“You used to be bad?” Hatch asked, moments later.
“No,” Palette asserted. “No, we are not doing this right now. We are not going to talk about that
. Instead, I am going to clean up all of this,” she swept a shuddering hand across the dark acrylic devastation, “and the three of you are going to tell me about your nightmares.”
Charcoal fiddled with the fur under her bead, Tohne inspected his left forepaw, and Hatch opened his mouth to speak.
“You are going to do this,” interrupted Pallete, “because I need to know exactly why I just deeply hurt the only one who ever cared for me. Don’t bother arguing,” she said when Tohne drew in a breath, “because I am not going to change my mind. By now, I think you will agree that you owe me this.”
Hatch whistled. “You remind me of Momma.” Charcoal and Palette both shot him a look. Tohne’s fur turned pale.
“Well, er, no... I mean... can we paint them instead? The nightmares?”
Palette stared at him incredulously. “You are expecting me to surrender to you three canvases and our collection of– and Pal’s collection of paints, while the room is still a mess from the last time the three of you touched them.”
“Yes,” Tohne said, “er, but I promise it won’t happen again! Right, Charcoal? Hatch?”
The two of them nodded solemnly.
Palette shook harder. She had to stop herself from reaching out and slapping Tohne right across the face. But instead she wordlessly walked to the back of the studio and fetched tubes of bright watercolors, setting them down before fetching some of the brushes she had used when she was still a Zorua — Pal probably had some irritatingly wise reason for keeping that old garbage around. She picked the three blank canvases up off their easels, placing them gently on relatively clean parts of the floor, and fetched a few cups of water from the kitchen. She left them by the canvases, and then paid her undivided attention to the slick of acrylic disaster splayed across the soft carpet.
By the time the discoloration was only a patch of darker white that she might have been imagining, and the smaller spills by the shelves blended in with the carpet’s many other stains, Shade’s children were putting the finishing touches on their macabre masterpieces.
Tohne had painted his whole canvas impenetrable black, except for a darkened yellow sun with two round eyes, over a spoked crescent moon with its single large eye staring balefully out of the painting.
Charcoal had framed something blue, crowned, and shadowed between two pairs of lines — one straight, one broken. The barely recognizable figure of a Raichu stood fast in front of the shadowed figure, flanked by two... Archen? Ducklett?
Hatch had liberally blotted in greys, blacks, and dark teals around a long white neck and a proud, regal head. But... whatever it was, the darkness around it had enwrapped it with tendrils tapering in ominous hands, covering its mouth and perhaps preventing it from crying out.
All of these nightmares chilled Palette to the bone, but the last made her remember a deeper unnameable fear. She wanted to run, to run far away, and never to return.
“These are,” she managed. “Well, these are certainly nightmares. Um... Tohne?”
“What, erm, I am trying to think of a good way to say this but it is not working, what exactly happens in your dream?”
“Well, it’s kind of... I mean, I’m here, in the village, but nobody else is here. It’s just me, wandering by that statue of the dragon. The fountain,” he said, gesturing straight out the door. “It’s the middle of the day, but then everything’s dark. Not dark like night, it’s like something’s blocking the sun out completely. For some reason, I know it’s the moon, blocking the sun, but it isn’t shining like the one outside.
“It’s some kind of, dark moon?” Tohne shifted uncomfortably. “I wait for it to be daytime again, but it never is. I wait a long time in the dream, but it just stays that way. Forever,” he finished.
Hatch and Charcoal were quiet.
“Charcoal wants to tell you ‘bout hers,” Tohne said quickly.
“No I don’t!”
“Would you mind?” asked Palette. Charcoal relented.
“It’s... there’s some kinda orange mouse, right? And she’s busy, all the stinking time. She’s always fixing stuff that gets broken, cause there are these weird alien-looking Pokémon that are going crazy ‘n stuff, but they run the place or something. A lotta people are... are dying, and the mouse can’t do nothing to stop it,” Charcoal shivered, as if dying were cold enough to steal the summer from the air.
“But, anyway, there’s some kinda king hiding behind that mouse, all blustery and rumbling loud like a thunderstorm. He’s got a weird crown, all bits of metal and panes of glass like it was made outta something else different. And then there’s a big earthquake, and usually I fall off something and wake up.
“There. Happy?” She looked like she would rather sleep than hear the answer. “Hatch? D’you wanna explain yours?”
But Hatch was just standing over his canvas, staring past it into the deep earth.
“I... this isn’t right,” he muttered.
“Usually if I open my eyes, or stop thinking about it, it’ll just go away, but... it’s still there.” Hatch looked up at Palette, his yellow eyes twinged with red and salt. “It’s still there! What if it’s... what if it’s there forever? No... no
He raised a paw into the air as if to scratch the painting, or destroy it utterly, but he faltered. The salt finally escaped, flushed from his eyes by a torrent of grief and water, and he collapsed onto the ground, sobbing like the child he was.
“I c-can’t do this anymore, I want M-momma back.” A tear got on the painting, smudging the watercolor base. “I don’t want no stupid powers, or nothing, why d-do we gotta do all these dumb things anyway? Why can’t the dreams just g-go away, nobody here gots to have them. I w-want–” he hiccuped. “I want...”
“Shhh,” said Charcoal. “Shhhh.” She snuggled up next to him, and touched his paw.
“Momma’s gonna come home again, and then everything’s gonna be fine, ok?” She wiped his tears away with a paint-dyed forepaw. “Everything’s gonna be fine...”
“I’ll, er...” said Palette. Hatch, Charcoal, and Tohne all stared at her.
“I’ll go back with you,” she continued. “Sorry that the studio didn’t, um, work out, but perhaps if you know someone at the daycare, it will not be as scary.”
“You... you’d do that?” Charcoal was wide-eyed. “It’s not real nice at the daycare, you know. And you might have to sleep on the floor!”
“That’s fine,” said Palette, “it wouldn’t be the first time.”
So she set the canvases back on their easels, cleaned and stowed watercolors and brushes, blew out the stove, and was on her way.
Later, Pal would return to his studio. The main room would be immaculate, again, and Palette would have left very little trace, except in the kitchen; dinner would be waiting for him there, completely untouched and still mostly hot. He would try to taste a little (no use wasting food, after all) but break down into tears after the first mouthful.
Part 7 of "Inspiration" by