Palette held the door open, and three little Zorua scurried into the studio. She stepped inside as well, lit a gas lamp, and looked around. The place was completely spotless; three of the four easels shone blankly in the moonlight, and the fourth was covered by a blanket. The kitchen floor looked recently mopped, and there were no dirty dishes in sight. No Pal, either, which was odd for this time of night. The artist seldom left the studio at all, really, except sometimes for food, supplies, or ideas.
“Er...” Palette said to her new charges, who were taking in the vista with more than a little bit of wonder, “I was going to introduce you to Pal, but it looks like he is not here at the moment. Would you like me to get you something to eat?”
Charcoal, Hatch, and Tohne nodded fervently.
“Well, then, I shall have to fix something up for you. I should not be very long, but try not to make too much of a mess in the meantime, alright? It looks as though Pal just got finished cleaning,” she frowned briefly before hurrying off to the kitchen.
As soon as she left, Hatch stretched himself out on the floor with his legs splayed. “Yeah, I gotta admit,” he said, “this is probably a pretty nice place to live. I can’t wait till it’s ours.”
“Hatch!” Charcoal scolded. “Don’t say things like that! Palace or whatever’s been real nice to us so far, so we oughtta try and be nice back. Maybe. ‘Sides, we’re only staying in this village till Momma comes home.”
Hatch gave an exaggerated sigh, but didn’t drive the point any further. Tohne was busy exploring the many, many rows of paints on the shelves.
“Hey,” he said, “did you know that if you mix two colors, sometimes you can get a new one?”
Hatch looked up.
“No,” he said, “that’s not how it works. Colors are colors, you can’t just... mix them like that. Stop being so dumb.” To demonstrate, he made a little rainbow in between two paws.
“Yeah you can!” said Tohne. “But it only works with paints ‘n stuff. Like, blue and yellow make green, and maybe you can make some more colors with blue and red and yellow and red too? I dunno, I didn’t ask.”
“Alright,” said Charcoal, “I mean, that’s all well and good, but what’s the point? You can just make an illusion with any color you like. Why would you even mess around with that garbage?”
Tohne was about to retort, but Hatch cut in before he could.
“Hey, y’know, I actually think that’s pretty interesting. Other creatures gotta learn to deal with all those colors and stuff too, right? So it’s a good thing they managed to figure out how.” The oldest of Shade’s children stood up and sauntered over to the wooden shelves covered in huge buckets and medium-sized bottles of acrylics, as well as smaller tubes of oil paints, and stared up at them deviously. “But if mixing two colors makes another one, what happens if you mix three, or four?”
“Well,” said Tohne carefully, “I guess you’d probably get another sort of color. But I don’t see why-”
“But you don’t know, right?” Hatch pressed. “Aren’t you even a little bit curious, Tiny?” Tohne didn’t say anything, but Hatch wasn’t waiting for an answer. “What d’you say? Blue, red, and yellow, right? These ones should work.” He scanned the shelves and found a bottle of blue acrylic paint, a bottle of red, and a bottle of yellow. He jumped up and knocked them down one by one, felling a few extra bottles in the process, some of which popped open and started oozing their colorful contents where they lay.
“Oy, Charcoal, help me get these caps open!” She was only too happy to oblige, and before they knew it, the three primary colors formed three distinct blobs of bright color in the center of the studio.
“Now we gotta find some way to mix it up,” said Charcoal.
“Well, that’s no problem at all,” Hatch beamed, and he ran to grab a rather large brush from across the room. He thrashed about with it firmly in his jaws until the thick paints were not only thoroughly mixed, but scattered all over the room.
However, the mixture hadn’t formed some new type of color, or even an existing color. Instead, the whole mess just made a large brown-black sludge across the white floor. Still, one does not embark on scientific inquiry unprepared for failure!
At that very moment, Palette walked back into the main room of the studio to let the children know that their noodles and broth was ready.
“Tohne? Charcoal? Hatch? I– Oh. Oh no...” She stood transfixed at the destruction.
If Palette had read more stories concerning matters of the heart, she would have been fully prepared for what came next. She might even have expected it a bit sooner. But since she had not, she was taken completely by surprise when the door of the studio creaked open and Pal stepped inside.
Pal looked like he had run afoul of a herd of Bouffalant and then scrubbed the ground in their wake: ragged and tired, lugging some sort of cardboard box that was just a bit bigger than his head. He set the box down gently by the door, stared at the two Zorua standing next to the unappetizing broth of expensive paint, and took in the third Zorua hiding in a dark corner. Then, he turned to Palette.
“What is this, exactly?”
Palette looked around too, and tried to think of a good explanation. What would he assume, looking at all this? She thought of something particularly horrible, horrible enough that it had to be acknowledged.
“They are... not mine.”
“Of course they are not yours!” Pal snapped, impatiently. “I would hope that if anything so momentous happened, you would at least tell me about it a week in advance! Speaking of which, when were you planning to say that we were adopting, exactly?”
“I’m not-” said Palette. “Look. These children... I think they belong to her
. You know... the one you saved me from, a long time ago.”
Pal was taken aback for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. Three little minds tried to process the idea that the strange artist from the daycare somehow knew their mother personally, and failed.
“D’accord,” he hissed, “then I will correct myself. You are not only not telling me things that you should really be telling me, you are trying to get yourself killed! Has it not occurred to you that there are p-possibly people other than yourself who care about your s-safety? Because obviously you do not!”
He continued hastily. “And... and how much progress did you make on that mural? Not very much, yes? How do you plan to become a good artist if you will not spend time perfecting your art? If this does keep up you will end up doing bad things just to survive, like you did before I took you in!”
Palette’s pulse was quickening, but the blood wasn’t warming her veins. It was running cold, and spreading the awful coldness through her arms and legs, making them rigid; and through her mind, hardening her heart.
“Well, fine, then,” she said, with a level voice that wouldn’t stop shaking, “I will clean up this mess, and they will leave. And then I will start packing, because if they don’t deserve a home out of pity, then neither do I.”
All of the color left Pal’s face; his eyes glazed over and his knees trembled.
“Merde,” he said, simply, before staggering back out the door and off into the night.
Part 6 of "Inspiration" by