December 29, 2015.
The military showed up at their tent site. Sans was prepared for the worst at first. He had heard some scary stories about the human armed forces, and he didn’t want to discover their validity first hand.
But his brother handled their presence with grace. Sans let him do the PR stuff while he stayed inside the tent.
From the outside, Papyrus said, “Please, good sirs and madams, help us find Frisk! They could still be somewhere out there! Not to mention there’s Alphys, Mettaton, Asgore, and many more possible survivors!”
The human soldier replied, “Don’t worry, Mister Papyrus. We’ll do our best. What about you though? We recommend you to evacuate to the nearest city.”
“Thank you for the kind thought, but we’re still trying to salvage our belongings.”
“I see. Be careful, alright? There’s no telling when this area will get dangerous again.”
After saying their goodbyes, the military convoy travelled towards the ruined town. Papyrus entered the tent and wiped off the snow on his bones.
He exclaimed: “Finally, a search-and-rescue team! With that many people, they’ll cover more ground than both of us ever could.”
“That’s good,” Sans replied in a rather nonchalant manner. He then took the decorated book out of his sleeping bag and flipped open the pages.
Papyrus sat beside him, curious. “You still haven’t told me what it’s about.”
“Oh. Right. Alright bro, don’t get spooked. What I’m holding right now is none other than Necromancy 101.”
Papyrus responded in a deadpan manner. “Ha ha, that’s very funny. No wizard in their right mind would name their positively ancient looking book ‘Necromancy 101’. I would sooner believe that they call this ‘The Necronomicon’ or ‘The Book of the Dead’. They’ll pick a name that’s as fanciful as their choice of decoration!”
Sans replied, “Sure, but in this case I’m the one who named it. The original book didn’t have a title, y’know. All contents, no label.”
Annoyed and mildly disappointed, the younger brother complained: “I could be experiencing a perturbed, awestruck reveal… But my lazy brother just had to destroy that one opportunity by cursing a magical book with a lame name.”
“Heh.” Sans winked at his brother. “As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. C’mon. Read together with me.”
The brothers huddled in their tent over a book. It was a trip back to their sweet childhoods, away from the harsh reality of their present day.
The first thing Papyrus noted was that the book was not made out of paper. He gently rubbed the corner between his fingers, feeling the texture. “What’s this? Leather?”
“You’re right. To be exact, it’s ‘parchment’: leather that’s made specifically for writing. It’s much more durable than paper. Whoever compiled this book spent all their money on making sure it lasts forever.”
After flipping a few more pages, Sans found what he was looking for. “Look here, Papyrus.”
The younger brother proceeded to read the first paragraph out loud: “If thou needest strength beyond self, imbue thy glyphs of draining upon thy weapon of choice. Seek out thy preferred sacrifice, be it a volunteer, a dying soul, or thy enemies. Should thou succeed in thy endeavour, thou shall reap their life in full. However, should thy sacrifice perish before thy deed, claim their remains nonetheless. Gaining a little is better than gaining none.”
It took a few seconds for the words to sink into his skull. When Papyrus finally understood the implications, he awkwardly stared at his elder brother. “Sans, why are you looking for instructions on ritualized murder???”
Ever the teasing joker, Sans chuckled at his younger brother’s reactions. “Relax. Look beyond the grisly imagery. Don’t you think the method reminds you of something?”
“Now that you mention it, you’re right. Isn’t this… ‘EXP’ and ‘LOVE’? ‘Execution points’ and ‘Level of Violence’!”
“Yup. See, I found this book when I was a young teenager. At first, I thought it was just some interesting make-believe. But it contained very specific instructions on how to build spells. So, I decided to try them out on some plants. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the spell worked. I drained the ‘life’ out of my test subjects, turning them into dry dust.”
Papyrus covered his mouth. “Oh my god. No wonder you had Asgore hide it! But as far as I know, you didn’t gain any EXP.”
Sans replied, “That’s because plants don’t have much to give. I think the amount of EXP there was in the fifth decimal or so. Negligible, and it would be gone the next day. For the gains to be useful, it had to be a sentient person. Hence, the call for a sacrifice.”
“See, Papyrus, unlike the stuff of movies, real necromancy deals with the science of the SOUL. How they function, what makes them tick, methods of application, and so on. The whole reanimation jig? It’s actually the caster extending their command to inanimate objects. Theoretically they could make a jug dance, but a jug doesn’t have limbs like the corpse of a dead person. Not exactly useful if you need them to hold a sword.”
Rubbing his chin, Papyrus wondered out loud: “Why didn’t we hear anything about this from human society? They didn’t even know magic existed until us monsters appeared.”
Sans had a bad feeling about the situation. He recalled the days when they first emerged from the Underground. The humans gawked at them as though they popped right out of a fairytale book.
The last recorded mention of any monsters happened over a thousand years ago. The only legend they remembered was one that stated the following:
‘Those who climb the mountain never return.’
There was no mention of monsters.
No mention of magic.
What removed the memory of magic from human history? Was it just neglected knowledge? Or did it get squashed by mad tyrants? The thought made Sans feel uneasy.
It may be wise to keep an arm’s length away from humans. Remain cautious. He didn’t want to be imprisoned for research like an endangered animal. How should he ease in that harsh possibility?
With a question, perhaps.
“…Papyrus,” said Sans. “Do you want to evacuate to the human city?”
Tilting his head, the younger brother pondered out loud. “I don’t see why not. Living in an apartment is definitely better than a tent in the middle of nowhere. Why did you ask that?”
“Honestly? I’m not sure if they’ll welcome us. Stephan is a good man, but he doesn’t represent the whole of society. We’ve only been on the Surface for three months.”
“Oh, I see now! You want to give humans more time to get used to us. Is that right?”
That wasn’t what Sans considered, but he’ll roll with it. “Ahuh, you can say that.”
Unexpectedly, Papyrus breathed out a huge sigh of relief. “I’m glad you didn’t want to make a straight line to the comfiest shelter either. We’re on the same page after all!”
He continued, “You see, Sans… I did get the feeling that humans were a little suspicious of us monsters, especially when it came to skeletons. We look like their insides, and I understand that bones are considered symbols of death. Therefore, I want to impress human society! Show them that we are dependable heroes capable of solving whatever strange calamity that befell on our humble town!”
Filled with enthusiasm, the little brother asked: “What do you think, Sans? Is that a good idea?”
Indeed, leave it to Papyrus to dream big. Getting on humankind’s good side was a better plan than merely hiding.
“Yeah,” Sans smiled. “I’ll support you, Papyrus. Like I’ve always done.”
* * *
January 30, 2016.
It’s been a month since they planted their camp.
The brothers had managed to salvage enough material to fortify their tent into a shack. They’re not vulnerable to the cold like humans, but food supplies and other equipment needed to be kept dry.
For electricity, the brothers built a basic windmill. It’s not as stable as The Core, but it provides enough to charge their appliances. They already made plans to buy a diesel generator on the next best opportunity.
Then there was the question of raising money for trade. The brothers picked up every piece of gold and every human-approved dollar note that they could find. It was a bit dirty, but the dead don’t need money.
Military activity continued in the distance. They had long stopped the search and rescue operations, but they still guarded the area. Perhaps they brought researchers to investigate the site.
As for the kind soldier who spoke to Papyrus, he visited two more times. First, he delivered the bad news that they had found no survivors. Second, he donated aid packages to the brothers. When the military heard about the disaster they packed a truck full of those, expecting many more people to help. Such was not the case anymore.
Will they ever meet him again? It’s not likely. He had places to be.
Meanwhile, the brothers conducted their own research. Sans was the brains and Papyrus was the brawn. They made a great team.
It was bedtime. The brothers tucked into their sleeping bags and turned off the lights.
Sans noticed an oddity in the routine. “Papyrus? You didn’t ask for Fluffy Bunny. I thought you can’t sleep without it?”
Papyrus replied, “I don’t feel like it today.”
“Is something wrong? I mean, other than the fact we’re alone.”
“Well, the fact we’re alone is part of it. I’m not sure if you’ll understand because you were the popular one. You’re ‘Sans the Comedian’, the man who had a timeslot on Mettaton TV.”
“Try anyway. You won’t know otherwise, right? Even if I don’t understand, I’m here to listen.”
The younger brother hesitated, but the elder brother patiently waited. He’s the kind who doesn’t hurry.
At last, Papyrus said, “Sans… I have a fear of being forgotten.”
Seconds of silence passed. It turned into a minute. That’s fine. Sans can wait. He knew it was a difficult subject for his younger brother to face.
Papyrus then continued. “Being forgotten is worse than death. If a famous person dies, they’re still remembered someway. But if nobody remembers you, it’s as though you’ve never existed. It terrifies me, somehow.”
“I worked very hard to get noticed. I wanted to prove to others, to you, to myself, that ‘The Great Papyrus’ is someone to be remembered. I thought I finally achieved what I wanted. Asgore made a hedge in my image. Undyne introduced me to her girlfriend. My friendship circle widened. I had kids looking up to me.”
“And… and then… suddenly, all of that was gone. My deeds died together with them. Being famous is useless without anyone alive to remember it. How did you cope?”
No wonder Papyrus didn’t want his usual reading of Fluffy Bunny. Those were some rather serious philosophical dilemmas.
“Um,” said Sans. “Personally, I just don’t hold much sentimental value when it comes to fame. It was fun being a comedian and getting paid is always nice. But, I did it because I wanted to pass the time. Becoming well-known was a side effect.”
The younger brother sighed in disappointment. “That’s so typical of you, Sans. Oh well, just consider my ramblings as a bout of midnight existential crisis.”
“H-hey, I didn’t mean to dismiss you. Sorry.”
Maybe it’s time to change subjects. Sans combed through his mind for a topic that would interest Papyrus.
Therefore, the elder brother asked: “Do you love humankind?”
What followed after was an instant sense of regret. Why did he even think of that approach in the first place? “Wait forget I asked that--”
“Sans,” Papyrus replied in a serious manner. “There are great humans out there, like Stephan and his adorable family. Oh, don’t forget about that kind soldier too. He was really, really nice.”
Continuing, he said: “I love more than just humankind. I love the air, the water, the sky, and the earth. I love the flora and the fauna, even if they annoy me. I love this entire planet and all who live in it. Because of that, I don’t want anyone to suffer what we have suffered.”
Did that motivation stem from his fears of being forgotten, or from his empathy towards others? It could always be both. Knowing from experience, charity and selfishness oft tangled themselves into a knot.
But those details were not important for Sans. Instead, he said. “Papyrus. As long as I live, I will never, ever forget you.”
Papyrus uttered an overdramatized, exaggerated gasp. “Is… is that a promise??? I thought you hate making promises.”
“I didn’t make a new one,” said Sans. “I made that oath when you were a tiny baby bone in my arms.”
“Wow, an oath?! I wish I could meet that younger Sans. Maybe he was less lazy and more responsible. Nyeh!”
“Not a chance. That kid’s long gone. Heh.”
The brothers chuckled together softly and exchanged goodnights. It seems that Papyrus had his mood improved enough for him to sleep on his own.
On the other hand, Sans felt it was still too early to sleep. He sat up in his sleeping bag and turned on his lantern. He took out his notebook and started comparing notes with the tome he called ‘Necromancy 101’.
To this day, he couldn’t forget how he found Toriel’s remains. The circumstances of her death were deeply suspicious. Her house was the only one that completely collapsed, as if it was meant to cover up a crime.
Muttering to himself, he said, “If only I have a way to look into the past…”
He flipped a few more pages. There, he found exactly what he was looking for.
“Heh. I guess the ancients must have wished the same.”
* * *
February 5, 2016.
At four in the morning, Papyrus put his tools in the boot of his car. While he waited for the engine to warm up, he told Sans the following: “I’m going to go over to Stephan’s farm to help build a new barn. He wants to keep some geese. Apparently their meat sells for a pretty penny.”
“Huh, cool.” Said Sans. “Since he has a valid address, I’m guessing you’re gonna use that as the delivery point for all our supplies too.”
“Correct! We’ve already salvaged most of the stuff from the town ruins, I believe. We’re finding less and less usable items every day. If I don’t become at least semi-employed, we might starve to death out here.”
Leave it to Papyrus to speak about grim realities with straightforward cheer.
“Take care of the camp for me, okay?”
“Okay. See you in a few days.”
Sans watched the red car hover over the snow and fly towards the nearest road. That’s one method to get around environmental hazards.
He went back into the tent to look for a backpack. Picking it up, he said, “Alright, time to get to work.”
He closed his eyes to get a clear image of his destination. Teleporting long range was trickier than his usual short hops. Get it wrong, and he might end up in a rather dangerous spot.
After locking on, he made a cut in spacetime and jumped through. He arrived at the now-cleared area of Toriel’s house. Snow had completely buried the location.
Sans put the bag down and took out his notebook. He flipped to the page where the original tome talked about divination.
‘Should thou be summoned to reveal the past, prepare a magic circle of revelation. Tune it to a source of power, be it thyself or others. Thereafter, three things must be fulfilled.’
‘First, thou must have the correct place and time.’
‘Second, thou must have a memento of the dead.’
‘Third, thou must have a scrying pool or a clear crystal in possession.’
‘Should thou lack any of the three, thy spell will fail.’
It was incredibly scientific for an ancient instruction. It called for time, location, and identity: everything that was required to retrieve an event.
Sans used his bone magic as the building blocks for the circle. It was no different than programming a code. Logic formed into words, and words formed into clauses, and clauses formed into commands.
He linked the source of power to multiple fully-charged power banks. Since he had no idea how energy-intensive this magic could be, he didn’t want to link it to himself. It would be terrible if he fainted in the middle of a ghost town.
As for the request for a scrying pool or crystal, he figured that he could update it to a tablet screen. Back in those days, natural reflections were humanity’s only means of channeling visual displays. Even then, they would lack the clarity that modern folk enjoy.
For the final part of the procedure… Toriel’s clothes. Sans was unable to completely remove her dust.
He placed her blouse at the center of the octagram. That spot was exactly where he had found her a little over a month ago.
Sans activated the magic. The circle glowed with power, and the tablet began to flicker to life.
Toriel in all her white-furred beauty appeared on the screen. She stood at the entrance of the house, waving with a smile.
He remembered when he saw that. It was right before he joined Papyrus on this trip out of town for the elusive turkey. That was the last time Sans saw her alive.
Then, something odd happened. Her expression turned solemn after they left. Why would that be?
The spell’s camera continued to follow her into the house. She went to the bookshelf. Her hands took out a stack of books all about snails. Her collection had tripled since she moved to the Surface. They had a lot more snail species after all, and Toriel loved reading about them.
But… she immediately placed the stack onto the nearest table.
Toriel went back to the bookshelf and reached for the deepest part of the rack. There… she pulled out the tome of necromancy.
She was hiding it. From who? And why?
The woman went to her armchair, sat down, and started reading the tome openly for all to see. Minutes later, her gaze flicked towards the door. She immediately shut the book with both hands.
Toriel began to talk. There was no sound. Plus turning up the volume was pointless, as the spell gave him purely visual feedback.
Sans tried changing the angle too. He wanted to see who she was speaking to. Again, a futile attempt. He had Toriel’s memento, and Toriel’s only. The spell won’t show anyone it can’t identify.
“Dammit!” Sans exclaimed. If only he could hear her speak, he would have gotten the answer he desperately needed.
Whatever the conversation was, it seemed very serious. Her expression turned into one of perturbed shock. She clutched the tome close to her body, as if she’s trying to protect it.
A great force then slammed against her chair, completely flipping her over. Before Toriel could stand up again, a knife plunged down on her chest. Her SOUL floated out of her body… and then the screen went dark.
“I didn’t see it shatter,” Sans muttered. “Did… did they steal her SOUL?”
Sans had the right hunch. Toriel was murdered before the calamity. Finding one answer led to even more questions.
Who was the murderer?
What was their motive?
Above all, what did they do with Toriel’s SOUL?
Then, while he pondered, he heard pops and crackles. It didn’t come from any of his equipment…
…They came from the forest around him.
Sans’ first instinct was to teleport into the magic circle. He must retrieve Toriel’s clothes, for they’re his only clue to solving this mystery.
Just when he picked up the evidence, black briars erupted from below the earth. They shredded the blouse, leaving Sans with a mere scrap of fabric in his hands.
Thorny vines whipped across the site, determined to destroy any living being in the vicinity. Sans could hardly follow them with sight alone.
He did what a sensible person would do: escape. He fled into the ruins by making a series of short teleports. Yet despite his efforts, the vines and briars chased him by the heel. It tailed every teleport and every dodge. If he was just a moment slower, he would have been killed.
It’s fast. Insanely fast. If this was its base speed, no wonder no one survived the onslaught. Humans? Not a chance. They’re sitting ducks unless they bombed everything from afar.
Sans tried to deter the chase with his usual repertoire. Fired his Gasterblasters and threw some bones. But whenever he fought back, the monstrosity returned with greater vigor.
He began to wonder if it’s absorbing his magic…
If that’s the case, he had a special card up his sleeve. Deep in his heart, he uttered a prayer that his weeks of necromantic studies hadn’t been in vain.
On his command, multiple bones imbued with the glyphs of draining were sent flying towards the briars. The enchantment activated upon contact, robbing all life and strength from its victims. The afflicted thorns turned ashen white before crumbling into dry dust.
Ribbons of magic gathered upon Sans. He immediately felt refreshed. Energetic. Lively. But there was something not quite right.
“0 EXP?! Really???”
The monstrosity was indeed a mere plant, which meant that anything he gained would be hollow and fleeting.
As he had expected, his strength faded the moment the spell completed its course. More vines replaced the ones that perished.
At last, Sans had arrived at the edge of town. It’s the wide open snow fields from here onwards.
Perfect. All he needed to do was to focus on the furthest point and teleport there. His left eye sizzled with cyan and yellow as he pushed his magic to the limits.
In one blink, he teleported towards the horizon. The sudden stop of his momentum caused him to tumble in the snow. It didn’t matter if his landing was not the most graceful. He had survived the ordeal, and that’s what’s most important.
Lying down on his back, looking up at the cold winter sky, Sans came to terms with his discoveries.
“Those thorns,” he muttered. “It’s a weapon. Something is controlling it. Or, rather, ‘someone’. It… it targeted me… because I was getting too close to the truth.”
What truly happened on that fateful day? Sans wondered. The circumstances began to grow more and more complicated…