Would That Make You Happy?

Frisk is your child, the result of a teen pregnancy, but they've always been told that you're their older sister. In an effort to get away from your own abusive mother, the two of you end up falling into the Underground, where Sans is startled by this abrupt change in what had become a predictable pattern of events. Maybe your presence is what is needed to stop the endless cycle of Resets.

After many struggles, both internal and external, you and your found family reach the surface, only to face even more difficulties from the society you weren't sure you'd ever see again. You meet new friends and encounter people from your past, though for good or ill, you're not sure. Sometimes it's difficult to tell kindness from cunning.

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198. Magic

“What?” Deacon blurts out, twisting in his seat so he can face Gaster better. He feels like someone just knocked all the sense out of his head, the air out of his lungs. His eyes dart over to Morwenna and the look of shock on her face, stunned into silence. Deacon’s mouth fumbles with his words as he tries to speak. “How did—? How do you—? Just… how.”

“The mages that created the Barrier were killed in the process,” Morwenna says, her words slow and careful, her hands clenched into fists. “There are records, dating back hundreds of years. They were drained of magic and they died, when that happens there’s nothing left of the Souls. How could their Souls be part of some… creature?”

Gaster looks between the two of them, folding his hands in his lap as his brow creases with concern. “I apologize, that was a rather abrupt way of going about this. Please, let me explain what I know of the Anathema and I will do my best to answer your questions.” His eyes flick over to where you’re hovering near the end of the couch, a look of something like weary resignation on your face. Deacon can’t help but wonder if you’ve finally reached the point of just accepting all these developments in stride. He wouldn’t blame you, for someone without any magic of your own to speak of, you sure have had to deal with a lot of it. Gaster catches Deacon’s eye, pulling his attention away from you. “I believe one of your questions was going to be ‘how do you know’. The simple answer is that the Anathema had the occasional moments of lucidity and on rare occasions we… spoke. I would ask it questions and sometimes it would answer. The Anathema is… to be quite honest, as much as I despise it for what it did to me, for killing my lab assistants, I pity it.”

“Why?” you spit, and Deacon is surprised by the sharp, cold look on your face. “Those people were the ones who created the Barrier. They trapped your people in the Underground, don’t they deserve this?”

Gaster looks at you, studying your face with remorse. “I believe the situation is more complicated than that, as things so often are. Morwenna, as you said, the seven mages died when they created the Barrier, but there is a facet to that event that no one could have known about. Drained mage Souls don’t just disappear, they are sent to the Font. I’m not sure why, I think the magic calls them home, but the fact remains that is what happens.

“From what I was able to gather from multiple conversations with the different… personalities so to speak, the mages did not expect the creation of the Barrier to kill them. They were pouring their magic into our cage, together, when they died. And they arrived in the Font together, scared and angry and afraid of what had, and what was going to happen to them. So, instead of their Souls peacefully returning to their source and rejoining the cycle of magic, they resisted. They clung together and rejected the Font and became the Anathema.”

Deacon tries not to think about that too hard. He can’t. He can’t think anymore about ‘why’ or ‘how’, just that it is and he still has more questions. “And they’ve been… forcing other Souls to join them. That’s what they’ve— it has been doing? You said it consumed the Souls it could catch.”

Gaster nods. “I’m not sure what the purpose is, what’s left of the seven different Souls each seem to have a differing opinion on how it should behave. It fights with itself quite often. Sometimes it thinks it’s saving the Souls by taking them out of the cycle, others that it is owed the Souls and that it is the master of that place. The second tended to be more vocal about my being an intruder in its domain.”

“What about all those people?” you ask, your voice weak. “All those Souls it absorbed, those were… those were people, weren’t they?”

Deacon feels a twist of dread in the pit of his stomach at the thought of how close he’d come to being one of those Souls. How stupid he’d been as a kid, fucking around with power he wasn’t ready for and shouldn’t have tried to use. You could be talking about him.

“I’m afraid that question is more… theological,” Gaster says, gesturing helplessly and tipping his head to the side. “I’m not sure what happens to the Souls it takes within itself. I’m not even certain if they had any type of consciousness to begin with. As far as I am aware from my time in the Font, the seven Souls at the Anathema’s core are strictly unique.”

Morwenna is shaking her head, reaching up to rub her shoulder as she paces, but if she has any vehement denial of his explanation like she did earlier she keeps it to herself. The past five years have done a number on her perspective of magic, and maybe he’s an ass for thinking it, but maybe she’s getting a bit old to have her worldview so radically shifted. Sometimes he feels too old sometimes. Or just too sick of all these damn surprises.

“But I suspect that the Anathema is the reason for your declining magic,” Gaster continues. Part of Deacon wishes he would just stop. Hasn’t he given them enough to try and take in? Why does he need to add more to the broken pile of what they thought they understood? “Human magic, that is. There are fewer of you, and your magic is significantly weaker than your predecessors. The idea that the Anathema has disrupted the natural order enough to affect mages on such a scale… it doesn’t seem too far outside what could be considered possible.”

“I don’t even know where that line even falls anymore,” Morwenna mutters, turning away and walking over to the loveseat. She drops down onto it heavily. “Fine, so there’s this ancient mage-Soul creature and it’s basically cursed the rest of us to get weaker and weaker. You might as well say it’s punishment for the Barrier. Maybe we deserve it…” She cradles her head in her hands, letting out a long, slow sigh before setting her jaw in a hard line. “But at least this thing is still stuck in the Font.”

The weekend it happened he was fourteen.

Grant was twenty minutes late getting home —he was always on time so this was odd. His stomach was growling and he was about to start rummaging through the kitchen when he heard the garage door open. Heading to ask him what made him so late, Deacon was glad to see him. He was happier when the house wasn’t empty.

Grant swung himself out of his mid-size sedan —an impersonal silver car with no real character— and Deacon spotted the bag of fast food clenched in one hand and the drink carrier in the other. Tucked under his arm was a small stack of books. He smiled as he caught sight of Deacon, jerking his head to beckon him over.

“Come here, help me out, will you?” Grant asked, hip-checking the car door closed.

Deacon did as he was asked, rushing over to his side and reaching for the bag of food. But Grant pulled his hand away.

“No, take the books,” he said, twisting a little. “They’re yours anyway.”

“For me?” Deacon asked, eyes widening in surprise as he reached for the trio of paperbacks. With a quick glance at the spines, he recognized the titles from a fantasy series he’d been meaning to check out from the library. But these weren’t library books, these were brand new.

“Yeah, for you,” Grant said, gesturing him back inside. “Those are the ones you wanted, right? All the titles sound the damn same.”

Grinning, he nodded and smacked the button for the garage door on his way in the house, looking over his shoulder to make sure that Grant didn’t need any more help. “What’s the special occasion?”

“We’ve got a two hour drive first thing in the morning down to headquarters,” he said, ‘headquarters’ meaning Morwenna’s house in the foothills of Mt. Ebott. “We’ve got a new recruit, we’re going down to meet him. But, I figured you could use something to read in the car. I still don’t get how you can read those, you know better by now how magic works.” Grant’s teasing was gentle, his exasperated smile was familiar and sort of comforting. He’d been with Grant for just over two years now, and while it had taken some time for them to get used to one another, things lately had been… good.

“They’re fun,” Deacon said, clutching the books to his chest. “They don’t need to be like real life to be good. But, uh, thanks. Dad. You didn’t have to buy them for me.”

There was a brief moment of silence as Grant set dinner down on their small kitchen table, looking up and catching Deacon’s eye. Not for the first time he wondered if he’d done something wrong by calling him Dad, even though he knew he was allowed to. Supposed to, depending on who they were around. It was easier than trying to explain.

“You know you don’t have to call me that when it’s just the two of us, if you don’t want to,” Grant said, breaking eye contact and pulling the drinks out of the cardboard holder. The loud squeak of him forcing the cup free felt unnaturally loud in the bare kitchen.

“I know,” he said, eyes downcast, still worried that he’d upset him.

But Grant just handed him a burger and pointed at his usual chair at the table. “Just making sure. How was school?”

The small talk was easy, sitting with him for dinner was normal, and when they were finished Deacon went to go read in his room. It was how he imagined the other kids at school spending their evenings with their families. Wasn’t this what normal was like? (Aside from the mage stuff, of course.)

But he was excited to go to Morwenna’s, to see the other members of the Literatum. It wasn’t very often that they all got together, and even though Morwenna kind of scared him, he liked knowing that at least in some way, he was a part of something. Even if, if he was being honest with himself, he really wasn’t.

Grant brought him along, let him get to know the other mages, but when they got down to business he was never allowed to participate. He hoped that maybe this time would be different. That maybe now he could at least listen in and learn more. Someone new would be joining their group, so that meant he wouldn’t be the newest anymore. Didn’t that mean something?

The drive down was uneventful, though Deacon had to listen to that awful country music that Grant liked. He thought about asking him if they could listen to something else but he didn’t want to start an argument. He never won them anyway.

They got to Morwenna’s house before noon.

The new guy was in his early twenties, and seemed surprised when he was introduced to Deacon. Like he wasn’t expecting to see a kid there. (He wasn’t a kid, he was a teenager!) He said his name was Howard and he twisted nervously on his shiny wedding ring, casting anxious glances around the room. The adults were doing their best to make him feel welcome. To Deacon it seemed like they were trying to make sure Howard didn’t think they were some kind of creepy cult. As he listened to them talk he overheard Howard mention that his wife was pregnant.

But once the introductions were over Grant told him to go read in Morwenna’s guest room, making it clear that he wasn’t going to be allowed to join them yet again. That was the real reason for the new books, to keep him distracted. For a moment he almost told him no, tried to insist that he should be allowed to stay. After all, Vanessa was allowed to stay and she was only sixteen. She’d been involved with Literatum business, and using her magic since before Grant took him in two years ago, when she was the age he was now. And he wasn’t allowed to do either. It just didn’t seem fair!

They just hadn’t bothered to tell him the reason why. Why Vanessa had already been able to use her magic even before he’d been adopted, about Avery and the life she’d been forced to live before she’d been rescued. That her magic had been forced out of her before she was ready. All he knew was that he was jealous and that he wanted to be the mage they all insisted he was.

So maybe he needed to take that next step on his own. Maybe they were waiting on him to show them he was ready. He was so desperate to be included, to show these people —show Grant— that he was worth their time and attention. He wanted, needed, to be more than just the orphan they picked out of the system. And he just couldn’t wait anymore.

Angry and frustrated and with a fierce need to prove himself, Deacon sat on the guest bed in Morwenna’s spare room and focused inward on that hard ball of energy that was supposed to be his magic. The thing that made him different and special, like so many heroes out of so many stories. He reached for it, grasping at it, and he felt the moment that it shattered. It was like a dam breaking, power flowing through him and so easy to reach now. He didn’t even need to think, to guess how to tap into it. It was just there, waiting for him to use it.

So he did.

Brilliant, bright green light filled the space around him, covered his hands so densely he could barely see them, and he was so in awe of all of this green (they’d said he was green, but this was the first time he’d ever known they were right) magic that he barely noticed the light-headedness creeping behind his eyes. He grinned, ecstatic in his discovery and giddy with the rush of power deep in the place he suspected was his Soul. There wasn’t any form to the magic, it was just there, free and open and flowing out of him. This was his, and none of the other Literatum had that same color. He was the only one, he was special.

Shields and healing. That’s what they said he’d be able to do. Blinking hard, unsure if the burring of his vision was just some trick of the light from all that magic or had something to do with that woozy feeling he was choosing to ignore, Deacon held up his hands and thought of something solid. A disc, like a medieval buckler, coalesced in the space in front of him, drawn together from his magic.

He had just enough time to see that he’d managed to do it before his head swam and something in his chest gave a nasty lurch and darkness swallowed him up.

When he woke up Morwenna was sitting beside his bed. Her face was drawn with worry, her hands clasped under her chin as she idly tugged at the ends of her jaw-length orange hair. Deacon winced, letting out a low groan, and she sat up straighter as relief flooded her expression.

“Deacon, oh thank god,” she breathed, resting a hand on his chest as he tried to sit up. “No, no don’t move. You’re too weak, you… Deacon why did you do that?”

He didn’t answer. Whatever satisfaction he had felt at using his magic for the first time was swept away by his intense feeling of shame. He’d never seen Morwenna look so haunted, and he knew that he’d screwed up. They’d told him to wait and he hadn’t listened.

“Am I…?” Deacon swallowed past the lump in his throat, blinking as his eyes started to burn with embarrassed tears. “Am I okay? What happened?”

“You almost got yourself killed is what happened,” she said sharply, her jaw clenched tight. “You can’t just— What you did was dangerous! There’s a reason you were told not to try anything like this on your own, if you had…” Morwenna trailed off, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Things are going to have to change.”

That scared him. What things? Why would they have to change? The way she said it, it couldn’t be anything good, could it? He bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from letting out a soft, pathetic sound.

Deacon looked away from her, searching for someone who wasn’t there. “Where’s Grant?” he asked timidly.

Morwenna’s face fell, and he had no idea what that could mean. Sighing, she stood and pushed the chair away from the side of the bed, tucking it into the corner before heading for the door. “I’ll go get him,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear before vanishing out of sight.

He was alone long enough for the dread to creep into every inch of him, for his hands to start shaking as panic made his heart hammer in his ears. Would they get rid of him? Was he just not good enough for them to keep around? Was his magic too weak to be worth their time?

By the time that Grant appeared in the doorway, he was convinced that the last two years had been some kind of fluke, that the Literatum would realize their mistake and send him away. Just like everyone else.

There was a brief, fleeting moment where Grant just stared at him, his brow knit together with concern and he opened his mouth to say something. But then he grit his teeth, his expression hardened, and he took three long strides across the room to stand looming over where Deacon lay. “What you did was incredibly foolish,” Grant said, his voice cold. “Do you have any idea how close you were to killing yourself with that reckless stunt?”

Morwenna’s worried anger was easier to handle than this. He’d rather have her back, yelling at him instead of Grant’s distant disapproval. Deacon cringed, staring down at the bedspread, twisting shaking fingers into the hem of his shirt.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, the words wavering as he forced them out of his throat.

“Being sorry doesn’t change what just happened. You were told not to do exactly this. You—” Grant cut himself off, shaking his head and looking to the ceiling as if for guidance. “I thought you were smarter than this, Deacon.”

Deacon’s whole body tensed, his vision blurred, fear twisting his stomach so roughly he thought he might throw up. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,” he blurted out, not even sure that he really understood what he was saying. That it even made any sense. He’d already opened those floodgates, he’d already done it. “Please, Dad—”

Grant’s expression went steely, fixing him with a hard look. “Don’t call me that,” he said, clenching his hands into fists. “I’m not your father.”

He should have known this would happen eventually. The rejection cut deep, the immediate dismissal felt like a slap across the face and Grant didn’t even look like he cared. But Deacon felt like he’d been tricked. Like he’d spent the past two years with someone he thought cared about him, at least a little, and now...

Morwenna was right; things did change.

   
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