Only a few men had seen what stood before Frisk, and only from the other side. This wall, this barrier, was all that stood between him and the outer world. His world.
"Impressive, is it not?" A voice asked him. He turned to see Asgore, a towering monster with white fur and a pair of stubby horns. Most of him was concealed behind a suit of dull purple armour and a cape to match, but everyone who saw him knew him to be a powerful monster, king of his realm. "After the war between our races had ended, after our banishment to the land you have explored, seven human magicians summoned all of their power - their Determination - to create this barrier. Centuries after, it still remains. You met the captain of my guard, did you not?" Frisk nodded gently, the memories of the fight with Undyne still fresh in his mind. "She informed you of the gate's key, seven human souls. We have six." Asgore looked at the barrier, and Frisk did the same. It seemed to be... trembling slightly. "We have studied this magic since our banishment. We understand all there is to understand about it. As a result, we know there is no substitute, no alternative." Frisk turned back to face Asgore. He couldn't meet Frisk's eyes. "Human..." Asgore stepped back, the twilight granting him an ominous shadow. "It was nice to meet you." He suddenly thrust a trident out to the side, showing its three crimson points. "Goodbye." He raised it, pointing it at Frisk. It came rushing at him...
"I'll stay!" Frisk panicked, leaping away from the trident as its head crashed into the ground, burying itself in the cold stone beneath. Asgore stayed still for a moment, repeating Frisk's words in his mind.
"All this time... did you not come to New Home to escape our land? To return to yours?" He dislodged the trident, a pebble rolling off and clacking against the ground. "Why would you stay now?"
"... nobody has to die." Frisk huffed, straightening up again. "Sans, Papyrus, Undyne, Alphys, Mettaton... nobody had to die. Alphys says I need a monster soul to escape, but I won't take one!"
"Then you would give your soul up to grant us escape?" Asgore asked, gripping the trident tighter to prepare for another attack.
"N-no, I can't... I don't want to die either... b-but if I stay with you, you can take my soul once I die from age! Y-your kind outlives humans easily, right?!" Asgore hesitated, the trident drooping slightly.
"... human, I... I don't know what to say... you would sacrifice your freedom to allow ours?"
"I mean... my life was worth nothing up there, I came down here to... to escape them. If I can help here, if I can mean something... But I'm afraid to die..."
"... I... will need to think abo-"
"Oh, please!" a new voice hissed, taking them both by surprise. "Boo hoo, everybody hates me, I don't want to die, waa, waa, waa! I told you from the start, human!" the ground trembled slightly as a yellow flower pushed out from the ground where Asgore had stabbed it. "Down here, it's kill or be killed!" It grinned a dark grin, a grin Frisk had only seen once before - right as Flowey had tried to kill him. "Seems you're pretty thick if you still haven't learnt that. Guess I gotta remind you; everybody down here wants you dead! Dead, damnit!"
"Th-that's not true!" Frisk objected, clutching the heart pendant around his neck. "I've met lots of friends! Papyrus was-"
"Papyrus is an idiot!" Flowey interrupted, vines crashing through the ground and pinning Frisk to the wall. "An optimistic-" he slammed Frisk against the wall. "Clueless-" Slam. "Brain dead idiot!" Slam. The vines receded and Frisk dropped to the ground, winded from the ferocity of the attack. "After seeing the scum down here I'd thought you'd have learnt better, but you're as bad as him!"
"Come on, little guy." a fourth voice interrupted. Frisk recognised it and glanced up, grinning slightly. His grin, however, was nothing compared to that of Sans, who was resting against the doorway leading back to New Home. "Why don't you leaf him alone?"
"Ugh!" Flowey groaned, rolling his eyes. "Get lost, you second-rate jokester!"
"Sorry, bud, but I'm here for the kid." he grinned, but his pupils vanished, leaving eerie black sockets where they were. "Unless you want another lesson..." Flowey hissed, before sinking into the ground and vanishing.
"Sans, your timing is perfect." Asgore smiled, clenching his fist. The fireball he had ignited was extinguished. "But what brings you here?"
"Like I said, I'm here for the kid." Sans relaxed, his pupils returning. "Someone like this, you don't wanna leave him alone. Trouble finds him if he can't find it."
"So it seems." Asgore glanced to Frisk, who had made his way over to the king. "Sans, do you know anybody who can care for the human?"
"Huh? Care for him?" the grin dropped a little in his confusion. "You ain't gonna take his soul?" The question sounded like it was aimed at Asgore, but Frisk noticed his eyes. Sans was looking at him when he asked the question...
"He has pledged it to us, but does not wish to die. He suggests waiting for him to age and a natural death."
"There's gonna be backlash, people want out now If we're gonna let the kid live, he needs a guard."
"The Royal Guard can be repurposed."
"And if another human falls?"
"It's been many years since the sixth human, and the Core proved enough to stop them. Should another human fall, we shall use their soul and this child may go free."
"I dunno about this, sir.."
"Nor do I, but..." Asgore sighed. "I believed myself prepared to fight this child, but his Determination surprises even me." He straightened up, a small smile hiding a single tear. "Human, do you know where you can stay?"
"Um, actually, yes, I have an idea..." Frisk muttered. His mind was elsewhere, amid fallen leaves and crumbling stones, amid ancient puzzles and forgotten paths, looking for a kind smile and an embrace he had never forgotten... "I know somebody in the ruins"
"In the ruins? Nobody's been there for years..."
"He fell down in them a couple of days back, headed to Snowdin. I caught him just as he left 'em."
"The... the Snowdin ruins...?" Asgore's voice grew quiet.
"... I will accompany you, child."
"I'll be at Grillby's." Sans nodded, walking back to New Town and out of sight. Frisk looked to Asgore, nervous yet relieved. He had been spared.
The walk back to the elevator was quiet, giving Frisk time to reflect. His family was gone long before he fell down, so that didn't concern him. The bullies and criminals of the human world didn't appeal to him either, so no loss there. Down here had everything he'd wanted; nobody stole from others, nobody harmed others... nobody killed. It was an ideal home for him
"Human, you must understand." Asgore cut through Frisk's thoughts. "Monsters have waited for centuries for you to fall. They will still demand your soul."
"I know..." Frisk muttered a reply, looking down at his feet.
"You must be adept at defending yourself if you made it here, but they will try harder now. We do not have a lot of resources-"
"Your highness, please, I'm okay with staying here. Everyone I've met has been really nice to me once I introduced myself, even if we had to fight." Asgore chuckled softly, a deep laugh that inspired a smile from Frisk.
"Of all the humans I've met, you are the only one willing to befriend every one of their enemies. You do realise they wanted to kill you and steal your Soul?"
"Well, yeah, but humans would want to do the same if you had won the war, so I couldn't really hold it against them."
"Well, I suppose that is true." Asgore chuckled again, but the smile soon dropped. "Of course, there is still the resource problem. A lot of our supplies comes from the human realm, and while the quantity has been increasing, the quality has waned quickly."
"Oh, uh, I, I'll help out when I can." Frisk nodded. "What sort of things do you need?"
"Do not trouble yourself now, if we require your aid we shall ask you." Frisk nodded, looking around. Monsters were watching the two, and he could hear snatches of conversation.
"Isn't that the human?"
"What's his majesty doing with him?"
"We need his Soul, not his body!"
"What's Asgore doing?"
"I'd take him out if Asgore wasn't there..." Frisk frowned, walking a little closer to Asgore.
"Do not worry, human." Asgore smiled, resting a hand on his head. "You shall not be harmed as long as I am here."
"I understand, your highness." Frisk replied, looking around cautiously. "I'm worried for when you aren't here."
They reached the elevator without a hitch, although fitting in proved to be a challenge for Asgore.
"I do not believe we can both fit." Asgore frowned. "Human, you go first. I shall follow you as I can."
"I'll go ahead a bit, I'm worried about Mettaton."
"Mettaton? The television robot? You're concerned for him?"
"D-during our fight, he overloaded himself... his limbs broke off and he ran out of power." Frisk looked down, ashamed again.
"I see... well, knowing Alphys, he's probably working at a functional level by now."
"Huh? Do you really think so?"
"Of course." Asgore smiled his patient smile. "Royal Scientists are always chosen for their intellectual strength, and Alphys is one of the finest I've seen."
"Y-yeah, she is pretty good... I'll go see them!" Frisk quickly stepped into the elevator and pressed the button, the box shaking slightly as it adapted to its passenger.
"I will be there soon." Asgore smiled as the doors slid closed with a bump. A moment later, the whirr began. Frisk was alone. In the near-silence, however, he found no comfort. The voice wouldn't stop talking, mocking him in silence, condemning him and all he met to the same, shallow grave. It scared him, and yet it was him. So many times in his adventure, he had heard the voice call for death, and it had taken so much willpower to suppress it, to show kindness instead of darkness.
"Keep being strong.." he muttered to himself, gently gripping the locket. "Don't let him in..." A gentle lurch caught his attention. He had returned to the Core The doors slid open and he got out, eager to see his friends again. Anything to distract him from the voice.
Asgore was right! Alphys had sat Mettaton up against the wall and was repairing him now. She'd already made good headway, Mettaton already had an arm back and nearly had the other. The two were talking, but Mettaton noticed Frisk and smiled.
"Well, well, well! What brings you back here, darling?" Alphys blinked, confused for a moment, then turned to see Frisk.
"Frisk? I-I thought you said you were going to Asgore!"
"Hi, guys." Frisk chuckled, heading over to them. The voice was already receding, yielding to Frisk's Determination. "Yeah, um, there's been a change of plans."
"A ch-change? Frisk, you aren't going to stay down here, are you?" Alphys swallowed nervously.
"Uh..." Frisk glanced aside, smiling awkwardly. Mettaton laughed.
"Darling, if you stay with us I simply must spar with you again, the ratings have never been higher!"
"Mettaton! Y-you still need to worry about your efficiency!" Alphys objected, picking a screwdriver up and opening a panel. "You're lucky you didn't lose anything more than the fight this time, a total power loss like that could pretty much kill you..."
"Um, can I... can I help?" Frisk asked, getting a little closer.
"Huh? Well, I guess, uh... could you go to my lab and get another battery? I need a big yellow one, it should be by my monitor."
"Yeah, sure." Frisk nodded, setting off, but paused. "Um, actually, I'm meant to be going to Snowdin with Asgore..."
"Asgore? H-he's coming here?" Alphys looked to Frisk, gulping nervously.
"Yeah, uh, he should be in the elevator by now..." Alphys yelped in surprise, scurrying to pack her tools away.
"I-I can't be seen by him! Not like this!"
"Oh, honey, you aren't worried about King Fluffy, are you?" Mettaton chuckled. Frisk noticed him hide a tool behind him. "He knew from the start I wasn't going to catch Frisk."
"It's not that! He'll ask about the other project!" she whimpered, counting her tools. "Wh-where's the wrench?"
"Alphys, dear, you simply must stop worrying about that, he's already forgiven you."
"Th-the others haven't!"
"Have you told them?"
"I-I can't!" It was Frisk's turn to be confused. The other project? What other project? Before he could ask, though, he heard a bell chime softly behind him. Alphys froze up.
"H-he's here!" she whimpered, quaking in fear. "N-never mind about the battery, I'll get it myself!" and with those words, she ran, forgetting about Mettaton.
"Poor dear." Mettaton sighed "She can't see how much she means to everyone..." Clomping footsteps distracted them both, as they turned to meet Asgore again.
"Ah, Mettaton. I saw your last show, and I must confess, I was impressed. You truly pulled out all the stops on this one!"
"What can I say? The audience deserves a show worthy of a finale." he chuckled, grinning up to Asgore. "A pity about my limbs, but all great art demands a sacrifice."
"Yes, well..." Asgore coughed. "You haven't seen Alphys, have you? I would have thought she'd be repairing you now."
"She is, but one of her power tools ran out of juice, she's getting a replacement battery now."
"I see... and how is your own, ah, juice?"
"I'm not going to run out of power yet, sire, I'm plugged in now." he shuffled his torso aside to reveal a pair of sockets on the wall, one of which he was plugged into.
"Ah, good. Please pass my regards to Alphys when she returns."
"Of course." Mettaton nodded once, and Asgore returned this.
"Come, human, let's keep going. We still have a way to go until Snowdin."
"Yes, sir." Frisk nodded, eager to get going. Snowdin was pretty far away, but Frisk had an idea.
A short elevator ride brought them to the back of the hotel. Asgore slowed, frowning slightly.
"There are a lot of monsters in the hotel. We cannot hide you from them all, not after Mettaton's show.."
"Maybe we don't need to? Nobody saw our fight, we can say you won." Asgore nodded, agreeing to the plan.
"I'll carry you through, look as dead as you can." Frisk nodded, getting close to Asgore, who lifted him in both arms. Asgore shook himself slightly, armour clanking as he prepared himself, then marched to the door, head down. As they had guessed, monsters were nearby, and cheered on seeing Frisk's "dead" body. These cheers grew quiet as they noticed Asgore's expression, though. He couldn't meet their eyes, his walking was slow... was he hurt? A monster came up.
"Your highness, are you..."
"No." Asgore replied softly. Frisk was impressed, he even sounded like he was holding back tears. The monster backed off, the silence broken by the fountain's tinkling. The door whirred open, and closed behind them with a soft thump. It would have caught Asgore's cape, had he not pulled it out of the way in time.
"How was that?" he muttered, still moving.
"You should talk to Mettaton about acting, you had them all fooled." Frisk chuckled softly, keeping still.
"Thankyou. I'll let you down soon." Asgore muttered, rounding a corner. They reached a large chasm, spanned by a silvery bridge that glimmered slightly in the light.
"Oh, this is Muffet's home." Frisk remembered, shuffling out of Asgore's grip and looking around "She doesn't seem to be in, though..."
"The bridge doesn't look too sturdy." Asgore frowned, kneeling to examine it. "Are we sure it is safe?"
"I was able to fight her on it, sire, I think it can hold your armour fine."
"I am quite large, human, I do not believe it will hold..."
"If you want, I'll go first." Asgore nodded wordlessly at this offer, using his trident to get to his feet. Frisk walked over easily, the bridge giving very little sway. "See? Easy!" Asgore didn't look convinced, and he was still gripping the trident tight enough to tremble a little.
"Human, I... This doesn't seem safe..."
"What's this?" a new voice crooned from above. They both looked up to see Muffet, descending on a harness made from the same, silver strands as the bridge. "I hadn't expected another guest so soon, I don't even have any tea prepared!"
"Miss Muffet, please do not joke... I am simply passing through..."
"I'm quite serious, your highness. Please, step into my parlour and have a drink, I'm sure it'll... tickle your fancy." she chuckled to herself, beckoning Asgore with one hand and Frisk with another.
"Miss, I don't want to be rude, but we really are in a hurry. I'll donate some money to help the ruin spiders, we're going to the ruins anyway..." Frisk fished into his pocket and brought out some money. Quite a lot, in fact. Muffet licked her lips, tempted.
"And all you want is for me to help his majesty across? I suppose I can arrange something." she chuckled again, clapping her hands together - all six of them. A scurrying sound from above betrayed the arrival of the spiders, each as big as a fist, crawling down the walls from the unseen darkness above. They crawled over the floor and over Frisk, who shuddered from the itchy tickling - but opened his hand to relinquish the payment. They took it from him, its shine vanishing into the black flood. The bridge was soon cloaked in the same shimmering shadow.
"It won't be long now." Muffet chuckled. "Can I interest either of you in a cup of tea?"
"... Do you have any golden flower tea?"
"Why, yes! I usually save it for special guests, but I suppose there are none more special than your majesty." she snickered, crawling up into the darkness above again
A few minutes were spent in near-silence, the echoing of the Core below and the skittering of the spiders breaking it. After a while, Muffet returned, carrying a delicate-looking cup of tea in hand. "For you, your highness." she chuckled, extending the cup and a saucer to him.
"Th-thankyou..." Asgore muttered, still on edge as he took the dainty cup. One sniff of the dull yellow liquid within seemed to set him at ease, however, as he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. He took a sip, letting the elixir wash over his tongue, soothing his body and mind. "Ah, yes, this is what I needed..."
"It's very difficult to get that brand without a tie to your family, sire." Muffet sighed, starting to climb back up. "Would you care for a drink, Frisk?"
"No, thankyou." Frisk declined, bowing his head slightly.
"What do you mean, difficult to acquire?" Asgore asked, taking another quiet sip.
"There are only three places the flowers grow. One's in the now-sealed ruins, and another is your garden. The third, and only readily-accessible one, is the patch in Waterfall, and so many people want the King's favourite type that the Royal Guard have had to step in, for the flower's protection. There simply aren't enough to go around." Asgore fell quiet, thinking about the predicament. Frisk pondered too - he had seen there wasn't enough room for a single field, let alone a farm. The problem always seemed to be space in the underground... then it struck him.
"Asgore!" he shouted over the chasm. "Why can't we dig out more space?"
"We have tried, human." Asgore shook his head sadly. "The seal your ancestors set prevents us from exiting its reach by any means."
"Even digging?" Frisk asked, surprised at humanity's cruelty. Asgore nodded solemnly, taking another quiet sip. Frisk felt a wave of pity wash over him. These monsters didn't just want to get out, they deserved to. The three sank into silence again, until Muffet spoke up.
"Oh, it appears my little friends are done reinforcing the bridge, your majesty." The spiders were receding, showing the bridge's silvery strands had been covered by a duller grey. It didn't sway a bit, not even in the soft breeze coming from the Core. "It's been a pleasure to see you both. Take care!" she chuckled once more, climbing into the darkness above and out of sight. Asgore and Frisk watched her go for a moment, then looked at each other.
"Come on, sire, it's safe now!" Frisk beckoned him closer. Asgore frowned, still uncertain, but carefully moved onto the bridge. Even with the weight of his armour, the bridge didn't budge. Asgore took one cautious step, then a bolder one. The bridge remained stoic, solid as the walls it was secured to. Emboldened, Asgore crossed the rest of the bridge, and the two were soon on their way.
They took the elevator down to the ground floor of Hotland, Alphys' laboratory looming ominously above them. Asgore was the first to leave the elevator this time, Frisk following behind.
"I'm impressed you made it through here as easily as you did, human. The temperature alone is enough to deter most monsters."
"Honestly, I had to keep making trips back to Waterfall to keep cool enough." Frisk panted softly, the heat already getting to him. How was Asgore standing this heat with all that fur? Asgore chuckled.
"I can imagine. At least our stay this time will be brief." he smiled sincerely, heading towards the passage to Waterfall. Frisk hesitated, glancing down the hill to the river.
"Um, sire? Won't the boatman be faster?"
"Hm?" Asgore turned to look at him. "Who is the boatman?"
"I... sorry, I thought you'd met him before, he ferried me around Snowdin, Waterfall and Hotland."
"Oh?" he smiled slightly. "That sounds kind of him."
"Yeah, uh, should we go?"
"If he is willing to ferry us both, then let's." Asgore nodded, heading back to Frisk. They descended the stairs together, the rush of the river already contesting with the bubbling of the magma below. Sure enough, the cloaked figure of the boatperson was there, looking up at them from within their shadow.
"Ah, Frisk." they chuckled, nodding slightly. "Are you and your companion hoping to use the ferry?"
"Yes, we are. We're going to Snowdin."
"Of course." the boatperson nodded again. "Please, step aboard." Frisk did so, Asgore settling down in the middle. After a moment, they set off, the boat cruising against the river's flow easily.
The river's gentle rush was the only sound for a while, but before long the boatperson started singing.
"Tra la la..." they hummed for a while, then paused. Frisk listened intently, knowing the boatperson usually gave an interesting fact. "Beware the man that speaks in hands." Frisk blinked, caught off-guard. Speaking in hands? What did that mean?
"... you are not supposed to speak of him." Asgore grumbled, glowering at the boatperson. "Friend or not, the child is still a human."
"Forgive me, highness." the boatperson bowed their head, falling quiet again. The underground was even more confusing than Frisk had expected; Alphys' mention of the other project, and now this speaking-in-hands business... what was going on? He covered his mouth with his hand, pondering, but no answers came to him. This was going to be a tough puzzle to solve.
The rest of the cruise passed in an uneasy silence, but the air soon turned cold as they approached the wintery village.
"Here we are." The boatperson suddenly announced, turning the boat towards the still water by the bank. "I hope the rest of your day is as pleasant as today's ride."
"Thankyou." Asgore replied stiffly, disembarking swiftly. Frisk thanked them too, then hopped off. The snow crumpled easily under his feet, bringing about a small smile. He was nearly back to her. They started walking the short path into Snowdin, when Asgore stopped. Intrigued, Frisk turned to look. "Human... do not speak of what they told you just now."
"Why not?" Frisk asked, tilting his head slightly.
"I shall explain in the fullness of time, but for now, tell nobody."
"Y-yes, your majesty." Frisk nodded, nervous from Asgore's secrecy. He was determined to find the truth, but wise enough to know now wasn't the time. They turned to move on, but were stopped by a ringing sound. "Oh, my phone." Frisk realised, rummaging around in his pockets. After a moment's rummaging, he brought the phone out and accepted the call. "Hello?"
"Human!" A familiar voice greeted, causing Frisk to smile. Of course Papyrus would be calling him after seeing the show. "Are you okay? Meeting Mettaton like that had to be incredible! Are you hurt?"
"I-I'm fine, thanks." Frisk grinned, feeling a little awkward from the attention. "Mettaton was interesting, that's for sure, but we're both okay."
"Papyrus, you talkin' to the human again?" Another voice asked, this one from further away. Undyne was there too, then.
"Uh-huh! Do you want to- hey!" there was the sound of a scuffle, interjected with "Give it here!" and the occasional "Owie!" but, eventually, Undyne had the phone.
"Hey, pipsqueak! Thought you'd be in New Home by now, how come Papyrus was able to reach you?"
"I... it's kinda hard to explain, to be honest."
"Where are ya? We can meet up, get this straightened out."
"I, uh.. I'm in Snowdin."
"What? You came back here? What about meetin' Asgore?"
"It's complicated, Undyne..." Frisk sighed.
"Get your butt over here and explain it, then!" She growled. Playful or not, Undyne wasn't the sort of person you said no to.
"Hang on, I'm travelling with someone, let me check with them first."
"Hurry it up!" Frisk covered the receiver with his hand, turning to Asgore.
"Um, Undyne wants to meet up, she and Papyrus want to know why I'm here."
"I assume they do not know of my presence?"
"They don't seem to."
"Hm... very well, we can go. I'd be noticed in Snowdin anyway."
"Alright." he nodded, raising the phone again. "Undyne?"
"I'll see you here, then!" he could hear the grin in her voice, and he grinned in kind.
"Y-yeah, we'll head over now."
"All right! Hey, Papyrus, he's comi-" beep. In her excitement, Undyne must have caught the End Call button. Frisk sighed, putting the phone back into his pocket with a smile.
"They're expecting us, sire. Shall we?"
"Let's." Asgore nodded, marching off with Frisk.
As Asgore had guessed, the monsters recognised them immediately, although what they said took him by surprise. Instead of mutters of discontent, the surprise was more neutral, with some even favouring the friendship.
"Human, I had expected these to share opinions with the monsters at New Home, but these seem to... like you."
"I think these have had the time to get to know me." he shrugged. "They're all my friends." Asgore chuckled.
"Friends? You have an awful lot, then." Frisk wordlessly nodded in agreement, smiling warmly.
"I couldn't ask for anything more." He looked around at the monsters, some of who waved to him briefly. He chuckled and waved back, but soon stopped. They had reached Papyrus and Sans' house.