CHAPTER TWENTY: Spider Dance
There was another gray monster there to greet me when I got out of the L3 elevator, a humanoid creature about my height with large round eyes that stared blankly ahead. I went up to the monster, and it spoke without turning to acknowledge me, that vacant expression still on its face. "It makes sense why Asgore took so long to hire a new Royal Scientist. After all, the old one...Dr. Gaster. What an act to follow! They say he created the Core. However, his life...was cut short. One day, he fell into his creation, and..." The monster paused before finishing with "Will Alphys end up the same way?"
I shuddered as I walked by, but the monster still didn't look at me. When I reached the doorway to the next room, I turned around, and just as I predicted, the monster was gone. I tried to put those words out of my head, but that last sentence kept echoing in my mind and making my stomach turn. Poor Dr. Gaster, to hold such a prestigious position in the king's court, to be so smart and so beloved, only for his hard work to blow up in his face and be...what was it the other monster said? Shattered across time and space? Perhaps that was a little overdramatic, but whatever happened must have hurt if there was nothing left of him now but pieces. I'd read stories about mad scientists who were killed by their own creations, so the fact that it would happen down here was no surprise, but it was still a fate I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Even if Alphys was hiding something from me, I would hardly call her a mad scientist. Secretive, yes, and maybe a little dishonest, but not malicious. I needed to believe that.
A smell wafted through the doorway as I approached the next room, and it didn't take me long to find the source. Right at the point where the path widened, a table was set up with a red and white checkered tablecloth and a delicious-looking spread of baked goods. On one end was a plate of croissants, baked to a golden crisp, and on the other end was a plate of frosted donuts, with little flecks that looked like blueberries or chocolate chips. I went up to the table and picked up a croissant, which reminded me of a powerful bracelet I had seen in a video game, and I was just about to put it on my wrist when a voice caught my attention. With a nervous jolt, I set the pastry down and turned to face the monster on the other side of the table. She looked very much like a spider, with a pale purple complexion and five dark eyes arranged in arch across the top of her face, and the webs adorning the walls behind her confirmed this. She only stood on two of her legs as she maintained her post; the other six were more like arms. The red romper and ribbons she wore, and the way her black hair was done up in pigtails, reminded me of the dolls that some of the girls at the orphanage were lucky to receive for Christmas. When she spoke, her high-pitched voice was sickeningly sweet, as if she wanted to give people walking by a taste of her pastry before they bought any.
"Welcome to our parlor, dearie," she greeted me in a sing-song tone. "Interested in some spider pastries? All proceeds go to real spiders." I didn't say anything in response, just looked more closely at the donuts on the table. Upon closer inspection, they looked more rubbery than the one I bought in the Ruins, but I couldn't figure out what made the difference. "Check out the webs to make a purchase," the spider woman sang, pointing to the right of the table.
When I looked where she was pointing, I saw a smaller web and a larger one, just like the ones I saw in the Ruins. In between the table and the webs, a sign was posted that read "Spider Bake Sale" followed by "All proceeds go to real spiders." [That donut I had was pretty good,] I remembered, [and I don't know when I'll be eating again. It wouldn't hurt to take a look.] I was just about to go up to the webs when I heard someone hyperventilating, and when I looked to the other side of the path, I saw a green monster in a yellow suit hunched over, staring at one of his hands and holding his head with the other. I rushed over to him, my own hands out and ready to support him if he toppled over.
"I...I...I ended up buying a donut," he said, not looking at me. "I...I...I didn't want to, but that girl...even though I told her no, she...kept staring at me in this creepy way and licking her lips. N...now I'm out of cash."
"Oh...I'm sorry to hear that," I muttered, lowering my hands. I looked back at the spider woman, whose eyes were all pinned on me, and a chill ran up my spine as I turned back to the man with the donut. "Who is she?" I asked him.
"That's Muffet," he answered. "If she invites you to her parlor, excuse yourself."
"Got it." I turned my attention back to the webs and approached the smaller one, where a spider was holding up a donut. But before I could reach out and take it, my eyes nearly bulged out of my head when I saw the price tag. [9,999 G?!] I thought. [Are they serious?! There's no way I can afford that!] I hurried past that web and looked at the large one, where a spider was holding a jug of spider cider. But a cup of that also came with a price tag of 9,999 G, so I pulled my eyes away and hurried along, desperately hoping that Miss Muffet wouldn't be offended.
The next room greeted me with another network of steam puzzles, larger than the last one I had to navigate, as well as another phone call from Alphys. "Hi, Alphys here!" she started, and I was tempted to tell her that was no longer necessary; I recognized her voice well enough and she had already called me so much that I'd be surprised if it were anyone else. But I was still too afraid of being rude to say anything like that. "This room is like the room we saw before. There are two puzzles to the north and south... You'll have to solve them both to proceed!" There was a pause, and I was just about to hang up when she added "A-also...I'd like to say! I don't really...like giving away puzzle solutions. But if you need help, just call me, OK?" She cut herself off right at the end of that sentence. "Actually, wait, I have an idea! Let's be friends on UnderNet! Then you can just ping me when you need help!" I was about to point out that she added me as her friend on that network before I left the lab, but she caught herself before I could say it. "Wait, we're already friends, aren't we? I signed you up, didn't I? You've been reading my posts the whole time..." I could practically hear her sweating. "Well! I hope! You agree with me! About Mew Mew 2!" Then she hung up, and I sighed as I put the phone away. All my life, I thought I was the most awkward living being on Earth, and now here was someone who could give me a run for my money. If for nothing else, I loved Alphys for that, and as annoying as her status updates were, I hoped she would never change.
After carefully analyzing the network of steam vents before me, I decided to make my way north first, but there was no straightforward path that would take me there. I mapped a route in my head and double checked it with my finger before riding the steam vent on the floor in front of me to the first island. From there, I rode the steam vent to the left, then right, right, straight, left, left, right, left, straight, left, and one more right turn brought me to the mainland in the north. When I entered the room, I saw more red gears turning on the walls, as well as a red and purple doorway like the ones I had seen on the lower floors, with a black arrow above it. This gave me a reassuring hint as to what I would have to do, and when I went inside, I was happy to see a familiar puzzle. That is, until I read the sign on the far-right end of the wall that read "Shoot the opposing ship! You have just one shot." I took my place at the controller and tried to move the one black box out of the way, but no matter how I shifted the boxes around, there was always at least one blocking the way. Still, I knew there was no other way to get around the locked door outside, so I stayed determined and kept at it until I separated two blocks from the other four and cleared a path for my one shot. The bullet cracked the gray ship in half, and I was met with the blue "Congratulations!" at the top of the screen. I did a little dance as I left the room and almost missed the two monsters who were now standing on either side of the doorway. They both had diamond-shaped faced with no distinct features; the shorter one was pink and black, wearing a pink T-shirt, blue jeans, and a red baseball cap, and the taller one was green and black, wearing an outfit that looked a lot like my own. I approached the pink one first.
"My fave Mettaton Moment (TM)?" he said, and I wondered what he meant by that. "Right when everything looks the baddest, he poses dramatically. Like when he's on a cooking show and the eggs don't turn out right." [Of course he does,] I thought as I crossed over to where the taller monster was standing. [Everything is drama with him.]
"My fave Mettaton Moment (TM) is when he beats up the heel-turning villains!" said the monster. "Even if it's during what's supposed to be a quiz show." [Is there anyone in this place who doesn't worship Mettaton?] I wondered as I turned away from them. I understood that everyone was entitled to their own favorites, but it still hurt to hear all these people speak so highly of someone who was trying to kill me. At least with Undyne, MK and Papyrus were the only ones singing her praises. And maybe one day I would make friends with Mettaton the way I did with Undyne, but from where I stood, that was still a long way off.
With sweat running down my face from the heat of the room and the stress of these puzzles, I retraced my steps to the steam vents and mapped out a route to the southern end of the room. Riding the steam vent to the first island, I went straight, straight, left, left, left, straight, left, straight, left, straight, right, right, and the last left turn brought me to the mainland in the south. Just when I thought I couldn't be any dizzier, my eyes spun when I walked into the next room and saw conveyor belts running in a loop over the void. The one to my left was moving towards me, so I would have to take the one in front of me. They were all wide enough that I wouldn't fall as long as I stayed in the middle, and the first stretch was short enough, but the next one had blue laser beams running across it, moving back and forth. [Great,] I thought. [I can't stop moving once I'm on there.] But once again, there was no other way to progress, so I took a deep breath, waited until I was confident in my balance, and hopped onto the conveyor belt, keeping my eyes pinned on the laser beams. The first one came at my face, and I ducked at just the right moment to avoid taking a hit. There was a little breathing room between the first and second lasers, which made ducking it a little bit easier, and while there was less space between the second and third lasers, I still managed to dodge them and was in the clear once I reached the turn in the track. I had just gotten off the conveyor belt and turned right towards the red and purple doorway when my phone rang.
"Hey!" said Alphys when I picked up. "This, um, doesn't have anything to do with guiding you...but..." There was a short pause. "Uh, hey, would you want to watch a human TV show together? Sometime? It's called, um, M...Mew Mew Kissy Cutie..."
"Sure!" I answered with a smile I hoped she could hear.
"R-really?!" she exclaimed. "It's so good! It's, um, my favorite show!" Her sentences all ran into each other as she went on. "It's all about this human girl named Mew Mew who has cat ears! Which humans don't have! S-so she's all sensitive about them! But like... Eventually! She realizes that her ears don't matter! That her friends like her despite the ears! It's really moving! Whoops, spoilers. Also, this sounds weird, but she has the power! To control the minds of anyone she kisses! She kisses people and controls them to fix her problems! They don't remember anything after the kiss I mean!" By this point, she was hollering at the top of her lungs. "But if she misses the kiss! Then!" She brought her voice back down. "Then, uh, and, uh, also I mean, of course... Eventually, she realizes that controlling people-" Then she started shouting again. "Okay! Well! I almost spoiled the whole show, but..." I tried not to laugh as she composed herself. "Uh, I think you'd really like it! We should watch it! After you get through all this!"
I let out a giggle after Alphys hung up, and I would've liked the chance to tell her I'd be looking forward to it, mostly because the chance to hang out with a friend was such an enticing reward, no matter what we would be doing. Still, based on her description, it did sound like a show I would enjoy. I'd never heard of any show called "Mew Mew Kissy Cutie" before; maybe it wasn't very popular, or maybe it was just on the list of forbidden media that the nuns were ever adding on to. For the most part, the only things we were allowed to watch were G-rated movies and educational children's shows, with some science or history programs added in for the older kids. But if this was an anime from Alphys' collection, I was sure I would like it. At least now I had a better idea of what she was talking about on UnderNet.
The doorway was all the way to the right of the mainland, leading north into the puzzle room. I was not surprised at all to see a gray ship staring down at me on the giant screen, with three white boxes in a row in the top left corner, six boxes in a rectangle in the bottom left, and two more spaced out on the right-hand side. A column of four black boxes stood between my yellow ship and the gray one, and once again, I was only given one shot. The challenge was to get two of the black boxes into the spaces on the far right while keeping the other two in the empty row on the left, and after about a minute of shifting them around, I managed to clear a path for my shot. The gray ship was destroyed, the word "Congratulations!" appeared in blue at the top, and I exited the room and walked up to the conveyor belt that would lead me to the exit. But before I stepped onto it, I noticed a potted cactus with yellow blossoms sitting on a platform at the halfway point on the conveyor belt. This time, I wasn't so dizzy that I needed to stay in the middle, so I boarded on the right side and stopped to smell the flowers as I rode by them. The sweet scent lingered in my nose as I exited the room and braced the inner part of my legs for another blast of steam. I never liked wearing dresses before, as they always led people to assume I was a girl, but I was especially grateful not to be wearing one down here.
The nearest steam vent delivered me to the first island, and then I went left, right, right, straight as far as I could go, then left and finally right to land back on the main path, which I followed all the way down and then around the corner to the left. I stopped in front of two large metal doors with round green lights and held still as they parted before me, granting me passage into the next room. I waited until the ground stopped shaking and the doors stopped with a thud before entering, and at the point where the path took a turn to the right, I saw a golden sparkle on the floor. Not paying any mind to the strands of spider web on the walls ahead of me, I ran over and picked up the Saving Star, swapping it out for the one in my pocket, and I noticed the letters "H-SE" engraved on it. The smell of cobwebs filled the air as I tucked the Saving Star into my pocket and marched onward, filled with determination.
As I continued on the path, the dark red carpet changed to bare black floor. I walked through a doorway in a large purple wall and entered into a room where spider webs draped the walls, with some strewn about the floor like bath mats. Purple spiders, large enough to see with the naked eye, hung from threads on the ceiling, and I could feel their multitude of eyes piercing through me as I passed through their territory. The path was so narrow that I was unable to avoid stepping in some of the spider webs, and each one made my shoes stickier and my progress slower, but it was a high-pitched laugh that stopped me in my tracks.
"Ahuhuhuhu..." said an eerily familiar voice. "Did you hear what they just said?" I shook it off and kept walking, but the webs kept sticking to my feet, and the spiders retreated up their threads as I walked by.
"They said a human wearing a striped shirt will come through," the voice spoke up again. [They?] I wondered as I waded through the webs. [Well, I don't know who "they" are, but here I am, so if you could just let me pass by, I won't cause any trouble...]
"I heard that they hate spiders," the voice went on. The entire road was covered in web at this point, and I was forced to trudge through it as the voice continued to taunt me. "I heard that they love to stomp on them." [What?] I wanted to say aloud but was too nervous to speak. [Where did you hear that?] But my mouth was too dry with fear. "I heard that they like to tear their legs off." [Seriously, is there another human in a striped shirt down here? Because you definitely have the wrong kid.] Those descriptions did sound like some people I knew, mostly boys at the orphanage who would pull the legs and wings off of any bug they could get their hands on. Not so much the girls; they would just run away screaming from little things like that. But as strange as it may sound, I loved spiders; they were some of my favorite companions in the schoolyard. When the weather was nice enough for them to come out, I would watch them spin their pretty webs and play with their food before eating it, and I even kept the ones in the closet safe from Sister Chang. Just one of many reasons why people stayed away from me.
I tried to stay calm, thinking about all the spiders I rescued and named over the years, but I was smack dab in the middle of the great web when my feet became so tangled up that I couldn't move another inch. The high-pitched voice laughed again, echoing across the room, and I turned in all directions looking for the source. But the more I spun around, the more ensnared I became, until I was wrapped up to my neck in spider web.
"I heard..." the voice sounded, and as I was stuck facing the left wall, the speaker revealed herself, sitting on another web just above me. My stomach moved more than the rest of me as I gazed upon the spider woman from the bake sale, her tone even more sickeningly sweet now. I shook so hard that for a second I thought I would break free, but I was fixed in place as Muffet finished her sentence. "...that they're awfully stingy with their money." Four spiders hung down from the ceiling, two on each side of Muffet's webby throne, and two more blocked the path behind me, with two more ahead of me. There was nowhere for me to run, even if I could, and a shiver went down my spine as Muffet laughed her high-pitched cackle again.
"Ahuhuhuhu..." she taunted, her six arms holding her up as she sat. "You think your taste is too refined for our pastries, don't you, dearie? Ahuhuhu...I disagree with that notion. I think your taste...is exactly what this next batch needs!"
She raised one hand to her mouth as she chuckled, and my chest grew even tense, for now she had taken hold of my soul. I struggled to escape the web, but my efforts were futile, and Muffet covered her mouth and giggled before pulling two teacups and two teapots from some unknown location and holding them in her four upper hands.
"Don't look so blue, my dearie..." Muffet said in her sing-song voice as she tipped the teapots upside down and a purple liquid came pouring out onto the web. I held my breath, preparing to be submerged, but when it washed away, the web had reconfigured itself around me so that my whole body was no longer wrapped up in it. Now only my backside was stuck to it, though it was still so sticky that I couldn't pull myself away. "I think purple is a better look on you!" Muffet added with another sickeningly sweet laugh. [What kind of magic is this?!] I thought as I looked down at my chest and saw that the web and my soul were now glowing purple. And maybe it was an effect of the magic, but I thought I could hear a rhythmic melody in a minor key playing from some corner of the room.
"Why so pale?" Muffet teased. "You should be proud." I looked up and down and clung to the web as large white spiders crawled in pairs along the threads. They were easy enough to avoid when they passed above and below me, but then two more came right at me, and I gave a little shriek as I pulled on the strings and hoisted myself up onto the next line. I would have been more relieved to discover this ability if I didn't immediately have to avoid another scurrying pair of spiders, and I lowered myself back onto the middle line just as quickly to get out of their path. Once the spiders had cleared the web, I noticed the little spider standing next to Muffet, holding up a sign with a white spider on it. [You were there when we started, too,] I recalled. [Are you trying to tell me what's coming next?] Muffet kept her five eyes locked onto me, looking ready to sink her fangs into me, but between my newfound ability to move up and down the web and this little rebellious spider watching my back, I was confident that I could stay alive long enough for her to give up.
"Proud that you're going to make a delicious cake..." Muffet laughed and clapped her hands as I continued to struggle in vain, and all the spiders clapped along to the music. The air smelled of cobwebs and freshly baked goods, but I was far too frightened to be hungry, since there were more spiders crawling along the web, one at a time and more rapidly than before. It took all my strength to move my body up and down and side to side in this narrow playing field, but somehow, I managed to avoid being touched. The spider next to Muffet was holding up a sign with two white spiders on it now.
"Please let me go!" I panted. "I don't want to hurt you!"
"Let you go?" Muffet replied, amused at my struggling. "Don't be silly..." As the music played on, Muffet did a synchronized dance with the other spiders; that is, the ones that weren't running towards me on the web. They came on even faster now and were arranged in such ways that they kept blocking off multiple strands of the web, and I had to move myself up and down multiple lines to avoid being bitten. When I finally had room to breathe again, I looked over at Muffet's right-hand spider and saw a spider with a donut on the sign.
"Your soul is going to make every spider very happy..." Muffet sang, signaling another cluster of spiders to come charging at me from both sides. I moved myself up and down to dodge their scurrying feet, and just when I thought I was in the clear, they stood off to the sides and started throwing donuts at me. They bounced around the web like air hockey pucks on a table and were even harder to dodge, since they didn't adhere to the lines of the web. I tried to catch one in the hopes that eating it would give me strength, but the impact hurt my hand so much that I dropped it. When the donuts ran out, I looked over at the right-hand spider and saw that it was holding up a picture of something that looked like a cupcake.
"Oh, how rude of me!" Muffet exclaimed. "I almost forgot to introduce you to my pet..." I struggled some more, but she didn't even notice. "It's breakfast time, isn't it? Have fun, you two..."
The web shook slightly as more white spiders came towards me from the right. They moved in a more orderly fashion this time, alternating between one in the middle and two on either level above and below me. I expected the shaking to stop once all the spiders had gone by, but instead it vibrated even more, and I let out a scream when I turned and saw what was causing it. A pasty, hulking creature with two giant black eyes and a body shaped like a cupcake opened its drooling mouth to reveal a set of sharp teeth so large, they might as well have been stalactites and stalagmites made of dough. The hideous cupcake crawled around on four spider-like legs until it was right underneath me, and I scrambled up the web as it snapped its jaw open and shut. Spiders were crawling down towards me in droves, and I skirted around them as best I could, but I was so focused on getting away from Muffet's pet that I let some of them crawl over me, and it hurt about as much as I expected, given their size. At last the pet grew tired and retreated, and Muffet's right-hand spider returned with a picture of a spider and a donut.
"The person who warned us about you..." Muffet started but was cut off by a clutter of spiders rushing along the web and another throwing donuts at me from all sides. The projectiles were impossible to dodge when I was trying to avoid the spiders and vice versa, and by the time they were done, I was sore all over. [Why didn't I think to put the apron back on?] I asked myself. I tried to reach into my bag in search of something I could eat to restore my strength, but under the influence of the strange purple web, I couldn't bring my arm around far enough. By this point, I stopped looking to the right-hand spider after each wave and just braced myself for whatever they could throw at me.
"Offered us a lot of money for your soul," Muffet finished. [Money?] I thought. [Hmm... there's an idea...] I didn't have much time to think before another mob of spiders came charging at me, going at what felt like top speed. They had become impossible to keep track of, but their movements were somewhat predictable since they were also confined to the web, so I managed to avoid them this time. [Perhaps if I give her some gold, she'll stop attacking me,] I thought. I tried again to reach into my bag, to no avail. My hands could reach into my pockets, but there was nothing in there except the Saving Star, and I certainly couldn't offer her that.
"They had such a sweet smile," Muffet sang, "and...ahuhu..." More donuts were flung at me, and more spiders raced towards me, but the web was starting to slow me down and I was growing wearier with every wave. I almost didn't notice the croissant flying towards me until it was right in front of my face, and I tilted my head just in time to avoid the impact. The croissant turned around and flew back like a boomerang, and I looked to the right-hand spider, who was holding up a sign with a croissant on it. [Okay, maybe I should pay more attention to you.]
"It's strange, but I swore I saw them in the shadows..." Muffet mused aloud. "Changing shape?" [Changing shape...] I wondered. [Do I know anyone who can do that?] But before I could think of any possible candidates, the spiders launched a dozen croissant boomerangs at me, and I had to move back and forth between all three of the lines within my reach to dodge them as they flew at me and reversed course. Maybe I had gotten all of the patterns down by now, or maybe it was just a stroke of luck, but I made it through without taking a single hit. However, my relief was short-lived after I saw the right-hand spider hold up the picture of the cupcake again.
"Oh, it's lunch time, isn't it?" Muffet commented. "And I forgot to feed my pet..." As another clutter of spiders came at me from the right, I wasn't sure what was making me sweat harder: the heat, or the thought of facing that hideous cupcake again. Up and down the threads I went, and my sweaty palms would've betrayed me if it weren't for the magic binding me to the web. When the spiders cleared away, Muffet's pet reared its ugly head again and crawled under me, snapping its gooey jaws. I tried not to look down as the spiders rained down on me from the top of the web, and my hands kept slipping as I pulled myself up and from side to side. My vision began to waver in the heat, even after the spiders retreated, and for a second, it looked like Muffet was pouring spiders out of her teapot and into a cup.
"With that money, the spider clans can finally be reunited," Muffet sang, waving her arms up and down in time with the music. Just as the right-hand spider warned me, another cluster of spiders came dashing at me from both directions, faster than I ever thought spiders could move. Though the magic held me on tight, every slip of my hand made me feel like I was going to fall off, which didn't make the fight any easier. The spiders who weren't part of the mob clapped along to the music, and the right-hand spider warned me of a double dose of donuts about to come my way.
"Reunited?" I asked with what little breath I had left.
"You haven't heard?" Muffet replied. "Spiders have been trapped in the Ruins for generations!" [Of course,] I thought, [why didn't I make the connection?] I would have liked to explain that I bought something from those spiders, that I already donated to their cause and there was no reason for her to hold me up. But I was too busy dodging the donuts that were being thrown at me, and I hoisted myself up and lowered myself down as they bounced around the web like pucks on an air hockey table. When the barrage was done, Muffet tidied up the web around me, and the right-hand spider held up a picture of two croissants.
"Even if they go under the door," Muffet explained, returning to her throne, "Snowdin's fatal cold is impassable alone." [If only I had held onto that donut...] But with twice as many croissant boomerangs flying at me as the last time, I had no time for regret. The heat and my exhaustion were getting to me now, and I couldn't get out without taking a boomerang to the knee. I tried reaching into my bag again, hoping there would be something in there that would help me, but it was still out of my grasp. I then tried desperately to reach into my pockets. [Come on, just five or ten coins should be enough...] But my hands couldn't reach there, either. The right-hand spider held up a picture of two spiders.
"But with the money from your soul, we'll be able to rent them a heated limo," Muffet sang, her voice grating on my nerves. [Normal spiders are still alright,] I thought as I shimmied up and down, left and right to avoid the many legs of my attackers, the middle ones moving faster than the ones above and below me. [But I think I'll stay away from magical spiders from here on out.] Though at this point, I was starting to lose hope that I would ever get out of this web. The spiders came in shifts, giving some groups time to rest while the others looked on, which meant I would tire out long before all of them did. Don't give up, I told myself, and even my inner voice was panting now. [Stay determined...] But my heart still dropped a little when the right-hand spider held up a picture of a spider, a donut, and a croissant.
"And with all of the leftovers?" Muffet went on. "We could have a nice vacation... Or even build a spider baseball field..." I tried to think happy thoughts as Muffet and her minions threw everything they had at me, first donuts, then spiders, then croissants, and finally more spiders. The attack was over quickly, so I took a second to laugh at the thought of spiders standing around a tiny baseball diamond, trying to hold a twig-sized bat in their upper legs and balance on their lower ones. However, my reprieve was cut short when I saw the right-hand spider holding up a picture of a cupcake. [Oh no, here we go again...]
"But enough of that..." said Muffet. "It's time for dinner, isn't it? Ahuhuhu..." The spiders came at me again from the right, which was always the easiest part; or at least, it was before, but now they were all coming at me at once. [What, do you all want a bite before the pet gets me?] Some of them did get little nibbles, and I prayed that magic spiders weren't venomous, but I managed to deprive most of them the satisfaction. They cleared the way, and right on cue, Muffet's pet gnashed its long teeth and roared, staring at me with its hollow eyes as it crawled under the web and chomped. The spiders all came back down on me as I clambered up the web, and they took a few more bites on the way past me. I couldn't tell whether it was just the heat, or if magical spiders really did have some poison in their fangs, but I was growing dizzy with every move and the whole room started wavering like the air just above a burning grill. Openings in between the spiders were few and far between, and even after the web was clear, I could feel the hot breath of the hideous cupcake right under a point I was too exhausted to move from.
"You're still alive?" Muffet remarked with a sadistic laugh, blinking one eye at a time. "Ahuhuhu... Oh, my pet... Looks like it's time for dessert..."
The spiders were keeping their distance now, and I knew this was the final attack. My energy was all spent, I couldn't reach for anything that might save me, and Muffet's pet was right on my heels. But just as I was about to go limp and let my brain go somewhere pleasant to ease the pain, the right-hand spider came rushing in, only instead of a sign, it was carrying a piece of paper with lines written on it. I focused all my attention into listening as he spider held the paper up for Muffet to read.
"Huh? A telegram from the spiders in the Ruins?" she observed. Then she took a few seconds to read it, and all of her eyes went wide. "What? They're saying that they saw you, and...you were really passionate about spiders!" [Oh, thank God,] I thought with a silent sigh. [Somebody remembered me.] "Oh my, this has all been a big misunderstanding," Muffet said, not sounding embarrassed at all. "I thought you were someone that hated spiders. The person who asked for that soul... They must have meant a different human in a striped shirt. Sorry for all the trouble...Ahuhuhu...I'll make it up to you. You can come back here any time... And, for no charge at all...I'll wrap you up and let you play with my pet again!" That was enough to snap all the energy back into me, and I stared at her with wide eyes. "Ahuhuhuhuhuhu... Just kidding," she quickly added. "I'll spare you now."
Muffet snapped her fingers, and the strands of the web retracted into the ceiling as if someone was reeling them in. The music stopped, the purple light of my soul went out, and I fell and landed on my feet in the middle of the sticky stretch of road. After being suspended for so long, the web was the only thing keeping me from falling flat on my face.
"Ahuhuhuhu..." Muffet giggled. "That was fun! See you again, dearie!" And with that, she raised a hand to her mouth, closed her eyes, and retreated back into the darkness, her spider web throne disappearing along with her.
Even with the web at my feet, the rest of the path did nothing to slow me down, and I walked as swiftly as I could away from the webs and down the path until another doorway in a purple wall led me out of the room. Though the air was no cooler out here, I stopped to catch my breath, surprised at how quickly I had regained my footing after Muffet released me. [And you all made fun of me for making friends with spiders,] I said to myself in one of those few moments I allowed myself to think of the surface and the people on it. [Well, being nice to spiders just saved my life. If you had come down here, you would've been turned into spider food.] But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't one to criticize. I was only still alive because that telegram arrived in the nick of time, and someone remembered me for once in my life. Kindness was taking me places down here, that was still true, but I had to keep in mind how much I was also depending on luck and the generosity of others for survival. I reached a hand into my bag and felt my cell phone among my belongings, my direct link to nearly everyone I had met along the way. [You're not alone,] I reminded myself. [You haven't been for a while.]
But as nice a thought as that was, there was still one question weighing on my mind: who told Muffet that a human who hated spiders was coming? I sat down by the brick wall and tried to come up with an answer. The most obvious candidate was Mettaton; he'd been trying to kill me since the night before, after all, and sending a giant cluster of greedy spiders after someone was a surefire way to do it. Being a robot, he could easily change shape; I'd already seen him do it with the rocket booster. And being a celebrity, he would have the money to back up his promise. But another name came to mind as I was mulling it over, and with it, a chill that made me hug myself despite the uncomfortable heat. Flowey had impersonated Toriel's voice before when he left that message in the Echo Flower; if he could disguise his voice, who was to say he couldn't change his shape, even just for a minute? And of all the monsters who wanted me dead, he was the only other one who was still hunting me after all this time. Perhaps it was just me being paranoid, but sometimes I would look behind me and see him, for a split second, ducking into a hole and making it look like he was never there. He was never there when I looked again, but there was no denying I saw him. Still, this was not the place to dwell on these things, for whoever tried to sick Muffet and her spiders on me was surely still out here and would be eager to try again. My clothes clung to my body from the sweat, and my muscles ached from being confined to the magical web, so my priority now had to be finding a safe place to rest. And even though danger lurked around every corner in the Underground, every time I reached for my phone, I remembered that there were safe places and safe people I could turn to, and I told myself that I would find even more if I kept going.
As I stood up against the brick wall, I noticed a poster for Mettaton's latest stage performance. "A tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers, kept apart by the tides of fate..." it read. I peeked through the doorway into the next room and saw a dimly lit stage with the curtain already raised. [Looks like it's almost time for the performance,] I thought, knowing I would have to hurry if I didn't want to be caught in the middle of it. Still too tired to run, I speed-walked out onto the stage, but I only made it halfway across before a familiar voice stopped me in my tracks.
"Oh?" Mettaton's voice came from above me, amplified as if by a microphone. "That human..." I looked at the stone palace set up in the center right of the stage, following a trail of ivy up to a balcony at the top, and Mettaton appeared before the audience, standing level with the cardboard moon and stars that hung from the ceiling. He was wearing a sparkly blue dress to cover everything below his interface, with short, puffed sleeves that fit perfectly over his robotic arms. "Could it be...my one true love?"
Orchestral music began to play, and Mettaton lifted his skirt and descended the stairs with all the grace and elegance of a princess. He moved in a slow circle around me, and while it would have been easy enough to get around him, electrical blue barriers blocked both exits off stage, so I decided it was best to stay in place. As the music went on, he held his arms in different dramatic positions and sang in a high, operatic voice that I would never have expected to come from a man. About halfway through the song, pink rose petals rained down from the ceiling and blew across the stage, but still I remained in my spot. The song went like this:
Oh my love... Please run away...
Monster King... Forbids your stay...
Humans must... Live far apart...
Even if... It breaks my heart...
They'll put you... In the dungeon...
It'll suck... And then you'll die a lot...
Really sad... You're gonna die...
Cry cry cry... So sad it's happening.
When the musical number ended, I was expecting some applause; though all the seats I could see were empty, he had to have installed an applause machine somewhere backstage. But instead, we were met with silence, and Mettaton placed a gentle hand on top of my head. "So sad," he said. "So sad that you are going to the dungeon." Then he moved away from me, pulled out a remote control, and held his finger over a large red button. "Well, toodles!"
He pressed the button, and a trap door opened right under my feet. My mouth hung open in a silent scream as I fell down the hole and landed painfully on my feet, somewhere on the first level of Hotland. The island I stood on had only one way off of it, a conveyor belt that wasn't moving, but the other side was so dark that I couldn't see what was there. Mettaton descended after me and hovered over the island with his rocket booster, still wearing his opera dress.
"Oh no!" he exclaimed. "Whatever shall I do? My love has been cast away into the dungeon. A dungeon with a puzzle so dastardly, my paramour will surely perish!" Suddenly, the conveyor belt started moving and the other side lit up, and I could see a much larger version of the colored tile puzzle Papyrus once tried to test me with. Only this time, the tiles were already set with colors, and there was no obvious path across. "O, heavens have mercy! The horrible colored tile maze! Each colored tile has its own sadistic function. For example, a green tile sounds a noise, and then you must fight a monster. Red tiles will..." Mettaton paused, and when he spoke again, his voice shifted to a much less concerned tone. "Actually, wait a second. Didn't we see this puzzle about a hundred rooms ago?" [Wait, how do you know about that?] I thought, but I answered that question as soon as I asked it. [Oh, right. Alphys has been watching me since Snowdin. Of course you would have seen that part.] "That's right. You remember all the rules, don't you?"
"Um, uh, well..." I stammered.
"Great..." Mettaton cut me off. "Then I won't waste your time repeating them!" I shook in my shoes as I tried to remember the rules Papyrus told me all those days ago, but Mettaton interrupted my train of thought. "Oh, and you'd better hurry. Because if you don't get through in thirty seconds..." I looked to the other side of the island where I stood, and a wall of fire rose up just a few feet away from me. "You'll be incinerated by these jets of fire!" Mettaton then launched into a fit of maniacal laughter, only slowing down to resume his dramatic acting. "My poor love! I'm so filled with grief, I can't stop laughing! Good luck, darling!"
The timer on the wall began to count down from thirty, the wall of fire moved slowly towards me, and a much faster version of the song from before played all around in a different key. I rode the conveyor belt to the maze and dashed across the tiles as quickly as I could, remembering the rules as I went along. The first tile was pink, which did nothing, and the green tiles made a noise, but no monsters appeared, and the sound wasn't loud enough to break my concentration. Orange tiles gave off an orange scent that lingered on me as I went on, and purple tiles gave off a lemon scent that overpowered it. In rapid succession, I ran across pink and green, slid on purple, bumped into red, splashed in blue, and was shocked by one or two yellow, over and over in random order along the bottom three rows of the maze. My instincts told me to avoid the top row, except in one place where I couldn't avoid it, and a yellow tile zapped me back down to the bottom row. Mettaton sang along to the music as I raced against the clock, this time showing off his baritone:
Oh my love... Has fallen down...
Now in tears... We all will drown...
Colored tiles... Make them a fool...
If only they... Still knew the rules...
Well that was... A sorry try...
Now let's watch... Them fry
Near the end of the maze, there was just a path of green tiles surrounded by red ones, and just before the timer reached zero, I stepped off the last green tile and onto the carpeted floor. Another wall of fire stood between me and the stairs leading up, but it wasn't moving, and when I looked behind me, I saw that the other one had stopped. Mettaton flew over to where I stood and hovered over me, his interface glowing red. How did I manage to do that? I thought.
"Congratulations!" said Mettaton. "You made it through the puzzle! And now, without further ado, the flames will be deactivated!" He didn't move an inch, but the flames disappeared in an instant. "No! More! Fire! But it's as the phrase goes. 'Out of the fire, and into the frying pan.'" [Uh, I think you have that backwards,] I wanted to say, but Mettaton kept talking. "That's right, darling! Even if you manage to beat the heat...you'll never be able to withstand my hot metal body! Prepare yourself for my..."
Before he could finish, my phone rang, and when I picked up, Alphys' voice came through loud and clear. "Watch out! I'll save you!" she said. "Flames, deactivate!"
"No need for that..." I answered, wondering where she had been for the last half minute.
"Huh?" she said.
"The human finished the puzzle," Mettaton answered for me. "I already turned off the flames. In fact, I was about to fight the human."
"Wh-wh-what?" Alphys exclaimed. "Th-that puzzle? I mean, uh... Great job! We've got him on the ropes now!"
"On the ropes? Ha!" Mettaton interrupted. "I only deactivated the flames knowing that Alphys would have anyway. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. I was going to eradicate you!"
He descended to the floor, and I turned to face him and braced myself as he took hold of my soul. Remembering that his metal body rendered him invulnerable to attack, I knew my options were limited, so I stood tall and yelled "Come on, Mettaton, give up already! You'll never be able to defeat me! Not as long as Dr. Alphys and I work together! Now go home and leave me alone!" But the words bounced off of Mettaton just like anything else I could have thrown at him.
"This is it, darling!" he declared. "Say goodbye!" Suddenly, my phone rang again. "Is that your phone? You'd better answer it!"
"H-hey!" Alphys said the second I picked up, sounding shakier than ever. "Th-this seems bad, but don't worry! Th-there's one last thing I installed on your phone! You see that yellow button? Go to this phone's ACT menu and press it!"
I held the phone away from my ear and saw that the ACT menu was glowing, and when I touched it, a large yellow button appeared on the left side. I pressed the yellow button, and by the power of magic or science, the phone resonated with Mettaton's presence.
"This is it, darling!" Mettaton repeated. "Say goodbye!"
I felt something stirring in my chest, and when I looked down, what I saw made me giddy with excitement. Not only was my soul glowing yellow, but it had turned upside down, and I could feel a new power surging through me.
"Now press Z!" said Alphys.
I pressed the Z button on my keypad, and a string of yellow bullet shot out of my phone and hit Mettaton right under his control dials. Mettaton vibrated with every blow, and while the shots didn't leave any marks on him, he still made sounds of pain after they were finished.
"OOOH! OOOOOOOH!" he shouted. "You've defeated me! How can this be, you were stronger than I thought, etc. Whatever." And with that, he rolled away across the maze, which had not gone gray, and as he faded from view, my soul was released from his grasp.
I was about to head for the stairs, but Alphys immediately called back. "L-looks like you beat him!" she said. "Y-you did a really great job out there."
"All thanks to you," I replied.
"What? Oh no, I mean...you were the one doing everything cool! I just wrote some silly programs for your phone." There was a short pause before Alphys added "Um, h-hey, this might sound strange, but...c-can I tell you something?" She paused again. "B-before I met you, I d-didn't really...I didn't really like myself very much. For a long time, I f-felt like a total screw-up. L-like I couldn't do a-anything w-without...w-without ending up letting everyone down. B-but...guiding you has made me feel...a lot better about myself. So...thanks for letting me help you." In the silence that followed, I hoped that she couldn't see how much I was blushing. "Uh, anyway, we're almost to the Core. It's just past MTT Resort. Come on! Let's finish this!"
We hung up, and between the thrill of my latest guest appearance and Alphys' words, I was ready to cry. Alphys may have been grateful that I was making her feel needed in this world, but she was doing the exact same thing for me. I've met a lot of people in my short years on Earth, and no one had ever told me they were glad to have me in their lives, except Mr. Fox, of course. So to hear from someone I had only known for about a day that I was making some part of their life better...it meant more to me than she would ever know. I wished we hadn't hung up so abruptly, though, because there was something I wanted to ask her about. Thinking back to the time I first saw that colored tile puzzle in Snowdin, Papyrus turned on a machine to activate it, and that machine looked a lot like Mettaton's rectangular body. Perhaps she modeled it after him, or else that's what all her inventions looked like, or maybe it was Mettaton himself buried in the snow. But whatever the case, there was no point in standing around agonizing over it, so I ascended the stairs and kept an eye out for the MTT Resort.