May 3, 2021
The gentleness of Spring was in full swing.
The birds were singing.
The flowers were blooming.
On days like these, it was time to take a break from one’s hard work.
Dust took off his makeshift visor, rubbing his tired eyes. Looking around, he became acutely aware that more and more computing devices had filled up the former living room.
He had sure been busy for the past few weeks. When he was not building, he would be shipped off to yet another heretic hunt. Thank goodness they weren’t expecting him to destroy Hollows on top of that. He might have died from exhaustion by that point.
On the plus side, his collaborators kept their word. They supplied rations, computers, monitors, and many other items that he would have struggled to salvage or steal.
His most prized possession, The Red Soulstone, lay in a soup bowl sitting on top of an altar. It was easier to ‘care’ for the item that way.
Leaning over to listen, he took note of what the souls within whispered to him.
“Welp, you guys want a break too, huh? How about a drink?”
Dust took the bowl to a nearby table, far away from the rest of the electronics. Then, he grabbed a bottle of brandy and poured some over the cursed gem.
The whispers quietened. Even in this most pitiful of forms, they seemed to appreciate a good alcoholic drink. Unless they were just too sedated from sheer drunkenness.
Dust smirked. “Y’know, I used to take care of a pet rock. Fed it with colourful sprinkles. If I could get a hold of some, I’ll give those to you too.”
The gem was not interested in the offer.
“Jeez, you cynical candy critics. Is everyone a grown-up in there, or pretending to be one? A real adult doesn’t care what’s kiddy and what’s not.”
It was determined to reject. That was the vibe Dust got.
“Alright, alright, more booze for you. Here ya go.”
He poured more brandy into the bowl, then let them be, going outside to lounge at the front porch.
Underneath the warm sun and the protection of his hat, Dust relaxed with some drink and a smoke.
The Phantom floated around, rubbing his chin with great curiosity. “How can you be so chill? You’ve worked yourself harder than in any of the years before, yet you’re less stressed. Could it be from all the exercise?”
“Maybe it’s because I now have a clearer goal than stomping on that dumb flower over and over again. That, and I don’t need to think so hard about the general survival stuff anymore.”
“Is that so?” Lifting his head high, The Phantom continued, “See, Sans! This is why I kept telling you to have a goal back down in the Underground! They have the power to energise even a good-for-nothing slob like you. But noooo you kept excusing yourself with lame puns.”
Taking swigs of his drink, Dust replied: “Alright, alright, you were right and I was wrong. Sorry.”
“Well… The Great Papyrus is gracious as he is magnanimous. As long as you start anew, it’s water under the bridge! Nyeh heh heh!”
Deep down, Dust still wondered if he had any right to peaceful moments like these. He had butchered so many humans without remorse for those they left behind.
Their identity, their families, their loved ones, brotherhood, sisterhood, children… none had any meaning to him once the orders to exterminate were issued.
Dust muttered to himself. “Whatever happened to ‘monsters are made of love and compassion’? Guess I’m just bad to the bone…”
In the midst of his contemplation, the fax machine started to beep and whirr. Someone from the Willowherb village had sent him a message.
“Hm?” Dust noted, “That’s odd. It’s a bit early for R&D to bother me.”
The Phantom gasped in eagerness, “Maybe it’s another urgent mission! Quick brother, get off your lazy bum and read it!”
After extinguishing the cigarette and putting away the booze, he checked the fax machine. To his surprise, it was a handwritten letter from Stephan.
“Hey,” Dust chided, imagining that the kind farmer stood beside him. “You should be out in the fields, not sneaking in a private mail from the R&D lab. Oh well, let’s see what you’ve got to say.”
And so, Dust read out the contents of the fax.
‘Mister Sans, I’m sorry for putting you in an awkward position. Miss Anya was right: I was endangering you and the project. I promise to never do the same again.’
‘I’m writing this letter to thank you for saving my family. With your generous donation, my wife and two remaining children received the treatment they needed. They’ve recovered, and are at home with me.’
‘I understand if you don’t want to see me again. That’s fine. I just want you to know that your efforts were a genuine success.’
‘Thank you again,’
‘Sincerely, Stephan Conroy.’
‘P.S, I’m working part-time with R&D now! Apparently, they think I’m really good with my hands. Which is why they want me to help them make their tools. Isn’t that cool?’
Dust couldn’t help but burst into a snorty chortle. The tone difference between the main body of the letter and the postscript was like night and day. It seemed obvious that they were written at two different points of time. He imagined Anya looming over Stephan’s shoulder for the first part, shaping the apology with her formal demeanour.
Breathing out a relieved sigh, he set the letter down to the side. “Glad he’s doing well.”
The Phantom asked: “Don’t you want to write up a reply?”
“Nah. Let him focus on his family first. Besides, he’s already not expecting me to answer back.”
To their surprise, the fax machine suddenly received another letter. This time, it came from The Hero’s Guild, written in a clean computer font and all.
‘Supreme Guildmaster James Pashowar will contact you via a secure line. Pick up the parcel on your doorstep at 1800 hours on May 10 2021. It will be deployed via a drone.’
“…Seriously?” Dust planted his face into his hand. “Ugh. Great. The big boss is calling. The letter is not even in Comic Sans, what a boring buzzkill. This means I’m gonna have to give a whole presentation over the radio or something.”
“Time for you to end your break then.” The Phantom sighed, “I really do miss the days when it’s just the two of us.”
* * *
May 10, 2021
It was an unusually cold day for May.
The grass was rustling.
The mice were hustling.
On evenings like these, a drone dropped a box right on the driveway.
A loud siren wailed from inside the package, giving no recipient an excuse to forget about its existence.
Peering from the window, Dust asked to himself: “Is that a bomb? I mean, if I want to kill someone with a mystery box, I would have done anything to grab their attention. Maybe it’s reverse psychology at play--”
Right on cue, The Phantom yelled back: “Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaans! I can’t believe you forgot about your appointment with that boss-human!!! Please, silence the siren!”
“Oh shit, it’s already the 10th?! I didn’t forget… I just lost track of my days.”
Dust hurried to the road to open the box, although he readied himself to teleport. There was always the possibility of a bait-and-switch.
Fortunately, all was as safe as it could be. A two-way radio communicator and a toy siren nestled within straw packaging. Someone sure had fun rigging a clock to the toy.
He shut the noise off and took the whole contraption inside the cottage. After closing the door, he settled down in his armchair. A small fire crackled within the fireplace.
Noting the hesitance, The Phantom appeared to ask: “What are you waiting for?”
Dust replied, “…It’s possible that this James Pashowar guy is in the Willowherb village right now.”
“How would you know?”
“With how short-range these kinds of secure radio lines are, the village is the closest point with the necessary infrastructure.”
“So…? I don’t see what’s the concern.”
“Let’s just say he’s too close for comfort.”
In a way, that human reminded Dust too much of his old days: an overtly intelligent man hiding his guile under a friendly face. Those guys tend to be the trickiest to deal with. He would much prefer a stern but honest leader.
He switched the communicator on.
Guildmaster James Pashowar wasted no time to greet him: “Good evening, Lone Defender. Would you like to join me at the village to inspect the crops? The Willowherbs are growing some fine fields here.”
His previous suspicions were right on the mark. James did travel all the way to The Willowherb Society for business reasons.
“Ha, nice joke,” said Dust. “You know better than anyone that I can’t do that. What with yours truly being a safety hazard around humans and all.”
James cleared his throat. “I was actually only half-serious there. I would bring shame to the honourable title of Guildmaster of the Hero’s Guild if I didn’t meet you at least once. You’re one of our top heroes right now, whether you realise it or not.”
“Save the medals for others, like those protecting the supply chains. Or farmers. Or doctors. Or anyone except me, really.”
“That is a pity. Anyway, how is the research coming along?”
“Checking up on me already, huh?” asked Dust.
“Of course. A wise investor inspects his investments. Well? Are the tools and materials sufficient?”
“They’re okay.” The skeleton said, shrugging. “Beats using scrap that’s for sure. I’ve made more progress in a couple of weeks than I’ve had in years.”
For example, he had finally improved the general circuitry, made possible with The Willowherbs’ supply of electronics. This led to him integrating a stop-gap measure into the power supply itself. Should anything go wrong midway the experiments, the spike of abnormal activity should shut the whole thing off. This way, the disastrous vortex of souls should not happen ever again.
“Wonderful news!” James exclaimed. “I’m guessing the Red Bloodstone played a key role there. How did that work out?”
“Just as you’ve said, it’s really flexible. By using the stone as a substitute, I was able to isolate certain functions of the old code on my current machine. I discovered it’s designed to interact with a magic eye, but it wasn’t tuned right for my use. Which is why I couldn’t see anything.”
“Interesting. In other words, you’re equipped with the wrong graphics card? Hmm, maybe the wrong output display? I’ve heard that those eye-related powers are unique to your kind. Hence, the requests for VR-ish visor parts.”
The way he said ‘your kind’ was a huge red flag. That man knew more than he let on, and he was not shy about subtly relaying that fact.
Still, Dust would rather not take the bait just yet. He feigned ignorance and carried on.
“Yup. I gotta research what that piece of code demanded from the original user before I can make any adjustments. I don’t want to rush this process, so give me about a month or so.”
“Understandable. Programming requires tons of bug-testing, especially when it’s your very life on the line. Do you know anyone else in the past who might have had the correct type of magic eye?”
Dust replied: “…Whoever it was, they’re dead now. There’s no point asking.”
“I’m afraid you’re wrong there, Mister Dust. It matters much more than you think. Those eye-related powers of yours are the subject of a fair bit of mythology and legend. Have you ever heard about ‘The Seer’s Eye’?”
When James laid his cards on the table, Dust immediately recalled the time when he investigated the memories of his old home. Times Roman – his father – had asked the mysterious entity about it before. But, it didn’t mean anything for either of them. No more than just another magicbabble term.
Noticing the silence, The Guildmaster continued: “I suppose I’m not surprised that you’ve not heard of it. Based on our interviews with your former citizens, your nation down below seemed to have enjoyed one thousand years of peace in seclusion. Ancient knowledge about warfare would have long since been eroded.”
Dust scoffed. “Heh. Didn’t you hear anything about the declaration of war on humankind? If your spies are worth their salt, they would have known that detail.”
“Of course, of course,” said James. “However, intent doesn’t always translate to execution. Your citizens may parrot their government’s propaganda, but the majority of them have no skills or strength to execute the deed. You, on the other hand… you’ve proven yourself quite exceptional.”
“When you quelled The Celestial Calamity for the first time, humanity’s heroes debated about your existence. Some suggested allyship. Others suggested execution. A few even took matters into their own hands and hunted you down, as you had experienced firsthand. Not a single person dared to meet you face-to-face until Captain Willowherb and Acolyte Stephan volunteered.”
Sweat trickled down Dust’s skull. This was why he hesitated to pick up the call. Big wigs like James knew how to pile up the pressure.
“Oy, oy, oy,” The skeleton shook his head. “Sorry, but I think you’re putting me on the wrong pedestal. Whatever happened to former Captain Undyne, or the Royal Guard she commanded? What about King Asgore himself? A Boss Monster ain’t no slouch. Heck, I wouldn’t forget Mettaton. That glambot doubled as an actual war machine. The only reason I look more powerful than them is because I’m the only one left alive after the calamity. Luck is the main factor, sir. Under different circumstances, I would have been dead along with them.”
“Ah. You don’t think you’re special?”
“Hell no! I’m nothing great or special or whatever the fuck you think I am!”
An uncomfortable silence lingered in the air. Dust covered his mouth, realising that he had lost his cool and resorted to crass language. Now he was worried that he might have offended the big boss.
But when James spoke again, his voice had softened. Was it sympathy? Pity? Kindness? All three? “I see. You truly didn’t know then. I’ll skip to the point.”
The Guildmaster straightened his tone to one more professional. “In the decades preceding the Ebottian Sealing War, a new race of monsters emerged. Born from the necromantic arts by stripping off the decaying flesh from human corpses and reanimating the bones, these ‘skeletons’ formed armies under the command of their heretical masters.”
“They were unstoppable, wiping out kingdom after kingdom. Survivors of their destruction described them as utterly ruthless, using human tactics, from battle formations, to martial arts, to subterfuge. It was as though they were living weapons. What’s more, the unburied corpses of their fallen foes merely served as raw ingredients to renew their numbers. An unceasing cycle of death and rebirth.”
“The strongest of those reborn were undoubtedly the Liches, whose eyes glowed with the colour of their inner magic power. Just one of them alone could fell dozens, if not hundreds of soldiers. We also have records of their descendants, the Lichborn. Some of them had awakened to vibrant eyes of magic fire, inheriting a mix of their progenitors’ abilities, somehow greater than the sum of its parts.”
“I…” Dust muttered, touching under his left eye, “I’m a Lichborn…?”
“Correct,” James affirmed.
“Wait, then why is this magical power called The Seer’s Eye and not The Lichborn Eye?”
“That’s because the Lichborn saw past the veil of reality. Their visions allowed them to become oracles, prophets, truth-seekers, mind-readers, force-benders, and so on. Therefore, collectively they were called ‘Seers’. In modern day terms, I believe their type of magic is classified as ‘space-time manipulation’. A tremendous feat.”
“ …Which makes me a Seer as well.”
“That is also correct, Mister Dust. Your teleportation and disintegration abilities are proof of this truth.”
“I ain’t no oracle, though. Think of me as more of an analysis machine. I can make educated guesses based on the data I can read, but I can’t see the past or future.”
“On your own, perhaps not,” said James, “However… I believe that device of yours might solve that issue. As extensions of the self, machines are designed to make up for their users’ weaknesses, either by augmenting their existing abilities or granting them new ones. Give it a shot.”
Dust leaned against the chair, squeezing his eyes shut. There were once so many others just like him. Just like Papyrus… “Yup. Ahuh. Thanks for telling me about my origins. I think I now have a clearer idea of what to do for the month.”
“Oh? I’m very curious.”
“I’ll have to do more research on The Seer’s Eye itself. Starting with mine. Hey James, if you can, could you fax me some historical documents? Ideally those that mentioned the colours of the fire and the abilities displayed by that Seer.”
“Indeed, I can! They will be sent to you as soon as possible. Have a good evening, Mister Dust. I shall resume my survey before dark. Ah, please put the communicator back in the parcel and leave it under a space with open air. Another drone will pick it up.”
“Alright, alright. Enjoy your village visit. Bye.”
Dust shut off the communicator and sighed. Alone again, The Phantom appeared to give another round of complaining
This time, the aberration asked, “Why didn’t you tell this James fellow about me, The Great Papyrus? I had those eye powers too!”
“We can’t fully trust him just yet. Remember our first big mission? The hospital?”
“Of course! Of course! It was a wild, fun ride.”
“Today he shared only details that relate to us monsters, and nothing about the humans of that time. Compare that to his eagerness back during that mission. I believe he wants to see more of my research first before telling his side of the story.”
“I still don’t get it…”
“Based on what James just told us about the skeletons, we’re supposed to be unstoppable killing machines. That fear is passed down to modern humans too. And yet, we just… vanished. Not only that, the humans won the Sealing War. What the hell happened back then? There’s more to this story and he ain’t telling.”
“Why…” The Phantom started fuming. “How rude!!! Here I thought he’s less secretive than that uptight lady necromancer. Disappointing.”
“I don’t blame him. Prudence with information goes a long way. He’s not the King of Humans for nothing.”
What does James Pashowar want, Dust wondered? Nevertheless, he hoped that it was nothing malicious.
* * *
June 5, 2021
The days had grown longer and warmer. Sometimes it was outright a heat wave, like earlier this afternoon.
High temperatures were never a good companion for machinery. But, opening the windows would allow too many bugs to invade. If those critters snuggled between the gaps, it might cause a short circuit and fry the components. Never a good idea, especially when Dust didn’t know if the humans were manufacturing any replacements.
Eventually, under the light of the fading sun, Dust went over his research papers again. It contained his hypothesis, crafted from the various historical documents he was provided with. The majority of those records dated back to a thousand years ago, when the ‘skeleton army’ was at its height. After that, any sightings read more like myths and superstitions.
The Willowherbs also provided records of some of their own magic-capable individuals. Since skeletons derived from the necromantic arts, their council thought it would be wise for Dust to study human magic as well.
The more he studied, the more similarities he found between humans and Seers. If he wanted to make a comparison, humans could only cast watered down versions of what the Liches could do. And then, combinations of Lich powers gave birth to the abilities unique to Seers. Perhaps Papyrus’ idea of humans descending from skeletons had a grain of truth to it, albeit reversed.
The last page of the document contained a condensed list of Dust’s current findings.
Cyan - the Aspect of Patience.
Grants a Seer microscopic focus.
Orange - the Aspect of Bravery.
Grants a Seer long-range vision.
Purple - the Aspect of Perseverance.
Grants a Seer the ability to store exact memories.
Yellow - the Aspect of Justice.
Grants a Seer the ability to read hidden truths.
The Phantom hovered overhead, brimming with curiosity. “What is this? That’s only four out of seven colours. That’s like, only half the information.”
“Eh, a little more than half. But you have a point. I’ve heard mentions of Blue and Green Eyes, but there were no descriptions of what they actually do. I can only go by their given names.”
He flipped the page to where he jotted down his brainstorming. It was messy and ugly, but at least it got the job done.
Circled with a pencil were the colours he had yet to figure out:
Blue - the Aspect of Integrity. Probably some stabilising property?
Green - the Aspect of Kindness. Restorative perhaps?
Red - the Aspect of Determination. Theoretical.
“Why is ‘Red’ theoretical?” asked The Phantom. “They never appeared, at all?”
“Apparently not,” Dust replied. “Not a single record mentioned anything about Liches or Lichborn with the Red Aspect. I’m guessing that it’s either super rare, or that it doesn’t exist in this world.”
Scratching the top of his skull, The Phantom asked: “Then, what about the red in your eyes, brother?”
“Dunno yet. Back at the hospital, I did see this--”
But his words hung mid-sentence. There was something he wanted to bring up. Yet… he didn’t remember what or why.
“Uh. Nevermind. Scratch that. I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary.”
He flipped the page again. This time, it listed the modifications he made to the machine.
“Alright, here’s the plan. I know from personal experience that the Seer’s Eye can do much more than it lets on. It gains new abilities when the colours are mixed. Though a person can only have three Aspects at most, similar to the build of human souls. But, remember what James said? Let the machine cover up our weakness. I only have Cyan, Yellow, Purple. Therefore, I need our buddies in The Red Soulstone to team up with the tech to fill in the gaps. That is, Orange, Blue, Green, and Red. This way we’ll have full access to whatever combination exists out there.”
“Once we have all seven Aspects lined up, we’re going to go look for the missing pieces of the puzzle through space-time itself. Starting with that glitched entity. Returning to the past should be easy enough. After that… Well, that depends on what we find.”
The room darkened as the sun began to set across the horizon. Temperatures started to drop the moment the light went out.
Dust stretched his neck and shoulders. “Tonight is the night. It’s do or die.”
“Yes!” The Phantom buzzed with excitement. “Finally, the truth about The Great Papyrus’ greatness will soon be revealed!”
“Whatever you say, bro.”
Dust scooped the Red Soulstone out of its little bowl. The idea was to lay on the altar while clutching the gem. The souls within would absorb most of the strain, proven by the testing he had done over the month.
With the aid of a masking tape, he taped the gem to his chest. He can’t have it fall off in the middle of the process. That would be fatal.
Then, he strapped the visor on his forehead and laid down on the altar.
“Ready, everyone?” he asked.
The Red Soulstone glowed with the determination to succeed.
“Okay.” Dust pulled the visor over his eyes. “Here we go. Switch: on!”
Power coursed through his body. Images started to render on the screen. He could hear his bone rattle against the table, struggling to keep it under control.
…The pressure vanished. The images became clear. Lo and behold, he had arrived at the New Home of the long past.
The monster residents went about their daily business, flowing with the timetable of their bygone lives. They lived a humble, confined, yet peaceful existence.
“This is not my house...” Dust commented. “I wanted to go back to the time when Dad asked the mysterious entity about the Seer’s Eye. Did I calibrate the machine wrong? I’ll have to make note of that.”
As much as he wanted to bask in the nostalgia, he had work to do. Every second in this recreation drained his borrowed lifeforce. He must find his target before time runs out.
Navigating through New Home, he recognized a little fountain at a town square. It was Papyrus’ favourite playground since he was a child. During some parts of the day, the square would be absolutely quiet, making it the perfect place for the youngster to practise his future greatness without judgemental eyes. Once the residents started trickling in to relax after their long day at work, Papyrus would hurry on back home.
A teenaged skeleton boy hopped to his favourite spot. “Greetings fountain! It’s me, The Great Papyrus!!! I’m going to continue my training to become the hero I am meant to be!”
There he was… the beloved younger brother. How wonderful it was to see him alive again.
For that one moment, Dust forgot that he was here on a mission. He tried to reach out to his brother. Say hello. Hug him.
Yet, he had no hands, a reminder that he had found himself in an illusionary reconstruction.
Then, from the corner of the square, the voice of a refined, stately senior spoke the following words to The Great Papyrus:
“Pray tell, young one, how do you intend to do so?”
Dust turned towards that direction. There, he saw the peculiar man.
A tall skeleton. Male. Dressed in black formal clothes. His face bore two cracks: one over a drooping right eye, the other below his intact left.
The man approached the boy. He commented: “You didn’t try to run despite your fears. How very brave of you.”
The young Papyrus replied: “Brother told me not to talk to weird strangers.”
“And yet, you’re here. Well, that’s a needless worry. I am no stranger. In fact, I’m your brother’s teacher and your parents’ oldest friend.”
“…Really? Do you have…. evidence? Anyone could make those claims, nyeh!”
The man reached for his coat’s pockets and pulled out some photographs. “Here you go.”
Young Papyrus’ eyes bugged out. “Wowie! That’s my bro and his science team! And you’re in it! Oh, are these my parents…? My dad looks just like… me?”
Irritated, the man huffed. “Egads, how could Sans have neglected such an important detail? They’re your own parents! I need to give him a scolding the next time we meet.”
“No!” Papyrus exclaimed, “I just never really thought about my parents. I mean, I can’t miss someone I never knew. I’m happy with my brother, mister! So please, don’t get mad at him.”
“Ah… look at that. Not only are you brave, but you’re also kind with good integrity. Very well, for your sake I will not chide your brother.”
“Yay! So mister, why were you looking for me? And what’s your name anyway?”
“Apologies for my lack of introduction. I am Doctor W. D. Gaster, Royal Scientist of the Underground. And I’m here to ask you something, young man.”
“Oh! What is it?”
Leaning forward with a wide smile, the man asked: “Do you want to be a hero, O’ Great Papyrus?”
The boy was stunned at first. But not long after, he began to glow with tearful joy. “I… I can be a hero? Right now?”
“Yes, you have the potential. Alas, your brother has been stifling you with his ideals of a ‘normal life’. Come, we should discuss this elsewhere. After all…”
Gaster turned his head, grinning right in Dust’s direct direction.
“…It’s rude to talk about someone who’s listening.”
Dust sat up and yanked the visor off. He huffed and puffed, drenched in sweat.
“It’s him… It’s really him… How could I… have forgotten… someone that important?”
W. D. Gaster, the family friend.
W. D. Gaster, the former teacher.
W. D. Gaster, his most hated enemy.
Still panting, he reached for his chest. “Okay… gem friends. Time to take a break. I’m beat.”
Except, the gem did not exist.
“Uh… crap. Hey Phantom, you around?”
A deafening silence answered his question.
Dust hopped off the altar and looked out of the window. Even in the darkest of nights, he should be able to see the stars in the night sky.
But he saw nothing. No stars, no trees, not even the vague shadow of a landmass. Outside was a vast empty void of nothingness.
“Dammit. This ain’t the real world. Is it just a mental recreation? Am I still hooked on the machine, unconscious in reality? Or…”
The exit from his cottage was no longer the warm familiar wooden door. Instead, it had been replaced by a cold, sterile grey rectangular gate that didn’t match the house’s layout one bit.
“Is this the gap between realities? And that’s the entrance to the realm of dreams?”
The black winds beckoned from beyond.
“Welp… only one way to find out.”