You wake up.
In the Judgment Hall.
Lying on the floor, with your head in Frisk's lap.
They're gazing out, into the room, reclining with their back against the smooth marble corridor, just under a stained-glass window. One of their hands is beneath your skull, cradling it gently, while the other sits a soft weight atop your forehead. Warm; comforting; protective.
The Player startles a little, looking down at you quickly. Their eyes are wide, and it looks comically awkward on Frisk's usually-neutral face. They sag slightly, a relieved motion.
"Hey," they return with a sigh. "You, uh, sorta fell over. Which is weird because you always sleep standing up, but uh... guess maybe you actually passed out."
Your bones ache in tired confirmation; you make no attempt to move, sockets shutting as your grin finds you once more.
"well i have been known to lay down on the job from time to time."
A groan - you peek up at The Player, and their twisted expression is all Papyrus.
"you're smiling," you parrot. They blink, for a moment, before a quirky, teasing smirk alights their lips.
"I am," they quote. "And I hate it."
Their fingers shift absently, and your eyes close once more.
It burns to be known.
"what made y'come back?"
Pausing, a conflicted silence permeates into you from their touch. You're in no hurry. The peaceful quiet of the Hall surrounds.
"...I was going through my computer," they begin. "Cleaning out old files, rearranging some folders. And I... somewhere, deep in the middle of it, I found a text file. Named, 'missed call 1'."
Your eyes snap open. The Player is looking away again, but you see them swallow. Their grip on your skull fidgets.
"I didn't remember ever seeing it before, so I opened it, and it... ...it didn't say who was talking it just... my... name... was in there. A name I... I only ever use in private. And then it said... 'frisk is not happy'. That... that what I'd been told 'wasn't true'. That, 'the under-"
"-the underground is nothing compared to not having you play'."
The Player falls very, very still, before their shoulders softly start to shake. They are staring resolutely at anywhere but you. A tear catches on the gentle slope of their chin.
You sit up carefully, minding the creak of your frame, and turn to face them. A sharp flash of your first encounter with The Player all those years ago replays. Broken shame is written all over them, like a line of programming stuck in an endless loop.
"...I researched for days," they finally manage, hands now clenched together on their knees. "Asked around to as many social circles online as I could. No one had heard of getting a message like that, in or out of the game."
Their fingers tighten. "A lot of people accused me of making it up for attention. Those who took it seriously, usually just fell into debate over how it reflected on the story, or characters as a whole. And it was all sort of... half-and-half, on if I should follow what it said, and play again, or chalk it up to a clever ruse and ignore it."
This information forces your reality thin, though not unacceptably. You know The Game; you are a creation, a figment of human space only realized through the Script, and a playable Timeline. Still, it feels... odd, to hear it out loud.
"B..." - The Player presses the heels of their palms to their eyes - "But then I remembered... that you had... cried... after we fought... and it... it hadn't even... occurred... to me... th... that you shouldn't have cried and... and maybe... maybe you'd heard what I'd said... ... and y... you might have actually wanted..."
Hands dropping, they laugh, breathless, but hearty. "And then this! I can hardly believe this." They gesture wide, sweepingly.
"Ya broke the fuckin' game, Sans!"
A glance, and you're slack-jawed boggling at either end of the Hall. Glitched swathes of the veil have made jittery, curtain-esque walls between the two of you and the rest of the map. As if the entire room is cut off from the world beyond, to stop you from messing with it anymore.
"...huh, would you lookit that."
"Don't 'lookit that' me!" The Player snorts, wiping the rest of their face dry with a sleeve. "Explain yourself, Mr. Skeleton, or I'm just gonna think I'm dreaming here!"
And so you do.
As best you can, anyway.
How you'd pieced things together during their last run.
What you've learned about them and The Game.
Along with... what'd happened after they'd gotten rid of The Portal.
The Player goes through many various emotions. All of which slowly endear them to you, just that little bit more. Curiosity, wonder, embarrassment, humility, shame; stars, the shame - you hate seeing it prick Frisk's features, but every time it does, you feel yourself validated.
This human really, honestly cares about The Game - about you, and everyone else, even if, in their reality, you're really all just blips of code and pixel.
At the end of your long diatribe, The Player seems to consider something. Their gaze passes along to your own eyelights a sense of hesitant secrecy. You let them think, leaning your weight back on your arms to relieve some pressure from your spine.
"...so you really didn't know. About... about Asriel. About... Flowey."
They nod. "They're who was talking to me at the end of the credits."
You straighten a little. "the thing that told you to leave us alone?"
What did The Flower have to do with Asgore's son?
"Mm," The Player affirms. "I guess it... makes sense. Flowey would totally be under one of those 'permalock' things for you, I don't think you ever interact with them. At least not while I'm watching."
A thought. Then, they stand. The Player offers you Frisk's hand.
"Are you... able to do the short cut thing still? Or are we boned on that front. Pun unintended."
Accepting the help, you sluggishly climb to your slippered feet. Momentary consideration of the Overworld reveals that the Timeline you're in has fractured into segments, disjointed - but generally intact in its parts. Your Short Cuts should work.
"think i can manage. where'd you like to pop off to, pal?"
You grin at their withering grimace before they compose themselves.
"How close can you get to The Ruins?"
Pretty dang close, as it turns out. Just to the edge of the forest, by the fence your brother had made. The Player blinks rapidly a few times, orienting themselves after the jump of scenery; you distantly acknowledge that they are still grasping your phalanged digits, but the threat of another magic-drained collapse makes the point of contact a helpful anchor to consciousness.
The strain must show on your face - they turn to speak, and then stop short, frowning in concern.
"Was that too much? Sorry, I didn't even think..."
"it's fine," you assuage, shaking the sweat from your skull. "why'd you wanna come here, though?"
Their jaw sets, resolute.
"I'd like to show you something."
As The Player leads the way, you follow them towards The Door, and are somewhat taken aback - it is wide open. They crane Frisk's neck to look up at the sigil carved into the heavy stone archway; the Delta Rune. There doesn't appear to be any sign of glitching or separation here, so the two of you pass into a part of the map that... you really hadn't thought you'd see.
A darkly lit room greets you. One, small patch of grass in a beam of sun in the middle. The Player sidesteps around it, and you nearly trip to do the same - does seem like a good idea to leave it alone.
An extended corridor later, and you've come out of another door, again etched with the familiar winged-circle and triple triangles.
"It's, uh, kind of a long way," The Player admits, sheepish around the edges. "Tell me if you need a break, yeah?"
"oh, well, maybe you better carry me, then," you wink. They fluster. Feeling a bit more energized, you now politely drop their hand, which in turn only causes to them to agitate with more embarrassment.
No wonder this kid likes Paps, they are just as easy to mess with.
"forgeddaboudit, pal. i'm good. let's see what you got down here."
You traverse another series of hallways, and then reach a set of stairs. When The Player passes the threshold and the scene reveals, you halt in your tracks. Oh.
"Welcome to Old Home," they announce, pausing at the top floor and peering down at you over the railing. "Asgore did a fine job of recreating this place over in New Home, huh? Though he left out a lot of the color."
In a time before The Player, the King had invited you and your brother to tea. "A fine job" your left foot; Asgore's house was an exact replica. Though they were right.
New Home did not have as much life.
The two of you head out the front door; a somewhat eerie, sickly-looking tree stands square in the path down the yard. Crinkling leaves bring back your attention; The Player is boring a hole into the fallen red foliage with their eyes. You raise a brow.
"The save point's gone," they breathe.
"There's usually a... a little, twinkling, yellow-thing here on the ground," The Player gesticulates. "It's what I activate in order to save. But it's - it's just - it's gone!"
They suddenly whip their head around to squint at you. You're sweating again. Oops.
"ah, yup. yeah that's, probably from me... doing things. ... that wasn't what you wanted to show me, was it?"
"Thankfully no," they exhale, however a crease of anxiety now perches above their nose. "Hope my file's okay, though... whatever. Come on, we've still got a lot of ground to cover."
It quickly becomes clear that The Ruins were absolutely the work of a long-lost puzzle-loving cousin of yours. Papyrus would be proud. Yet for as foreign a style as this is, it isn't too terribly difficult to traverse - The Player seems to know exactly what they're doing, too, which likely helps a lot.
Makes you think.
How often have they done this? Is it every time they complete The Game? Then again, you aren't sure what happens down here in the normal Script; more PermaLock shenanigans.
This must be where The Game starts, though. It would make sense, from the linear map layout. But... where does it lead to?
What would even be here now?
It's just a little over ten minutes before you find out. The Player lets you take your time to read the ancient signs along the way, and even stops in one room to buy some Spider Donuts to snack on. Their desire to take care of you is as loud as the neon sign leading up to Hotland; you munch your pastry thoughtfully.
Falling through the floor multiple times kinda throws you off, though - the inherent risk to your 1 HP in a strange environment makes you cautious. The Player waits, patient. Laughing as the weird pipe vents rocket you back up to the other side.
They continue noting more missing Save Points. It sounds like there were a lot of them. You wonder what they technically were in your reality if they've gone AWOL now.
"This is where I normally save, when I come down here at the end of the game." - The Player points to another pile of empty reddish leaves at the bottom of a set of dual stairs - "It's the furthest one from the Barrier."
Last few hallways; first, an identical sunny dot of grass, which you and The Player again skirt the edge of.
And... and then a corridor that is exactly like the one before the Barrier. Where everyone else would be waiting at. Did Asgore replicate this in the capital, too?
There's a technicolor wall blocking the path's end, and The Player hesitates, before running up to it. Whatever fear they had though disappears as they peer at it; poking the wall does nothing, though. They beckon you over.
"When I walk back to the Castle after coming here, I make sure to not save anywhere else, so that if I load after the credits without resetting, I can always see..."
This wall is like a bubble - clear with rainbow spirals floating across its surface. You step around The Player and gaze into the dead-end room. It's vacant, save for some more grass, a patch of those golden flowers the King can't seem to get enough of, and-
"...him," The Player whispers.
That is little Asriel Dreemurr.
His back is to the wall, sitting silently alongside the golden flowers. Small, white paws reach out to pet the vibrant amber petals. The very same paws that had intervened during your New Fight.
The Player sits down in kind, cross-legged, hands gripping their ankles softly. Collecting yourself, you sit next to them. Your mind buzzes with questions, but The Player doesn't keep you in the dark for long.
"'Wounded, Asriel stumbled home. He entered the castle and'... 'and collapsed. His dust spread across the garden.'"
A deep remorse twists in your chest. You knew the tale; the fable; the legend; hell it was almost a myth. But you'd /never/ known the significance of those flowers... no wonder the King loved them like he did.
They're smiling, sadly.
"Along with seeds. Golden flower seeds. From the surface. From Ch... from the human's home town. Where Asriel had put his friend's body down to fight. ...And then changed his mind. Picked them up. And came back down into the Underground... before perishing."
A deep remorse twists in your chest. You knew the tale; the fable; the legend; hell it was almost a myth. But you'd never known the significance of those flowers... no wonder the King loved them like he did.
"So the seeds bloomed. One at a time. Asgore especially tended to the very first flower that sprung up... a pale memory of his son."
There's an atmosphere shift, and your eyelights run from Asriel beyond to The Player beside, and the look on their face.
"Asgore gave that flower to Alphys... to inject with DETERMINATION."
Static fills the space inside your skull.
"...and thus, Flowey the Flower was born. Something... neither plant nor monster. The will to live... without a SOUL to guide it."
All of the open PermaLocks that you'd been holding off on plundering sing around you in affirmation.
Mute, shocked, and horrified, and a whole jumble of other things, you listen to the rest of what The Player has to say. About how Asriel, as this Flower, could not feel love. But the DETERMINATION keeping him sentient let him Reset like The Player could - some... strange side effect, that apparently, gets taken away from him when Frisk shows up.
And how in the last Fight of a True Pacifist run, ASRIEL DREEMURR, The Angel of Death... is undone, by the Mercy of one, convicted human being.
"I don't break the barrier. He does. With the power of the six human SOULS, and every single Monster soul of the Underground... Asriel sets everyone free."
Their face falls.
"...and after the credits... he goes back... to being a flower."
The implications of that haunt you. Sad, precious child, who'd just made the wish of all Monsters come true... returning to a fate of being a SOULless, psychotic bundle of restless energy. Trapped in an existence as something... not himself.
"But you know," The Player continues. "I hadn't actually thought about what that meant. That it is not Asriel who tells me to not come back. It's Flowey. And Flowey doesn't get what he wants. Ever. No matter the run. ...Of course he wouldn't want me to reset. Asriel ... Asriel tells me t... to take care of mom and dad. ... He tells me, 'don't kill, and don't be killed'."
It's barely audible, that last sentence. Something foul slinks between you two. The wall that is cutting Asriel off from the rest of the hallway slowly bleeds into a solid black.
"... I swore. Up and down. That I... that I would never do a Genocide run. Not once. Not ever."
"And then I broke that promise, to myself, and to all of you, and I decided no. No I don't deserve... I don't deserve to come back. I don't deserve to play this game again. I am no better than the people who hunt you all down for sport and I don't deserve t-to have any of you as m-my friends-"
You shoot to your knees and crush them into a hug.
"don't ever say that."
The Player holds very still.
"fighting isn't wrong," you remember thinking, voice edging unevenly. "killing is what's wrong. and you know that. you didn't want to kill me. you didn't want to kill papyrus. you didn't want to kill anyone."
Your squeeze your arms around The Player's shoulders firmly.
"my bro knew it the whole time. you are a good person. he loves you, kid. ...we both do. and so does everyone else. and we don't care how many times you want to play. it's what we're here for, isn't it?"
You pull back and frame their face in your bony hands.
"asriel wouldn't want you to end up like him, cut off from your family and friends like he is. he wants you to be happy, right? so do what makes you happy. and don't listen to crazy flowers anymore. it's bad for your health."
A shaking moment passes...
...before The Player crumples, and buries themselves into the soft fold of your hoodie, clinging as hard as they can around your waist.
And they wail.
Just like they did three years ago.
Only this time, you press the rise of your cheekbone to the top of their head, and carry them through it. The grief, the self-loathing, the desperation, and... the loneliness.
This human, who cares so much, where even imaginary creatures in a made-up universe that don't really exist, mean the world to them... is so very, hopelessly lonely, hidden somewhere inside.
"...what do I do now," they hiccup, muffled. "What if I r-reset and you f-forget, what... w-what if resetting doesn't f-f-fix anything what if I h-have to uninstall the whole thing you'll... y-you'll be g-gone..."
That's... true, isn't it. A clean install would... basically be death to you. Permanently.
The end of your universe, replaced with a new one, that's all the same but... not.
You are most definitely not crying into their hair.
"then another sans gets to know you, and i think he'll like you just as much as me." - they tilt their head back to look at you, big, fat, glistening tears rolling down their face, it almost makes you laugh - "you've got this, kid. just... give it a try. reset and see. no matter what happens, we're behind you, one-hundred percent of the way. even if this is the end of the game."
They breathe in, deep, and then, The Player smiles. And for a moment, you don't see Frisk. For just a moment, you're seeing outside the game.
"Thank you. Sans."
"be waitin' for ya, kiddo."
After a taut moment, the Script cuts to black.
With the memory of a dream...
to all my readers, favoriters, reviewers, followers, all-the-ers -
thank you. I am blown out the water by the response this project has received. I can't promise that I'll be writing more Undertale, at least not until my ideas settle down into something coherent, but this was a great experience, and I love you all to itty bitty pieces. I hope you enjoyed "The Game", and I'll see you next time.
- J. Renee Worsing