I don't want to open my eyes. I'd shut them, hoping that maybe they'd vanish while I was asleep and I wouldn't have to say goodbye myself. I should have known better, they wouldn't leave without checking on me. Vivi wouldn't let them. Lewis cared, but in a passing way. He would have left by now if not for her. Arthur? Maybe at one point he would have stayed of his own accord, but those days ended rather abruptly.
Little breezes kiss my muzzle and I crack my eyes open to see Vivi resting her cheek there.
"You have to go." Resignation, not command, fills my statement.
She says nothing. Her form is already fading. Whether she wants to leave or not, her ties to this place are severed. Lewis chose well, and already the three of them are fainter.
Two. Two are fainter. Arthur is more solid than either Lewis or Vivi. A whine works its way through my clenched teeth. What did I do wrong now that he can't move on?
"It'll be all right, Mystery." I can barely hear Vivi. Lewis rests his hands on her shoulders. "Everything is going to work out. Thanks for looking out for us while you could." She looks over to Arthur. "You're sure?"
Arthur nods his head firmly, flashing a lopsided grin. "I'll catch up eventually. He can't live forever."
Lewis shakes his head, a regretful smile on his face. "I wish I'd seen this side of you more, Artie."
"No time for regrets, Lew."
Vivi clings to my muzzle for another few seconds. I can't muster more than a ginger nudge, it hurts too much. Already I can barely see them as Lewis pulls Vivi back, holding her close. Whatever happens, at least they will be with each other. Even I do not know what happens when a ghost passes on.
They are gone. Beside me, Arthur heaves a sigh.
"Why are you still here?" I ask, dull with grief.
"Call it unfinished business. Got a question for you. Can you smell Asgore from here?"
A spark burns through the heavy cloud. I nearly forgot. My lips pull back from my teeth and I lift my nose to scent the air. I remember the air of the throne room, heavy with goat musk and flowers. And there it is. He has not gone far from the Underground, he is in easy range. Two days' run at most.
"Yes," I growl.
"Good. I think you should go see him, Mystery." An odd smile plays on Arthur's lips as he begins to fade away. "I think it'll help."
A moment of panic brings me to my feet. Arthur didn't say goodbye, I didn't apologize! But he is gone, and all I have is a howling cavern for a chest and an unbearable burning in my belly.
Asgore will pay.
I take to my paws, leaving the charred valley behind. The king has gotten what he wanted, and now he will suffer the consequences of his choice. He is not above consequences, nobody is. I will make him suffer, see him twist in the anguish of his choice. I will make him writhe before he dies!
Day becomes night becomes day becomes night. I do not need sleep, I do not want food. I want Asgore's dust scattered to the wind. I want to hear him scream and plead and regret. Regret. Regret! Every child murdered in his hall. Even mine were just children, not nearly aged enough.
At dawn his scent is all around me. I have entered a vast garden. Yellow flowers explode in clouds of fragrant petals underpaw. He is close. Closer.
There. He kneels over a bed of the flowers. His regal cloak is gone, and he wears simple jeans and a hawaiian patterned shirt.
I wonder who he murdered for those clothes.
I slow to a walk, pacing toward him. My tails stick straight out behind me, my ears press flat to my skull. I stop behind him, growling through my teeth.
He doesn't acknowledge me.
"One life for six is not nearly repayment enough, but it will have to do," I snarl, parting my jaws wide to attack.
He lifts his head, a warm smile on his face. "Hey, Mystery. You made it."
I am frozen. Those eyes, they are not the stricken eyes of the King of the Monsters from Vivi's recollection. They're the eyes that shone with excitement every time a new ghost-hunting gadget finally worked. The eyes that followed Lewis and Vivi's sappy romance with a dark shadow. The eyes that went so dull and lifeless for months that I could hardly find him in them anymore.
"Arthur?" I crack, my hindquarters thumping heavily to the ground. "You're gone."
"Not gone. Just gone ahead."
"What do you think you're doing? Why are you with… in… him? What could you possibly gain from this?"
Asgore's bulky frame rises slowly, dusting the front of its shirt off. "Nothing, Mystery. I don't really get a lot out of this. It's not about me."
"I don't understand. Why didn't you leave with the others?"
"I told you. Unfinished business."
I whine, unable to understand what he's talking about. "Are you here to kill him too?"
He laughed, and things hurt a little less. I haven't heard a laugh that clear from him in over a year. "He asked me that when I came here. If I was here to end it. Gods, how many times I thought Lew would end it…" He shook his head, smiling. "I get something about Lew, though. You're tied to the person that killed you. You can let it go right then, or you can stick around and follow that lead straight back to them. I found Asgore right after I left you. He was standing on the edge of a cliff."
Asgore's face softened, Arthur's eyes crinkling at the memory. "He'd been standing there for a while. I joined him there on the edge, and he asked if I was there to end it. He said he wouldn't stop me, in fact, he sounded relieved. Like he didn't have to make the choice himself."
"Why didn't you? After what he did!"
"Why didn't Lewis?"
"That's different! You didn't want to harm him!" I snarl, my tails lashing the ground.
"It was different, but the end result is not." He put a hand over his chest. "Yes, there are differences in our stories, but similarities too. Killing Asgore would only continue the cycle. A monster would die by human hand, even if that human was already dead. Subjects would find his dust and grieve. And rage. And take that rage and spread it further, reigniting the very war that started all this. Mystery, don't you see?" He spread his arms wide. "Now the cycle is broken."
I can't move. Arthur's words ring true, but it doesn't ease the pain. "And how exactly did this come about?" I jerk my chin at him.
He looks past me, as if seeing the scene unfold again. "I wasn't going to kill him, but he was so tired, Mystery. He said he felt the weight of every death crushing him. He wasn't strong enough to keep going, he said. And I said," and his eyes twinkled, "sounds like you could use some bravery."
And I can't help a small smile of my own. "Take it from a coward," I quote him, "Bravery's not throwing yourself at danger willy nilly. Bravery's knowing when you have to step in because nobody else will."
He grinns, flashing a thumbs up. "You got it."
"So," I hedge, uncertain. "You're not moving on?"
"Not for a long time, buddy. Asgore's got a lot to work out. He won't go on forever, but until it's his time he needs a little backup."
"And this is what you stay for?" My lip curls again. "You stay to heal your murderer?"
Asgore's head tilts to the side, that smile never leaving his face. "Well, that's part of it. But there's also one particular fuzzball that was never really ready for all this." He holds his arms wide again. "C'mon, buddy. Did you really think nobody was gonna stick around and keep an eye on you?"
My heart lurches and I dive forward, burying my muzzle in his arms. I feel them, strong and warm and furry and real.
"Lewis' ties died with me, and Vivi wasn't going to let him go alone. I could stay, I had a choice because of Asgore. The three of us talked about it while you slept. I'll see them again someday, but for now, I've got a lot of work ahead of me." He strokes my fur. "Can I count on you for help?"
"Anything," I swear.
"Can you forgive this fuzzy jerk?"
My hackles rise, but I manage, "I will try."
"Then stay here with him, Mystery. I offered him what strength I could lend because I think he's a good person and he'll use it well. I just asked for a few minutes to talk with an old friend in exchange. Do me a favor, though, and keep the biting to a minimum." He chuckled. "If he keeps both his arms we might end up testing out some new inventions. Can you imagine magic powered tech, buddy? A whole world of possibilities opened up!"
I put a paw on his shoulder. "So, you are here, but you will not always be here?"
"Think of me as a backup generator. I'm here and I can see and hear and feel everything, but I'm not so talky. This is Asgore's life, after all. Not mine. I'm not here to take it over. But I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I said hi every now and then."
I lick his face. "You are certainly full of surprises."
He pulls back, wiping his face with a grimace. "And you're full of slobber." He scrubs his face dry and sticks his hands in his pockets. "Alright. Well. I think it's about time. Mystery, meet the King. Your Majesty, meet Mystery."
And Asgore's face changes, his head drooping and his shoulders stooped. "Greetings, Mystery," he says, his voice like a wrung dishtowel. "But Asgore is just as well."
There are circles under his eyes that I did not see before, and a sorrow so large I can hardly see the leader in him. And I understand Arthur's choice.
"Greetings, Asgore." I fumble with my words. What do I say now that I am no longer here to kill him? Arthur is counting on me! And then I remember the cavern ceilings, studded with glittering gems, heavy with the hopes of countless monsters. "Do you find the stars to your liking?"
And for a moment his head lifts. "They are more than I could have ever hoped for."
I stretch out, lowering my chin to my forepaws. "I, too, found more than I ever could have hoped for on the surface. May I tell you? I think you will find comfort in the story. My stars were the Mystery Skulls, and the day Vivi pulled me from the gutter was the day time regained its meaning…"