After a few seconds that seemed like hours to Syphus, the doors parted. “S-Syphus? What are you doing here?”

“I forgot something...” Syphus stumbled inside, starting to recover his energy “Sorry, I’ll be gone in a minute”

“Uh, that’s fine, I guess...” as long as it was just a minute she was fine with that. Syphus looked around, pretending to look at the floor but instead he was paying attention to his surroundings. Over there! There was his target, that DVD case on that desk. Syphus slowly approached it, still looking around “What are you looking for?”

“It’s a tiny thing, hm...” he had arrived close to the desk, but he couldn’t take it without Alphys noticing. “Hey, what’s that?” Syphus pointed in the opposite direction. While Alphys looked in that direction – and Syphus mentally slapped himself for such a childish and stupid distraction – he quickly took the DVD case, hiding it behind his back right before Alphys turned around. “Oh, sorry, I think it was nothing”

“R-Right...did you find the thing you were looking for?”

“Yeah! I did, so I’m going to leave now. Thanks, Alphys, I owe you one” before he could move towards the doors somebody knocked on them. Crap, not now! They opened quickly, revealing Undyne. The greeting Undyne was going to give Alphys was forgotten once she saw Syphus.

“There was no human in the garbage dump!”

“Human in the garbage d-dump...?” Alphys looked between Undyne and Syphus, confused “What’s she talking about?”

“Uh, there must be an explanation for that—“

“Then say it, punk!” Undyne narrowed her visible eye. Syphus, trying to open the DVD case behind his back and trying to take out the disc, smiled sheepishly, his feathers fluffing up until he looked like a particularly puffy half-plucked chicken.

“Maybe I saw one of the garbage piles in an odd angle and thought it was...a human?” an awkward silence fell on the room. Undyne didn’t believe that excuse at all, her expression showed it. Alphys noticed it too, and although she didn’t fully understand what was going on, she nodded.

“Th-that’s plausible, the junk piles have some s-strange shapes, Undyne”

“I know!” Undyne threw her hands in the air, exasperated. She knew very well that was possible and couldn’t prove that wasn’t what happened. She had no reason to think that feathered monster was lying “Hey, Alphys! There’s a camera in the garbage dump, right? Let’s see it!”

In that moment the DVD case slipped from Syphus’ hand, falling to the floor with a clattering noise. Thankfully, the disc was safe on Syphus’ hands. “Uh, but that’s not GOING--!” Syphus shouted, trying to disguise the sound of snapping the disc in half “—to prove much, right?”

“Of course it will! If there’s no human at all at any time—“

“Uh, Undyne? I...” Alphys intertwined her claws “The camera in the garbage dump is, uh, broken”

Undyne facepalmed. “Are you serious?!”

“Y-yes, my cameras seem to break easily. The other d-day, that camera in Waterfall—“

“I know!” Undyne removed her hand from her face “Jeez, Alphys, you should invent some way to protect the cameras” There wasn’t really a way to check if there was ever a human in the garbage dump, and honestly Undyne didn’t feel like calling for a witch hunt through Waterfall without knowing for sure there really was a human around. That would be a waste of time and resources, and she was the Captain of the Royal Guard, it was her responsibility to lead the guards with relatively efficiency. She would rather to fight and look for a human, but logistics were also a part of the job. Frustrated, she grabbed the DVD case Syphus had dropped, turning it around in her hands “Why are you being so suspicious, whoever you are?!”

“I’m not being suspicious!” Syphus blurted out, unsure of how to reply. Undyne put the DVD case aside, not even bothering to open it. He didn’t do all this circus just to try to borrow or steal Alphys’ anime, right?

“Whatever” she turned around to Alphys “Are you feeling better now? You sounded strange in that earlier call”

“I’m fine” Alphys said. Undyne sighed and went upstairs. She trusted Alphys, not even doubting for a second Alphys was lying. Once the Captain was gone, Alphys sighed, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eye “I’m sorry about Undyne, Syphus, she hates when things reach a dead end...” she put her glasses back on “D-Did you...really see a human at th-the garbage dump?”

“No. Thanks for backing me up, Alphys” Syphus inserted the pieces of disc in the sleeves of his track jacket. Alphys nodded, lowering her voice.

“You’re p-protecting a human...right?”

“...I can’t answer that. I’m not saying I am, though”

“N-No, it’s okay, you don’t need to answer” Alphys looked down “...I understand...but Undyne is going to find out about the humans in the Underground at some point...and I don’t know yet if it’ll be because I’ll tell her” at some point she had to tell Undyne, that’s what she thought. There was no way she’d be able to keep the secret from Undyne forever, Alphys thought, then again...she had kept from Undyne a few secrets for quite some while...

...was she getting used to lying to Undyne? That mere thought made Alphys want to go confess to Undyne everything she had hidden from her, but she didn’t move. She had too much fear to consider it seriously.

Once Syphus left the laboratory, Alphys took the DVD case, opening it and finding there was nothing inside. Just like she suspected, Syphus had taken it. Outside, while crossing the bridge to Waterfall, Syphus took out of his sleeves the pieces of disc and let them fall into the lava that was far in the depths of the cavern.

It was done. The Hidden Village would continue hidden for longer.

-ooooo-

Sisyphus looked away from the board, relaxing immensely. It had been difficult, but he had managed to do it, his piece had ensured the humans’ survival for a while longer. “Done! And the next day I’ll ask Frisk to continue their journey...that should be enough”

“It should be!” Cornio was much more relaxed now. He had been less skillful this time than before, and he hoped Lucia hadn’t noticed. He looked at the arcane witch, who was staring at him. Even with her blindfold, Cornio felt the drilling stare of disapproval. Oops, she knew. Lucia put aside the teacup, standing up from her seat.

“I’m leaving for a while. Continue without me” she said, exiting the parlor. Wow. She could be a childish when things didn’t go like she wanted, Sisyphus knew that, but he didn’t think she’d do that in front of a guest.

“Don’t pay attention to her. I don’t think you played badly” Sisyphus said. Cornio frowned and shrugged, a bit uncomfortable.

“She noticed I wasn’t doing my best. I could have encouraged Undyne to be more assertive”

“Oh?” Sisyphus leaned forward, looking at Cornio with more attention. That was a meaningful statement! “I thought you had made Undyne confront me”

Cornio touched lightly the top of one of his bishop pieces, talking softly and with melancholy. “I don’t like the idea of controlling people. That’s not what I want to do”

“Then how do you play?”

“You know that little voice in your head that sometimes sounds like it gives you advice and encouragement and tells you when you’re doing something bad?”

“You mean one’s conscience?”

“Yes! Like that” Cornio’s arm raised, outside of the trench coat he had hanging from his shoulders. He’s not wearing that thing?

“I agree with you about that” Not that it stopped Sisyphus from exerting some minor control over some of the monsters in the Underground...even if he didn’t like it. So far the only moment he had done it was with the Snowdin guards, to rough up Frisk a bit. And I’m not going to do it again. Cornio hadn’t forgotten about it at all, though. He looked at Sisyphus with strange expression, one that made Sisyphus feel especially self-conscious. Feeling the need to defend himself more, Sisyphus hurried to add: “And my piece is pretty much me, created from my SOUL, it’s not like he’s a separate entity from me”

“...I know...” Cornio’s expression gained a tinge of sadness before looking away. Uh? What was that? Sisyphus was sure he had seen...sadness and guilty, but why? He had just mentioned a simple fact; why did it warrant such reaction?

Cornio avoided looking at Sisyphus, hiding a bit inside his trench coat. “Did I say something wrong?” Sisyphus inquired, Cornio simply shook his head. Seeing that Cornio’s strange reaction, he decided to ask something else “Okay, changing topic. Is this your first game?”

The other witch raised his head, once again his face acquiring an expression that showed he was trying very hard not to show too much emotion “Kind of? It’s the first time I play with a gameboard”

“What do you mean?”

“You know...my life before I was a witch” That was self-explanatory.

“What kind of life was it?”

“I don’t like to talk about it, but I wasn’t...I wasn’t a good person. Please don’t make me say more” Cornio closed his eyes “I don’t want to think about it”

That was enough for Sisyphus. “Oh...I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

“It’s okay. What happened in the past doesn’t mean that much anymore” his voice turned more resolute, like he was imparting an important lesson “What matters is what one does in the present. When I was acknowledged as a witch ten years ago--”

“You’re just ten years old?!” That was even younger than Sisyphus! “How old were you when you were human?” The silence told Sisyphus the interruption wasn’t good at all “I’m sorry. Continue”

“Ten years ago I decided I’d make amends for everything. So that’s what I want to do, now that I have all this power and I can oversee a world that means I can make amends” he narrowed his eyes, thinking “Because that’s what witches do, right? We oversee worlds and try to make things better...I think”

“...you don’t know?”

“It’s been ten years and there’s a lot I don’t understand about being a witch”

You feel you understand Cornio a bit more.

The Unusual Witch Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Death Arcana has grown!

Cornio nudged a pawn forward. “I don’t like these games...this is the first one I play and I already want it to end as soon as possible”

“It could have ended not too long ago, and with a victory for you” Not that Sisyphus wanted that at all.

“I know, but I don’t want to win and destroy monsterkind”

Sisyphus raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t think you’d care about them...I thought you were like Lucia, like she says almost all witches are: only caring about entertainment”

“Then I’m not like most witches” Cornio looked at Sisyphus’ eyes “What about you? Are you like most witches?

Do you care about all these monsters and humans?”

“Of course I do!” Sisyphus’ reply was immediate, even raising his voice as if that was the most stupid question ever asked “All those humans are my friends, and the monsters don’t deserve to be destroyed. I want to set them all free”

The answer seemed to please Cornio, he smiled. “That’s what I hoped to hear. Want to keep going?”

“Let’s do it” Sisyphus examined the position of the pieces, meditating his next move. Cornio wasn’t like Sisyphus thought he’d be; he wasn’t just a random opponent Lucia had found who knew where. He clearly deviated from Lucia’s ‘stave boredom no matter what’ philosophy regarding games and tales, and it was impossible she didn’t know it. Why did she bring him here, then?

...now that he thought about it, Lucia was behaving a bit unusual. She was meddling with both of them, but for the most part she was content to be a spectator – and sometimes aid Sisyphus, but not that much. Usually she was very hands-on, wanting to take part of everything. If Sisyphus had to define her personality, she’d describe her as an overbearing woman, with a personality that required a lot of patience to deal with. She wasn’t too different on that regard – she was still as annoying as usual – but Sisyphus couldn’t avoid thinking that there was something about her that made him be in high alert.

What was going on with Lucia?

CHECKMATE IN ZERO MOVES

CHECK IN TWO MOVES

Chapter Text

Somehow, barely stopping the timeline from ending in a major disaster was something that made one sleep like a log. He hadn’t even done much, but apparently even small actions can affect way more than he expected. The moment Syphus returned to the village and laid on the mattress Cohen had lent him, he fell asleep. Cohen woke him up at noon. The magical illumination in the village was at its brightest. “Hey. It’s almost lunch time. When are you going to get up?” the old man growled, shaking him up. Syphus had never slept for so long, had something happened to him? Syphus sat up on his mattress, suppressing a yawn.

“What?”

“Usually you’re up and ready much earlier than this. Something wrong?”

Syphus shook his head. “No, I was just tired. Don’t worry about it” but now that he was awake, may as well start his day. He had at least one thing to do today. He needed to tell Frisk to get moving. Stopping their journey had been a big mistake, and although Syphus feared that Frisk could get hurt or worse, he had no other option than trusting them and hoping for the best. It wasn’t like they could stick with Frisk, he had to let the child go alone – although maybe Sans would watch them from afar.

Once Syphus felt ready to leave the village and go to Snowdin, he started to go in direction of the way out, but Graham stopped him. “Come here, I want you to take a look” he said, guiding Syphus to an unfinished cottage, where Cohen was already waiting “Do you like how it’s looking so far?” Well I’m not sure what to say... Was there really a way to know if the progress was going well or not? Graham had built a couple walls, and the rest of the cottage’s limits were marked on the ground. It didn’t seem like it’d be different from the rest of the cabins.

“Thanks, Graham, I like it”

“I must say, you have been more tolerable than I thought you’d be” Cohen commented “I didn’t know what to expect from having to host someone in my cottage, but you’re okay”

“...thanks, I guess” Syphus mumbled morosely. Graham and Cohen exchanged a glance.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re acting a bit...gloomy”

“That may not be none of our business, Cohen” Graham whispered to him.

“Sorry, I just...had a bad night” after a pause Syphus sighed “Take care, both of you”

“I can take care of myself very well” Cohen smirked “I may be old but I can give a lot of fight” A grimace crossed Syphus’ face, the image of Cohen lying limply against the wall flashing in his mind. The grimace didn’t go unnoticed “You doubt me? I can show you what I mean, anytime”

“Cohen’s right, he’s the best fighter we have in this village. Not that the rest of us know any fighting at all” Graham raised his eyebrows “Isn’t there a saying that says ‘he with one single eye is the king among blind’? or something like that”

“If you all tried to learn fighting I’d gladly teach you, it’s not my fault nobody but Annie is interested” the implicit ‘and I don’t want to teach her’ was subtle, but nobody commented on it “You know how I do this. Right first, then left, try to look for the chance for an uppercut...

...why are you looking so pale, Syphus?”

I have to keep my mind busy. I don’t want to think about this, damn it!

-ooooo-

Working at Grillby’s right now was the last thing Syphus wanted to do. He felt too drained to subject himself to half a day of working. Syphus knew that was an immature thought, but he simply didn’t feel like it, maturity be damned. There were other things to do. ...knowing it’s wrong yet doing it is even more immature, isn’t it? he thought, cringing. He was going to be particularly productive next time, to shut up this nagging feeling.

Papyrus was the person to open the door, greeting Syphus with the usual enthusiasm. “SANS! WE HAVE A GUEST! STOP BEING LAZY AND COME GREET THEM!”

“sup”

“”SUP” IS NOT A FITTING GREETING FOR A FRIEND VISITING US!” he shouted, shaking Syphus’ hand with energy before ascending the stairs to his bedroom.

Sans was on the couch, to his side the big bag filled with materials Syphus had brought last time. In his hands he had another brass replica of the snow Sans in Snowdin Forest. When Syphus approached, Sans passed the bag and the lump of brass, saying he had been unable to do anything with any of that, and telling him to sell it all in Temmie Village. Giving Toriel the fabric and asking her a favor was an option, too.

“...I’m sure the Queen has a lot of more important stuff to do than sew stuff for random vassals”

“who knows. you’d be surprised”

“SANS! WHERE’S MY CAPE!” Papyrus was walking around noisily in his bedroom “I HAVE TO GO TRAIN WITH UNDYNE TODAY!” Neither Sans nor Syphus tried to answer that, instead trying to continue their conversation.

“Where’s Frisk? I need to tell them something”

Sans pointed with his thumb through the window. “they left a few hours ago. you didn’t expect them to stay here for as long as you wanted, did you?” before Syphus could panic about that Sans winked “relax. i’m keeping an eye socket on them”

“YOU HAVE BEEN SITTING THERE ALL MORNING!” Papyrus shouted from his bedroom.

“a well-deserved break after watching over that kid. now that you’re here, ‘phus, I have a favor to ask you. paps has been a bit down these days, could you walk with him to undyne’s house?”

“Sure” Since Frisk wasn’t there, walking to Waterfall after having failed to fulfill the one thing he had wanted to do was a rather sad perspective. Having company should help him feel better. Sans looked at Syphus with more attention than before.

“the way you’re standing, that expression of yours...you saw something you’d rather forget”

Syphus tried to make a more neutral face, but that was as good as a confession to Sans. He wouldn’t have any reason to feign calm unless something had happened. “I just had a bad dream, don’t worry about it”

“what kind of bad dream?”

“The ‘everybody dies’ kind” the piece said with even tone. Sans chuckled, looking tired.

“those are always tough—hey there paps”

Syphus turned around, noticing Papyrus had descended the stairs. For a moment Papyrus had a rather conflicted expression, like he wasn’t sure what to say. It lasted no more than a couple seconds, enough for both Sans and Syphus to notice. “I’M READY! LET’S GET GOING, TO UNDYNE’S HOUSE! NYEH HEHEH!” he said, his voice getting louder than usual – a sign he was nervous.

The walk through Waterfall was rather silent, a blatant indication something was very wrong. Since when was Papyrus the type to walk in silence, without attempting to do some sort of animated conversation? Not even when they encountered many monsters, the usually friendly and encouraging Papyrus never tried to establish any sort of communication with them, not even a greeting.

The silence got so overbearing Syphus was getting more and more nervous, until he decided to try to shatter it no matter what. “So, what’s eating you? You have been very silent since we left Snowdin”

“SILENT? WHO HAS BEEN SILENT?” Papyrus looked away pointedly.

“You. I haven’t known you for long, but I don’t think you’re the type to be silent. Is there something bothering you?”

“NO! EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE! LIFE IS GOOD FOR THE GREAT PAPYRUS!” that statement was received with a blank look that oozed doubt. “PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT”

“...fine. I won’t ask you again” that was going to be the end of the conversation, but Papyrus started vibrating, making a noise that resembled an engine, until a moment later he threw his hands in the air.

“NYEEEH! FRIEND, YOU MUST TELL ME: ARE YOU OKAY?”

“W-What? What do you--?”

“I HEARD YOU HAD A BAD DREAM. SANS HAS THOSE ALL THE TIME. HE SAYS IT’S NOTHING IMPORTANT, BUT IT SEEMS VERY IMPORTANT, PERHAPS THE IMPORTANTEST THING RIGHT NOW” he grabbed Syphus’ shoulders comfortingly “ARE YOU HAVING BAD DREAMS TOO?”

“No! That was a one-time thing, I’m sure of it” the piece said. Papyrus didn’t seem convinced, but he let go of Syphus’ shoulders. They continued walking, thankfully still talking instead of letting the silence settle again.

“SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE SANS IS HIDING SOMETHING FROM ME” Papyrus said. Of course he is. Bad dreams? That was unlikely. That was more likely to be Sans’ way to disguise everything he knew from other timelines, or maybe to explain why he was to apathetic and lazy “WHAT DO YOU THINK?”

“I don’t know what you want me to tell you”

“DO YOU THINK SANS COULD BE HIDING SOMETHING FROM ME?” the skeleton made a hopeful face that didn’t last long “SANS IS THE BEST BROTHER ONE COULD EVER HAVE! THERE’S NO WAY HE’D TRY TO LIE TO ME!

...

...RIGHT?”

“No! Of course not!” Syphus replied immediately, not daring to shatter Papyrus’ image of Sans. Right after saying that, Ciruel’s words came to mind: ‘Papyrus isn’t some kind of child for you to mince words’ He was right, Papyrus deserved to know that Sans was hiding something. Syphus had no intention to reveal the exact details – Sans should do it, not him – but maybe he could encourage Papyrus to find out more? “...maybe?”

“MAYBE? OH NO! DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT?”

“It’s possible. I don’t know, you’re going to have to talk it with him”

Crap! “That’s not what I said!” Syphus hurried to clarify “Sometimes people keep secrets from others, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t trust you”

“OH. I’M SORRY. HOW COULD I HAVE DOUBTED SANS? NO, IF HE’S NOT TELLING ME SOMETHING THEN THERE MUST BE A REASON FOR THAT! SANS KNOWS BETTER THAN ME. I SHOULD TRUST HIS JUDGMENT”

Despite such words, Papyrus didn’t seem like he fully believed in them.

You’re starting to understand the depths of Papyrus’ worries.

The Papyrus Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Sun Arcana has grown!

“I don’t know, Papyrus. I’m not the best person to talk this with” Syphus stuck his hands into his jacket, looking at the ground “You should talk this with Sans”

“YES! I WILL. SOMEDAY. NOT TODAY. SOMEDAY” That’s better than nothing, I guess...

When Papyrus and Syphus got to Undyne’s house, the piece stayed back while Papyrus strolled to the door. The skeleton raised his hand to knock on the door, but then he noticed Syphus was way behind him. “OVER HERE! YOU SHOULD MEET UNDYNE. I THINK YOU AND HER WOULD GET ALONG!”

“I already met her. I don’t think she likes me very much”

“NONSENSE! IF YOU’RE AFRAID THEN DO NOT FEAR! I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL PROVIDE ASSISTANCE IN EARNING UNDYNE’S FRIENDSHIP”

“Eeeeeeh...” Syphus stepped forward hesitantly. Undyne wouldn’t get angry and make a scene if Papyrus was there, would she? Papyrus knocked on the door and waited. After a couple minutes it seemed that Undyne wasn’t going to open.

“HOW UNLUCKY...UNDYNE ISN’T HOME”

“Too bad, eh?”

Syphus’ hopeful interjection and attempt to get out only served to encourage Papyrus more. “WAIT, I KNOW! IF SHE ISN’T HERE, SHE MAY BE AT THE GARBAGE DUMP” Welp. He wasn’t wrong. It took no time to get to the garbage dump. The piles of junk and garbage didn’t stink, everything looked strangely clean. It was almost a pleasant place to be, if it wasn’t for the foot of water covering the floor.

Noises of someone rummaging through the trash sounded from further inside the garbage dump. Papyrus took the lead while Syphus followed, reticent. He was sure that even if he left right now, Papyrus would somehow continue and go further. Better to stay and try to let this go according to his own terms.

Undyne and Alphys were there, digging through a pile of junk. Undyne did most of the physical labor, grinning and showing most of her teeth while picking up large pieces of steel with ease. Alphys, staying back and looking at the trash with appraising eye, pointed aside, where a few objects had been left aside. Undyne left there what seemed to be part of a large satellite dish. “UNDYNE! I’M HERE NOW!”

“Papyrus!” Undyne sounded genuinely happy to see him. She swept away the sweat from her face “Ready for a training session?”

“INDEED I AM! AND I BROUGHT A FRIEND!” Papyrus stepped away, leaving in plain sight what seemed to be a bunch of feathers stuffed into a green track jacket. “DON’T BE SHY, SYPHUS! COME OVER HERE!”

“Hey, I don’t think we have—“ the realization came to Undyne immediately. Those clothes, that brooch, the feathers...it was that guy! The snake that had made her look like a fool in front of Alphys! Undyne tensed up “Hello...nice to see you again...punk” Syphus waved half-heartedly, instead stepping around and approaching Alphys. Alphys was far more welcoming, although hers wasn’t exactly an effusive greeting.

Soon Papyrus and Undyne were training. Syphus had supposed it was because Papyrus was still convinced someday he’d be called to aid Syphus, but Alphys clarified that the training was mostly Undyne’s idea. “She wants Papyrus to not stop training even though h-he doesn’t want to be part of the R-Royal Guard anymore” Alphys frowned “H-He still hasn’t said why he quit trying...”

“What has Undyne said about that?” Syphus inquired, watching their training. Papyrus had formed several bones protruding from the ground, bones he was using to strike cans and other small debris Undyne threw around. His accuracy and strength were notorious, despite the uneven terrain and the obstacles the bones moved with precision towards the cans, extending as high as needed to hit them in the air. The cans were often fired away from the garbage dump, too far for anyone to take the time go pick them up. ‘YEAH! KEEP GOING’ Undyne would shout every time Papyrus did a particularly impressive move.

Alphys sat on a dry pile of junk, wincing at how uncomfortable it was. “She didn’t like it, of course...s-she thinks Papyrus was being a quitter. Maybe you don’t know, but Undyne is n-not the type of p-person that would let anything stop her...”

“Yeah, I can see it” he said. Undyne commanded Papyrus to lift a heavy piece of machinery with bones, telling him to hold it up for a minute. ‘YOU’RE DOING GREAT. KEEP HOLDING UP!’ she was shouting. Alphys and Syphus stared in silence, although Alphys was focusing more on Undyne than Papyrus. She wasn’t blushing or acting too unnatural, if Syphus hadn’t known that she was interested in Undyne he wouldn’t have noticed. Maybe I could try... The Social Links seemed to lead to a bond of trust between him and other people, and that involved his newfound friends revealing some sort of fact about them or their lives. Perhaps that could be forced to happen at a quicker pace? Syphus thought for a moment, looking for something Alphys would usually have hidden but would reveal to somebody she trusted. Undyne.

“So, when are you going to ask her out?”

“W-What?!” Alphys turned her head around so fast some would have thought she almost snapped her neck.

“You fancy Undyne. Why don’t you ask her out?”

“It’s not that obvious, I just had a lucky guess”

“I’m going to t-talk with her when I’m ready” she murmured, watching. Undyne had made a spear, attacking Papyrus while he blocked with bones “There’s no hurry, and...I-I-I don’t know if she feels the same. I won’t dare if I don’t know for sure she is...i-interested in me too...”

“You can’t keep waiting forever. That’s the kind of thing people come to regret”

“I know, but—“ Alphys got off the junk pile “Don’t tell h-her. Don’t tell anyone. This is something I must do myself...s-someday...I’ll have to...”

You feel you have gotten a bit closer to Alphys

The Alphys Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Priestess Arcana has grown!

“And...Syphus? Please don’t do that again” Alphys sounded rather serious “That was private, you shouldn’t – you shouldn’t do that” her tone showed she completely meant that. Was it so wrong...? If Alphys of all people protested it, then anyone with a more assertive personality would react in ways that’d make him regret it a lot.

“I’m sorry, Alphys...”

Alphys looked at him for a moment before raising her voice. “Undyne! Um, Undyne? Syphus said he wants to train with you”

“What?!” Okay, even Alphys would make him regret it. It was official: being nosy and unsubtle was an awful idea. Undyne approached with her hands on her hips.

“Really? And what makes you think I want—“

“THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! UNDYNE, YOU SHOULD TRAIN HIM!”

Undyne turned towards Papyrus. “I don’t think I should do that”

“OH. THAT’S A PROBLEM” Papyrus sighed a bit theatrically “AND HERE I HAD THOUGHT YOU’D HAVE WHAT’S NEEDED TO TRAIN HIM”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“I MEAN THAT ONLY YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO TURN SYPHUS INTO A VERITABLE WARRIOR! HE’S HOPELESS WITHOUT YOUR HELP, UNDYNE” Papyrus scooted towards Syphus, doing a stage whisper “YOU’RE NOT HOPELESS. EVERYONE CAN BE GREAT, INCLUDING YOU”

Undyne stared at him for a moment, seemingly considering it. “I don’t know. What do you think, Alphys?”

“Do I get a say on this?” Syphus tried to protest, but Alphys smiled slyly at him before replying, looking straight at him:

“I’m afraid you don’t” That both Alphys and Papyrus were pushing her to train Syphus was something Undyne wasn’t happy about. Well, sure, why not. Just one training session and that’d be it. She would be able to say she tried. Then she’d tell Syphus they were done, and that’d be the end of this. It was easier than trying to argue and convince them to not to force her a dead weight on her.

“Fine. You!” Undyne pointed at Syphus’ chest “Come here tomorrow morning. I promise you I’m going to train you so hard you’ll be unable to move for a week!”

“THAT’S THE SPIRIT!” Papyrus beamed with pride.

“Wonderful” Alphys chuckled. It was fair payback, and a lesson for Syphus to not to meddle into other people’s private affairs like he did. What kind of person would do that, really? Seeing that Alphys and Papyrus wouldn’t simply let him reject such generous offer and that simply not meeting Undyne the next morning was only going to make everything worse, Syphus sighed, resigned, and nodded weakly.

“Got it. See you tomorrow, Undyne”

“PUT MORE ENERGY INTO YOUR WORDS!” Undyne suddenly demanded. Syphus stood up straighter, barely resisting the urge to salute.

“Thank you and see you tomorrow morning, Undyne!” This is going to be a pain in the ass...

-ooooo-

Who’d have thought stuff like a brass lump with Sans’ name would sell so well at the right place? The Temmie Village shopkeeper had given him so much gold Syphus could afford to not go work at Grillby’s for a couple weeks, if he wanted. Not wanting to get rid of all the materials so quickly, Syphus refrained from bringing the rest. But the sudden influx of gold and the knowledge he had more gold available at any point just by bringing more seemingly useless stuff here made him feel like his worries about gold didn’t have any meaning anymore.

To celebrate, Syphus decided to give good use to the gold and go see Burgerpants again. It was likely that to talk to him he’d need to buy another Starfait. He still didn’t want to guzzle down glitter in a milkshake, but...maybe a sip or two would be good...

The MTT fast food restaurant seemed much less busy than it had been last time Syphus had been there, and Burgerpants was once again staring into the distance, utterly bored. When Syphus entered, Burgerpants barely glanced at him, only when the piece approached the counter Burgerpants straightened and said the usual spiel. “How’s life treating you, BP?” Syphus asked, leaning on the counter.

“I’m sorry, mister, it’s against company policy to talk with customers who haven’t bought anything” he replied immediately. Syphus frowned, taking out gold from his pocket to get a Starfait.

“Again with that...do you get a commission for each sale or what?” he asked jokingly.

“I could earn money when other people buy something here?” Burgerpants seemed genuinely surprised to hear that. Syphus’ coy smile disappeared, avoiding to look at Burgerpants.

“Forget it. It was a joke”

“Oh” Burgerpants looked like this was once another disappointment more for the pile “Too bad. That’d have made his hellish hole much more bearable”

Syphus stared at the list of products of the Burger Emporium as if it was the most interesting object ever. “You really don’t like this job, do you?”

“Are you kidding me?” Burgerpants made a very fake cheerful grin, swooning around “I love this job! And by love I mean I’d rather to have my teeth pulled out with pliers!” he glanced around as if he expected to see his boss standing nearby, listening to that momentary outburst, but he wasn’t around. When Burgerpants noticed Syphus was doing no more than staring at him blankly, Burgerpants muttered: “Yeah, I don’t like my job”

“I understood that, I just didn’t expect you to have such strong feelings about it”

“Well, I do, and you know why?” Burgerpants looked around again before lowering his voice, just in case “Just between you and me, I wanted to be an actor!” Burgerpants confided. That was a nice goal, and one Syphus sympathized with! Why was he working in a job he clearly hated, then? Syphus asked that, getting as a response a look that said ‘are you kidding me?’ “Have you realized where we’re living? This is the Underground. There’s no chance for me to be an actor”

“Have you even tried?”

“Tried? Where would I try? There’s nothing I can do!” Burgerpants took out a cigarette “And even if I had a chance, I would have Mettaton as my only competition. It’s an automatic loss for me! How would I defeat Mettaton in his own game?”

“Mettaton? Who’s that?” Syphus knew very well who was Mettaton, hard not to know after watching the timelines several thousand times. Burgerpants shot him a disbelieving look.

“Have you been living under a rock?” As response, Syphus pointed upwards. Right, they were underground. Burgerpants actually gave a short laugh, amused. “Touché. Mettaton is “the star of the Underground”, that’s what he calls himself, and since he has no competition no one can deny it. And who would dare to?”

“That’d be a reason to try to achieve that dream you have, right? Stick it to your boss”

“You can’t be serious” he narrowed his eyes, taking a drag of his cigarette.

That severely defeatist statement tugged at Syphus’ heartstrings. Burgerpants was young, he should have a bright outlook of the future, yet here he was, trapped and without any enthusiasm about what may come. It was rather disheartening to see someone so defeated. “Don’t let that discourage you, BP...”

“I have wasted nineteen years of my life. I’d rather not to waste any more in senseless dreams” Burgerpants scowled “There’s nothing to be done here in the Underground. It’d be different if there was a chance to go onto the surface, but we’re all trapped here...

...and we won’t ever get out”

Burgerpants has confided in you.

The Fast Food Worker Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Magician Arcana has grown!

The worker put the cigarette aside. “Bah...now I’m in bad mood...please leave before my boss sees you. I don’t want to get in trouble again” It seemed that there was no more option than to leave for now. Syphus nodded.

“Alright, I’ll leave. Good luck, BP”

“Same to you, bud” he replied, showing a tired grin. This really was the image of a person who felt already defeated, and who despite hating his dead end situation simply saw no way to solve it. It was a rather pitiful situation, one Syphus actually wanted to see changed. How to help, though? Syphus had barely stepped away from the counter in direction of the exit when he heard a faint ‘oh no’ behind him. The cause of that ‘oh no’ was obvious immediately after that.

“OH YES!”

From the other side of the glass doors the monster Burgerpants wanted to see the least appeared. The doors parted, and a robot entered. He had a rectangular body, with a bright grid of lights as a face. Gloved arms, flexible and expressive, and a single wheel on an axle protruded from the body. Syphus stopped, not having expected to see that monster in person.

Mettaton had arrived.

“GOOOOD EVENING, BEAUTIES!” Mettaton exclaimed as soon as he entered. A group of clients surrounded him, begging for autographs. Mettaton shook a few hands while he slowly approached the counter, where Syphus stood, at a loss about what to do, and Burgerpants tried to not seem as frustrated as he really felt. Mettaton, extending his hands and letting his fans put pieces of papers in his hands, started giving autographs while talking to his worker. “MY, MY, WHAT’S THE MEANING OF THIS?”

“What do you mean...boss?” Burgerpants’ eye twitched for a moment.

“I DON’T SEE THE SIGN ABOUT OUR NEWEST OFFER TO OUR DEAR PUBLIC. DID YOU FORGET IT, DARLING?”

“Oh. That” Burgerpants took a sign from behind the counter, placing it on the surface. It informed – in rather flowery terms – that MTT’s Burger Emporium had a contest: eat a jumbo-sized Steak in the Shape of Mettaton’s Face and win a room in MTT’s resort for a month. The contest would continue until there was a winner someday. It’d have been a rather engaging contest if it wasn’t because of the price depicted in the sign. You’d have to pay how much for one attempt?!

Mettaton’s lights flashed red for a moment, signaling his displeasure towards Burgerpants, and then he turned around to face the ten or so monsters that had gathered. “BEAUTIES AND GENTLEBEAUTIES! MTT PRESENTS YOU A NEW CONTEST!” with a lot of enthusiasm that sounded rather authentic Mettaton gave a quick summary of the contest as indicated in the sign. “AND TO MAKE IT BETTER, THERE’S NO DEADLINE TO TAKE PART IN IT! prizeisnon-transferablenosubstitutionorcashequivalentofprizesispermittedbyparticipatingyouacceptmttburgeremporium’sconditionsandforfeitanyintentiontoholdmttburgeremporiumaccountableforthecustomersactionstermsandconditionsapply” The small crowd cheered. Mettaton relished in the applause for a moment before approaching Syphus “AND NOW, TO DEMONSTRATE THE DELIGHT THAT’S OUR JUMBO-SIZED STEAK, A LUCKY CUSTOMER WILL HAVE THE CHANCE TO ENJOY IT – FOR FREE!”

Syphus stepped back, raising his claws. “Uh, I don’t think this is a good idea—“

“IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA, IT’S A WONDERFUL IDEA! DON’T BE SHY, DARLING, STEP AHEAD!” Mettaton turned towards Burgerpants “DON’T LEAVE OUR PUBLIC WAITING! IS THE STEAK READY?”

“It is, sir” he gave a pitying look to Syphus before leaving a very large plate on the counter, a ridiculously sized steak lying no it. There was no way anyone would be able to eat all of it in one try.

“LOOK AT THIS MARVELOUS STEAK!” Mettaton gestured at the steak with the shape of his face “A SCRUMPTIOUS, PERFECTLY COOKED STEAK FEATURING MY VISAGE. WHAT ELSE CAN ONE ASK? AND NOW, OUR LUCKY CUSTOMER WILL BE THE FIRST PERSON TO TRY IT!

WILL HE HAVE THE DILIGENCE, KNOWLEDGE OF HIS OWN LIMITS, MENTAL ENDURANCE AND PHYSICAL STRENGTH TO OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE? LET’S FIND OUT!”

“Now?!” Syphus squeaked, eyeing the challenge in front of him. Mettaton seemed to have noticed, he approached and lowered his voice enough to whisper to Syphus.

“Just do it. Everyone simply needs to see somebody eating it”

 It wasn’t something Syphus really was into, but Mettaton didn’t seem like someone who’d let it go if the piece refused to comply. Praying he wasn’t taking a very bad decision, Syphus sighed and nodded. May as well get done with it. Besides, free food.

Soon he found himself sitting with the plate of rectangular steak in front of him. Mettaton and other five monsters were looking at him, waiting for Syphus to take the first bite. Syphus wasn’t sure how eating something with the illusion of a monster body that had a much longer face than his real face was going to work, and being observed didn’t assuage any fears of screwing up. Syphus hesitantly took a piece of the steak and steeled himself for what would come. If I hesitate they’re going to get antsy. Okay, me, let’s do this quick and clean... Everyone saw the snake monster open his maw a bit, showing a row of pointy thorn-like teeth. The snake pushed the forkful of steak deep into his mouth until it seemed like he was going to eat the fork as well. One of the monsters watching went away, not liking what they were seeing, but the rest waited for Syphus to say something once he took out the empty form out of his mouth.

“...wow, this is really good!” It was not meat of any kind, that was for sure, but it was rather savory. Maybe it wasn’t worth the hundreds of gold asking for one of those would cost, but at least this wasn’t a dinner Syphus would loathe.

Mettaton didn’t waste any time, he immediately got to Syphus’ side, clapping him on the shoulder. “ANOTHER WONDERFUL MTT-BRAND PRODUCT!” he proclaimed while the few bystanders cheered Mettaton’s success.  The small crowd disbanded, leaving Syphus and Mettaton alone. The robot seemed to be in very good mood, the lights on his face twinkling. “THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION, DARLING. REMEMBER THAT IT’S FREE THIS ONE TIME. ANY NEW ATTEMPTS WILL COST YOU NINE HUNDRED GOLD”

“...fine” It wasn’t like Syphus planned to try ever again...although...the thought of having a room in the MTT Resort for free during one month...it was quite tempting, honestly. Satisfied, Mettaton left, and Syphus, not having anything better to do, kept eating the steak, hiding part of his face with his hand, just in case.

It was true it was impossible to fill oneself with monster food thanks to its properties, but that didn’t mean one could eat as much monster food as one wanted. Its magic interacted with monster bodies, making monsters not want to eat more once they reached their limit, and although humans were more tolerant by virtue of having physical bodies, that same magic would sate humans nonetheless after a certain point. Syphus had eaten around half of the huge steak before he felt like he couldn’t take not even a bite more. Defeated, Syphus took the plate and brought it to where Burgerpants was waiting. The employee once again looked at him with pity, although he quickly disguised it with a derisive grin. “”Really good”, eh?”

“I wasn’t lying. It’s good” Syphus pushed the plate with the leftovers of the steak, wincing. He felt strangely light and a bit dizzy, like he was going to start floating in any moment. Burgerpants rolled his eyes.

“It’s not even real meat. It’s mushrooms. I don’t know why people like it so much, it tastes like mud to me” Burgerpants threw away the leftovers “So what do you think of the boss?”

“He is...” Odd “...overwhelming”

“Try insane. He’s insane, yet everyone adores him. What’s wrong with people? What do they see in him?” Burgerpants scoffed, stepping away from the counter. It was closing time, after all. “I don’t get it. Why’s everyone so focused on that guy? Why does everyone think he’s so wonderful?” His voice was full of bitterness. He truly hated Mettaton, that much was for sure, but was there something else? Chances are there was something else gnawing at him, something he needed to overcome. Syphus watched him go to the tables, intending to clean them, and left in silence. There was something about Burgerpants, all that bitterness...

“His wishes of acting” Syphus murmured to no one in particular. It had to be rooted into his ruined hopes...Mettaton is the only competition he’d have. Working for him may be humiliating for Burgerpants. Still...it wasn’t something as simple as telling him not to give up. Something else had to be done...but what?

Something was sure, though: Syphus was planning to visit the MTT Burger Emporium several times more in the foreseeable future...and maybe he’d try the jumbo steak again. It was amazingly good. Maybe the nine hundred gold for each attempt were worth it.

Chapter Text

The thought of having to endure Undyne’s training wasn’t pleasant, especially because she didn’t see very happy about it either. Syphus didn’t think she’d do something like injure him, but it didn’t mean she’d take seriously this so-called training session. The fact she scheduled the session early in the morning was hinting she wasn’t going to do things half-assed, though.

When he arrived to the Garbage Dump he noticed thinking Undyne wasn’t going to take this seriously was a mistake. There she was, waiting for him, wearing her armor and with her helmet in her hand, sitting on top of one of the many piles of junk. When Syphus stepped towards her, she shook her head, a bit condescending. “Thought you wouldn’t dare to show up, punk” Syphus didn’t reply to that, his hand unconsciously going to the halberd he had inside his jacket. He hadn’t been afraid of Undyne while Alphys and Papyrus were nearby, but now, being face-to-face with Undyne and without anyone else nearby...it made him rather nervous “Come on, say something”

“...let’s just get done with this” Syphus mumbled, his eyes darting to the red plume of Undyne’s helmet. Undyne, noticing Syphus’s reticence to look at him, narrowed her eye.

“Come on! I’m not going to beat you up! This’ll be a training session”

“A training session neither of us asked for”

“So what? I’m not going to disappoint them by not giving this a try! And I’m not going to let a weakling like you humiliate yourself” she jumped from the top of the pile to the ground, splashing water all around her “Get ready!”

Syphus reflexively jumped back, once again his hand going to where the halberd was. Only after a moment he noticed he had inhaled and held his breath in preparation for a fight. Damnit, I have to calm down already! But that was hard to do the memory of Undyne killing him still fresh in his mind. Undyne put her hands on her hips. “Will you calm down already? Now let me see what you got. Show me a magic bullet”

“A bullet? Uh...right now?” Welp. That was going to be a problem. The witch was the one with magic, he was just a piece. Even if he had access to the witch’s power he didn’t know if he’d be able to use magic at all. Undyne’s expression soured even more.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t leave me waiting, do it already!”

“You see, I’m not sure how—“

“What?!” Undyne stared at him for a moment “Did you just say you don’t know how to make a bullet?” The slightly incredulous tone of her voice made Syphus feel rather self-conscious, even though he had no reason to be “Okay, let’s do this step by step. Focus your magic. Picture a white ball in your mind” Not expecting anything to come out of it, Syphus closed his eyes and obeyed. That was easy, just imagining a bright white ball...it was almost relaxing. “Focus on it. Don’t think of anything else”

“Got it. What now?”

“You should feel something deep inside you” I feel silly “Now open your eyes without stopping thinking about that white ball” Syphus obeyed again. Undyne wasn’t directly in front of him anymore, that helped him relax a bit “Try to make it real. Come on, do it!” Syphus grit his teeth, trying to picture the bullet as something real and tangible. His feathers slowly stood up on end, he narrowed his eyes, doing as much effort as possible to do what Undyne had told him. Who knows, maybe something would happen!

Nothing happened.

They kept trying for around half an hour more. Undyne tried every method she had heard was used to help monster children to channel their magic and make simple bullets, but nothing worked. Not even a spark of magic emanated anywhere in Syphus’ vicinity, much to her frustration, although soon that frustration turned into something that resembled pity. Monsters that were unable to use magic at all were rare. Sure, some monsters were more powerful or have more skill with magic than others – Alphys’ magic skills were specialized for her work, otherwise she was considered weak – but a total lack of magic skill was rather uncommon among monsters. That this Syphus guy was one of them...it was almost sad.

“That’s enough” Undyne sighed. Why did Syphus look like he wasn’t worried about it? “Magic isn’t your strength. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do”

Syphus passed her hand through the feathers of the back of his head, unsure where this was going. “What do you mean?”

“Physical strength. Let’s see what you have. Come over here” she took Syphus to where the piece of satellite dish had been left the day before. The rest of the junk Alphys had selected the day before had been taken already to the laboratory, but the satellite dish piece was too large. “I want you to try lift that up”

“Isn’t this a bit too much for a beginner?” Syphus said sheepishly, but approached the satellite dish nonetheless.

“You’re not going to get crushed, lift it already!”

“I’ll do it” Syphus grabbed the steel rods that formed the satellite dish’s frame and dragged it to test how heavy it was. It moved much easier than he expected. Calmer, Syphus grabbed the satellite dish from below. The satellite dish moved upwards, so he took the chance and got underneath it to lift it further.

“Yeah! Now that’s what I wanted to see. Higher!”

Syphus grunted and managed to lift the dish higher, feeling the strain in his arms. The dish got up to his neck before he felt he was reaching his limits. “H-Help...” Undyne grabbed the dish, holding it with ease while Syphus stepped aside, flexing his arms, with pained expression.

“Told you you’d be fine. No self-respecting captain would give a complete rookie more than they can handle!” she lifted the satellite dish with one hand, holding it over her head without any difficulty “I knew from the beginning you’d be fine”

“So what’s your opinion?” Syphus grabbed a heavy-looking pipe as if it was a dumbbell. It would be good to be stronger. It was true his Persona did most of the fighting, but being able to hit harder with the halberd was a nice thought.

Undyne threw the satellite dish aside as if it was nothing, letting it crash and sink a bit into the water. “Do you want me to be nice or me to be blunt?”

“Be blunt”

“You’re so weak I could defeat you with one single punch” Undyne said with a grin that wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but Syphus didn’t take it like a joke at all. He cringed, fearful “Oh, come on! That was a joke” Syphus, realizing he had reacted with fear, took a deep breath and apologized “It’s not common for monsters to go around punching each other, so I can’t help you with that”

“I wasn’t expecting you to do anything. This is a one-time thing, isn’t it?”

Undyne shrugged, groaning softly “Whatever. Get ready. I’ll give you a sample of Royal Guard training. We have just half an hour more, let’s make the most out of it!”

Monsters’ bodies could get stronger, but given that they usually relied on magic for fighting and the such, it wasn’t common for monsters to try to strengthen their physical bodies, that much Undyne knew, but the Royal Guard had a training regime that included that. She was ready to show Syphus what the training entailed – or at least a small part of it.

The captain found out Syphus would rather to strengthen his arms, something she had no objections to. Soon she had Syphus doing push-ups...

“FASTER! I’ll show you how” she said before getting on the ground and doing it. “Your arms’ stance is wrong; the elbows must point towards the outside!” ...and punching a mattress Undyne was holding. “Are you punching or petting the mattress? I DON’T FEEL THE STRENGTH OF YOUR PUNCH!”

“I’m trying as hard as I can!”

“No you’re not —you can try harder!” Undyne looked from behind the mattress “Stop thinking about hitting the mattress. Imagine you’re punching through the mattress”

“Does that really work?”

“It’s what I used to do when I was training. I know what I’m talking about, just try it – OH MY GOD I’M STILL NOT FEELING THE PUNCHES!”

Although Undyne was relentless, she had a way of making the training be almost fun instead of a drag. Her energy, the way she shouted, it was contagious, soon Syphus found himself getting enthusiastic and tackling her challenges with gusto, something Undyne approved. “I filled these heavy bottles with water. Lift those to your sides”

“Like this?”

“Yeah, like that! Higher! I want to see you doing an effort” Undyne took a bottle as well, doing the repetitive exercise twice as fast than Syphus. “Grasp those bottles tighter!”

After half an hour she declared the session was over. Syphus moved his shoulders in small circles, feeling sore. That wasn’t too bad! Undyne seemed satisfied too, in better mood than she had been an hour earlier. She grabbed the helmet she had left aside. “Are you interested in joining the Royal Guard?”

“You want me to?”

“I’m asking you because I want to tell you right now: I think you’re not even close to being a good candidate for the Royal Guard. Your lack of magic skills makes you unviable” she tilted her head “It’s a shame, you have the right attitude. It’s not perfect, but you’re in the right track. BUT if what you want to learn is how to fight then that’s different.

The problem is you’re not getting anywhere by punching. A weapon may work better for you”

Syphus smiled a bit at that. “I’m learning to use a halberd, actually!”

“A halberd? That’s perfect!” Undyne grinned, showing most of her teeth “Yeah, that rules! I can work with that – oh” Right. There she had gone, talking as if it was something that didn’t need Syphus’ approval. Trying to cover up her blunder, she decided to be frank. “You know, I had thought you were some good-for-nothing jackass, but I was wrong. You may be good-for-nothing right now, but with some effort you can be better”

“...I’m not sure if I should feel insulted or complimented”

“Feel whatever you want. What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t mind if you asked for my help. I’m serious. I could try to spare some time for you”

The offer made Syphus happier than he thought he’d feel. During the last half an hour all thoughts of Undyne having killed him hadn’t even crossed his mind, and although those were returning, the thought of being in good terms with Undyne was actually rather nice. Her friendliness was genuine, that much he could see right now. “When are you free?”

“Not right now. I have a job to do. Look, go see me tomorrow at my house” she gave him directions to her house, Syphus prudently avoided mentioning he already knew where it was “What do you say? Are you tough enough to work out and train like you mean it?”

“I can do it! I will do it!”

“That’s what I wanted to hear!” Undyne extended her hand. Judging the risk of Undyne not noticing the scales of his hands and his claws were mere illusions, Syphus grabbed her hand, thankful she was wearing armor. Her handshake was strong, not enough to make his bones creak, but it was strong enough for him to notice she could seriously crush his hand if she wanted “You don’t seem that bad of a guy. Let’s meet again sometime!”

Undyne seems to have warmed up to you.

You feel a faint bond forming between you and Undyne.

Undyne left, running with a lot of energy and leaving Syphus at the garbage dump, rubbing his arms. The training with Undyne had gone surprisingly well, and to be completely honest with himself, he actually was looking forward to meeting Undyne again. When he wasn’t actively trying to fool her she was rather nice and personable. Besides, getting stronger was a nice incentive. And because getting stronger also involves stuff I don’t want to do I guess I should go do my part-time job. True, the Temmies were willing to buy his stuff, but losing the job Sans had convinced Grillby to give to him would be embarrassing. He had to go work.

-ooooo-

“i heard you met undyne this morning”

Why do I feel like asking how he found out will be useless? “We were training, actually. I should tell Papyrus, it’s partly his fault I had to do that” Syphus had been given a bit more of responsibility at Grillby’s, now having to help the owner of the place to keep the glasses clean, even if it involved cleaning the same glass for several minutes straight. Right now Syphus was staring into the glass, talking with Sans, who was in his second visit to the pub. “Speaking of Undyne...where’s Frisk? I thought by now they’d have reached her”

“who knows”

“I thought you were supposed to keep an eye socket on them” Syphus frowned “That kid needs to talk with Undyne as soon as possible. Where did they go?”

“don’t worry, they’re okay. they’re just taking their sweet time to get there. they also told me someone has been messing with the timeline recently. who could have done it?”

...oh. Of course Frisk would notice when Syphus had to rewind the timeline to avoid the bad end. They may not have the SAVE powers anymore, but they had it for long enough time to learn to recognize when the timeline suffered changes. Did they remember what happened in that bad end? Sans shrugged, getting off his seat. “relax. it’s nothing they’re not used to already. just...try not to do it too often, ‘kay?” he walked out of Grillby’s and immediately changed locations with ease. One second he was exiting the pub; the next moment he was descending the stairs of his basement to his laboratory. “i’m back, kiddo”

Frisk looked up from what they were drawing, smiling as a greeting. They had supposedly left the skeletons’ house the day before, but actually they had asked Sans to hide them for a while. Nothing against Syphus, but after what happened with Undyne last timeline they didn’t want to die again. That’s why they were taking their sweet time to plan instead of rushing to Waterfall. Sans left a bag near them. “i brought you this from grillby’s. ‘phus says hi” Frisk didn’t reply to that. Sans passed by, checked his time machine, and left again, leaving Frisk with their drawing.

Now that they were alone, they were able to continue their conversation. “Those guards were some we hadn’t ever seen before. That may be a trait of this timeline”

“So Waterfall is full of monsters I haven’t ever met before?” Frisk wondered, taking another color pencil.

“Most likely” Chara’s voice dripped with disapproval “And yet you managed to get caught off-guard by them. You have gotten rusty, Frisk”

“It was the first time I had ever seen them...” not that it was an excuse, though. Chara was right, they had gotten rusty. If Waterfall had more guards they hadn’t ever interacted with, it was going to be difficult to end any FIGHT without fighting. “But we have to see Undyne, I want to see her”

“You will, but you need to work on your speed. Ask Sans to bring you some Sea Tea. Always have some of those with you. Got it?”

Frisk smiled to themselves. Chara, always planning ahead...it was nice to have someone to rely on, even if it was a dead child living in their head. “You really want to see Dad”

“What? Why would I? No, I just want to get you to the Barrier and see where things go from there”

Not wanting to force Chara to say something about their feelings they weren’t forthcoming with, Frisk changed topics slightly. “I’ll get the tea, and then we’ll get going—“

“No”

“Uh?”

“Frisk, we shouldn’t leave yet. I’ll tell you when we should get to Waterfall”

“But why? I thought you wanted me to see Undyne”

Chara was silent for a moment. They spoke with hesitation, like they weren’t sure of what they were saying. “...it’s just a feeling, but I think we should stay away from Waterfall and Hotland tomorrow.

Something big is going to happen”

-ooooo-

Just like promised, Syphus met with Undyne the next day, in front of her house. She seemed to be in much better mood than in that first meeting. Was it because now she liked Syphus a bit more than before? Encouraged by her welcoming behavior, Syphus greeted her cheerfully. “Hey, Undyne! I’m here like you wanted”

“Perfect. You told me you use a halberd. I want to see it” Syphus took out his halberd out of his jacket, giving it to Undyne. Her grin vanished immediately while she took the halberd, weighing it. “This? This is pretty much a toy! You couldn’t even split tomatoes with this thing!”

“...it has worked well enough so far” Syphus mumbled, a bit defensive.

Undyne shook the halberd, not impressed with how it wobbled back and forth. “Look how flimsy it is! And the blade – it’s all dull and broken! How long have you had this halberd?”

“Almost two weeks...”

“You can’t do anything with this one. Good thing I brought a real halberd from the Royal Guard’s armory” Undyne put aside the collapsible halberd and entered her house. After a moment she returned outside carrying a solid halberd, with a pole made of shiny steel. “This is what you should have. Here you go” she said, plopping the halberd in Syphus’ hands.

You obtained the Royal Guard Halberd

Syphus folded over, clutching the pole of the halberd and trying to lift it. Carrying it around was going to be a problem, especially because it wasn’t collapsible. I’ll have to leave it at the village, I guess “It’s...heavy...”

“Of course it’s going to be heavier than the joke of a halberd you had before! This one? This halberd is going to be much stronger” she said with a lot of pride “I’m lending it to you for indeterminate time, with one condition”

“What is it?” With some effort, Syphus managed to lift the halberd enough to lean it on his shoulder.

“Let me teach you how to use a halberd. I don’t want to risk you getting hurt because I gave you a real halberd. What do you say?”

It was a rather good idea, actually. Syphus was no more than a novice when it came to halberds and how to move them, having the help of someone who knew what they were doing was good. “I accept. Teach me, captain”

“You don’t have to call me captain, you’re not even a recruit of the Royal Guard” Undyne materialized a spear as long as the halberd. She extended her arms, showing Syphus her hands “See how I’m holding this? Do the same”

“Like this?” Syphus curled his fingers around the cold steel of the pole.

“Get your fingers closer. If the halberd falls out of your hands, you’ll lose any battle you’re in” she indicated. Syphus obeyed, gripping the halberd a bit tighter. “Yeah, like that! I’ll show you how to swing it—“ she moved to grab Syphus’ arms. Since she wasn’t wearing the armor at that moment, Syphus stepped back, reluctant to get touched. “What?”

“Sorry, I don’t want to be touched”

Undyne raised her hands, showing she meant no harm. “I should position your body to show you how you should do it. That’s the best way to do things! You’ll remember it better if you get into the position!”

Syphus looked at the ground. That made sense, but the risk of ruining his illusion made him fear this could lead to another bad end. “I know, but—“

“I’m not going to hurt you. Come on, trust me”

“I want to trust you, but...” But it’s too dangerous. Seeing he wasn’t going to agree, Undyne nodded.

“Fine. I’ll respect that, but I hope someday you trust me enough to let me help you with this. It’s true I didn’t really like you when we first met, but you’re okay. Do you have something against me?”

The piece carefully moved the halberd side to side, trying to get used to its weight. “Not really. It’s nothing against you, I just don’t like being touched by people I don’t know well” That was a believable excuse, wasn’t it? At least Undyne accepted it to face value. For a moment Syphus wondered if Alphys had once said something like that about herself, given how Undyne took the lie in stride and without trying to argue.

You feel Undyne respects your wishes.

The Undyne Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Justice Arcana has grown!

“Okay. Since I can’t teach you like I’d teach anyone else then we’re going to do something else: build up some strength in those noodle arms of yours! Are you ready?” her enthusiasm returned, ready to make Syphus stronger. If she’s offering who am I to reject her help?

“I’m ready, captain! Bring it on!”

“Heck yeah! Using a halberd effectively needs a lot of upper-body strength. To build up everything you need we’re going to start with these!” she pointed at a bunch of boulders not too far away. Syphus felt himself grow wary of how fast they were going.

“Uh, are you sure I should be lifting boulders?”

“Of course I’m sure! Don’t worry, we’ll start small. I’m not going to shove the biggest boulder around on you. Come over here!”

Just like she said, she wasn’t going to force the most difficult training first. Syphus soon found herself working to improve his strength, Undyne turning out to be both a demanding and caring trainer.

“Push forward!” she said, holding the flimsy bamboo pole. They were each holding onto the pole, trying to push the other back “Dig your heels into the ground because here I come! NNNGGAAAAH!”

“U-Undyne, the wall, I’m going to--!”

The bruise on his back would last for quite some time.

Besides trying to build up strength, Undyne decided to help him work on his stance with the halberd. Swinging it and trying to attack were things they’d try next time, but since the stance was the very base of a good attack technique, she claimed they were going to work hard on that too. It’d also help him get used to the weight of the new halberd. “One hand must go over here, the other should go this low” she demonstrated with the bamboo halberd “Your fingers are very long but that shouldn’t be a problem”

They won’t. Syphus grabbed the steel halberd like Undyne was showing him. “It feels like it’s going to slip from my fingers at any moment”

“Grab the halberd like your life depends on it!” the bamboo halberd creaked under Undyne’s fingers “Separate your legs a bit more. Don’t stand on your toes!”

“Like this?”

Undyne grinned, approving “Yes! I’ll now try to tackle you. BRACE YOURSELF!”

“W-Wait, Undyne, I think--!

It felt like a truck ran over him.

A couple hours later, Undyne decided they had trained enough. She went inside her house and brought a bottle of hot water, tossing it to him. “Take this. How do you feel?”

“Sore” Syphus replied, grimacing and rubbing his arms. Was all that the kind of training the Royal Guard had to do every day? They had to be immensely tough! The piece was amazed he wasn’t melting right now “I feel like I’m going to faint”

“That’s because you’re not used to exercising. It’ll get easier once you get the hang of it” she took a long gulp of her bottle of warm water.

“Do you really think that?”

“Yeah! Of course I do! It’d be better if you were able to use magic, but you could hold your own against many monsters...maybe even against weak humans too” she said. Syphus drank some of his water while she continued “Humans are the ones used to fighting physically, I guess it’d be good for you to train to hold your ground against one”

Syphus stared at his bottle. “Do you really think we’d even have the chance to see a human?” he asked before taking another swig.

“Of course we will! Someday a human will fall in the Underground and – can you stop trying to swallow that bottle?!” she protested, uncomfortable. Syphus left it aside, embarrassed. Why do I have a snake face, really? “Someday a human will fall in the Underground and it’ll be monsterkind’s duty to take their SOUL”

“...do we have to?” Syphus murmured.

“Of course we have to! It’s our freedom on the line. We need seven human SOULs to shatter the Barrier, and no human would give their SOUL voluntarily. We’ll need to take it by force!” Undyne narrowed her eye “Or what? Are you going to let yourself be killed by any human that comes down here?”

“Nothing says a human is going to try to kill anyone!”

“Only a fool would risk it! It’s either us or them!”

Syphus grasped his head, taking deep breaths to calm down. If he got into a discussion about this, chances are he’d start shouting and say something he’d regret. The thought of everyone in the Hidden Village dying came back to him again, Undyne holding Cohen’s SOUL. “You can’t—you can’t really believe it. This can’t be the only way to deal with humans!”

Undyne seemed to be getting angry too, but she avoided lashing out at Syphus. “It doesn’t matter if I believe it or not. It’s my duty as Captain of the Royal Guard to make sure all the human SOULs are gathered. Everyone wants to be free!” she stood up, raising her voice “I can feel it every day, I feel everyone’s hopes of someday leaving this hole in a mountain and see the world! Everyone wants to leave!

I’m going to ensure everyone’s hopes are fulfilled!”

It’d be admirable if it didn’t involve killing humans. Not wanting to get into a long discussion about this, Syphus decided to leave the matter aside. He simply nodded, mumbling an ‘I see’. The two of them stayed in silence, finishing their bottles of water, until Undyne decided it was time to get moving. “I’m going to see Alphys. You want to come too?”

“Me? Really?”

“You’re Alphys’ friend, and I think you and I are getting along. I saw you were trying to take Alphys’ anime the other day. Come with me, we’re going to watch something fun”

It wasn’t really that bad of a way to spend the day, leaving aside Syphus’ total lack of interest in anime. They were nice company, and relaxing for a while was a rather attractive thought. Syphus accepted, the two of them going in direction of Alphys’ laboratory. Syphus had to take the halberd with him, still unsure where he’d leave it. By the time they were crossing the bridge to Hotland, Undyne commented something that got Syphus in high alert:

“Hotland feels cold today”

-ooooo-

Sisyphus stared at the board, sweat gathering on his forehead. The pieces on the gameboard showed it clearly: someone was going to fall down. Stopping it wasn’t something he was interested in – they did need the materials obtained from defeating Shadow Selves – but something about the way Cornio had positioned everything worried him a lot. It was way more complicated than how the board had looked when Frisk and Ananas had been attacked. He still was staring at the board in silence when a familiar voice sounded behind him.

“I see you two haven’t been slacking off while I was away!”

Lucia sat on her seat with neutral expression. Sisyphus simply nodded in acknowledgement of her presence, and Cornio greeted her more effusively. “Look, I’m trying something new”

“And you’re doing excellent. I didn’t think you’d try such a daring gambit, Cornio!”

“Daring gambit?” Sisyphus really didn’t like how that sounded.

“Yes. Cornio has prepared a majestic set of moves that’ll leave you reeling back. I can’t wait to see it happen” she smiled coyly. Sisyphus, a tad annoyed by her behavior, groaned at that.

“I thought you were going to be my assistant”

“I am your assistant. It doesn’t mean I’m going to give you all the answers”

“What do you mean?”

Lucia traced with her finger the edges of the gameboard “Games need to be difficult for you to show all your skills. If a game is boring, it won’t lead to any growth. Would you rather Cornio to be a bad opponent?”

“Of course not, but—“

“I got you out of the void because I thought you had potential, but it has been thirty years and your potential hasn’t grown at all. Sisyphus...” Lucia lowered her voice, taking a more serious tone “You’re my heir. You’re aware of that, aren’t you?”

“I know, but...sometimes I wonder if I’m really the best person to be the next Witch of Hope”

Lucia scowled at that. “I fully believe you’re the right person, and if you believe you’re not...we’ll see once this game is over. A good Witch of Hope should be able to perceive people’s desires and use them for their own purposes. Whether it’s to lead them to their doom or help them depends on you.

In a way that’s something I’m very interested in seeing...what kind of witch you’d be”

“What kind of witch are you?” Cornio asked her. Lucia flipped her red hair away, replying with indifference:

“I’m the kind of witch that leads to doom”

“What? Why?” the thought of using people’s own hopes and desires to cause pain and doom was something Cornio didn’t want to understand. His questions in disbelief were more a reflex movement than anything else.

Lucia rested her head on her palm, thoughtful. “Because...the strongest hope is born from adversity? Hmmm...to be honest...

 Lucia’s starting to reflect about the meaning of her life as a witch.

The Witch of Hope Social Link has reached Rank 2!

Your power to create Personas of the Star Arcana has grown!

Lucia stared ahead, lost in thought. After a moment she sighed, glad her blindfold hid the doubt in her eyes. “It doesn’t matter that much. What’s important is what’s going on right now. Keep the story going”

Sisyphus looked at her, a tad concerned. It was rather unusual for Lucia to get contemplative, but there she was, playing with her hair with her finger and staring at the wall instead of the gameboard. “Will you be okay?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up” Cornio said. Lucia, still staring at the wall, waved her hand lazily, focused on whatever was going through her head.

“No, it’s fine. It’s nothing you wouldn’t have found out, Cornio. I admit it: I’m an evil witch. I guess I should at least remember why I’m like this...” she glanced at him “Don’t pay attention to me, keep playing”

-ooooo-

Alphys was rather happy to see Undyne, and her happiness morphed into surprise when Undyne mentioned she had brought Syphus. Her surprise increased when Undyne boasted about how she had been training Syphus that day. “He’s not too bad! Syphus may be miles behind Papyrus and I, but he’s not a random wimpy loser!”

“No?” Alphys didn’t realize she was grinning, amused.

“No! He’s a wimpy loser with potential to be more than that! Thank you, Alphys, for forcing me to deal with him the other day” I’m still unsure if I should feel insulted or honored.

Although Alphys didn’t seem entirely happy about Syphus being here, when Syphus asked if she preferred him to leave she hurried to say he didn’t have to leave. “Undyne brought you here, I don’t mind having you around today...” The usual time Undyne and her spent enjoying each other’s company now had a third wheel. Although she didn’t mind, she really hoped this wouldn’t happen often.

Watching anime was the plan of the day again. The three of them watched anime, featuring a lot of mechas and fighting. There was no doubt Undyne was the one who had chosen it. “Look at that! Alphys, they punched that thing out to outer space!”

“I-It was very cool” she said.

“We should make a mecha of our own. It’s the next step after what you did before”

“What do you mean?” Syphus asked. Undyne turned her head away from the screen, beaming with pride.

“Alphys got her job by impressing Asgore. She got the king so impressed he didn’t hesitate to give her the job!”

Despite Undyne’s gushing, Alphys seemed to be getting distraught. “It wasn’t that impressive...”

“It was very impressive! Syphus, Alphys made a robot with a SOUL. That was a major feat! Asgore has all his faith place on her! That was a damn good decision, if you ask me!”

“...Undyne...?”

“That does sound very impressive” Syphus admitted, looking at Alphys from the corner of his eye. The royal scientist was sinking more and more in the couch. Undyne, too focused on singing the praises of Alphys, grinned widely.

“I’m doing everything I can to help her. I see it all the time, I see her passion, her drive to achieve it! And you know what? I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes in her” somehow, something that sounded so positive was what had the worst effect on Alphys. Alphys started to sweat heavily, and even though she tried to dry hear head with her sleeve it was largely ineffective.

“...I-I have to go” Alphys stood up from the couch, avoiding to look at Syphus and Undyne, and went upstairs. Her sudden departure got Undyne to stop talking, noticing now the effect her praise was having on Alphys. The captain’s mouth formed a thin line, regretful.

“Darn it...Alphys is modest, but a person can be too modest. She should be proud of her achievements; don’t you think?” Syphus didn’t reply to that, so Undyne stood up from the couch too. Syphus was the only one still seated, staying on his chair “I’m going to the lab”

Syphus’s feathers stood up, alarmed. Wait what? Undyne could go down to the true laboratory? Alphys was fine with somebody going to her real laboratory? That was a remarkably big change, given Alphys’ behavior. “Are you sure you should do that?” Syphus inquired, his eyelid twitching a bit. There had to be an explanation here! Undyne either didn’t notice or didn’t pay attention to Syphus’ sudden alertness, dismissive, while going towards the elevator – elevator Syphus just noticed wasn’t disguised as a bathroom.

“It’s fine. I’m with Alphys there all the time. When you see her tell her I went downstairs” she said, opening the elevator and entering. The ding of the elevator before it started descending echoed in the laboratory, waking Syphus from his stupor. Of course things are changing...but why? What about the Amalgamates, about what Alphys is hiding downstairs? He didn’t understand, what had changed? Not having an answer, Syphus ascended to the second floor of the Hotland laboratory, to tell Alphys that Undyne had gone to the real laboratory. Before going up he glanced at the halberd he had left near the elevator.

The more Syphus ascended, the colder he felt, to the point where he started seeing his breath in the air. Alphys didn’t seem to notice, though. She was standing in front of a work table, staring at an object in her palm. “Alphys?”

Alphys had been feeling more and more guilty the more Undyne talked. If she knew everything was based on a misunderstanding – misunderstanding she had turned into an outright lie to not only Asgore, but to the Underground as a whole – then she’d leave Alphys. She’d hate her. Who wouldn’t? Everyone would hate Alphys for lying to them. One lie more for the already sizable pile of lies, but this one...this is what her whole life relied on right now. Her job, her achievements, everything had started because everybody believed she had created Mettaton and given him a SOUL.

It wasn’t like she had any way out of that lie, and she knew it.

When Alphys had gone upstairs, trying to run away from Undyne’s constant reminders of how everybody thought she’d help break the Barrier, her pacing had led her to her work table, where a finished cellphone laid on it. Her throat constricted when seeing that, feeling her mouth dry all of a sudden. There she had been recently, working on once another lie. There was no doubt, she had gotten used to fooling people constantly. Despite how many times she had done it yet, it hadn’t gotten any easier for her conscience, though. Her guilt kept increasing every day.

Syphus’ voice snapped her out of her contemplative state. She left on the work table the finished cellphone for that human child with the striped sweater. “Oh. Hi”

“Undyne went to the laboratory on the basement. Thought you should know”

“Th-Thanks...I’ll go see her” she said. She didn’t seem shocked or worried about Undyne being in the true laboratory. Does that mean she has nothing to hide there? Alphys shivered. “It’s cold today...Syphus, can you pass me another lab coat? It’s in that closet over there” Syphus did what indicated, opening the closet full of dirty lab coats and one single clean dress, and passed it to Alphys.

Unsure if he would be allowed to go to the true laboratory – or if he even should be there – Syphus decided to leave. “I’m leaving now. Alphys, there’s something I’d like to ask of you”

“What’s it?”

“This is going to sound strange, but don’t leave Undyne alone” Being with someone else should diminish the chances of them being attacked, right? This cold, he remembered it from the other two times someone had fallen down. Did it mean Undyne was in danger? He had started feeling the cold while he was with her in Waterfall, after all. Undyne is alone in the true laboratory. What if she already was...?

“What do you mean?”

Syphus slowly walked in front of Alphys’ work desk and put his hands in the pockets of his jacket “She wants to spend time with you, that’s it” It was a bad excuse, but it was good enough. Alphys nodded, so the piece decided to take his leave “See you, Alphys”

“B-Bye...” she said halfheartedly. Syphus descended the stairs, and seconds later Alphys heard the sound of the doors opening and closing. The scientist sighed, changing lab coats and putting on the one Syphus had given her. If Undyne was waiting for her then she had to go see her. Steeling herself and trying to not look at disheartened as she felt, Alphys descended the stairs. There seemed to be no one in the ground floor. Alphys turned off the TV and went to the elevator that’d take her to the true laboratory, humming to soothe herself while she waited. She did notice the halberd to the side of the elevator. “Oh...he forgot it...” Better tell Undyne to give it to him later.

The doors of the elevator opened.

-ooooo-

Undyne wasn’t very fond of Alphys’ true laboratory. It was a cold and dreary place. It was kept clean and tidy, but Undyne preferred places that weren’t as constrained and cramped as this one. That’s why instead of walking further into the laboratory, she decided to wait for Alphys to come down. Surely Syphus would tell her Undyne was waiting down here! It had just been like five minutes, but it felt longer than that.

The murmur of the elevator descending got her attention. That elevator was rather noisy; she had told that to Alphys many times. ...wait... The elevator’s murmur was sounding way faster than usual...and it sounded even louder than usual...

Undyne barely had time to jump back before the elevator crashed. The steel doors and the wall took most of the brunt, but the impact was strong enough to make dirt fall from the ceiling. For a moment Undyne could only stare at the steel doors, aghast. The elevator crashed – was Alphys riding it? Alphys! She could be in danger! She could be hurt, or...such a strong impact could...she could...

“ALPHYYYS!”

Undyne jumped forward at a surprising speed, grabbing the thin slit between the steel doors and started to push them apart. The doors slowly parted, pushed aside by Undyne’s impressive strength. As soon as she could, Undyne put the side of her face with her good eye right against the doors, peering inside.

The inside of the elevator was ruined. The steel frame was deformed, crumpled like a can somebody stepped on. The floor was cracked, even broken in some places. The buttons on the back of the elevator had fallen out of its sockets. And on the bottom of the broken elevator, there was something white and yellow. “NO!” Undyne pulled apart the doors further enough for her to enter and pick up Alphys from the floor.

“ALPHYS! WAKE UP!” Undyne picked up Alphys carefully. She seemed unharmed, but it wasn’t like Undyne could know for sure. No, she had to get help for Alphys...she had to get help! Get out of this laboratory and find someone who could make sure Alphys was okay! There was a place in New Home where that could be done, wasn’t there? A clinic, so to say. Yeah, they’d know what to do. Undyne stood up, clutching Alphys and feeling the weight of uncertainty and fear in her heart.

“Hang on, Alphys, I’ll get help for you! Please, wake up!”

CHECK

CHECKMATE IN ONE TURN?

Chapter Text

Alphys’ real laboratory had two elevators: one she used to go to the Hotlands laboratory where she lived, and the other to be able to go to New Home and the MTT Resort if she wanted. Knowing that, Undyne held tight onto Alphys’ unconscious body and hurried to the other elevator, pressing the button to get to New Home. When the elevator doors opened and she stepped outside, to New Home’s gray pathways, she shoved the crowd aside. Many monsters tried to stop her, asking what had happened, but she ignored them, going straight to the hospital.

“Undyne?” a familiar voice had asked her. She turned her head around, finding Syphus standing not too far away. He had been on his way to the Castle – or so he said later to Undyne. The snake monster looked at Alphys, his mouth hanging open. “What happened? Why’s Alphys--?” There was no time for banal questions. Undyne didn’t reply, continuing her way “Hey!” She didn’t stop Syphus from following her.

The New Home hospital was a small building, made of gray stone like everything else in the capital. Given the small quantity of monster population in the Underground and the many uses of magic to heal and keep monsters healthy, there were no more than a dozen rooms at the hospital, only around half of them occupied with monsters who had fallen down, close to the end of their lives. Besides them, only three monsters more rested at the hospital, receiving treatment for conditions they hadn’t been able to deal with by themselves. Alphys was quickly interned and left in her room, she was quickly assessed while Undyne and Syphus stood outside.

The prognosis wasn’t good: Alphys really had fallen down and was at the brink of death. When Undyne heard that, she slid down the wall until she was sitting on the floor, dazed. Alphys was going to die? Impossible! Just an hour ago she looked healthy – how did this happen? Was it the elevator crash? Once the medic left, Undyne looked at Syphus, who had taken the news with unexpected stoicism. There he was, looking into Alphys’ room with a strange expression. For a moment Undyne felt a revolting feeling of disgust. How could he look like what was happening was no worse than a minor inconvenience?! She wanted to shake him, shout at him about how he could stay so calm while his friend was dying. “What are you thinking?” Undyne asked, trying to stay civil. Lashing out at Syphus wouldn’t be of any help.

Syphus stared at the floor. “It was so sudden...I wouldn’t have guessed this’d happen to her. How did she look last time you saw her?”

“When I saw her she had gone upstairs; you saw it too!” she replied. Syphus was silent for a moment before approaching her. His voice did show he was trying to stay calm, like he was bottling more intense emotions right now.

“Are you going to stay with her?”

“What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I’m staying here! I can’t leave Alphys alone!” her reply made Syphus wince. Had she shouted too loud? Syphus nodded, said a farewell and walked away. His calmness was infuriating, Undyne threw back her fist like she was going to punch a wall, but refrained from doing it. Damaging the hospital was going to do more harm than good. After taking a deep breath, she entered Alphys’ room, sitting to the bedside.

She was going to stay with Alphys as much as she could.

-ooooo-

There was no doubt in Syphus’ mind that what happened to Alphys was the same than Frisk and Ananas had gone through. That meant he’d need to use the firefly brooch on Alphys. The problem was Undyne. Distracting her enough for him and Ananas to do their task could be difficult to do, and showing themselves as humans in front of the captain of the Royal Guard seemed like a spectacularly bad idea. Picking up Ananas from the Village was easy. Once she heard that somebody had fallen down, she immediately changed into her cowboy costume, picked up their hooded cloaks, and went with him, making sure her gun was loaded. Curiously enough, there was no sign of Cohen. Where did the old man go? ”Who are we rescuing?”

“Alphys” The blank stare from Ananas said it all: she didn’t have the slightest idea who that monster was.

Making sure Ananas was wearing her cloak and hiding her face, Syphus led her to Hotland, having remembered he had left the steel halberd at Alphys’ laboratory. Luckily for him, the doors opened easily, letting him pick up the steel halberd before going to the hospital, wrapping it the best he could with his own cloak so he could enter with it to the hospital. To cover it even more, he shamelessly rummaged through Alphys’ lab coats, using most of them. Sorry, Alphys, this is kind of urgent!

Getting to Alphys’ room was unexpectedly simple. Even though Syphus entered with a long object wrapped in a thick layer of clothing and accompanied by a short cloaked person, the monster at the reception desk didn’t even look up from her work. Not wanting to risk Ananas being discovered if they dillydallied for too long, they hurried to the outside of Alphys’ room. Undyne was still inside, sitting there with forlorn expression. Ananas’ face got a bit pale when she was told Undyne was there, but to her credit she didn’t try to run away. “Undyne...we won’t fight her, right?” she asked, badly disguising how much she wanted to avoid a fight with Undyne.

“I hope not. If we can think of a way to distract her and keep her outside of the room while we do our thing, we should be okay”

Ananas breathed in relief at being told they wouldn’t have to fight Undyne. She closed the hood of her cloak a bit more, hiding her face further. “I have an idea. Wait here” she said before running away in direction of the entrance of the hospital. Just in case, Syphus made a SAVE point, hoping he wouldn’t have to LOAD to stop Ananas. A couple minutes later the receptionist came to the room, peering inside. Syphus went to hide nearby

“Captain Undyne, there’s an urgent message for you from the Royal Guard headquarters”

“What?!” Undyne stood up “What did they say?”

“I don’t know, captain. I wasn’t told the exact details”

Undyne looked intermittently at the receptionist and Alphys before nodding, leaving the bedroom and not seeing Syphus. The receptionist followed suit, going back to her usual spot. As soon as those two walked away, Ananas appeared from behind the corner, the hints of an impish grin visible from underneath her hood. “Done!”

“...how did you...” Okay, I can’t complain. What was important was that Ananas managed to get Undyne out of the room. It was likely Undyne was going to run as fast as possible to the headquarters, quickly finding out there was no urgent message, and return to the hospital. Could they finish their task before Undyne returned? No way. “Help me move this bed, Annie” Syphus said, managing to get behind the back of Alphys’ bed and pushing it forward. Between the two of them they blocked the door with the bed, the still unconscious Alphys lying on it.

“I don’t think this is going to stop Undyne, Syphus”

“It won’t, yeah...” Syphus was banking on Undyne not wanting to harm Alphys by shoving the door open by force. That should gain them a bit more of time. Not much, but maybe it’d be enough. Syphus also moved a chair to the side of Alphys’ bed, positioning it on the blind spot between the door and the wall, close enough for him to lean and touch Alphys once it was time. “Hide under the bed, Annie”

“Oh, I almost forgot, I took these from the reception too!” Ananas took out of her vest several small boxes, filled with some sort of mush. The label on the box said it was hospital food. “This should be good, right?”

“I don’t think you should take food that doesn’t belong to you” Syphus frowned, then thought it twice, mumbling to himself slowly “Then again, this is hospital food...made for patients...surely it’s also full of healing magic...and it isn’t like they can’t make more later...you know what, let’s take it” Better to have something to heal ourselves. After making sure Ananas was hiding under the bed and grabbing Syphus’ shoe, and that Syphus had the halberd with him, he pinned the firefly brooch on Alphys’ hospital gown, making sure to keep it out of sight from anyone who peers inside. He still didn’t want to risk someone taking off the brooch before they were done. “Are you ready, Annie?”

“I’m ready” Ananas said, her hand gripping his shoe a bit tighter. Syphus made a SAVE point and put his hand over the firefly brooch. Well...here goes nothing! He thought, pressing the brooch and activating it. The now-familiar sensations of blacking out enveloped him.

-ooooo-

Syphus didn’t even have to open his eyes to notice that whatever place he was at was strangely bright. Once he opened his eyes he found out where he was at. It seemed Alphys’ SOUL had taken the shape of the True Laboratory, but it was way different than Syphus remembered it. Perhaps it was because they were right now in a monster SOUL?

Frisk’s and Ananas’ had been desaturated, almost dark, but Alphys’ SOUL was turning out to be rather bright, almost unnaturally so. The walls were completely intact, the floor was clean and shiny, and the atmosphere generally showed it to be much different than surely it was in reality. Could the Shadows be different than human SOULs too? It was unavoidable they’d find out very soon.

The biggest change was that there was a bright blue door nearby, door Syphus recognized. It was identical to the one he had seen at the Ruins, Snowdin and Waterfall. Opening it confirmed it led to the Velvet Room. Taking advantage that Ananas still was out-cold, Syphus decided to enter quick to the Velvet Room and create a few Personas, make use of the strength they’d gain from his recent Social Links.

When he returned, Ananas was awake and walking around with her gun ready. “How do you feel, Annie?”

“...I don’t know. This place feels...off. Is this how my SOUL was?”

“Kinda. Don’t lower your guard. Let me see your Persona” Ananas nodded and lifted her hands high, shouting ‘Hippolyta!’ Unlike her attempt in the real world, this time there was a blue glow coming out of her, which gathered and formed the Persona. The girl with the excessively large axe levitated, indolent. Ananas confirmed that yes, Hippolyta knew fire magic and was weak to electricity.

“What’s yours? Show me your Persona”

Syphus smirked, getting ready. He had just made a Persona fueled by his bond with Ananas, so to say. His Rank 5 Social Link with her had allowed him to give a rather good amount of power to one of the Personas he fused, most likely giving him the edge against what may come. Syphus focused, prideful, summoning the Persona.

Shiki-Ouji of the Chariot arcana was a rather tall Persona, almost reaching the ceiling of the laboratory. It seemed to be entirely made of paper, a veritable golem of paper that towered over them and looked intimidating thanks to its size, despite what it was made of.  Ananas stared at Shiki-Ouji’s horns, impressed. “This big guy here is immune to fire and ice. You could hit it with Agi spells and I’d feel absolutely nothing” Syphus bragged. If he had a higher rank in his Chariot Social Link, it would also have been immune to physical attacks, but it hadn’t been high enough for that.

Now that he thought about it, the Social Links really were showing their use. Besides Shiki-Ouji, he also had made other Personas, another of the Chariot and one of the Magician Arcana. There had been a fourth one, for healing purposes, but given that he had no Social Link of the Temperance arcana, it received no boost in its power.

After making sure to check what each one was weak and strong against, Ananas and Syphus decided to get a move on, walking slowly and staying alert against any Shadows that may approach. It felt like any normal trip inside a SOUL...at least during the first few minutes, but after around five minutes without seeing not even traces of any Shadows, Syphus started getting worried. Is this normal? “It’s empty around here” Ananas commented, wary of how calm everything seemed to be.

“Keep your eyes open” Syphus raised the steel halberd a bit more. They continued in silence for a while more until they say something in the distance. A Shadow! Preparing Ara Mitama for a quick physical attack, Syphus approached. The small red drop materialized in the air, staying a bit behind Syphus, ready to tackle the Shadow at the first opportunity. Ananas also got ready, raising her hand in preparation to summon Hippolyta.

There was no need for such precautions. When Syphus approached closer, he started recognizing what it was – how not to recognize her, when she had been a Persona he had once? That beautiful green woman with a red dress? The shock of seeing Silky made Syphus stop, mouth agape. Ara Mitama disappeared. “What? What’s going on? What are you waiting for?” Ananas whispered behind him, still in high alert. That seemed to have gotten Silky’s attention. She turned around, floating in the air, and with the serene smile on her face.

“Oh. Greetings. Do you need something?”

What’s going on?! Is she...really talking to us? Was that how monster SOULs were going to be? “Uh...no...not really?” Syphus murmured. Ananas, who also hadn’t expected Silky to speak, dropped her hand, watching and unsure what to do.

“Alright. I won’t bother you” Silky bowed politely and floated away. After a moment of befuddled staring in the direction Silky went away to, Syphus gingerly grabbed the side of his head, still astonished.

“What the hell was that?!”

-ooooo-

Silky wasn’t the only “Persona” in Alphys’ SOUL. They definitely weren’t mere Shadows, the lack of masks and the ability to talk showed it. Would calling them Personas be accurate? How am I supposed to know?

The presence of “Personas” and the lack of Shadows didn’t mean there was no danger, though. Not all of those “Personas” were willing to overlook Syphus and Ananas’ presence. Kodama – a strange small paper-thin talisman with red spirals on its head and body – was the first sign they still needed to be cautious. Not too long after Silky was encountered, they stumbled upon Kodama in another hallway. Ananas and Syphus tried to ignore it, but Kodama noticed them. It tried to call for them with its whispery voice, making the duo walk faster. When the voice turned raspy and menacing, Ananas glanced back and shouted, having turned her head around to see the moment Kodama was ripped apart from the inside by Shadows.

Ananas screamed, stepping back when the Anguish Basalt and the Brilliant Cyclops emerged from Kodama. “Syphus, watch out!”

“Got it!” Syphus raised the halberd, quickly evaluating the situation. A quick analysis showed physical attacks against the Basalt wouldn’t be effective, so he focused his efforts on the Cyclops despite the spikes, making it spin on its place.

“I’ll deal with this!” Ananas claimed, jumping back to dodge the Basalt trying to crush her and summoned Hippolyta. A burst of fire emerged from the tip of Hippolyta’s axe, hitting the Basalt in the air. The Shadow was propelled back a bit, almost crushing the Cyclops.

“Annie, wait until it’s in the air again! You’ll know what to do!” Syphus said, using the butt of the halberd to keep the Cyclops away, it was trying to spin and harm Syphus with its spikes. Ananas, quickly deducing what Syphus was thinking, shouted at the Basalt.

“Hey, you big dumb rock! Try to crush me if you can!” she challenged. The Basalt didn’t react to the taunt, it simply jumped again to try to crush Ananas. Having wanted that, the girl immediately made Hippolyta smack the Basalt with her axe, rocketing it towards the Cyclops and pulverized it, making it vanish in black smoke.

Syphus grinned widely, stepping back to give it the final blow. “My turn!” he shouted, summoning Orobas. The red horse person jumped in the air, clinging to the top of the Basalt, the Shadow tried to move and get the humanoid horse off it, but Orobas held on it tightly. “Fire!” Syphus shouted right when from Orobas’ palms emerged bursts of fire, hurting the Basalt until it dissolved away. That had been overall an easy fight, despite the surprise of Shadows appearing out of a “Persona”. Syphus held his hand for a high five, elated. Having two people in a team really did make things easier! “Okay, new plan: we won’t ignore any of those things if they talk to us. Got it?”

“Do you think there are more of those?”

“Many more, I’d say. With some luck we won’t have more trouble, but...let’s not get cocky” At least now they knew what to expect from the “Personas” around.

-ooooo-

Why, when things seem to be simple and nice, it turns out it’s harder than it should be?

Not enraging the “Personas” was much more difficult than Syphus or Ananas had expected. The “Personas” were very unpredictable. Sometimes the simple act of talking to them was enough for them to burst into Shadows, forcing the team to fight for their lives. Other times Syphus or Ananas said something that would logically enrage the “Personas”, but it ended making them react cheerfully and let them continue their way. One of them had even given them gold when Ananas challenged him to a fight. “It’s nice to see today’s youth don’t let people walk all over them” it had said, plopping several hundred gold in Ananas’ hands before flying away. “Syphus, where did the Shadows get gold?”

“How do you expect me to know? I stopped trying to make any sense of all this” he said.

The fights were generally easy, Hippolyta always hit quite strongly, and if there was any need for more support besides the halberd Syphus always had a Persona ready to help. Despite that, they both suffered hits, painful enough for them to agree try to find some kind of armor once they returned to the real world.

They were in middle of walking and eating some of their stolen hospital food when they found someone familiar standing in front of a large steel door. The yellow monster in a lab coat was unmistakable. “Alphys?” Syphus hurried to her. They did it! They found Alphys in record time! The royal scientist turned around, having heard Syphus calling for her.

The golden eyes said it all.

Ananas, not knowing the detail about the golden eyes nor knowing Alphys at all, tried to approach her, but Syphus stopped her. Shadow Alphys didn’t make any move to try to hurt them, staring and waiting them to do the first move. Syphus didn’t get on the offensive, but positioned himself so he’d be able to use the halberd at the first sign of danger. Ananas, noticing how tense he was, prepared to summon Hippolyta. Well we can’t stay here staring at each other’s faces all day. “Alphys. Let’s get going”

His disposition to attack at any moment made Shadow Alphus get her guard up. She stared at them, recognizing the girl. When she talked there was no sign of Alphys’ stutter, her tone sounded more certain, almost like an entirely different person “I know you. You’re that human girl that’s at Waterfall”

“Don’t talk to her!”

Shadow Alphys ignored that, smiling smugly. “I knew you existed. I knew it! And you...” she turned to Syphus “...you’re Syphus. Those clothes, your size – it’s all the same. You’re Syphus, aren’t you?”

“So what if I am?”

The Shadow Self laughed softly, almost squeeing in joy. “That’s pretty much a confession! I knew it! Of course I knew it, I’m always right!” she grinned almost unnaturally “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m very smart”

Oh. Of course. Shadow Selves were supposed to be parts of themselves everyone suppressed and kept away from sight for one reason or another. What had Undyne said? ‘A person can be too modest. Alphys should be prouder of her accomplishments’ Looks like we found Alphys’ confidence and pride. “Alphys, we need to get going. Stop that already”

“That’s going to be a problem. You’re looking for my other self” she pointed with her thumb at the metal door behind her “The other me is behind this door. Looks like she locked herself in there”

“She...locked herself? How could she do that?” Ananas asked to Syphus, but Shadow Alphys took the chance to answer that.

“This world is my SOUL, and it can reflect what my other self feels. She’s trying to isolate herself from the truths she doesn’t want to face” Shadow Alphys explained “All you have to do is find a way through this door” she stepped aside to give access to Ananas and Syphus. Thinking that there may be a bit of truth in what Shadow Alphys just said -- supposing she hadn’t already possessed Alphys – he wordlessly indicated Ananas to examine the door. He’d be in charge of watching Shadow Alphys and react if she tried to hurt anyone.

Ananas approached the steel door, examining it and the place it was at. The True Laboratory was shiny and clean, but near the door there was a serious state of disrepair. The walls were slightly cracked, the paint was peeling off, and the floor was grimy, almost sticky. Was the real Alphys really behind it? “It’s so dirty” Ananas said, rubbing the door with her hand and seeing the stains of grease and dirt on her fingers.

“Any hints on how to open it?” Syphus asked, not looking away from Shadow Alphys, who didn’t seem to care about his constant vigilance.

“I don’t see – wait! There’s something here!” Ananas wiped the grimy filth off a part of the door, revealing what was under it. There was a small inverted heart, where three locks could be seen, one at each end of the heart “I think we need three keys to open this door, Syphus. Have we picked up a key?”

“Not yet. We only have rocks and metal so far” Hearing keys being mentioned seemed to get Shadow Alphys’ attention, who started rummaging through the pockets of her lab coat

“I can help with that. Take it” she took out a key from the pocket, golden in color “...with one condition: you’ll let me go with you to the other side of the door”

Syphus instinctively was going to refuse, but instead he tried to find more information. “And why’d you want that?”

“I want to see the other me. There’s a few truths I want to tell her” What you want is to take over her!

“I don’t think she needs to hear any of your truths”

“Then you won’t be able to enter there” Shadow Alphys put the key back into her pocket “I’m not giving it to you unless I go too. Bargaining isn’t an option here”

“Wow, this Alphys person must be a tough bandit” Ananas murmured to herself. Tough bandit? There wasn’t really much time to think about Shadow Alphys’ demands. Taking the key by force was an option, but...somehow, fighting and risking harming or killing a Shadow Self seemed a bit dangerous. Not wanting to do something that could be a mistake, Syphus sighed and nodded.

“Fine. You’ll come with us”

Shadow Alphys grinned slightly. What would be an otherwise dorky face was sinister when done by Shadow Alphys. “Thank you. Of course, as I hope you both noticed, we need two keys more. I’m sure other Shadows have them”

Ananas adjusted her hat. “Are we going to fight them?”

You are going to fight them, if necessary. I’m not a fighter”

At least Shadow Alphys was going to try to make herself useful. She started guiding the team, navigating the halls of Alphys’ SOUL with ease. “Over here the Shadows are very strong. If my deductions are correct, one of the keys should be there” she was saying, pointing at a section of the laboratory.

“Uh, Syphus...? I think I don’t like doing what she says...” Ananas mumbled, nervous about fighting strong Shadows.

“We don’t really have any other option here”

-ooooo-

“We should fight her and take the key, Syphus, why are we doing what she says?”

“We have to”

“But she’s evil! I thought we had to fight the copies to rescue people, why aren’t we fighting her?”

“Let’s wait and see what happens”

“Fine! But I still don’t like it”

“You two know I’m hearing every word you’re saying, right?”

The three of them were traversing Alphys’ SOUL. Contrary to what Syphus had expected, Shadow Alphys was actually being moderately helpful! The team had gotten into more fights, and this time Syphus didn’t even need to ask for analysis. Shadow Alphys informed them of what weakness their foes had. “Those over there are weak to fire. You know what to do” she’d say just from glancing at the Shadows. If it hadn’t been for her, fights would have been harder. Neither Ananas nor Syphus was happy about having to let her tag along, but they both were silently grateful for her tips.

It didn’t mean they liked Shadow Alphys, though. Syphus vastly preferred the Alphys he knew, mostly because Alphys didn’t lord her intelligence over everyone else. Everything Shadow Alphys said was correct, but she tended to remind them that without her they wouldn’t know it. It had gotten old rather fast.

Ananas peeked around the corner, seeing their target somewhat away, as indicated by Shadow Alphys. “There’s a big one over there! I think it’s...an angel!”

“An angel? Let me see” Syphus said, looking as well. Ananas wasn’t wrong, that definitely was an angel, and one that could be dangerous, judging by how it was wearing a knight’s armor and holding a sword. The angel floated in the air, held there by its large wings.

 “Think it twice before making it angry. I sense powerful Shadows within it” Shadow Alphys said, backing off a bit. She didn’t even take a look at what it was, exactly “It has one of the keys”

“Syphus, you think we’d be able to fight it?” Ananas whispered, pressing her back against the wall. That thing looked very strong! Hippolyta was no slouch, but this was her first expedition, she didn’t feel prepared for a powerful opponent.

“...it’s not like we’d have much of an option. Let’s just try to not anger it”

“Good luck. I’m staying here” Shadow Alphys said indifferently, receiving glares from both humans. Syphus really wished the real Alphys was here instead of her Shadow. The team slowly walked towards Archangel, ready to fight if needed.

Archangel saw them coming and didn’t make a move to threaten them. Instead it descended to the ground, the tip of the sword touching the ground. Okay, here we go... “Give us the key” Syphus demanded without even bothering to say a greeting. Archangel’s expression continued stony, guarded.

“I have no reason to do such thing”

“So you do have the key!” Ananas said.

“I do. The door this key belongs to shall stay closed”

The girl glared at Archangel from beneath her hat “We need that key. You’ll give it to us”

Suddenly, Archangel sprung forward, propelled by its wings, but instead of aiming to Ananas it aimed to Syphus, extending its hand towards his head. Syphus didn’t have time to react before Archangel grabbed him from the neck, slamming him against the wall – making him drop the halberd -- and pointing the tip of the sword at his chest. Countering quickly, Syphus made Shiki-Ouji materialize right behind Archangel, raising a fist and looking prepared to smash Archangel’s head. To its side there was Hippolyta, aiming the hole at the end of her axe at Archangel’s wings.

“Let him go” Ananas demanded, aiming her gun as well. Archangel looked at each danger, judging that although it’d be able to kill Syphus, everything else would manage to hit and destroy it in no time. It didn’t acknowledge Ananas, instead identifying Syphus as the leader of the group and talking to him.

“I will give you the key – if you manage to obtain the third one. Until then I’m going to keep it. Understood?” it said. Syphus’ eyes darted around. It wasn’t like he had options, if he refused he was as good as dead, and although he would return to the SAVE state before entering Alphys’ SOUL, dying was an experience he wanted to avoid. He nodded and was dropped unceremoniously, Shiki-Ouji vanishing due to Syphus getting distracted. He coughed, still feeling like Archangel’s strong hand was around his neck, while Ananas approached and helped him stand up. Archangel didn’t make a gesture to help them, instead returning to the air. That thing’s going to pay Syphus thought bitterly, being led away once he picked up his halberd. There was one last key to find, after all.

Shadow Alphys followed them, not commenting about what she had seen. “The other key should be in that direction. The odds a strong Shadow has it are rather low”

“Yeah, whatever” Syphus grumbled “Why are you helping us, anyway? You could have let us trek around by ourselves”

She shrugged, pointedly not looking at Syphus’ eyes. “You two are my ticket to reaching the other me. If any of you die that door will stay closed”

“Are you sure that’s all?” Ananas asked “You’re the evil version of this Alphys monster, but you’re not being too evil”

“Annie...” Syphus warned, although Shadow Alphys didn’t seem offended. Shadow Selves weren’t inherently ‘evil’, apparently. They could be merciless and not hesitate to kill them – judging by his experience with another two – but it wasn’t like they were evil twins of the person they represented.

-ooooo-

 “Are you sure that’s the right one?”

“Completely sure” Shadow Alphys nodded emphatically. Koppa Tengu didn’t seem like a dangerous creature, but then again, appearances were deceiving, especially when it was about Personas and Shadows. They couldn’t lower their guard. The “Persona” they were eyeing resembled a short person with wings and a mask depicting a bird, quite different from Archangel.

“You think we’ll have to find something for this one too?” Ananas wondered. Syphus frowned.

“I hope not. I wasn’t planning for this mission to turn into a series of fetch quests” Two of them approached Koppa Tengu, Shadow Alphys staying behind like before. They waited for Koppa Tengu to notice them, when the masked person with bird wings saw them, it froze in the air. “Uh? W-What? What’s this—who are you?”

Ananas trained her gun on it. “Give us the key you haveThe “Persona” didn’t react as badly as it could have, no Shadow burst out of its body. Instead is screeched like a crow and started flying away, shedding feathers all over the place. “Hey!”

“Don’t let it get away!” Syphus shouted, starting to run. Ananas, being younger and shorter, was left behind a bit, although he didn’t notice. Koppa Tengu was flying rather noisily, the flapping of its wings echoing in the hallways. Objects like beds, sinks, lush plants, it all was thrown in the way by the target, forcing Syphus to jump over all that to try to reach it. Not being as athletic as he should be, Syphus was rather slowed down by that, until he lost sight of the target, having arrived to a place where three different hallways diverted from the one they were at. “Damn it!”

“What? Where did it go?” Ananas asked once she managed to reach him.

“I don’t know! It was here a second ago!”

Shadow Alphys arrived, walking as if this was a leisure trip and not a pursue to catch something they needed. She was completely focused on what was going on, even if her speed didn’t show it. “It’s over there, to your right.  That hall twists to the left and into a circle, ending here” she pointed at the middle hallway”

“Oh. Really? Let’s see...Annie, can you block this way?”

Ananas nodded, Hippolyta forming in the air. The girl and her Persona stood at the end of the middle hallway, prepared for when the target would come. Since this end of the hall was secured, Syphus entered to the right, finding Koppa Tengu not too far into it, shaking with fear. Its body and clothes were marred with cracks that oozed smoke, it seemed to be on the verge of shattering and releasing the Shadows inside. “Come on, give the key and we’ll leave you alone!” Syphus shouted, brandishing his halberd and preparing to strike. Koppa Tengu shook, the cracks closing a bit.

“I-I’m not going to l-let you go in...I won’t let you...”

“We’re not going to hurt Alphys! Give it now!”

“No!” it went flying again. I had enough of this! He followed Koppa Tengu, driving it to where Ananas and Shadow Alphys were waiting. The girl smirked, having expected it.

“Cleave it!” she shouted, Hippolyta raising her axe and swinging it to hit the target on its chest...and missed “W-What?”

“I-I-I-I-I’m not g-giving this to you--!” the target shouted, not noticing the single line of magic bullets that blocked the way. It crashed against the bullets, the damage being enough to knock it down from the air. Koppa Tengu fell, unmoving.

“Got it!” Ananas got on the target’s back, right behind its wings, hoping that’d be enough to hold it down. Koppa Tengu didn’t try to get her off, still shaking and fearful.

“I give up! I’m s-sorry, I don’t want to give it, I’m sorry—“

“...I feel like a major jerkass now” Syphus mumbled. It was one thing to fight Shadows who were no more than instincts and feelings given form, it was an entirely different thing to assault a ‘Persona’ that seemed to be bordering on sentience. I don’t get it. What’s going on? Making a mental note about asking Igor what was all this, he crouched in front of Koppa Tengu, staring into its mask.

“Give us the key. That’s all we ask”

“F-Fine! Here it is! Le-Leave me alone!” as if that was all the ‘Persona’ needed to say, the key literally jumped out of its back, levitating in the air over it. Ananas hurried to take it, jumping back as if she feared a sudden attack now that she had the key, but Koppa Tengu didn’t move, it was still almost completely immobile. Disturbed with how full of feelings it seemed to be, she showed the key to Syphus, who nodded. Shadow Alphys started walking back to where they had left Archangel, but Ananas and Syphus stayed behind. I don’t like this he thought, approaching Koppa Tengu.

“Hey...will you be okay?”

“I gave you the k-k-key, leave me alone!”

No matter what they said, Koppa Tengu kept saying the exact same thing over and over. Seeing that the ‘Persona’ wouldn’t stand up or try to do anything but whimper about the key, the team left, not without feeling uncomfortable about what had happened. Okay, now I’m completely sure: I need to ask Igor about all this stuff. Shadow Alphys wasn’t of any help when Syphus asked if she knew about the ‘Personas’, all she did was stare blankly at him and say “Let’s focus on what’s important right now”

Archangel was still on the same room than before, hovering over one of the operating tables. When the team and Shadow Alphys entered, it turned its head around, its armor making noise. “We got it! We have the key!” Ananas proudly proclaimed, showing it. Archangel froze, stiffened.

“Impossible...” it said, its voice deforming. Unbeknown to the team, a large crack formed on its back, sludge started to seep through it.

“We did it, so give us your key!”

“No. I won’t”

“What?! That’s unfair!”

“We did what you wanted. Do your part of the deal” Syphus said, crossing his arms. He wasn’t going to tolerate any more fetch quests, now that they were so close to gathering the last key they needed, he was willing to force Archangel to give the key one way or another.

Archangel really didn’t like Syphus’ tone. Smoke emanated behind it in noticeable amount, making Ananas get her guard up. “I’m not going to let you reach her. You’ll hurt her. I won’t let you hurt Alphys any longer!”

“W-What? We didn’t—“ Ananas tried to defend herself, but Archangel wasn’t listening. Shadow Alphys didn’t reply to the accusations, closing her eyes and enduring it.

“I know what you’re planning!” Archangel pointed its sword towards the group “I will stop you no matter what! Alphys shall stay safe!” suddenly, its back burst with a noise like metal scraping against metal, Archangel getting obliterated to bits by the large Shadow it had inside. Oh, crap!

“Everyone back off!” Syphus shouted while the large blob of ink-like substance settled, starting to form a rather large shape. Shadow Alphys and Ananas stepped back, eyeing with fear and caution the Shadow towering over them, almost reaching the ceiling of the laboratory. Ink gave the way to metal, blocky shapes stacking together, a very large and sturdy sword held by a fist so big it could crush anyone’s head without effort, the sword was dripping more of that horrid sludge that formed Shadows. The bright colors of the Shadow would have been striking and appealing if it wasn’t for the fact the Shadow was going to try to kill them all.

Ananas’s pupils widened in shock, seeing the Shadow rising to its feet. “What’s that? A robot...?” Syphus slowly nodded, stammering a yes.

“...although I think the right term is ‘mecha’” he added.

Steel Machine

Resistant to everything, yet weak in health.

Shadow Alphys’ analysis wasn’t good news at all. No weaknesses and strong to all magic and physical attacks? “Guess we’ll have to attack constantly” Syphus said, summoning Shiki-Ouji from within him. The Steel Machine was prepared for that, though. It swung its sword. Syphus defended the team with Shiki-Ouji’s arms, expecting the sword to crash against them, but it didn’t. Instead it swung to the floor, leaving a trail of ink on the floor, smaller Shadows coming out of it. Four Mayas, with completely different masks to the ones the team had seen so far, came to life, raising their arms.

“Those are Cowardly Mayas. They’re not going to be a problem for you”

“Annie, we’re relying on you for this!” Syphus stepped forward with his halberd while Shiki-Ouji grappled with the Steel Machine, holding its arms to stop it from doing any attacks and unfortunately stopping himself from doing any attacks with his Persona. The halberd was the only way he had now to attack.

“Got it!” Ananas shouted, Hippolyta readying its axe and firing a ball of fire at one of the Mayas. It was defeated immediately, much to her delight “I found a weakness!”

“Keep it going!” Syphus replied, using his halberd to parry another Maya’s arms. Noting that the girl was the biggest threat, the Mayas focused much of their magic on her, trying to hurt her with ice spells. Several of them hit Hippolyta, but Ananas endured on, trying not let it distract her even if it hurt. The girl didn’t use her gun, exclusively using her Persona. She had a very limited amount of bullets, she didn’t want to use them unless it was absolutely necessary. While Syphus was thrown to the ground, hit by one of the Cowardly Mayas, Ananas continued her fire magic, quickly defeating the few enemies. Once that was done, Syphus stood up, taking out one of the hospital food packages. “Ugh...”

“That was easy!”

“Easy for you” he had been busy trying to keep the Steel Machine at bay. It had been mercilessly punching Shiki-Ouji’s side, the paper golem tried to hold the mecha’s fist, but it managed to get out of the Persona’s grasp, slashing with the sword towards it. Shiki-Ouji swung its thick arms, hitting the Machine like a bludgeon. The Machine fell to the ground, overwhelmed. “This is our chance!”

“I’m right here!” Ananas and Syphus ran forward, taking advantage of the moment of weakness, and hit the Steel Machine with everything they had, holding it down with their Personas while they stomped and hit it with their weapons. The advantage lasted a few seconds before the Steel Machine whirred and rose violently, throwing the humans back. More Shadows formed in front of it. The next wave!

Two Brilliant Cyclops on their slabs faced them, immediately jumping in the air somehow, shining brightly, and slamming right in front of them, cracking the tiles. Ananas jumped back, holding onto her hat. “We don’t have anything to crush those with!”

Shadow Alphys looked at the new Shadows from over her glasses, analyzing them. “It shouldn’t be too difficult. Keep your distance away from them”

“It’s too late for me!” one of the Cyclops was trying to spin on him, forcing him to keep blocking the Shadow’s round slab with his halberd. Once again Ananas showed to be useful, her fire hitting the Shadows since Syphus was unable to fight. The Machine, having seen two more of its recently created minions had been defeated, again swatted Shiki-Ouji aside, but this time it plunged the sword into the ground and left it there. The sword started to grow like a water balloon before bursting, something large and heavy coming out of it. “That has to be the last one, it must be!”

Ananas put her gun away, judging it’d be useless even if she wanted to shoot. The last Shadow to fight wasn’t the kind that seemed vulnerable to guns, after all.

It was an armored tank, rumbling and moving slowly towards them, its cannon swiveling and aiming at them. Shadow Alphys made sure to stay as far away as possible from the danger. “That one is dangerous! No weak points and no resistances! Get rid of it before it kills you!”

“Why? What does it do?” Ananas looked back between Shadow Alphys and the tank. The Arcane Turret started glowing, its cannon gaining a bright blue shine. Syphus gasped, recognizing that glow. That samurai Shadow in Frisk’s SOUL had done that too right before...

“RUN!” he shouted to Annie. The girl looked like she was about to say something, but when the cannon of the Turret reached a blinding white color she bolted to a side. The Turret’s attack was stronger than she had seen so far. A ball of ice was fired from the Turret, impacting against the wall. From the point the ball hit the wall it started to be covered by ice, creeping quickly until a disc several meters wide formed. Without warning, the ice shattered noisily, leaving many larges holes on a wall made of concrete and steel. Syphus could feel himself tensing at the sight of what the tank’s magic had done to the wall. That’s no joke. We have to finish that thing immediately!

Ananas stayed near the opposite wall, as far as possible from the tank, and focused on attacking with her Persona. Shadow Alphys hadn’t lied, despite the tank’s obvious defenses, it was still vulnerable to Hippolyta’s axe. The Arcane Turret aimed at Hippolyta, quickly firing several rounds of Bufu spells to try to take her down. Given Hippolyta’s small size, it was able to dodge the ice spells easily, spinning through the air and attempting to cut the cannon of the tank off. “I need help over here!” Ananas shouted when the Turret aimed at her instead of the Persona.

“I’m busy!” Syphus shouted back, still grappling with the Machine with his Persona, that Shadow had approached them while they were distracted by the Turret. He hit the Machine’s legs with the blade of the halberd, leaving no more than gashes on the paint. The Machine moved its arm, moving to punch Syphus on the face “Ack!” he reflexively gasped, barely managing to move Shiki-Ouji, it grabbing the Machine’s fist when it was mere inches of breaking Syphus’ face. Shiki-Ouji forcibly moved the Machine’s hand away, twisting and making the metal screech.

Not having more option than to deal with the Turret by herself, Ananas gathered her courage and faced the tank. “You won’t get me, weirdo!” she yelled, making Hippolyta fire a torrent of fire at the top of the tank, right where the Shadow’s mask was. The Turret made no noise, it simply accelerated to get away from the fire while keeping its cannon aimed at Ananas. More volleys of ice crossed the air, hitting around Ananas, the girl throwing herself to the ground to dodge them. Seeing its chance, the tank roamed towards her, trying to run her over, she had to roll over to dodge it. For a moment she didn’t know where was what, slightly dizzy, until a Bufu hit her right on the back, throwing her forward and on the floor, shivering. “Ah...s-s-so cold...” she muttered, standing up with tears in her eyes from the pain. Seeing the need to keep herself from being hit again, Ananas made Hippolyta stand right in front of her, using fire to defend against more of the Turret’s ice attacks. “I really need help!” she had barely said when a bolt of lightning fell from the ceiling on the Turret, stopping it momentarily from attacking. Ananas turned her head around, Shadow Alphys had approached enough to help.

Shadow Alphys extended a hand, another bolt striking the Turret. “Don’t stop, keep going!”

“Alphys?!”

“Just do it!” she yelped, having missed once with her spell. The Turret, not liking being attacked by two people at once, whirred noisily and sped towards Shadow Alphys, forcing her to retreat to the hallway. Ananas grit her teeth with frustration, drying the tears off her eyes.

“Leave her alone!” she screamed, a burst of energy reinvigorating her. She could feel her attack increasing, her Persona gaining strength, using it to bury the axe deep into the tank’s armor. The Turret was yanked away from the hallway, taken to the other side of the room and mercilessly battered by Hippolyta’s axe, many deep gashes left on the tank. Genuine smoke poured from underneath the Shadow’s mask, the top of the Turret tilting to a side as if it felt dejected by all the damage it had received. Ananas, not realizing that with each physical attack she had been slumping more and more, her energy drained by her Persona, had to stop her onslaught to take a breath, not understanding why she felt so tired. Hippolyta stopped in the air, floating nearby. The few seconds of rest were enough for the Turret to take aim at the Persona. The ice hit Hippolyta, making it vanish and Ananas cry in pain. As if that was exactly what the Turret was waiting for, its cannon swiveled to aim at Ananas, two balls of ice crossing the air in quick succession.

One hit her on her belly, making her double over, the other one hit her right on her face almost immediately. Ananas was thrown back by the force of both impacts, her hat falling on the floor and Hippolyta vanishing momentarily, the Turret advanced immediately, its top twitching. The cannon aimed resolutely at Ananas’ heart. Ananas, panicked, got Hippolyta to appear again, trying to focus on using the Persona’s fire skill, but nothing happened. She was mentally exhausted; she didn’t have the strength to not even boost her attack and finish the tank. “Why isn’t it working?” she mumbled, holding her head, it was pulsing painfully. Boosting her attack earlier had consumed the little that remained of her spirit power.

“Annie, get away!” Syphus shouted right when Shiki-Ouji jumped on the Turret, its hand pressing hard against the cannon. Ananas could only stare, not having expected Syphus to stop fighting the Machine. That other Shadow, free from Shiki-Ouji’s fighting, started coming near Syphus, its steps sounding heavily on the tiles of the floor. “Go!”

The Turret almost jumped in shock, revving up and slamming against the wall in an effort to get Shiki-Ouji off it, Syphus winced with every slam, keeping his eyes on the Machine and keeping his distance. Not wanting to leave Syphus undefended, Ananas tried to attack, but there still was no magic, leaving her with no other options than using her gun or doing what Syphus said. There was no more time to think about it once the Turret started glowing, charging up to boost its magic power. Ananas ran towards the hall, where Shadow Ananas was waiting. Syphus retreated as well, leaving his Persona clutching the Turret’s cannon and the Machine approaching towards them.

For a moment the only thing the three of them saw was a blinding flash and the boom of an explosion, forcing the three of them to cover their ears and close their eyes, cold wind blasted them without hurting. Syphus felt a very strange sensation, something had hit his Persona but he felt no pain at all. Once it was safe for them to look inside the room, they saw the result of what had happened.

The walls and floor were cracked and covered with a thin layer of frost, glittering in the blinking fluorescent lights. They barely managed to see the fading red particles from when the Arcane Turret was obliterated by its own attack. Shiki-Ouji was standing still, unaffected by the icy explosion from the charged attack, and the Steel Machine...

...the Machine was on its death throes. Not only it had received an ice blast from very close, Syphus’ constant attacking had managed to do a number on it before the Turret exploded. The Machine was staggering, leaning back and seemingly about to fall down. “It’s almost done” Shadow Alphys informed “I’d say a strong enough blow would be enough to destroy it”

Syphus glanced at Ananas. “Do you want to do the honor?”

“I don’t feel strong enough...” Ananas said weakly. Syphus took out another of the hospital meals, giving it to her. “This is going to help?”

“It’ll make you strong enough to finish that thing”

It was just like Syphus said. The hospital food reinvigorated her in no time, enabling her to summon Hippolyta and ready the axe. The pulsing headache was still there, but at least she felt strong enough to deliver the final blow. Ananas pointed at the Machine and shouted:

“Finish it, Hippolyta!”

Hippolyta crossed the air, spinning with the axe forward. The noise of metal being torn to pieces in one swift move made Syphus cover his ears, involuntarily closing his eyes. When he opened them, one moment later, the Machine was gone. Ananas was leaning against the wall, holding her head with one hand. Shadow Alphys had approached her and was murmuring to the human girl, very few words reaching Syphus’ ears.

“...exhaustion....inexperienced...”

Syphus rummaged in the stuff he had gathered during the trip through Alphys’ SOUL, giving it to Ananas. It was a strangely shaped bud-like object, small enough to eat. “Eat this. It’ll help you” not having enough energy to protest, Ananas simply nodded and ate the bud, almost immediately feeling the headache vanish. “Wow...what was that?”

“It’s a soul...soul something. I don’t remember what it’s called” Syphus took one for himself too “Using a Persona’s magic skills will tire your soul, and using a Persona’s physical moves will use your, uh, health. Think of it like this: using your Persona at all will need something from you. Got it?”

“...I think I understand” Ananas walked into the room to recover her cowboy hat. Syphus followed her to pick up the key that was where the Steel Machine used to be. They did it, they had gathered the three keys. Once he returned to Shadow Alphys, she took out her key, giving it to him.

“I knew you two would do it”

“Yeah...” Syphus muttered coldly and started walking ahead. Ananas was about to follow him, but before that she approached Shadow Alphys. Ananas played with her braid, unsure of what to say. It took her a moment to ask what she had in mind.

“...you tried to help me. You’re the...the hidden side of this Alphys person but you helped me. Why?” she asked. Shadow Alphys didn’t reply, so she continued “I thought you’d try to kill us, but you tried to help me. Really, why?”

“Because you two are the help I need to reach the Alphys you know” Shadow Alphys replied coldly before following Syphus. Ananas stared at her back, not understanding a thing. Her Shadow Self had tried to kill Syphus and Monster Kid, by all logic Shadow Alphys should do the same.

...maybe Shadow Alphys was biding her time. Instead of attacking right when she met them, surely Shadow Alphys was waiting for the right chance. It had to involve reaching the real Alphys. Ananas tried to focus, she couldn’t remember how exactly she had met her own Shadow Self. No, wait, she did remember something.

Walking to Undyne’s house and getting near it. She never saw her own Shadow Self directly. All she remembered was getting near Undyne’s house, and then her own voice was whispering to her some truths she’d have preferred not to hear. When Syphus and Monster Kid had arrived it felt like she was watching from afar, not like she was talking to them. If Shadow Alphys reached the real Alphys...

“Annie, get over here”

Ananas gasped, not having realized she had started walking. Syphus and Shadow Alphys were in front of the steel door, the keys already inserted in place. The doors slowly opened, stale air emanating from it. Unlike the rest of Alphys’ SOUL, the tunnel beyond the doors looked musty and sinister. Syphus pointed forward with the halberd. “Annie, you go first”

“What? Why me?”

“Because Alphys’ Shadow will go in the middle and I’ll go last” he looked threateningly at Shadow Alphys, who didn’t pay attention to him “I’m better prepared than you to deal with her if she tries anything funny” He wasn’t wrong about that, with his many Personas he should be able to watch out for any attacks. Ananas nodded, accepting the reasoning, and got on the front of the group, keeping her distance from Shadow Alphys. “Alright. Here we go. Alphys should be just ahead”

“What are we going to do once we see her?”

“I don’t know yet. Guess we’ll see where this takes us” Going without a plan seemed like a very bad idea, but it wasn’t like they had plethora of other options. Grimly, the three of them entered towards the depths of Alphys’ SOUL.

Chapter Text

The hallway got darker and darker the more they walked, the fluorescent lights blinking and looking on the verge of turning off at any moment. Their steps echoed while they walked on the dirty floor, the dim lighting showing mold between the tiles. Compared to the rest of Alphys’ SOUL, it almost seemed like this was a completely different place. Nobody was saying anything; everyone was on edge about what could happen. There wasn’t any sign of the real Alphys yet, the hall seemed endless...

...until suddenly it ended in front of another pair of steel doors. Ananas stopped, knocking on them. Nothing happened, so she turned around, looking lost. Wordlessly, Syphus approached and forced his eyesight through the darkness, taking a look at the doors while Ananas watched over Shadow Alphys. The doors were tightly closed, smooth and without any scratches. There weren’t any handles or locks. There must be a way to open this... to the side of the doors there was a tiny panel with only one button, which he pressed. The doors opened immediately, a bright light coming from inside.

It was an elevator. It didn’t look abnormal or unusual, it just had one single button on the panel attached to the back of the elevator. Syphus examined the inside of the cabin, not finding anything to be wary of – besides the elevator itself. “Alright, go in” he said to the other two. The three of them stood inside the elevator, waiting for it to finish descending to the place it was leading to.

“Syphus, where’s this elevator going?” Ananas asked.

“I don’t know. Alphys’ laboratory isn’t supposed to have something that leads further down”

Shadow Alphys turned her head around almost like an owl. “How do you know that?” Syphus scratched behind an ear, trying to think quick.

“I mean, the laboratory is already underground, if it goes any deeper it’d plunge into lava. Alphys wouldn’t survive that, I think. Would she?” the half-assed excuse didn’t convince Shadow Alphys, but she didn’t press on. The elevator ride continued in silence until it stopped. “We’re going to continue just like we agreed before”

“I’ll be going first” once the doors opened, Ananas stepped outside, immediately tripping on many objects on the floor and crashing down. “Aaah!”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine! I just tripped on something here...” Ananas took what she had stepped on. It was a can of soda “It’s junk. Hey...this place is full of junk!”

She wasn’t wrong. The floor was littered with a thick layer of cans, small cardboard boxes and detritus like screws, cables and bolts. It all made it a tad difficult to walk at first, but after a moment they all managed to get their footing. The ceiling had many pipes of varied sizes, all of them gurgling with liquids within. The biggest pipes were leaking something colorless and of intense smell. “Be careful. That’s petroleum ether. It’s not corrosive, but if you absorb too much of it through your skin you won’t like what’ll happen” Shadow Alphys warned. The three didn’t have to walk for long before they saw someone not too far away.

“Alphys?”

“O-oh?” effectively, it was Alphys. The royal scientist was looking around, confused. “W-Who are you? And...you too, w-who are you? And... Why’s there a—is that a clone of me?”

“That’s the real Alphys?” Ananas asked to Syphus, who nodded.

“Wait...I know you! You’re that human girl w-who was at Waterfall the other day!”

“...what? How did you know--?” Ananas got distracted for a moment too long.

Besides, there were two things Syphus forgot. One, Shadow Alphys could see the weaknesses and strengths of anyone they encountered, and that included them, and second:

Ananas was weak to electricity.

The Mazio from Shadow Alphys hit without warning. One moment Ananas was asking for Alphys recognized her, the next moment several bolts of lightning fell from the ceiling, hitting both Syphus and Ananas. Ananas was thrown onto her back, and Syphus instinctually hurried to help her, realizing too late that wasn’t the right thing to do right now. Shadow Alphys hurried forward and got to the real Alphys’ side, too late for Syphus to stop her. The real Alphys tried to get away, but Shadow Alphys grabbed her from her shoulders, stopping her “You’re not going anywhere. We need to talk”

“T-Talk? Who are you? W-Why do you look like me?!”

“I’m you. I’m the part of you you’re refusing to listen” Shadow Alphys aggressively grabbed Alphys’ shoulders and managed to make her kneel down, keeping her rooted in the same place. Syphus tried to come closer, but Shadow Alphys looked at him and snarled “Don’t come closer!”

“Let her go!” Syphus pleaded, but she didn’t listen.

 “She has to listen to me already!” Shadow Alphys’s claws got tighter. Alphys stammered, sweating heavily, her hidden self inching her face closer with furious expression.

“This has to end already. You have done a lot of things you know you should regret. Why are you digging the hole deeper and deeper every single day”?

Alphys tried to avert her eyes. “I’m not doing that—“

“You know you have doing it! You have lost count of how many things you have been hiding from everyone” Shadow Alphys’ look softened just a smidgen “Undyne...Asgore...Mettaton...you have lied to everyone and you know it”

Alphys couldn’t deny that. She had been precisely thinking that right before the incident that made her enter her own SOUL, but being confronted like that by someone with her own face...the words simply didn’t come out. Her silence seemed to infuriate Shadow Alphys, who shook her. When Ananas and Syphus tried to approach to get her away from Alphys, the Shadow Self extended a claw, somehow managing to hold Alphys down with only one hand. Her fingers crackled with electricity. Damn it, most of the Personas I have are weak to electricity! “Why aren’t you saying anything?!” she shouted at Alphys, which didn’t encourage her to talk. For a moment Shadow Alphys stared at her, breathing harder and more anxious each time, until she finally dropped her on the floor. While Shadow Alphys sighed, taking off her glasses and rubbing her closed eyes, and Alphys whimpered, still confused and at a loss of words.

“This is our chance” Ananas whispered to Syphus.

Knowing that she was right, Syphus started approaching, intending to take Shadow Alphys away, but once he got close enough something made him stop. Maybe it had been an order from the witch he belonged to. Maybe it was Shadow Alphys’ truly dejected face, or how Alphys seemed to be on the verge of sobbing her eyes out. It seemed like such a personal moment for Alphys for a moment he wasn’t sure what to do. Sure, it was almost certain this’d lead to a fight with Shadow Alphys, but...

...but Alphys really needed to hear what her other self needed to say. Had this been how Frisk and Ananas had faced their Shadow Selves, even if it was an internal struggle instead of seeing their Shadow Selves face to face? Both of them had come out of their SOULs with renewed understanding of their own feelings, thoughts and fears.

Could it be facing their Shadow Selves wasn’t as damaging for the people as he had supposed it’d be? They still needed to be rescued, but...perhaps facing their other self could be a turning point in their lives?

The doubts Syphus had made him lose his chance to get Shadow Alphys away. She didn’t try to grab Alphys again, but she continued talking, her voice filled with scorn. “I can’t believe I have been reduced to this. I can’t believe all that’s left of the person I was is...

...is you

Alphys looked like she had just been slapped. Okay, maybe we should intervene! “Stop that! Alphys didn’t do anything wrong, she--” Syphus said without thinking. Shadow Alphys had to been about to reply what surely was going to be a disrespectful comment about her other self, but the real Alphys mumbled something. “Uh...what did you say?”

“...I said she’s right”

“That’s not true! I don’t know you, but—“ Ananas tried to defend her too, but Alphys cowered until she almost was a ball.

“I have been lying to everyone...i-it’s my fault. Everyone will know I’m a liar – I’ll be h-hated, I’ll be r-rejected, Undyne will leave me – it’s over for me...” nobody said anything. Syphus had closed his eyes and looked away, very unsure of what to do. Alphys was deep into her self-loathing, and having her inner self shout at her about that had worsened it. He really hoped that this meant she was rock bottom and that the only possibility now was to get better. Alphys continued her reverie, uninterrupted “...I deserve it, for being such a c-coward...I don’t even know why I...I started some of t-these lies. At the time...it seemed like the r-right thing to do, but now...

...m-maybe I should just go away while I still h-have the chance”

“What am I supposed to say? Syphus, I don’t know what to say” Ananas whispered to Syphus, looking at Alphys with pity. The tense silence continued for a minute or so before someone finally broke it with something Syphus wished he had thought:

“And what are you going to do about it?” Shadow Alphys said, loud and clear. Alphys was so surprised to hear that with her own voice that she raised her head.

“E-Eh?”

“What are you going to do about it?”

Alphys looked down. “There’s nothing to be done...it’s too late t–t-t-t-to fix it. Leave m-me alone”

“No” Shadow Alphys started approaching, thick black vapor flowing from her scales “I won’t. Alphys, we’re both the same person. You know very well that you want to fix it. There’s no other option for you. What do you have to say to that?”

“...I...?”

“You coward” Shadow Alphys spat, grabbing her by the back of her lab coat “At this point you’re only hurting yourself, and you’re hurting everyone around you, and if you don’t see it...

...then I’ll have to show you myself” the Shadow Self’s claws started sinking into Alphys, making her panic. The intense aura emanating from Shadow Alphys intensified, enveloping the real one. Shadow Alphys turned her head towards the team. “Thank you for your help, but there’s one thing more you need to do: Don’t let me kill you, because I won’t hold back!”

That was all the warning they had. The fusion happened almost immediately, leaving only Alphys standing there. Her eyes were wide open behind her glasses, looking around in panic, the lights hanging from the ceiling dimming until they could barely see Alphys’ silhouette. Her now bright golden eyes were still very visible, though. “Are you okay?” Ananas inquired, unsure if she should approach.

Alphys grabbed her head, pained, shaking it as if trying to get something out of it. “Don’t look at me! S-Stay away...all I do is l-l-lie and d-deceive!”

“She’s losing control! Get ready!” Syphus said to Annie, preparing himself for the unavoidable fight. Alphys continued screaming at the top of her lungs, shaking more and more.

“I-I-I don’t deserve anything I have! Everything I have is b-because I lie! Stay away, go away! You must forget about me!”

“We’re not leaving. Don’t try to convince us to go away”

The cans and junk around Alphys started moving like something was rippling underneath it, as if it was water, until it rose and completely covered Alphys like a blanket. Here it comes! Just a few seconds later the debris subsided, revealing Shadow Alphys’ form.

It looked completely identical to how she was before, despite the dim lighting they could see that. “Well that’s underwhelming...” Shadow Alphys, not having heard that, seethed in her own despair, crackling with electricity.

“I-I warned you...I’m g-going to destroy you! Th-That’s all I do!” Okay, here we go! The analysis didn’t show anything new, it seemed analyzing the strongest Shadows pretty much never gave any useful results.

Shadow Alphys, Priestess Arcana

The team decided to make the first move. As a way to measure what she’d do, Syphus decided to keep his distance and attack with a Persona for now, summoning Ara Mitama for a quick tackle. The strange red drop that was the Persona flew through the air, hitting Shadow Alphys in the face. Her head was forcibly turned to a side, but she didn’t seem hurt, not even slightly affected by an attack that should have been decent enough.

“She wasn’t even fazed!” Ananas got Hippolyta ready, and since Syphus had done a physical attack, she went for magic. The ball of fire that was Ananas’ magic hit Shadow Alphys square on, but that didn’t seem to affect her either. “That didn’t work either!”

She must have a weak point...  What was for sure was that electricity wasn’t going to be it. Screaming in rage and despair, Shadow Alphys raised her arms, a magic attack unlike the ones they had seen so far happening. Shadow Alphys seemed to have much bigger control on her magic than Frisk and Ananas’ Shadows, bolt after bolt of thunder falling, forcing them to run in separate ways. Running on the cans and junk around was rather difficult, especially in the dark. “Oof!” Ananas tripped with some random debris and fell down, chance Shadow Alphys used, thunders weaving together in a spiral that hit where Ananas was, with such strength that the trash around her flied in the air like hail.

“Annie! Are you okay?” Syphus shouted.

“...oooow...that one hurt...”

“Damn it!” at least she was still conscious, albeit weakened. Luckily for them, Syphus calling for Ananas made Shadow Alphys change her target, chance Ananas used to stand up and ready Hippolyta’s axe, swinging it down on Shadow Alphys’ head.

The blow that’d usually leave anything reeling had absolutely no effect on Shadow Alphys. Instead it sounded like the axe hit something metallic. “What?!”

This’d be much easier if something I had resisted electricity! Or at least if most of his actual Personas weren’t weak to it. Unsure of what to do, he swung the halberd towards Shadow Alphys, forcing her to retreat even if she wasn’t hit not even once. Hippolyta again tried fire, hitting Shadow Alphys on the back, but that didn’t seem to help. “I warned you...” Shadow Alphys jumped, a strange clinking sound emanating from her, and grabbed onto Syphus’ halberd, stopping it without effort “...you should have sta-stayed away when you had the ch-chance” she hissed before unleashing a strong electric current through the steel halberd.

It was an indescribable sensation, similar to what anyone would feel sticking a fork into an electric outlet. One moment Syphus was seeing Shadow Alphys from nearby, the next it felt like dozens of needles were directly touching his nerves. He lost his footing, falling on his knees and hands. “Stop that!” Ananas shouted, throwing junk at Shadow Alphys. Shadow Alphys started to advance towards Ananas, forcing her to run away. Okay, first thing I’ll do once I’m out of here is wrap the handle of this thing in rubber he thought, standing up with shaky legs and retreating to the side.

Keeping themselves with as much health as possible was the priority, but Shadow Alphys turned out to have excellent aim. If Syphus had been alone it’d have proven impossible for him to win, the only Persona he had for healing was weak to the electricity spells Shadow Alphys kept throwing around. Ananas, despite her own weakness, had managed to distract it for long enough for Syphus to heal them both each time. It turned into a constant cycle they all had a hard time getting out for.

It didn’t help that no matter what Syphus did, Shadow Alphys wasn’t affected by anything – and it didn’t help that Syphus didn’t have many attack options. All he had was physical attacks, fire, and electricity magic. None of that proved useful at all. “There must be something we can do. I refuse to lose just because of my lack of moves!” Syphus whined, healing Ananas again. They were now hiding in a dark corner of the room, whispering to each other while Shadow Alphys attacked the spots where she thought they may be hiding.

“But nothing’s working!” Ananas had lost her hat somewhere, her clothes had a lot of burn holes “I don’t get it, nothing is protecting her! Why does it sound like we’re hitting armor or something?”

...yeah, that’s weird. Ananas wasn’t wrong, that strange sound that resonated with each blow was unusual and didn’t fit with how Alphys looked. “I have an idea. I’ll go to the other side, be ready to hit my Persona with Agi”

“What? Why?”

“Just trust me!” Syphus didn’t wait for a reply, instead running ahead and making as much noise as possible with the cans on the floor. Shadow Alphys turned around, immediately hitting the walls with Mazio, a barrage of electricity hitting the walls just an instant after Syphus passed nearby. Stopping across the room, Syphus stomped on the floor. “Now!” he yelled, summoning Shiki-Ouji and focusing on what the sound may be.

The impact of fire against Shiki-Ouji’s body made absolutely no sound. Perhaps we’re just not seeing something? He didn’t have much time to think about it before Shadow Alphys hit Shiki-Ouji, making him stumble back. “I’m right here!” Ananas got Shadow Alphys’ attention, Hippolita trying to cut at its torso unsuccessfully, but at least it was keeping Shadow Alphys busy enough. “What was that for?”

“I think she’s not invincible, it may be something we’re just...not seeing. It’s too dark in here”

“Then let’s turn on the lights” Ananas pointed upwards, at the hanging lightbulbs, all of them currently turned off.

“I don’t think there’s a light switch anywhere” Syphus said, advancing with Shiki-Ouji and try to crush Shadow Alphys with its fists. Both Personas were keeping Shadow Alphys busy enough for the team to briefly talk.

“Then find a way to turn the lights on!” Ananas left, leaving Syphus to figure out by himself how exactly he was going to turn on the lightbulbs. Looking for a light switch was useless, there was no way things would be as simple as that. The lightbulbs were high in the air, hanging from feeble cords. Beams thick enough to stand on them crossed high in the air, the gurgling pipelines sticking to the ceiling. There’s no way to turn on the lights unless... Maybe it would work! All they needed was some magic.

“Think you can resist for a minute or so?”

“I think I can!” Ananas was shaking after another electric shock. Hoping the girl would resist during the short while it’d take Syphus to test the idea, he retreated to a side, dispelling Shiki-Ouji and changing it for Orobas. The red bipedal horse roared while Syphus looked for a way to get it up to the beams. There was nothing. “Annie, I need a boost over here!” Syphus pleaded while Orobas ran towards Hippolyta. Thinking fast, Ananas made Hippolyta lower the axe, providing a platform for Orobas. As soon as the horse stepped on the axe, Hippolyta launched it upwards, high enough to grab onto one of the cords of the lightbulbs. Here goes nothing!

Electricity coursed through the cord, reaching the lightbulb and turning it on, casting a small cone of light towards Shadow Alphys, revealing the true form of their foe: a cluster of garbage. Packages of ramen, cables, miscellaneous pieces of junk, together it made the deformed shape of Shadow Alphys -- if he didn't know it was Alphys he wouldn't have guessed. She was trash.

“What...is this why nothing affected her?” Ananas was looking at Shadow Alphys with pity. Shadow Alphys cowered under the light, shaking, some of the cans forming her rattling.

“Don’t look at me! STOP STARING AT ME!”

Syphus ran ahead, the spike of his halberd on the front, plunging it with ease into Shadow Alphys’ flank. Shadow Alphys howled in pain, although it should have made anyone listening to it regret, after so many failed attempts to deplete her health it was a welcome change. “It’s working!” they didn’t waste any time. Hippolyta started smashing Shadow Alphys with the axe while Syphus did the same with his halberd, pieces of Shadow Alphys flying out of her crumbling body. The onslaught lasted a few seconds before an expansive blast of garbage made both Ananas’ Persona and Syphus to step back, Shadow Alphys screaming as loud as it could.

“Stop that already!” it wailed, the junk covering the floor starting to move. The junk rippled before it rose, forming a flexible pillar, moving back and forth. The pillar slammed onto the ground, aiming towards Syphus, who barely jumped out of the way before the garbage flattened everything that was there. As soon as that pillar merged with the ground again, two more appeared, the cycle repeating until there were several pillars, all trying to crush the team.

It all got so bad Syphus had to get rid of Orobas to summon Shiki-Ouji again to fight the pillars while Hippolyta faced Shadow Alphys in close quarters, to the point where the constant attempts to cleave their target got Ananas drained and tired. “I need some healing!”

“Eat food, I can’t heal you right now!” Syphus grit his teeth, Shiki-Ouji grabbing onto a pillar and breaking it, throwing the pieces at Shadow Alphys’ face. Shadow Alphys cowered meekly before sinking into the junk on the floor, effectively making herself invulnerable once again, until the lightbulb Syphus had turned on dimmed and turned off. The true appearance of their enemy would be concealed once more, Ananas’ progress on depleting its health immediately stopping, and the pillars fell into nothing.

Shadow Alphys emerged from the garbage, glaring at the humans. “You...why won’t you leave me alone already?!” With deceptive speed, Shadow Alphys bolted forward, towards Syphus, managing to hook her claws into his clothes “I have to push you all away!” she jabbed her fingers into his chest. A sensation of nausea and chills invaded Syphus as soon as Shadow Alphys removed her fingers. It’s poison!

“It’s invincible again!” Ananas barely managed to pull Shadow Alphys again before being zapped, but that was enough. Syphus fought back the intense feeling of sickness, looking upwards towards the lights. They had to keep the lights on for long enough to fight Shadow Ananas, but the analysis showed it still had a lot of health. We need a way to keep the damage coming constantly, but how...? “Turn the lights on again!”

I-I’ll do it, but...” Syphus took a deep breath and tried to focus. He really hoped the poison wasn’t going to last for long or he’d be in trouble. Feverishly, he looked around, trying to see anything that could help. There was nothing new anywhere, despite the garbage being moved around. “There has to be something...anything that can help...!” Even if he turned on the lights, Shadow Alphys would simply blend into the garbage again. They had to do something to stop that from happening.

“Syphus! The lights!”

“I’m thinking...!” in that moment, a drop of something fell on Syphus. He slowly touched the point where the drop had touched him, examining the colorless fluid. What’s this...? It took him a moment to recall what it was, immediately making him wipe his finger from that substance.

“Be careful. That’s petroleum ether”

The largest pipes on the ceiling were still leaking petroleum ether at a very slow rate. Syphus tried to distinguish them, trying to see through the darkness which pipes were the right ones, when a sudden ball of fire startled him. “I’m sorry!” Ananas said, having gotten too tired to continue with the physical attacks. Syphus didn’t reply, staring slack-jawed at Hippolyta, then at the dripping pipes, then to the lights. His mind created a wild idea, reckless and definitely not the kind any sane person would consider a good option, but at this point he was growing desperate. ‘Petroleum’ means it’s flammable, right? It was worth a try. Trying to keep the shivers under control, Syphus called at Ananas, summoning Shiki-Ouji.

“Keep going!” Syphus called to Ananas before he started climbing his Persona. It was tall enough for him to reach the beams near the ceiling, he just needed to get to the Persona’s head. Ananas’ befuddled staring made Shadow Alphys look behind it. It had no idea what was going on or why Syphus was climbing Shiki-Ouji, but it had to stop such antics. Shiki-Ouji was blasted by sparks, making Syphus cringe and stop his progress, hanging onto the paper golem to not fall down.

“Stop that!” Hippolyta’s axe hit Shadow Alphys’ head, forcing it to stop attacking Syphus’ Persona. Thanks, Annie he thought, standing on Shiki-Ouji’s shoulder and grabbing its horns, managing to stand on them despite his ailment. The garbage-covered floor looked far away through his dazed eyes, he tried to not look down, instead forcing himself to propel onto the beam, grabbing onto it in a tight hug. Damn it... he was still shivering. “Syphus? Syphus, are you okay?!”

“I’ll be fine” he mumbled, Shiki-Ouji disappearing “I think I got poisoned”

“Poisoned?!”

“I should be okay” standing up on a thin beam while not being on the best conditions seemed very risky. For his own well-being he clung onto the beam like a sloth, Shiki-Ouji materializing right behind Ananas. Without bothering to even give a warning, the piece made Shiki-Ouji grab Ananas and lift her up, right where Syphus was clinging. Syphus got Ananas up with some effort while Shadow Alphys tried to hit Ananas with more electricity spells but missed due to the distance.

Once Ananas was standing on the beam Shadow Alphys could only stare upwards, unable to hit them with anything – it was dark enough up there that she wasn’t sure where the team was. “Why are we up here? It’s so high!” Ananas didn’t seem to be having any problems standing up there, thankfully.

“We’re going to get rid of all the garbage we can” Syphus weakly pointed at the pipes “We need to break the large pipes”

“I’ll use Hippolyta’s axe and—“

“No! We don’t know what the other pipes have. The stuff in the ones we want to break is bad enough for us to get sprayed with something else”

Ananas’ hand automatically went to the holster of her gun. Finally, her chance to shine. The gun only had five bullets, would that be enough? With a determined look in her eyes, she nodded. “I need some light” Syphus looked down at where Shadow Alphys was roaming, trying to see them.

“The moment I turn on a light, she’ll attack” They needed the lights to be able to defeat Shadow Alphys, anyways. Doing it now was the only option “Will you be able to do it quickly?”

Ananas grinned, flipping up her hat with a flick. “’s goin’ to be as easy as pie, pal” she said with a false accent, brandishing her gun. She was about to walk away on the beam when Syphus stopped her.

“Wait!” he took off his track jacket, passing it to her. Better to keep her safe from the chemical that was going to rain shortly. He’d be unprotected from it, but at least Ananas was going to be okay...kinda “Put this on you. I’m counting on you, Sheriff” Ananas took the jacket, putting it on her head and body like a cloak.

Shadow Alphys narrowed her eyes, trying to find where exactly her foes had gone. It was all too dark, she could see the hanging lightbulbs and the beams, and although she could hear them, she wasn’t sure where to aim at. Suddenly, one of the lightbulbs turned on. Shadow Alphys immediately zapped the area near the light, scorching the pipelines above it. Another lightbulb turned on nearby, she could now see the pipes’ outline. “W-Where are you?” Shadow Alphys stammered, annoyed. Third, fourth, fifth lightbulbs turned on, almost no place in the room was dark.

A silhouette jumped from one of the lightbulb cords to another. “G-Got you...?” she was about to use as many electricity spells as possible when a different noise startled her.

“Yes!” Ananas whispered to herself, fist pumping. One of the big pipes had been pierced, a clear liquid pouring out and onto the garbage on the floor. Without even looking if the petroleum ether had fallen on Shadow Alphys as well, Ananas crawled on the beam to the next part. She aimed her gun, biting on her tongue, and fired, the bullet hitting another pipe. Petroleum ether splashed on the jacket Syphus had lent her while she tried to go to the next target. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think the poison is going away” Syphus was lying down, his Persona Orobas applying electricity on the last lightbulb. The whole room was now illuminated, Shadow Alphys was still trying to hit Orobas and missing. Now that his part of the plan was done, Syphus dispelled his Persona, sighing with relief and trying to ignore the petroleum ether sprinkling him. A third gunshot and the wet sound of liquids pouring out let him know Ananas was still doing well.

“What’s...what are y-you doing?!” Shadow Alphys had stopped her spells, instead once again making pillars of garbage, trying to use them to plug the holes on the pipes.

Ananas fired her fourth bullet, piercing the last pipe Syphus had told her. “Done!” she said, pretending to blow smoke off the cannon of her gun “Now what?” Syphus waited for Shadow Alphys to plug that fourth pipe. Most of the garbage below, as well as Shadow Alphys, had been soaked with petroleum ether. If he remembered right his meager knowledge of chemistry, liquids like petroleum ether burned very hot and ran out fast, it’d be a fire lasting for a short time yet it’d destroy the garbage and – with some luck – damage Shadow Alphys enough to defeat her. Syphus nodded at Ananas.

“Fire”

Fire!”

Hippolyta’s fire blast hit one of the pillars of garbage plugging a pipe, lighting it up on fire. Shadow Alphys, standing near the base of the pillar, jumped back, pieces of junk falling off her shape. “N-No! S-Stop!” she pleaded when another of the pillars was set on fire “I-I surrender! Stop this!” It couldn’t be stopped. The magic fire spread at startling speed, molten steel and plastic starting to pile up on the floor. Up on the heating beams, Ananas hissed, enduring the intense heat without much complaint, while Syphus felt nothing, having changed to Shiki-Ouji again.

“I-I-I-I surrender! P-Please, stop it!” Shadow Alphys wasn’t set on fire, but the heat was enough to hurt her. All around her the garbage melted and burned away, all lasting for a minute more before the fire extinguished. All that was left of the junk was a thick layer of solidified goop, with Shadow Alphys lying on it. “...I...g-give up...”

The petroleum ether had stopped flowing, the holes on the pipes sealed by the burning materials. Syphus and Ananas descended by climbing down Shiki-Ouji, landing on the solidified remains of the garbage. Slowly, the two walked towards Shadow Alphys, a bit wary. “...you win...Th-Thank...you...” she said. Her shape trembled for a moment before some of the trash fell away, showing underneath it yellow scales and white fabric. She’s here!

“Got you!” Syphus and Ananas grabbed the fabric, pulling from it. It was like trying to pull away gum from hair, but soon they managed to make progress. As soon as her head appeared, Alphys gasped, she was completely unharmed. Alphys grabbed Syphus and Ananas’ sleeves, holding onto them so tight her claws teared into their clothes.

It took a couple minutes but they managed to get Alphys out of her Shadow’s form, the three of them falling onto the solidified slop. For a moment no one said anything, just resting from everything that had happened. A while later, Ananas took off the jacket Syphus lent her, passing it to him. “Thanks...” she said. The jacket was mostly covered in petroleum ether, had many burn holes, and overall was tattered and ruined. Syphus just let it fall aside.

“...uh...I can’t believe you two saw...such embarrassing behavior from me...” Alphys stammered, looking at the shape of Shadow Alphys still standing there, immobile. Ananas approached, putting a hand on Alphys’ shoulder.

“Don’t worry! Mine wasn’t much better”

“You...you saw your ugly other side too?”

“Kinda” the girl extended her hand “I’m Sheriff Ananas. Nice to meet you, Alphys”

“Uh...same?” Alphys awkwardly shook Ananas’ hand, then looked at Syphus with doubt. “I feel like I know you...but that’s impossible, I have never seen you before”

“It’s complicated to explain, but I’ll try later. Right now what matters is that” Syphus gestured at Shadow Alphys’ frame. Alphys closed her eyes, sighing.

“Oh. Her. Everything she s-said, uh...i-it isn’t like she said, I’m not, uh...”

“Don’t worry, we understand” shaming Alphys would be a rather low thing to do, it wasn’t any of their concern. Still, it’d be nice if Alphys faced the chains she had inflicted on herself and managed to obtain a Persona “You should do something about that, though”

“What am I s-supposed to do?”

“Defeat it. You’ll have to deal the finishing blow”

“The what?!” Alphys shook her head “I-I’m not killing anything!”

“You’re not going to kill it. You’ll defeat the parts of you that represent what you have to overcome. That’s all you have to do”

“I-It isn’t as easy as you make it sound! I-I don’t know – that’s not – I don’t know if I can!”

“You can do it. Come on, we believe in you!” Ananas tried to encourage, but she sounded a bit too forceful. Alphys didn’t seem encouraged at all. The time for discussion ended immediately, Shadow Alphys’ remains started moving forward. The ruined hands extended forward, sharp claws at the ready to grab Alphys. Alphys gasped, stepping back and falling on her rear.

“It-It’s moving!”

“Alphys, now’s your chance! Do it!”

“B-B-But I don’t know – I don’t understand anything!”

“That’s another side of yourself. You’re the only one who can tame it and start building up something good out of it. You have to do it” Syphus tried to explain in a few words, Shadow Alphys getting closer and closer.

“That’s me? I know i-it looked like me, but--”

“You have to overcome that thing! Do it!” Ananas took out her gun, not liking how this was turning out to be.

“Wait, this is going too f-fast! I’m not—that can’t be me! I’m not a liar, I—“

“It’s getting closer!” Syphus warned.

“I-I may have lied a bit, but I’m not—you have to believe me!” she yelled. Shadow Alphys grabbed Alphys again, lifting her. The Shadow Self wasn’t in any condition to attack anymore, but these simple movements were enough to spook Alphys. “H-Help me!”

“Do it! Come on, do it already!”

“I...I...”

“Alphys, now!”

“I can’t do it!”

Alphys’ shriek startled Ananas, who raised her gun with a whimper and fired her last bullet at Shadow Alphys. The bullet cleanly pierced through the trash. Shadow Alphys froze, immobile for a few tense seconds, until slowly it crumbled away, turning into a pile of trash on the solid melted garbage slop, the Shadow Self itself leaving those objects. Alphys fell to the floor, struggling to keep herself together, while Syphus sighed and Ananas hurried to get to Alphys’ side. “Are you okay?”

“I...I’m fine...” Alphys managed to say “I just want to go home...please take me home...”

“We will” Syphus said dryly, disappointed. He had thought Alphys would be able to face her own obstacles and gain a Persona, but her fears had been too much for her to handle in such short notice. Syphus picked up cans and junk that once formed Shadow Alphys while Ananas calmed Alphys down.

“What’re we going to do once we’re back?” Ananas asked to Syphus when he approached. The piece shrugged, a bit absent-mindedly.

“We’ll have to get out of the hospital. I don’t know how much time will have passed, but Undyne may be nearby. Stay hidden under the bed until it’s safe to go”

Alphys frowned “The hospital...?”

“You’ll understand once you wake up” Syphus looked at the neck of Alphys’ clothes, finding the firefly brooch there. Once he was sure everyone was ready and that they weren’t leaving anything behind, Syphus pressed the brooch. It’d be nice to have a third team member at some point...

-ooooo-

When Syphus felt his consciousness returning, the first thing he heard was the scraping of the door against the floor, pushing against the bed where Alphys was lying on. “NGAAAAH!” he heard, completely waking him up. Undyne! She was going to enter the room! Syphus pretty much teared the brooch out of Alphys’ clothes, attaching it to his pants.

He had barely activated it when something hit the door, moving the door further away enough for someone to enter. Undyne peeked inside, her eye widening when she saw the bed blocking the door. “What the HELL?!” she murmured, barely managing to keep her voice down.

“Uh...hey there...” Syphus meekly said, moving the bed to unblock the door and hoping Ananas would stay underneath and uncaught. Undyne stomped inside the room, looking around.

“What happened here? Why was the bed against the door? Why are you here? Why are there so many lab coats on the floor?!” she was shouting when the receptionist entered too. Unlike Undyne, the receptionist paid no attention to Syphus, instead going towards Alphys on the bed, who was starting to wake up. The receptionist turned her head around.

“The patient is waking up!”

That was enough for Undyne to pretty much ignore Syphus’ presence, rushing to Alphys’ side. “Are you serious?!” she was in disbelief. A monster who had fallen down just woke up! That was very uncommon! When she saw that it was true, she wasn’t sure what to say, but it felt like a huge weight had been taken off her shoulders.

The receptionist went to the side of the room where the bed had originally been. “Here, bring the bed over here. She should stay with us tonight, just in case”

“Got it!” Undyne grabbed the planks underneath the bed, barely missing Ananas hiding, and lifted the bed up. Having her hideout taken away, Ananas grabbed her cloak and threw it over herself. Luckily for her, lifting the bed had all of Undyne’s attention and the receptionist couldn’t see her yet, so Syphus opened the door a bit more and wordlessly gestured Ananas to crawl away. Ananas hurried to escape, standing up once she got to the hallway, and Syphus, without even daring to get Undyne’s attention, exited the room shortly after, clutching his halberd.

“We did it. We really did it. Let’s go away now”

“Is Alphys going to be okay?” Ananas inquired.

“I think so. Come on, let’s go home before Undyne comes out to snap my neck for the mess we left in there” he pushed Ananas forward a bit, the two of them quickly running through the halls until they left the hospital.

-ooooo-

The trek all the way to the Hidden Village was done mostly in silence, Ananas didn’t want to talk while there were so many monsters nearby. Only once they existed the MTT Resort and started crossing the bridge over lava that led to Waterfall Ananas said something. “Sorry about your jacket” she said, looking at the ruined jacket with some pity. Syphus was carrying it as if it was the grossest thing he had ever touched.

With a sigh, he let the jacket flutter down towards the lava. “It’s ruined. Wearing that thing ever again would be dangerous”

“Are you going to be okay without it?”

“I’ll just have to use the white shirt I have right now until I get more clothes. It’s no big deal”

“I think Byssa is almost done with your robe”

“...I don’t think I could run wearing a robe” the conversation died until they descended into the crevice to walk into the village. Ananas rubbed a sore spot on her arm, a bit forlorn.

“Is Alphys going to be okay?”

“Yeah, most likely”

“That copy of her with the yellow eyes...it was creepy how she fought with Alphys. But Syphus, uh...can I ask you something?” Syphus hummed a ‘hm?’, so Ananas continued: “Are you a copy too?”

That made Syphus slow down a bit. He reflexively was about to stick his free hand into the pocket of his jacket, only finding air when he realized he wasn’t wearing one anymore. “Why do you ask?”

“Your eyes...they’re yellow like Alphys’ copy. Are you one too?”

Syphus thought for a moment. In his opinion it was possible he was his master’s Shadow Self, as weird as that could be, but he wasn’t completely sure about that. Still, Ananas wanted an answer. “Maybe. I don’t really know”

“But you don’t seem like a bad person to me. I think you’re kind...if you’re someone’s copy, does that mean the real person is a bad person?”

That’s a very good question, now that I think about it. He didn’t really know much about Sisyphus. All that he knew was that he was currently holding a piece of Sisyphus’ SOUL, and he also had most of Sisyphus’ memories. Despite that, he wasn’t sure what kind of person Sisyphus was...but if he somehow was himself, there was no way Sisyphus was evil, right?

...right?

Ananas seemed to sense that the question had been a touchy topic for him, so she stopped talking about that. An uncomfortable silence settled over them while they descended down the stairs towards the village. Once they got near the cottages they noticed there was unrest. Graham and Byssa were around, talking to each other with panicked expression on their faces. “There they are!” Byssa exclaimed when she saw them approach. She came closer, looking at them from head to toe “They seem to be okay!”

“Thank god...” Graham said, approaching “Are you two okay? Nobody tried to attack you or anything?”

“No, not really. Why?” Syphus said. Byssa and Graham looked at each other before Graham answered that question.

“We hadn’t seen Cohen since noon, we started looking for him twenty minutes ago. Byssa just found him at that hole in the rock he likes to sit at” Graham said. Ananas went around Syphus, looking around as if hoping to see Cohen.

“Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“She found Cohen there. Looks like he fainted, but he hasn’t woken up”

“He’s not dead!” Byssa hurried to add when Ananas made a horrified face “He’s just unconscious. There’s nothing to worry about”

“Nothing? He fell down!”

“No, I think he was sitting down when Byssa found him” Graham said.

“Sitting down? Are you joking?” she turned to Syphus “Can we help him? Syphus, we must help him!” That much was obvious, but they had just finished a trek into someone’s SOUL. Syphus felt exhausted, the thought of having to go find Cohen in another SOUL right now made his whole body ache. The pained look he gave to Ananas didn’t need any other words. “But we should do something!”

“We need to rest first”

“What if something else happens to Cohen?”

“We’ll be looking over him” Graham said kindly, not understanding what exactly Ananas and Syphus were talking about. It took a while for Syphus to convince her that it was important to rest now, that once they were refreshed they’d be able to tackle Cohen’s SOUL without much trouble. Syphus was about to walk to where he usually slept when he stopped, having remembered he usually slept at Cohen’s cabin. That’s where Cohen was right now, wasn’t it? ...it’d be weird to sleep near Cohen’s unconscious body... he thought. It was a selfish and kind of ugly thought, but he didn’t want the constant reminder of what they need to do as soon as possible. Downtrodden, Syphus went to the Communal Building and laid down in a corner, the cold hard wood making a really poor bed. The smells of dinner were still in the air. Tomorrow we’ll deal with what happened to Cohen. We’ll be able to do it...hopefully...

-ooooo-

Ananas woke Syphus up at breakfast time, shaking him. She shoved toast in Syphus’ hands, pushed him a cup of coffee, and made him stand up, all the while talking. “Okay, eat up. That’s the breakfast, and I also got some of that gross coffee thing adults like, so eat it and then we’ll go”

“H-Hey, let me eat in peace!”

Ananas exhaled. “Sorry, I want to help Cohen as soon as possible...I didn’t think he’d fall down too...”

“I know, but we can’t hurry and go unprepared” That was enough to get Ananas off his back during the rest of his breakfast. She walked around, vibrating until Syphus was done, and as soon as he finished the coffee she was once again near him. Syphus sighed. “I wish that had been cocoa...”

 “You’re done! Come on, let’s go!”

“Calm down, Annie. Look, give me a moment. We’ll go later” Wait what? What did I just...? Ananas was as aghast as his own thoughts.

“What?!”

“I mean; we gain nothing by going in right now. Give me a while, I’ll tell you when I’m ready”

“Why? What are you going to do that’s more important than helping Cohen?!”

I don’t know! Syphus held his head for a moment before replying. “Ugh, just leave me alone. Cohen isn’t going to go anywhere. He’s not going to die just because we wait for a few hours longer”

“How can you say that?!”

“Just trust me, Annie. I know what I’m doing” What the hell am I saying?!

Ananas sighed. “Fine, I’ll trust you, but...I don’t like this...we need to help Cohen”

“I know. We’ll go later, I promise” he said. Ananas didn’t look completely convinced, but she didn’t insist. Now that he managed to calm Ananas down for now, Syphus stood up and left the building, going in direction of the exit of the village. While he was walking there, he was turning his own words around in his head, not understanding why he had said such things. Even now, although he wanted to stop, he found himself still walking towards the stairs. Come on, what am I doing? I should be going to Cohen’s cottage! We need to get him back!

Why am I doing this? He knew very well what was the likely answer, but he didn’t understand the reasons why his master would force him to ignore Cohen’s situation and leave. Where was he even going?

But it wasn’t like he could go against what Sisyphus decided – not because he couldn’t, with some effort maybe he could do it – but pieces that went against their master’s will tended to suffer horrible fates. Death would be the most merciful punishment he’d receive if Sisyphus took it as a personal insult.

Besides, the witch could look at the whole board. If he was sending the piece away, surely there was a reason for that. “I must trust him. It’s possible he’s me, I wouldn’t do this without a reason. Yeah...” It was then when he noticed his way of thinking had changed:

When had he started to think the witch was another part of him?

-ooooo-

Cornio looked intermittently from the board to Sisyphus, who was staring back without any shame. “Why aren’t you trying to rescue Cohen?” he asked, confused.

“I’m just biding my time, you know, preparing myself further”

“Oh. I suppose that may be fine” Leaving someone to the mercy of his own machinations was something Cornio didn’t like, but it wasn’t like he could force Sisyphus to play well. Cornio was already trying not to make the game unwinnable for Sisyphus, and that was as far as he could go in terms of giving a handicap. I’ll trust he knows what he’s doing Cornio decided “What do you plan to do?”

“I think there’s time during the day to improve one, maybe two Social Links, and then I’ll go in. That should help get even better Personas”

“That could help” at least it did seem like Sisyphus had a plan in mind, that gave him some peace of mind.

Lucia was less convinced about it, though. She leaned forward, looking straight at Sisyphus’ eyes for a moment. Sisyphus raised an eyebrow. “Something wrong?”

“No, nothing” she leaned back, mouthing one last word: ‘yet’. Something about that made Cornio take a decision. No, he wasn’t going to sit back and let things take a swerve towards a situation he didn’t like. While he was thinking about it, a very familiar voice started talking inside him, one he knew very well. It was very rare to hear it nowadays, but when it had something to say...

“We can’t let this continue!”

 “I’m not sure about this...” Cornio said to himself.

“Sometimes you must assert yourself. We should do something if we can!”

Cornio was silent for a moment. “Okay. I will”. The voice coming from his SOUL didn’t reply, but that had been all the encouragement Cornio had needed for now. He stood up. “Lucia, help me with something over there” he said, leaving the lounge.

The request was something Lucia hadn’t expected, but she didn’t reject it. She stood up and followed him out of the lounge, closing the large doors behind her. The hallway was clean and elegant, showing the swirling purple skies beyond the window. The manor really was like an island in a sea of emptiness. The two of them stood in front of the window, making sure Sisyphus wasn’t listening. Cornio hid behind a plant, just in case, and deactivated the firefly brooch he had in his pocket, showing his true form to Lucia. The arcane witch calmly acknowledged that.

“What did you want to talk about, ASRIEL?”

The former Prince of All Monsters leaned against the wall, his horns clicking against the marble. He had grown quite a lot during the ten years since he had been...abducted from his world, several heads taller than Lucia. During that time, it had turned rather obvious he had gotten more physical traits from Toriel than from Asgore. Although he was rather strong, he didn’t have much bulk to show, his facial features were rounder than his father’s, and other than the abundant tuft on his head, his fur simply refused to grow like Asgore’s. His eyes were pretty much the only trait he inherited from his father – which is why Lucia had taken pity of him and given him a mane of hair for his human-looking illusion.

ASRIEL tilted his head. “I think this is starting to go wrong. Are you sure about what we’re doing?”

“The truth is that I’m not sure anymore. You saw his SOUL?”

“Not really. Is there something wrong with his SOUL?”

Lucia crossed her arms. “Oh, right. I haven’t told you. Allow me to tell you the risky methods of the Witch of Hope” she took a moment to organize her ideas, trying to think of a simple way to explain it. The exact methods were complicated, but maybe she could tell it all in a way anyone would understand? “Pieces on a game board usually aren’t aware of our layer of existence. Only when a witch wants it, it can be aware of it, and even then it’s unlikely it’ll have the same thoughts and desires of the witch. So how to make a piece that not only is aware of the existence of this world, but also is very connected to the witch?”

ASRIEL thought for a moment. “It sounds like it’s related to the SOUL. Is that why you were talking about it?”

“Yes. Nice, you were paying attention!” Lucia smiled for a moment “I had expected you to suggest to use the Shadow Self as a piece, and in theory that should work since it’s the same person – just with certain traits amplified – but witches don’t have a Shadow Self. It’s part of our nature. So we decided to create a Shadow Self for him.

We grabbed a Shadow from the collective unconscious and inserted into it a tiny piece of Sisyphus’ SOUL. The intention was to give it Sisyphus’ former appearance, and his mind, memories and feelings. It worked! It was all working perfectly”

ASRIEL wasn’t having much of a problem following such explanation. The implications of that was something he had already figured out earlier, but he hadn’t known the specific method behind it. “But it’s not working anymore!” Or at least that’s what it seemed, judging from her behavior Lucia smiled wryly.

“It’s going awry. I didn’t think the piece would start gaining its own ego...making its own decisions, different to Sisyphus’. I just checked his SOUL. I’m not sure yet, but I think the piece is starting to drain the rest of Sisyphus’ SOUL”

“Then we must stop this! It can’t be too late yet!”

“It is too late. We can’t stop the game; we have done too much just to stop it now!”

“Then what can we do? I don’t want to hurt Sisyphus, what’s going to happen to him?”

Lucia glanced at the closed doors. “I don’t know, but if I had to guess...the more the piece starts differing from Sisyphus, the more it’ll take their SOUL until it isn’t stable anymore, and once it happens...” she went silent. Once ASRIEL spurred her to finish her thought, she placed her hand over her heart, unsure “I think the more the piece steals his SOUL, the more of Sisyphus’ hidden desires will start showing in him.

It’ll be as if his Shadow Self is sitting right there with us – and it’ll pretty much our creation”

The thought of having to see first-hand the other side of Sisyphus’ more concealed side of his personality was sickening in a way, ASRIEL felt as if something had grabbed him in a vice. Lucia’s expression softened a bit. “Speaking of SOULs, how’s yours?”

ASRIEL looked unsure. “I still have that voice inside”

“That’s unusual. In Sisyphus’ case the fusion was immediate. I’m not sure why you’re not stable yet, but give it some time. Trust me, okay?”

It wasn’t like he had any other option. Now that he thought about it, these last ten years pretty much everything had relied on Lucia’s help. He still needed to thank her properly. She sure could be kind, for an evil witch. ASRIEL activated his brooch again, taking the illusion of the ragged person Sisyphus had met. “Let’s go back before Sisyphus goes looking for us” Cornio suggested, grabbing the handles of the door. Lucia nodded.

“After you, little prince”

“I’m not little anymore, I’m pretty much an adult by now!”

“Could have fooled me. You’re still a child in many ways. Maybe when this all is over you’ll finally have a chance to grow up” she pointed at herself with her thumb “But don’t ask me to help you unless you’re interested in seeing stuff being ruined”

“You’re not as bad as you think you are!” he said with complete honesty. Such naïve statement elicited a laugh from her, which she barely suppressed.

“Oh, you have absolutely no idea...” she said, opening the door “Good luck with Sisyphus”

He really was going to need luck, if things were starting to be as dire as they sounded.

Chapter Text

Cohen’s situation never left Syphus’ mind, but it wasn’t until the end of the day that he took the time to go help Cohen. It wasn’t like he had decided to waste the day for no reason, all things considered it was a bit of a productive day. “Can we go now?” she asked, pouting a bit and looking at him with an expression that said ‘I dare you to say no. I dare you’

“Yes, we’re going now. You better be ready” that day Syphus had taken the time to get the best equipment he could find; it’d be a waste if Ananas didn’t use it.

-ooooo-

It was still early, so Undyne was still at her home. She polished her helmet, staring at her blurry reflection. The Captain of the Royal Guard was in better mood than the day before, there was something about a loved one returning from the brink of death that was encouraging and made her feel like she’d be capable of overcoming any obstacle. Alphys...she was such a strong person...

Her first action when she woke up was say ‘sorry’ to Undyne, as if falling down was something one needed to apologize for. That’s precisely what Undyne had said, sounding more boisterous than usual to disguise how scared she had felt about Alphys falling down, but Alphys had simply repeated ‘I’m sorry, Undyne, I’m so sorry’ before the hospital employees had gotten Undyne to leave the patient alone. Undyne planned to visit Alphys later, apparently she was going to be allowed to return to the laboratory that morning – with the condition she returned to the hospital every day for the next month for a check-up, to make sure she wasn’t going to fall down again. Alphys had stoically accepted that, nodding with resigned expression.

Undyne put on her armor, making sure her gauntlets were properly adjusted, and opened the door of her house. There was someone there! Undyne instinctively formed a spear in her hand, prepared for an attack, when she realized it wasn’t a human or a hostile person. Syphus was there, with his hand raised in the air to knock on the door. “Hello there, Undyne”

“You! What’re you doing here?” she let the spear dissolve in the air. Undyne wasn’t very happy to see him, after the little number he had done in Alphys’ hospital room. Syphus shrugged, his pupils narrowing a bit more than usual. Without his jacket, it was pretty obvious he was awfully skinny – well, rather fitting for a snake. It was almost amazing his clothes made him look a tad bulkier than he actually was. Not that he was the only monster in the Underground that made such thing happen, though.

“I’m here to apologize for what happened yesterday. I left without explaining anything, and I guess you’re angry about that”

Undyne looked at him sternly for a moment before sighing. “Forget about that. It’s no big deal. You better not do that again, but it doesn’t matter anymore”

“Really? All is okay now?”

“Yeah. You think I’m the type of person that holds grudges?” she said. Syphus’ skeptic expression made her laugh, her laughter resonating in the cavern “Come on! What’s that face for? Most people would be offended if you made that face when talking to them!”

“You didn’t seem to me the type to bygones be bygones, that’s it”

“Punk, if I didn’t forgive or leave anything in the past I’d have refused to train you a few days ago” She wasn’t wrong about that. Undyne didn’t have to bother with him, yet she did. That by itself should be enough to show she wasn’t the type to hold grudges. Undyne looked at the clock on the wall, tapping her fingers against the helmet in her hands “Hey, since you’re here why don’t we try the next step in your physical training?”

“Right now?”

“I have some free time right now! I had planned to go to the headquarters early today, but it’s not like anyone’s keeping count of how many hours I spend there. That’s because I’m the captain! I answer only to the big guy, and he’ll understand if I take my time once or twice” Undyne left her helmet aside “Besides I still need to show you how to truly hit hard with that halberd. You willing to do that today?”

Syphus took the halberd he had left to the side of the house, brandishing it. It looked like he had gotten used to the weight of the steel halberd. “Let’s do it!”

The training session was different to the one from last time. While it did start with some exercises to warm up his arms and prepare for the tough movements she had planned now, soon he was moving the halberd slowly from side to side, letting her guide his movements. She had her gauntlets on, there wasn’t much danger of her realizing his scales weren’t real. “Keep it level. I’m going to let go. Don’t drop it!” she let go of his arms. Syphus managed to keep the halberd up without much difficulty. His arms were trembling slightly, but he endured the weight of the halberd. “Nice! I thought you’d have more trouble than this”

“I have been practicing” Syphus said with a wry smile. Not much of a lie, that halberd had been vital to traverse Alphys’ SOUL. Undyne grinned.

“Good! You have initiative, I like that!” she pointed at a training dummy not too far away “I want you to attack the dummy over there. Tear it in half if you can!”

Syphus moved the halberd in an arc, testing how he’d do it. It was true that in a real battle he wouldn’t have the time to think his moves like this, but since there was no danger right now... “Like this?”

“You’re going to fall flat on your face if you move that thing like that. Move your hands further up the pole”

Once Syphus got the right technique, Undyne told him again to cleave the training dummy. Syphus stepped forward, raised the halberd with a scream of fake rage and slammed down the blade on the dummy’s head, cutting it from top to half of its body. The split dummy fell down, Syphus retired the halberd with a grin, just to almost drop it in surprise when the dummy repaired itself. “What the--?!”

“Surprised? There’s a ghost living inside that dummy” Undyne pointed at the dummy’s face “Don’t say a single word. There’s no time for a rant right now” the dummy grumbled something unintelligible and repetitive-sounding but didn’t defy Undyne “It’s a living for them”

“So it’s like an infinite dummy”

“Something like that. Do it again, this time from the side!”

There was something nice and almost therapeutic about slicing a dummy over and over, watching it mend itself together, and repeat the process over and over. It also helped that Undyne shouted with excitement every time Syphus did the moves correctly, to the point where he started yelling too. “Taste justice!” Syphus shrieked, slamming the spike into the dummy.

“YEAH! Make the dummy know what justice is made of!”

“AaaaaaaHAAAAA!” Syphus removed the spike, poking the dummy again. He was having fun, like there was nothing to worry about, but part of him was feeling very guilty. Cohen was trapped into his own SOUL right now. Would there be consequences for a prolonged stay? Syphus let go of the halberd, distracted. ...what am I doing here? I’m such a moron...

“What? Why did you stop?”

“Sorry, Undyne, I have to stop”

Undyne grabbed the halberd, giving it back to Syphus. “It’s because of the dummy? I told you, there’s a ghost inside—“

“It’s not that. I just need to go do something”

“Is it work?” she was already resigned to Syphus going away before her free time ended, but she was honestly curious about that. Syphus made a pained expression, not looking at Undyne to the face. I shouldn’t be fooling around...why am I here?!

“No, it’s something else”

Something about what Syphus said made Undyne remember something. She took her helmet, patting it. “Hey, I just remembered! There’s something you can do for the Royal Guard. Why don’t you try applying to help at the headquarters?”

Syphus’ hand went to the brooch without deactivating it. Going to the very core of the troop that patrolled and had as a mission fight any humans that fell into the Underground? That was insane! Yet...there was something strangely alluring about it. Syphus’ feathers stood on end slowly, getting on guard. “I thought you had said I wasn’t a good pick for being a member of the Royal Guard”

“Yeah, and that hasn’t changed. I’m talking about a part-time job in the Royal Guard headquarters at New Home. You’d shine the armors, keep stuff clean, basically be our support and keep everything ready. Give it a try!”

“I don’t know...”

“I’m not promising anything, but you should apply. You have the right attitude, you’re proficient, you’d do great! How about it?” It wasn’t that bad of an offer, and it was likely the pay was going to be higher than at Grillby’s. Lately he wasn’t the most hard-working guy, so just to cover his bases he told Undyne it was likely he wouldn’t have time every day for the job. Undyne didn’t seem too worried, though. “Don’t worry about that. The pay is nothing amazing, so nobody expects you to go everyday”

Syphus was about to ask for more details when he again felt pangs of guilt about not going to help Cohen immediately, so he decided to cut the conversation short. “Alright, I’ll apply to that job, but why’re you offering it to me?”

For a moment Syphus wasn’t sure what to say, so she continued “It looked like you had something in your head. Something bothering you?”

Am I that obvious? “Not really, but thanks for asking”

“Fine. You can count on me anytime, don’t be afraid of talking to me whenever you want, got it?”

You sense Undyne’s earnest kindness

The Undyne Social Link has reached Rank 3!

Your power to create Personas of the Justice Arcana has grown!

Undyne and Syphus walked to the part of Waterfall where the paths divided, where the two of them would take their separate paths. Syphus still had a rather conflicted face but Undyne didn’t press any further. Better to let her friend talk to her whenever he needed, without forcing him to do it. Still...did he not trust her enough to share whatever was eating at him? Well, she wasn’t going to demand he talked, anyways. Before he went too far away she called for him. “Hey, did you know Alphys is already back at the lab?”

That made Syphus stop immediately. “Really? So soon?”

“Yeah! Alphys said she wanted to get back to work as soon as possible. She’s amazing” Undyne pointed with her head towards Hotland “You should visit her sometime, I bet she’d be happy to see you”

That wasn’t a bad idea either, especially if Alphys felt better and was able to return to her laboratory so soon. Thanking Undyne, Syphus went in direction of the Hidden Village. A new thought had crossed his mind, and since it was directly related to his efforts to break the Barrier, he felt less guilty about leaving the rescue mission for later. Besides, bringing Ananas with him to see Alphys was a good idea too. The girl deserved to see that Alphys was okay.

-ooooo-

Igor really knew a lot about the workings of those strange worlds that were the SOULs. The moment Syphus asked why Alphys’ SOUL didn’t have Shadows roaming around, Igor was able to answer, sounding completely sure about what he was saying: “Monsters and humans aren’t as different as you may think. Their SOULs are made of the same components and emotions. You may think of it as the method of tarot reading: the way you lie the cards may change, but the cards themselves don’t. Do you understand?”

“I do, actually”

“But there’s a difference between human and monster SOULs: monsters are better than humans at compartmentalizing their emotions and feelings in their SOULs. Human SOULs are more complicated, which is why monsters tend to see human SOULs as...more lacking in certain qualities, and why instead of seeing Shadows you see them take the form of Personas – very fragile Personas, where the slightest emotional imbalance on them may cause them to revert into Shadows again”

The explanation was simple enough to be understood, yet convoluted enough for him to not be sure about the implications of it all. Did that mean all the Personas he saw in Alphys’ SOUL were related to her personality in some way? Even though he thought about it while he arranged the fusion of a few new Personas, he didn’t get to any big epiphanies about anything. Thanking Alphonse for their aid, Syphus left the Velvet Room, feeling the cold air of Waterfall. He was completely prepared for the trip into Cohen’s SOUL, but before that...

Ananas’ expression of annoyance when Syphus announced they were going into Cohen’s SOUL later vanished when he mentioned Alphys, the girl’s annoyance turned into concern. “Alphys...is she really okay?”

“Apparently she is. Undyne said—“

“Wait, Undyne?” Ananas frowned, staring at the ground “The same Undyne of the Royal Guard? Th-That Undyne? She’s going to be there...?”

“No, she’s at work. It’ll be just you, me, and Alphys. We should all talk about what happened, yeah?” such proposal did seem convincing enough for Ananas. After she put on her cowboy costume and her cloak, she followed Syphus to Hotland, to the laboratory. Just like Undyne had said, Alphys did look happy to see Syphus, and her happiness morphed into surprise when Ananas revealed herself.

“S-So you’re that human! And you...” Alphys looked outside from side to side before getting them into the laboratory “Syphus, y-you’re a human too?”

“We’ll explain once we’re inside” Syphus said. Soon the three of them were sitting on the couch, Syphus showing the firefly brooch and explaining what it did. Hearing that such a small thing made Syphus look like a monster and allowed them to enter SOULs impressed Alphys, she turned it in her claws over and over.

“That’s amazing! This little object can do that? How d-does it work?”

“No idea. It just does”

Ananas put her hands on her knees, leaning forward. “Where did you find it?”

“It was given to me” he hurried to take the brooch away, putting it away “Anyways, we’re here to explain what happened and ask you to keep silent about it” The explanation about the whole thing with Personas, Shadows and fighting it all took quite a while. Alphys listened intently, her face showing confusion at times but she didn’t interrupt. Once the tale was finished, she stared at her claws, trying to process everything she had heard.

“Wow...that’s a lot to think about...and so w-weird” she paused for a moment before looking at him “How many humans are down here in the Underground?”

“Eight” Ananas answered, taking a can of soda from the fridge without permission. Alphys, too busy processing everything she had been told, sunk her face in her hands.

“Oh my god...”

“If you have any questions I’ll try to answer them” Syphus offered, glaring silently at Ananas so she left the soda back into the fridge.

“...what’ll happen now? I didn’t get a Persona...did you need my h-help?”

“It’d have been nice to have another team member, but there’s nothing you can do about that now”

“I’m such a failure...” Alphys stood up, slowly walking around “What my Shadow said was right. I’m a coward...I know what I ha-have done is awful, all those lies I have told...and now I failed at facing myself” neither Syphus nor Ananas knew what to say, they felt very awkward hearing such things. The silence seemed to have been the right choice, without having them reply to what she said she had to think about what she had just said “...I have to start getting better, somehow. How can I help you?”

“You don’t need to force yourself to—“

“Tell me how I can help! I’m begging y-you here” proving herself useful was a good first step towards redeeming herself, in Alphys’ opinion. Surely she could be of some use despite not having a Persona! And even though Syphus immediately said he wasn’t going to take her with them, she insisted. “I know I’m already making that big weapon you need to shatter the B-Barrier, but I...wait a minute...that’s it!” her spirits lifted once she saw a way she could be useful.

“What? What’s it?”

“I can make good weapons for your team! Bring m-me some of those weird m-materials you talked about, and I’ll make weapons th-that’ll help you in your quest”

Ananas’ eyes widened. “You really can do that?”

Syphus shrugged. It wasn’t a bad offer, and stronger weapons would always be welcome. If Alphys wanted to do that, then sure! Why not? Although letting her do it for free made him a bit uncomfortable. “As long as I can pay you for that then sure, I accept”

“Thank you! I promise you, y-you won’t regret it. I’ll be of help...and it’ll be the first step I’ll make towards i-improving myself. I won’t hide from myself a-anymore” Alphys stopped, once again weighing her words before nodding “Yes, I mean it. I-I’ll get better until m-my own Shadow has nothing to scold m-me for!”

You feel Alphys' newfound will to change.

The Alphys Social Link has reached Rank 4!

Your power to create Personas of the Priestess Arcana has grown!

Ananas passed Alphys her gun, telling her she had run out of bullets and therefore her gun was useless. “Hum...I’m not going to ask why you have a gun...but maybe I can make you one th-that doesn’t need bullets”

“You can really do that? I want to do some good damage to the Shadows!”

“That should be easy” the royal scientist glanced at Syphus “I can make a halberd for y-you, too. Bring me what I’ll tell y-you” she started rattling a long list of materials, barely slow enough for Syphus to keep track of it “...and some sharpened metal would be good too, and I want to s-see if talc can temper s-some kinds of steel, a-and...uh, bring me everything you have. I’ll see what I can do”

“Can you make some armors too?” Ananas asked.

Alphys shook her head. “I’m not sure I could make good ones. You’ll have to ask the Queen for that”

“Toriel? She must have better things to do than make clothes for someone like me” Syphus said.

“N-No! You didn’t know? She designed the armors for the Royal G-Guard. The Queen is pretty g-good at blacksmithing...maybe it’s because she’s proficient with f-fire magic” Alphys played with the safety of Ananas’ gun, examining the mechanism “But I don’t think s-she’ll do it quickly unless the Royal G-Guard sends a formal request to her, s-signed by the captain”

Okay, it’s settled: getting that job in the Royal Guard is going to be very helpful. What better way to convince Undyne to sign something like that? Standing up, Syphus told her he’d go for all the materials he had obtained from his three expeditions so far. Once they left, Alphys stood up and went to the second floor of her laboratory, grinning to herself. The possibility of crafting some fun weapons was rather enticing, and practicing her skills was always a nice thing to do. Besides, if it led to them getting more stuff for the Barrier-shattering weapon she was making then even better. Cheered up, Alphys went to her work table, preparing some tools to start working as soon as Syphus returned. “Oh?” Among them she found the cellphone she had been making for the child with the stripped sweater. Had she left it in the drawer with her tools? She didn’t remember. Just in case, she checked the different functions the cellphone had, quickly finding something odd.

“This is odd...I thought I had left it full” she mumbled, checking the fuel container for the jetpack function. The cellphone could transform into a jetpack for a very short amount of time – as long as there was enough fuel for that. “Oh well”

It wasn’t farfetched to think she was mistaken about leaving it full.

-ooooo-

It took Alphys the whole day to make the weapons she had promised, but the wait was worth it. When Syphus and Ananas returned that evening to pick up their new weapons – Syphus having spent the day in Snowdin working at Grillby’s while Sans messed with more stuff he had received from Syphus -- they found Alphys standing amidst a considerable amount of weapons. Not only there were several halberds and guns around, they also saw several pairs of tough-looking gloves, a spear and a thick club. Wow, someone was busy today!

“Look at everything I made” Alphys said with pride, picking up some of the weapons. “All those materials were so unusual! It was fun to see what I could do” Her efforts were notable, she displayed all the options to them and encouraged them to choose the one they liked the most “None of these need bullets” she explained to Ananas, showing the guns.

“What does this one fire?”

“Thorns! And you don’t even need to reload it, it’s, um, a bit hard to explain how that works” she then showed Syphus the halberds “Pick the one you want, but if I were you, I’d go for th-this one over here...it’s made of t-tungsten and it should increase y-your strength” The weapons were very well made, sharp and shiny. “S-So, what do you two think?”

“It’s awesome! Thank you, thank you!” Ananas had already put her new gun in her holster, almost jumping with joy.

“I’m impressed; you do know what you’re doing” Syphus added. Alphys, happy, chuckled, picking up the weapons they didn’t choose.

“It was easy...I didn’t think I’d do all this in a single day...”

“That’s why I want you to have this” Syphus left a lot of gold in Alphys’ hands. When she tried to say it was all free, Syphus closed his eyes tiredly. “Don’t reject it, please. You deserve a reward” Arguing for that was going to be a waste of time, so she put it aside.

It had been more than a day since Cohen had fallen down. Although Ananas was happy to have a stronger weapon, the more they got closer to the Hidden Village the more anxious she looked. “We’re going in now, right? We have to do it now” she kept asking.

“Yeah, we’ll do it now” he kept answering. The two entered Cohen’s cabin, finding Ciruel inside. He looked at the shiny halberd Syphus had brought but didn’t comment about it. “Have you been here all day?”

“Kinda” Ciruel suppressed a yawn “I’m so tired...”

“Annie and I can watch over Cohen for the rest of the night. You go rest, we’ll take care of him”

“You shouldn’t say stuff like ‘take care of’ someone when you’re holding a sharp halberd” he said but he stood up, now yawning openly and leaving the cabin. Once Ciruel was gone and they waited ten minutes or so in case he came back unexpectedly, Syphus took out the firefly brooch, pinning it on Cohen’s robe. He also rummaged among the stuff Sans had made with random materials, giving Ananas a ring.

“Take this. It’ll sometimes reflect physical attacks”

“Really? This thing?” somehow it was hard to believe a ring could do such thing.

“Don’t ask me how it works. All Sans said was ‘magic’ and wiggled his fingers, what a jerk” he grabbed an accessory for himself. Leaving aside that they still had no armor, they were better prepared than any other time before. “Are you ready?”

“Let’s go” Ananas grabbed Syphus’ sleeve. Once the two of them were sitting down on the floor next to Cohen’s mattress, Syphus pressed the brooch, activating it.

-ooooo-

This time Ananas woke up first. When Syphus opened his eyes, he found her shaking his shoulder, trying to wake him up. “Syphus? Syphus, I think something happened”

“What...?”

“We’re still in the village”

She wasn’t entirely wrong. They were in a small room, surrounded by piles of cardboard boxes. The quality of the wooden construction that formed the room revealed they were currently inside the storage of the big communal building of the village, the dining room and the small kitchen were downstairs. High on the wall there was a small window, a bit too high for Syphus to look through. “Huh...looks like Cohen’s SOUL takes the form of the village. It’s weird we’re starting in this storage, though”

“Let’s look through the window”

“Stand on my shoulders” Syphus crouched so Ananas could do as instructed and look through the window. The girl held on the frame, peering over it into the dark confines of the cavern. None of the shacks she could see had any lights on, there were no signs of life outside them – at least nothing that wasn’t Shadows. Unlike Alphys’ SOUL, the Shadows in Cohen’s SOUL looked like the oily fragments of psyche they were. “See something?”

“I don’t see Cohen; I just see those weird Shadows that look like blobs with masks”

“Then everything is like normal” Syphus carefully got Ananas to the floor “Alright, strategy meeting: stay close to me. We don’t know what may be lurking anywhere. There may even be Shadows in this room”

“Will you keep using that giant made of paper?”

“No, I got rid of it to make better Personas. I have some good immunities! But...hm...let’s just hope nothing in this place uses ice” Once again most of his Personas had a glaring weakness.

“Don’t worry, I’ll defend you with fire! Now...” Ananas looked at the boxes “Let’s look for supplies here”

“Supplies? We’re staying here for a few hours; this isn’t a camping trip”

“I know! But I want to see what’s in here. We could find something useful!” It wasn’t that bad of an idea, so they started checking the boxes. Most were empty, but a few had random healing items that could actually come useful. Ananas took another box, opening it with glee, when something slid out of it. “S-Syphus!”

The ink and slime overflowed the box until it started spilling on the floor, some if it leaking down between the wooden planks. Ananas aimed her gun at the growing mound of ink while it took form, growing until it overtook most of the small storage room. The ink started compressing, the Shadow’s frame forming and solidifying into steel. It wasn’t a small thing, a levitating horse armor formed, shining ominously in the dim light, and over it there was its rider, holding a large medieval spear. “That one’s definitely dangerous” Syphus mumbled. Hard not to be intimidated by a knight that almost filled the whole room.

Ananas, trying not to panic, fired her gun, hitting the Intrepid Knight right on its mask. It was barely fazed. Quick, analysis! The analysis showed nothing good. It was astoundingly sturdy. “Step back!” he said to Ananas while he summoned one of his new Personas. A bizarre-looking woman with an odd green and blue pattern and purple hair emerged from Syphus, raised a hand, and struck the Knight with a lightning bolt. Although the Knight did crumble down to the floor, the amount of damage done was negligible. Damn it, we’re in big trouble!

“What kind of Persona is that?” Ananas had frozen, looking dumbstruck at where Queen Mab had been a moment ago.

“Forget about that and attack!” Syphus slammed the face of the Knight’s horse with his halberd, not even making a dent. Ananas wasn’t doing much better with her bullets, most bouncing from the Knight’s armor. They had barely managed to dent its health when the Knight rose, its lance pointing at Syphus. “Change of plans, we get out of here!”

“What?!”

“It’s too strong! We don’t stand a chance against it!”

As if that was its cue, the Intrepid Knight started charging up an attack, its medieval lance shining brightly. Not wanting to be harmed by whatever it was readying, Ananas yelped and followed Syphus through the narrow hallway. Behind them, a thunderous blast tore apart the wooden wall that separated the storage from the hallway, broken planks and splinters crashing against the outer wall of the building. They had narrowly avoided an extremely strong attack.

The second floor of the communal building wasn’t very big. It didn’t take long for them to reach the other side of the floor, finding the stairs that’d lead them to the first floor. They had been about to run down the stairs when something started coming up, something big that was blocking the way. A large golden statue was floating upwards, too wide for them to run aside it. “Come on, you have to be joking!”

“Uh, Syphus...?” Ananas inched closer to him, looking behind her, the Knight approaching. The Relic advanced from the opposite direction.

“We’re going through here!” he shouted, stabbing the Relic with the spike of his halberd. If they had to choose between taking their chances with the Knight or with the Relic, the Relic definitely was the better option. Even if they couldn’t defeat it, they had to push it aside at the very least. The Relic tried to counter with electricity, but Syphus’ actual Persona was immune to it. He pretty much jumped on the Relic, his weight making it float down the stairs.

Ananas went down the stairs, Hippolyta using its axe to deflect the Knight’s lance. The girl looked around the first floor. There were no windows, and the double door she knew was on the wall wasn’t there. All she could see was the wall made of logs, without even a hint there was a door there. That was going to be a big problem now – there was no escape route! “Syphus! There’s no door here!”

“Why am I not surprised” he muttered, cleaving the Relic with the halberd and finishing it “Are you sure?”

“There’s no door!” she repeated right before the Knight’s lance hit her right on the back, throwing her against the wall of logs. Ananas, out of breath due to the impact, fell to the floor, and Hippolyta vanished, leaving her defenseless while she struggled to stand up. The Knight charged up again, rearing back the lance to hit Ananas again. With a grunt, the Knight attacked, hitting Syphus.

The piece had hurried from the other side of the room, changing his Persona to the only one he had that resisted physical damage, and blocked with his body the lance, stopping it from hitting Ananas. The impact made him fall to his knees, woozy, while Ananas used fire spells with her Persona to get the Knight away from him. “Are you okay?” she tried to help him stand up.

“...I think I am...that one really hurt” he said, his back creaking “Forget about me, we need a way out”

“There’s no door!”

“Then make one!” It couldn’t be simpler than that. Either someone broke the wall of the building so they could leave, or they stayed until the Knight killed them, and since dying was not a good option...while Syphus stood up and faced the Knight, Ananas looked at the wall. It depended on her, and the only way she had was with Hippolyta.

“Come on...!” she mumbled, Hippolyta appearing and raising the axe, bringing it down on the wooden wall. Splinters and pieces of wood fell all around her, it seemed like it’d take a while to make a way out. How long would Syphus resist? No, she couldn’t leave him alone. She’d help. Ananas turned around, her mind focusing on controlling Hippolyta to continue breaking down part of the wall. “I’m ready!” Ananas took out her gun. Syphus glanced at her while he readied his halberd.

“Are you sure you want to do this too?”

“I’ll do it”

There was no time for arguing. The Knight had charged up its attack level once again. Please stay safe, Annie... he’d try his best to protect her, but he could make no promises. We just need to keep this Shadow busy until Annie is done with that wall. It shouldn’t be too difficult. “Rakshasa!”

His only defense against the Knight’s powerful physical attacks was that Persona. The demon floated in the air, holding its swords at the ready. At Syphus’ signal, Rakshasa pounced forward, aiming with its swords at the Knight’s horse, while Ananas shot at the Knight’s head. The bullets bounced on its head, the swords slashed at the Knight’s armor and left marks on it. Unfazed, the Intrepid Knight moved forward, trying to run Syphus over with the horse. Syphus dove to the side, falling on the splinters from the wall. “Wait, I got it!” Ananas aimed at the eyes of the Knight’s mask, it wasn’t that much better than what they were already doing. “Nevermind”

The next minute seemed eternal for both of them. Ananas tried to break the wall as fast as possible, but she still wasn’t used to directing her Persona in a completely different task than what she was doing. More often than not she completed missed with her bullets. Syphus wasn’t faring much better, despite Rakshasa’s fierce attacks the Shadow was almost completely unharmed. “This never ends!” he yelled in frustration, having once again deviated the Knight’s lance with Rakshasa’s swords.

“I’m almost done!” Ananas ran to the other side of the room, shooting at the Knight’s back. It was logical that staying as separate from each other as possible would divert its attention! And indeed, it did – much to her chagrin, when she saw the Knight turned around and aimed at her. With a cry of war, the Shadow bolted towards Ananas, surprising her. “No!” she squealed, cowering to try not get too hurt. The Knight’s lance was aiming at her head, but the blow never came. Suddenly, a metallic noise rung from very close to her. When Ananas opened her eyes she just saw a transparent barrier vanishing in front of her, like a barrier. Was that the ring accessory’s power? “W-What...?”

When two swords got stuck between the plaques of the horse’s armor Ananas jumped back, startled. Rakshasa, having leverage on the Shadow, pulled from its swords, dragging the Intrepid Knight away. “How much longer, Annie?”

“I think it’s done!” Ananas said between shots, more of her bullets, bouncing on the Knight’s armor. Indeed, right after that a noise like a falling tree shook the room. Syphus turned his head around right in time to see the hole on the wall and Hippolyta rushing with a fire spell at the Knight. “But we can’t win!”

“Then we’re going to run away” taking advantage of Ananas distracting the Knight, Syphus changed back to Queen Mab, hitting the Shadow with a Zio spell. Stunned, the Knight fell to the floor. Syphus hit the Knight with another bolt of lightning for good measure, just in case, while Ananas ran through the hole on the wall. Looking back to make sure it wasn’t following them, Syphus followed Ananas until they left the building behind, they hid behind a large rock, catching their breath.

“...that was too hard. Are all Shadows going to be like that?” Ananas huffed, doubling over with exhaustion.

“I hope not! We’ll be screwed if they are”

“And what about Cohen? If this is his SOUL then his evil copy must be around here, right? We need to find him before his copy catches him!”

Syphus patted Ananas’ back, trying to breath normally. “We will, don’t worry. First we’ll need to find where’s Cohen, and that means we’ll fight more Shadows until then. Do you feel ready?” A bit hesitant about going now, Ananas touched her protective ring. The thought of finding Cohen and potentially finding out his suppressed thoughts and traits was unnerving to her, mostly because it was someone she knew. Seeing the secrets of a stranger like Alphys was one thing, seeing the hidden side of someone she had seen every day the last six months was a completely different thing. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah...I’m fine, pardner...” she stood up, making her hat cover her face “Let’s get going”

-ooooo-

Ananas aimed at another Eagle-like Shadow, the bullet hitting it right on its feathery chest and making the Shadow disappear. The swarm seemed to be endless, right after finishing the group that had been attacking just now another approached, flying and screeching. “Hurry up!” she demanded to Syphus.

“I’m doing this as fast as I can!” he said, hacking away the wood of the cabin, Rakshasa working with its sword not too far from there. The wood the cabins were made of was surprisingly resistant, it was taking ridiculously long to break it.

A ball of fire impacted him on the back, making him double over for a second before resuming his work. His back stung, like his skin was severely sunburned. The Jupiter Eagles were rather annoying, managing to hit both Ananas and him with fire attacks. At first Ananas had tried to defend him, blocking the fire with Hippolyta and leaving herself vulnerable, but Syphus had insisted her to defend herself, leaving him with just the resistance of his Persona to help him.

“Bang! Bang bang!” Ananas was muttering, firing her gun with a lot of expertise for someone of her age. One after another, the Eagles spiraled to the ground before crashing and vanishing in smoke. Another three Eagles flew towards them, their feathers smoldering before balls of fire impacted the ground around Ananas. The girl jumped back, firing more bullets and eliminating the Eagles in matter of seconds. “Are you done now?!”

“Yeah!” the noise of part of the wooden wall falling into the cabin echoed in the cavern. Finally! As soon as that noise spread around and the dust settled, Ananas grabbed onto her hat and ran inside, right when an unknown Maya ran away and towards the exit of the Village, flailing its arms. Syphus tried to crush it with Rakshasa’s swords, and Ananas fired her gun several times in quick succession, but every attack missed, it was too fast to hit. “Damn it!”

“We’ll get it next time”

“This is the fourth time!”

They were still looking for Cohen. None of the cabins of the village had doors or windows, they were like perfectly sealed wooden boxes. Could Cohen really be inside one of them? “He must be; I don’t see the old man around here” Ananas had said after they went around the Village. That’s why they started breaking open the cabins, Ananas protecting them from the Shadows while Syphus cut the walls of the cabins. So far, all they had managed to do was release a Maya per cabin – was that important? All the Mayas they released were shiny, with a reddish color instead of the deep black they usually had, and unexpectedly quick. Not that it mattered, they hadn’t managed to hit any of them.

Ananas entered the cabin first, raising her gun in case there was a foe ready to pounce on them. She quickly scanned the room, not finding anything suspicious, there was no more stuff than the rustic furniture all cabins had. “He’s not here!”

“There are only two left. Come on, let’s go” Syphus grabbed the edge of the hole he had made and looked outside, finding out there was no Shadows nearby. Great. He stepped outside prudently, keeping his guard up...and then noticed Ananas hadn’t followed him. When he returned to the cabin he found her standing there, seemingly deep in thought “Annie?”

“Um...can we talk...?”

“Sure. What is it?”

Ananas took off her hat, turning it around in her hands morosely. “Can I...go home now?”

“What?!” Syphus almost dropped the halberd in surprise. Seriously? Was Ananas trying to bail out in middle of the mission? Ananas cringed, a bit startled.

“It’s not that I’m scared, it’s just...” she paused, looking at him with puzzlement “You don’t feel weird? That we will see Cohen’s hidden side?”

“No, but—“

“I don’t want to see Cohen’s hidden side. I’m scared about what I’m going to see” she stared at her hat as if it was the most interesting object ever “I’m afraid what he’ll say. Does he hate me? What if he says he hates me? What if he hates everybody?”

“So that’s what you’re afraid of...” Syphus sighed and went to a side of the cabin, sitting down and inviting her to sit nearby. This was going to be a bit awkward to discuss, but if Ananas was feeling afraid then he needed to make sure she’d be okay. Once she did, Syphus extended his hand and put it on her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting gesture “I know this makes you nervous, but we can’t turn our backs to our duty just because we’re afraid”

Ananas blinked, unsure what to say. “I know, but...I’m scared...”

“I’ll be there with you all the way. I promise you I’m going to stay by your side no matter what Cohen’s Shadow says, you have my support”

“I know” apparently his words weren’t as comforting as Syphus had hoped “We’re going to have to fight Cohen...right?”

Syphus smiled uncomfortably, taking his hand away. “Maybe. You think you can do that?”

“...no. But I’ll have to anyways”

“Pretty much, yeah. It’ll be like going to the dentist, it’s something you don’t want to do but you have to do”

“What’s a dentist?” Ananas tilted her head. Syphus suppressed another sigh, his simile having fallen flat on its face. When Ananas stood up, dusting the dirt off her pants, she nodded half-heartedly. “Whatever. I just hope I won’t hear him say he hates everyone. We all like Cohen, even if he’s so annoying sometimes”

“Really?”

“Yeah...” Ananas hugged her knees, putting her chin on her knees and gazing ahead, nostalgic “You know, when I first arrived to the village, Cohen let me sleep in his cottage until my cabin was ready. The first night I couldn’t sleep...I wanted to return home, to see my parents again. Mom Toriel was nice, but she was not my real mom. I didn’t want to be there.

I think I cried a lot that night. When Cohen entered he found me crying...”

-ooooo-

“What’s wrong?”

The old man looked at Ananas with worry. Ananas was huddled in a corner of the cottage, crying into her cowboy hat. She looked disheveled, dirty, like she wanted to do no more than stay where she was and not move for a long, long while. When she heard Cohen’s voice Ananas raised her head, barely managing to say something between sobs.

“I-I wanna go home...I don’t want to be here!”

Cohen crossed his arms. “You know where you are, don’t you?”

“I don’t care! I want to leave!”

“We can’t leave. You’re trapped with us here until the Barrier is gone” Cohen answered gruffly, without even trying to soften the blow. It was so blunt Ananas stared at him in surprise, having stopped crying. Stupor replaced her sadness.

“What...? I’m trapped here forever...?”

“Pretty much, yeah”

“But that can’t be possible, I don’t wanna be trapped here! I-I’m the Sheriff, I can’t be...!” her eyes welled with tears again. Cohen, softening a bit because of Ananas’ reaction, grabbed the quilt on is mattress, putting it on Ananas’ shoulder.

“Here. You’ll feel better after you’re a bit warmer. Are you hungry?” he asked. Ananas nodded, wiping the tears off her eyes with her hands “Alright, I’ll solve that. I’ll be back in a minute” When he returned, he had brought some of that soup Graham made so well. Leaving it in front of Ananas, Cohen sat on his mattress, watching her with attention. “What’s your name?”

“I’m...I’m the Sheriff”

He didn’t press her for a name. If she wasn’t willing to say it right now then maybe once she felt better she’d feel more cooperative. “Alright, Sheriff, listen here: you’re not alone. We’re all the same than you, trapped down here, with Toriel being the only person who cares about us in this whole mountain. You’ll be okay as long as you’re here with us”

“...I like Toriel...”

“Nice. Give us a chance. We may be a bunch of weird random people, but we’re all together in here” Cohen extended a gloved hand “What do you say? Will you be part of our village?” It took Ananas a few seconds before she dared to shake hands with him, Cohen moving hers with a little too much energy “Good! I’m Cohen, and I’m the guardian of this village”

“The guardian? What does that mean?”

“I’m the one who keeps the monsters at bay. It’s thanks to me” the old man grinned cockily, puffing his chest out “As long as I’m here nobody here has anything to fear”

Ananas’ eyes widened with admiration. “Really? You take care of us?”

“Exactly. That’s what the guardian does, and that’s me, never forget that. That’s why you can ask me for help anytime you want. Got it?”

“Yes! I see!”

“Good” Cohen stood up from his mattress “I was here just to check on you. Tomorrow Graham will start building your cabin. Until then you can sleep over there, if you want” he pointed at the mattress on the other side of the cottage “I’ll now return to my spot near the exit of the village. Keep my quilt for tonight if you want to, but please return it in the morning”

Ananas wrapped the quilt around her a bit tighter. “Thank you” she said shyly.

“I made it myself, you know. Someday I’ll make one just for you, I promise” Cohen smiled and left the cabin. Now alone, Ananas dragged her feet until she reached her mattress, lying down on it and making a cocoon with Cohen’s quilt. It was warm, comforting, and for the first time since she had arrived to the village she felt calm. She didn’t believe they were all trapped with no way out. Quietly, Ananas took the decision to find out more about the Barrier and about ways to escape. It wasn’t fair they had to stay under a mountain for the rest of their lives just because they fell down a hole on the mountain.

At least she had all this people to take care of her. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad as long as they were there for her.

-ooooo-

“He was so nice during the first few weeks...it’s because of him that I want to be the guardian of the village. I want to protect everyone like he does. I told him all that, but I think he didn’t like it not even back then” Ananas had calmed down, taking a more conversational tone “I don’t know why, but he started treating me different...I miss the old Cohen...”

Syphus chewed on his thumb, thinking what to say. That did sound like Cohen, from what he knew, but it also was kind of hard to think of the actual Cohen as someone who had been treating Ananas in a friendly manner. “It’s not two different Cohens. It’s the same one, he hasn’t left”

“What do you mean it’s the same one? Cohen is a jerk now! Wait, then Cohen was always a jerk?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. Look, I’m sure Cohen truly cares about you, and about everyone else”

Ananas pushed her hat so hard into her head it almost burst through the seams. “Then why’s he trying to drive me away? If he cared he wouldn’t do that, all he cares is about being the guardian and—“ suddenly, as if she had an epiphany, Ananas shut up, letting go of her hat in shock “...I get it...I think I get it now”

“What? What do you think now?”

“I’m not sure, but I think...I think I understand something” the girl stood up, gesturing Syphus to stand up too “Come on, we have to find him”

“What? Now?”

“Yeah, now! I’m not scared anymore. Come on, he must be around here somewhere!” her eyes were shining with renewed vigor. Syphus wasn’t sure yet what epiphany she had reached, but whatever it was had definitely helped.

You feel like you were able to support Ananas.

You feel like you understand Cohen a bit better.

Your bond with Ananas isn’t ready to get stronger yet.

Your bond with Cohen will get stronger soon.

-ooooo-

None of the cabins had Cohen in them, not even the one that belonged to him. In all the cabins there had been no more than a Maya, all of them shining with the same strange pinkish color. All of the Mayas also had different masks on them, so they were all different variations, but none of the Mayas stayed still for long enough for Syphus to analyze them. After the fifth Ananas noticed that the Mayas were crawling in direction of the sentry station, flailing their slimy arms all the way. “...of course Cohen would be there” Syphus said, trying to look towards the hole on the rock wall. If Cohen saw his guardian status as an important part of herself...then no wonder his Shadow and him would be there. “Are you ready, Annie?”

“I’m ready” she made sure the safety of her gun was off. The two of them slowly descended the slope towards the sentry station in the wall, trying to look through the darkness and distinguish anything. There was something amidst the dim illumination, but it was rather hard to see what it was. It seemed like a group of something. Shadows? Most likely. When they got closer the group could be seen better. The six Mayas they had found inside the cabins were gathered there, surrounding a taller form...Cohen. “Hey! We found him!”

“Wait –Annie, wait!” Syphus tried to stop Ananas, but she rushed forward.

Cohen looked like normal, his eyes hinted this was the real one and not his Shadow Self. When he turned around he didn’t look happy, though. As soon as he saw them, he raised his fists and got into defensive position, glaring at them.

“What do you want?” he growled gutturally, stepping forward. The hostile reception made Ananas stop, confused.

“W-We came to save you...”

“Step back, Annie” Syphus said. Thankfully, Ananas obeyed, getting to his side. For a moment Syphus looked at Cohen with attention, trying to judge what to do. What was going on...?

Cohen adjusted his worn gloves, staring at them with caution. “Save me? Save me from what?”

“What do you mean from what? From those!” Syphus pointed at the Mayas, who shook with fear behind Cohen. The old man’s expression turned threatening.

“Leave them alone! You’re not getting to them if I have anything to say about it!”

“But those are Shadows!” Ananas argued.

“Shut up with that nonsense! These are the people I swore I’d protect” Cohen turned his head around towards the Mayas “Stay behind me”

Ananas inched towards Syphus, baffled. “Uh, Syphus, why’s he trying to defend the Shadows?”

“I don’t know. Something must be going on” Is he under mind control or something? If so, then it was very likely it was the Mayas’ fault. Why else would he feel so compelled to protect them?

“Will we have to attack him?”

“Hopefully not!”

Cohen approached, hitting his fists together, the sound of the gloves squishing together putting the team on high alert. “You had the chance to go away. You’ll regret staying here”

“Cohen, we—“

The old man didn’t give any chance to say anything else. He moved rather quickly, approaching Syphus with surprising speed and threw a hook with his right hand, hitting Syphus in the jaw with such strength Syphus’ head swiveled to a side, almost throwing him to the floor. Ananas gasped, astonished, chance Cohen used to focus on her. In a moment he gathered strength a