“I don’t wanna talk about the nightmares. I mean, not that you don’t seem nice and all, but it’s just hard to talk about. Especially with them here.” Tohne gestured at a group of children playing Sharpedo and Finneon. The Sharpedo were winning.
Just when Palette was about to retort, Charcoal returned, dragging yet another tricky fox behind her. When the newcomer saw Palette, he broke from her grasp. Hatch?
“HEY! Whatcha takin’ me to the grown-ups for, wench? You tryin to get me interrogated?” Hatch looked Palette up and down with an expression of screwed-up, hateful disgust. His left eye was identical to Charcoal’s, but his right eye was emblazoned with an enormous burgundy five-point star. There was something distinctly unbalanced about the way he carried himself, like at any moment he’d be equally liable to dive for Palette’s throat or topple over.
“This one’s our new target, ya dummy,” Charcoal retorted, “and don’t you dare talk to me that way! Just cause you’re the oldest don’t mean you can treat me like dirt!”
Tohne shrank behind Palette a bit.
“Yeah, yeah...” Hatch rolled his eyes and turned them on Palette. “This is what you interrupted my extra important experiment for? Some stupid menial worker just come to make the walls even whiter?”
“I’m not–” Palette tried to defend herself, but Hatch cut her off.
“Don’t care! Don’t care. Waste of my talents, you are. I still gotta figure out what the deal is with my new powers.”
“New powers?” Charcoal bristled, but Palette was curious now.
“Yeah, my new powers! You stupid or something? We gotta get something for all them Pokémon that disappeared, that’s how sacrifice works!”
Charcoal completely lost it. Her thick fur was enveloped in hot, roaring flames, her half-open eyes went wide with rage, and her face twisted into a snarl. She flew at Hatch and tackled him to the ground, catching him by surprise; he couldn’t avoid it if he tried. Then, she stood over him with a paw on his throat.
“Momma’s. Coming. Back.” Her voice quivered and shook, like it was holding back a tidal wave. “I don’t wanna hear anymore stinking lectures about the way it’s s’posed to be or the sacrifices we gotta make cause it’s just wrong. Momma wouldn’t leave us like that, and you know it!”
“Well,” Hatch grinned, “maybe she wouldn’t’ve if she’d had a proper choice.”
Charcoal shifted more of her weight onto Hatch, as if hoping it’d persuade him to stop talking. It didn’t.
“Not like she was plannin’ on any of this happening in the first place. And I mean, I guess it’s true that fairy was like some kinda ticking time bomb, but maybe it wouldn’t’ve escalated all as it did if it wasn’t for all those enemies...”
“Shut up!” Charcoal shouted, clocking Hatch straight across the snout. “Shut up! It’s not my fault, okay? She was going to kill it, I had to get help! I couldn’t just... let that happen, I couldn’t, it’s not...” The fire went out, and her legs shook. “Tohne! You believe me, right? You don’t think it’s my fault Momma d– Momma disappeared, do you?”
But Tohne couldn’t say anything. Charcoal’s voice quavered.
“A-alright, I need... I’ll just go over and think about things for a bit, maybe. Be– be good, Tohne...” She wandered off toward the door. In another part of the room, Missy noticed the disturbance, and hurried off after her. Hatch just chortled knowingly.
“‘Coal thinks she’s gotta replace Momma, seeing as she’s the one who made her go away.” He laughed harder. “Haha, she’s too young to know much about sacrifice or anything, but she’ll learn. So will you,” he said, with a pointed stare behind Palette, “as soon as you stop hiding behind the enemy
.” He turned his nose up at her.
“I got some more tests to do. Let me know next time I’m supposed to babysit.” He put careful emphasis on the last word, like it was absolutely imperative to convey with complete accuracy how childish he thought his siblings were being. Then, he strutted off with the air of a Liepard that had found much bigger game to hunt.
Tohne emerged from his hiding place and lay down, sulking. He must have been the saddest creature in the world, just then; she almost went to comfort him, but she had another job to do. Even if she couldn’t remember why it was more important.
She stood up slowly, picked up her pencil once again, and tried to visualize her stark section of wall exploding into a thousand bright colors. She tried to imagine something that would stimulate young minds, fit the space, and fill the void, but she just couldn’t get past its sheer size. How could she, an unremarkably young ex-Rogue without a past or future, make something beautiful out of so much nothing? A portrait was difficult enough, but this... this was impossible.
“Hey, Palate.” Apparently Tohne had been curious enough to come out of his funk. “Or, whatever your name is. If you’re not here to paint the walls, what’re you doing, anyway?”
Palette sighed and put her pencil down. She wasn’t exactly getting anything done with it.
“I am kind of here to paint the walls,” she admitted, “but not white, like the rest. I am going to turn this whole area into a gigantic painting, called a mural.” She frowned. “At least, in theory.”
“Oh,” said Tohne, investigating Palette’s crate of crafts, “what’s the difference between a painting, and painting?” He peered inside. “And how come you got all these different kinds of paint here? Don’t you just need one to change the color of something?”
Palette froze. No, he... he wouldn’t know about that, would he? Of course, how would he know if nobody ever told him? The only reason Pal hadn’t had to teach her from scratch was... well.
“Er, a painting is like... it is kind of similar to an illusion, because both of them can look like anything you want, you know? But an illusion goes away the minute you stop concentrating it, and a painting stays on the canvas...” Something occurred to her, and she backtracked. “You can produce illusions, right? That is, most Zorua can, but I do not want to assume.”
Tohne shifted. “Well... kind of. I’m not very good at them though, not as good as Momma or Hatch or Charcoal.”
“Why don’t you show me?”
Part 4 of "Inspiration" by