I woke up in darkness. Everything hurt. I tried to think of the last things that I could remember...

A group of Echidna clones. A couple of tall, caveman-looking ones—Gullies?—blocking the path. Something hit me, I fell...

Well. That explains why everything hurts, at least. The impact probably disrupted Scapegoat's power. Which means I'm blind. Again.

This time, there weren't so many bugs around. What bugs I could find suggested that this was some kind of cave—there probably wasn't enough food for bugs around here. But I could feel flowers underneath me, sense worms in the thin soil underneath. Something doesn't add up. Maybe I could see what was wrong if I could...see.

I slowly forced myself to my feet before gathering what insects I could to find the walls of the cave room I was in. Stone, like I had thought. It was large, roughly oval-shaped, with a patch of flowers and grass in the middle.

How did I get here? ...Is this even real? Did Noelle recapture me?

Did I ever escape in the first place?

How could you possibly tell if everything you sense, everything you remember sensing, is an illusion or not?

I can't worry about that right now. I need to find some more insects, and then some people. If Noelle's torturing me, I'll find out sooner or later.

There were about fifty flies and similar insects close enough for me to call on them, plus a few dozen small beetles in the soil I could use. With their help, I found my way to a wall and felt it. Eventually, I found a gap in the wall. I sent my insects down it. It seemed like a hall, with smooth walls and floor, and ended in...some kind of door, bordered by pillars?

Either I'm dreaming or I've found the lost city of...El Dorado? I shook my head and tried to forget I thought that, before slowly walking down the corridor and through the door.

"Howdy!" a high-pitched voice said.

"Who's there?" I snapped.

"I'm Flowey!" the voice replied. "Flowey the Flower!"

...I'm dreaming. I hit my head and I'm dreaming.

Or Noelle's playing the long game with this mental torture.

I sent out my insects to sense the room. It was much larger, with a smaller patch of grass in front of me. In the patch was a single flower, moving slightly.

"Hmmm," the flower said. "You're new to the Underground, aren'cha? Golly, you must be so confused."

"Yes," I replied. "I'm talking to a flower."

"Yes you are! Most people don't feel much like talking when they come to the Underground! Good for you! But someone still needs to teach you how things work around here...I guess little old me will have to do!"

"A talking flower."

"...Yes...I think we've established that."

"A flower. That talks."

"Ugh. Why are you focusing so much on that?"

"Sorry. Where I'm from, flowers don't talk."

"The Underground isn't much like what you're used to on the surface. Like I said, someone needs to teach—"

I sighed. "Fine. Teach me."

"Golly, aren't you enthusiastic! Here we go!"

I felt something...weird inside my chest.

"See that heart?"

"What heart? I'm...right now, I'm blind."

"Well golly gee, that's a pity. That heart you can't see is your SOUL, the ver—"

"Wait, did you say you just ripped out my soul?"

"Golly! Of course not! That heart is just a representation of your soul, silly! Your SOUL starts off weak, but can grow strong if you gain a lot of LV."

"LV?"

"LOVE, of course!"

...What.

"You want some LOVE, don't you?"

I sighed. "Sure. Why the hell not."

"Don't worry, I'll share some with you!" Flowey paused. "Down here, LOVE is shared through...little white...'friendliness pellets'. Are you ready? Move around! Get as many as you can!"

I didn't trust him, but it didn't matter. "I'm...still blind."

"Don't worry, I'll send them right at you! Stand still!"

I waited a second, then dropped to the floor. Everything hurt again.

"...Hey buddy, you missed them. Let's try again, okay?"

"I'm not sure I'm fine with this," I said. I tried to stand up, but I had only gotten to my knees when I felt several burning things hit me. I collapsed.

"You idiot," the flower said.

"Fuck you," I said with what little force I could muster.

"In this world, it's kill or BE killed. Why would ANYONE pa—"

"Do you do this to everyone who comes through?" I asked. "Play nice for as long as you can, even if the other person doesn't trust you? Lure them into a false sense of security, even if they can't do anything to you? Pathetic."

"...Die." The damn flower started laughing, a grating, high-pitched laugh that got on my nerves.

I felt heat, coming from all sides, slowly getting stronger. Probably whatever he hit me with the first time...but more of them.

Well, I did my best.

Suddenly, the heat vanished. Something hit the flower, but I didn't see it; I only heard it squeal and hit the ground off to one side. A more pleasant warmth touched me, and my pains started to melt away.

I heard a kind, female voice. "What a terrible creature, torturing a poor, innocent youth..."

Well, you got him right, at least.

"Ah, do not be afraid, my child. I am Toriel, caretaker of the Ruins. I pass through this place every day to see if anyone has fallen down."

"Thanks," I said. "I'm Taylor."

"Taylor are the first human to come here in a long time. Once I have healed your wounds, I will guide you through the catacombs."

"Thanks," I repeated. "I...needed the help."


After a few awkward, quiet minutes, I felt refreshed. I had time to think and process everything.

Flowey was gone, thank god. Toriel said he had burrowed out of sight seconds after being shot.

I was wearing most of my costume, but my mask and belt were missing. Toriel searched the room where I fell for them (she said I shouldn't move until I was fully healed), but found nothing. She guessed they got caught on something jutting out, and just hung there. That was unfortunate; my belt was the closest thing I had to pockets in my costume, while my mask had lenses from an extra pair of glasses. Even with my eyes healed, I could barely see.

Well, it could be worse. I could still be blind.

"Are you feeling better now?" Toriel asked. I could see her now. She was a tall, white-furred, goat-like humanoid, with large drooping ears, small pointed horns, and a violet dress with what looked like a heavily-stylized angel on the front.

"Much. Thank you again."

"You are very much welcome. Come this way, please."

I followed Toriel through the one exit from the room I was in, another pillar-flanked doorway. I had seen the next room through the eyes of insects, but didn't quite believe what they suggested until I was there. Here, some unknown distance underground, was a clearly artificial room, with a smooth violet floor and walls made of purple bricks. Ahead were two sets of gray-lavender stairs, one to each side, leading to a dark purple, ivy-covered wall with a roughly-normal-sized doorway in the middle. I paused, looking at the leaves; I thought I was something glittering at the edge of the pile. I sped up to walk around Toriel so I could take a look at it.

"Please, my child, there is no need to hurry."

"Sorry, I just wanted to look at...I thought I saw something." But I had been wrong—there was nothing there except leaves. Still, something about this revived my spirit. I felt confident about my chances of figuring out what was going on—It's probably Noelle—and perhaps getting out.

Toriel and I went through the door and into a smaller room. Half a dozen gray slabs jutted out of the ground to one side. On the wall opposite the entrance was a pair of large, dark purple doors, with a black symbol identical to the one on Toriel's dress. On one side of the door was a lever, set into the wall; on the other, a metallic plaque.

Toriel turned to me. "Welcome to your new home, innocent one."

Please...stop calling me that.

"Allow me to educate you in the operation of the Ruins." Toriel walked over four of the six slabs, which sank into the ground, then pushed the lever, opening the doors. "The rooms are full of puzzles," she continued, "ancient fusions between diversions and doorkeys. One must solve them to move from room to room. Please adjust yourself to the sight of them."

...I should stop trying to figure out the logic of this place.

Toriel walked through the doorway. I paused to read the plaque. Only the fearless may proceed. Brave ones, foolish ones. Both walk not the middle road.

I glanced at the buttons. Three rows of two; the two in the middle were the ones Toriel hadn't walked on.

So if I get stuck, I can read these plaques for insight. Good to know.

I went through the door, into a long room where Toriel was waiting. There were two rivers running across the room, with bridges over them.

Toriel spoke up. "To make progress, you will need to trigger several switches. Do not worry, I have labelled the ones that you need to flip."

...Or I can just let Toriel handle everything.

"Thanks," I said. Why? Is Noelle trying to make me feel helpless, dependent? I bet something's going to happen to Toriel soon.

I followed her, glancing at a sign. 'Press [Z] to read signs'? I tried to figure out what that could mean as I went along, going to flip two switches along the wall with large arrows pointing at them.

"Splendid!" Toriel proclaimed. "I am proud of you, little one."

I'm not that much shorter than you.

"Let us move to the next room."

I sighed, wondering what I would be doing next. The "next room" was little more than a bend in the corridor, though it was at least wider than the rest. A dummy was standing, not quite in the middle.

Toriel stood next to the doorway, making sure I could operate that without her holding my hand. "As a human living in the Underground, monsters may attack you."

"Like flower-monsters?" I asked.

Toriel nodded. "Them and many others. You will need to be prepared for such an event."

I nodded, counting the bugs I had. I'd gathered a few more, but I still had less than a hundred fifty flying insets, none venomous, and less than a dozen spiders.

"However, worry not! The process is simple. When you encounter a monster, you will enter a FIGHT. While you are in a FIGHT, strike up a friendly conversation."

Of course.

"Stall for time. I will come to resolve the conflict."

I sighed. "Okay. I can handle that."

"I am glad to hear this, little one. Practice talking to the dummy." Toriel moved aside, giving me space to talk with the dummy.

"Um...hello, dummy. How are you?" I actually half-expected the dummy to grow a mouth and reply, but it didn't. It was, in fact, just a normal dummy.

"...Yeah, I'm fine too. How's...the weather...underground."

Toriel was smiling. "Ah, very good! You are very good."

I feel like I'm being mocked.

We went down the corridor and into a long hallway, with patches of ivy on the walls. Toriel smiled at me. "There is another puzzle in this room...I wonder if you can solve it?"

"I can handle it. Thank you."

Toriel went down the hallway. I walked more slowly, trying to think about what Noelle could be trying here. Unfortunately, my thoughts were interrupted by a frog-like creature.

I remembered what Toriel had said, and also the fact that murderous talking flowers were more remarkable for their behavior than the fact that they were fucking flowers, so for all I knew this could be the king. I sighed, kneeled down, and said, "Why, hello there, little frog. "How are you doing today?"

The frog-thing looked at me, confused.

"Are you just a normal frog, then?"

The frog ribbeted, then glanced over its shoulder before hopping away. I glanced up and saw Toriel glaring at the frog.

Geez. Someone's overprotective...

I followed her to another room. It was mostly water-filled, with a platform over it. Unfortunately, the platform was covered with spikes.

I glanced at a nearby plaque. 'The western room is the eastern room's blueprint.' Okay. I think there was a pattern on the floor in the last room, so if I—

"Come along, my child. This is the puzzle, but...here, take my hand for a moment."

She really does mean the best for you. "Thank you, but I can follow without holding your hand."

Toriel frowned. She didn't look angry, just...worried.

"Fine." I reached out; she grabbed my hand and lead me across the spikes, which retracted before her as she walked what must have been the correct path.

"Puzzles seem a little too dangerous for now," Toriel said once we had reached the other side. She kept walking.

I slid my hand out from hers and followed. "I think I would have been fine."

"You probably would have, my child...but we had best not risk it. I must admit, you have done excellently thus far. That said...I have a difficult request to ask of you."

She paused.

I sighed. "What is it."

"My child, I would like you to walk to the end of this by yourself."

It's more of a hallway than a room. "Oh no," I said as sarcastically as possible.

"I understand your distress...please forgive me for this." Toriel hurried away.

I turned away from the other end of the room, and walked back to the spikes. "Is this what you wanted?" I shouted. "To belittle me? Make me feel like some helpless, worthless child? Do you think that's funny? That's fucking pathetic of you! Why not just send me back to the school, have everyone beating me up again? Maybe then it'll have some impact because it makes fucking sense!" I took a few deep breaths, then turned back. I'm glad I got that out of my system.

When I got to the end of the corridor, Toriel came out from behind a marble pillar randomly put off to one side.

"Greetings, my child."

I sighed. "Hello again, Toriel."

"...I am sorry I caused such distress for you, earlier."

Oh. She heard that. "I wasn't talking to you, I—"

"I understand. We monsters understand the concept of religion, even if we do not practice it."

She thinks I was talking to God. That's...actually pretty funny.

"I know you know I meant no harm. My child, what is troubling you?"

"...How much do you know about humans?"

"More than most monsters," Toriel said. "I fear, less than I would like."

"I'm not a child. I'm sixteen, not six, and...well, I haven't had a normal life. Having you hold my hand like that through the puzzles—literally—felt insulting, and acting like me being alone would be some kind of great challenge..."

Toriel stood forward and placed a hand on my back. When I didn't pull away, she put her other arm around me and hugged me close. "I meant no insult, my—Taylor. I merely wanted to keep you safe. Perhaps...perhaps I have treated you as an equal. You are the oldest human I have had to deal with, I hope you understand."

I'm the oldest she's dealt with? Okay, that's not creepy at all...

Toriel let go. "This exercise was intended as a test of your independence...but it was needless, was it not? No, I should have seen. You are an independent young woman...you probably could have found your way to my home by yourself."

"...I was blind," I said. "Thanks for healing me. And I at least would have had trouble with Flowey if you hadn't stepped in."

"Flowey?" Toriel asked. "The flower?"

I chuckled. "Yeah, that's him. I think he might have killed me. Thanks for saving me."

Toriel nodded. I could tell she was relieved. "It was no trouble at all. But I warn you—there are worse things than that in the Ruins. It would be dangerous to explore by yourself. I must attend to some business, and you must stay alone for a while. Please, remain here."

"...Alright." I can already see this going horribly wrong.

"I have an idea," Toriel said. She hadn't paused to think; I wasn't Lisa, but it was clear to me that she had her idea before I shouted at Noelle, probably before I even landed in those flowers. "I will give you a cell phone. If you have a need for anything—"

"—call you?" I asked. "Okay. What's your phone number?"

Toriel handed me a cell phone. "It is already programmed in. Be good, alright?"

"Of course. I'll see you later?"

Toriel nodded. "Goodbye, Taylor." And with that, she walked away.

I leaned against the pillar and counted the bugs I had at hand. One hundred sixty-two flies, gnats, and the like, sixty-five beetles, twenty-one spiders. I sensed fifty-seven more usable insects, and at the edge of my range, a large nest of spiders. A lot of spiders, for so little prey. I wonder what they're eating...right, there are talking flowers.

The spiders disturbed me. There were well over a hundred normal spiders, but they weren't alone. There were a couple dozen more-or-less normal-seeming spiders, perhaps a bit larger than normal and showing more intelligence than normal spiders should, which I couldn't control. There were a few creatures that looked like pastries crossed with spiders, which was worse, but far from the worst. There were thirteen spiders which I could control...which I felt weird controlling. Are these spiders self-aware? Itried to suppress my power, stop it from controlling the intelligent spiders, but...That is creepy as hell. Which is another tick in the Noelle box, I guess.

Let's run down the possibilities, I thought to myself. Possibility one, Noelle recaptured me and is torturing me. Possibility two, I never got rescued and everything from when I thought I felt Weld grab me has been an illusion. Possibility three, I somehow got transported to a magical world where flowers talk, spiders think, and puzzles a five-year-old could solve are considered security. Or puzzles including spikes are considered fun passtimes, it doesn't matter. I'm guessing Noelle. I mean, she didn't take well to my attempts to resist earlier, but any hypothesis which includes talking flowers is a last-ditch resort. I shouldn't discount it, but I won't believe it until everything else is disproved.

So. If it's Noelle, then the most obvious thing to do is probably what she wants, and hence probably the wrong one...unless she expects me to come to that conclusion, in which case I should do the obvious thing...unless she suspects that, which means I wish Lisa was here. Okay, new idea. What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I stay, or if I go?

If I stay, I could get attacked by Flowey, reinforcing how alone I am, or Toriel could get attacked, something something I don't help people enough.

If I go, I could run into something dangerous. For what end? Learning to respect authority? I don't see Noelle trying something from that angle.

Sounds like I'm going.