Hatch and Charcoal played together more often now, and though they still refused to talk to the younger Pokémon, they pulled no more cruel tricks. Tohne, however, took an interest in watching Palette’s canvas transform from blank to light grey to blank again, and he was delighted when she was finally satisfied with her pencil outline and began painting the scale model.
Every once in awhile, Palette would notice a shadow watching her from the door, flitting away as soon as she looked. She knew very well who that shadow belonged to, and she missed him dearly, but she could not stop until she had finished. Because she felt so attached to and driven by her work, she did not speak with Pal until the fourth night.
That night, she had finally put the finishing touches on her model, and was dozing off while waiting for it to dry, when he quietly broke the silence of the darkened daycare.
She woke with a start, and her eyes found Pal’s face; clean and composed, like he’d just washed. He was standing over her, but directly in front of her model. He’d been inspecting her work, perhaps?
Presently, he gestured toward it, and smiled weakly.
, you have been working very hard lately! Your model looks absolutely beautiful. However, I think you deserve a break, do you not?” He extended a paw to help her up, and she took it without a word. Of course, she still had to get up by herself; Pal was never known for his upper body strength.
A few meters away, Tohne listened and thought.
As Pal and Palette crossed the village square, he told her about his last commission.
“Do you remember? Ah, perhaps you were not awake at the time; it was very early in the morning. His name was Twigs, but he brought his step-brother Styx along as well.”
“Twigs?” Palette considered. “Is that the same Twigs who proposed to PK?”
Pal frowned. “Perhaps? I admit I have not been paying attention to much of the village politics lately. Perhaps I should. I certainly hope he did not, though; he was an exceedingly rude customer. I cannot imagine PK putting up with him for much longer than a minute.
! He said a lot of very vicious things about Messieurs Shroomsworth and Malt, though his step-brother’s babbling made it very difficult to pick out the words. Eventually, he asked me to paint a portrait of him, so I told him my prices. He ignored me! He said I could choose a prize from his home, when I was there. I asked him why in the name of all art I would be visiting his home. Ma chérie
, if only I had not asked.
“He told me that he was not planning on returning to the village soon, so I would have to deliver the finished artwork in person!”
“What,” said Palette blankly. “Did you... mishear him? Surely no one could be that inconsiderate.”
“No,” Pal replied, “I did not mishear, though I thought so at first too. I feel the right thing to do just then would have been to refuse, but... that Meowth’s claws were not looking very good for my canvas, and he looked ready to snap if he stayed much longer. And it looked as though he would stay much, much longer if I tried to turn them away.”
“Besides,” Palette reasoned, “you did need the money, and any treasures you obtained could be sold through the Merchants Guild.”
Pal looked very strange for a moment, as if he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
“Yes, yes. Bien sûr
! Of course we need money. But I would not dream of selling what I came home with. It is the point of this story, actually. Come in, let me show you!”
The studio was filled with light, because every lantern in the room was ablaze. The four easels stood flat against the back wall, and any detritus of Pal’s profession was similarly cleared away. Palette noticed the huge cardboard box that Pal had been carrying the night she’d left; it was sitting ominously in the very forefront of the room. Expectantly.
Pal hurried over and pried the petals of the box open, peering inside. “Yes!” he said, “it is still as beautiful as before! Come see!”
Palette was more than a little unnerved by his mania, but her doubts melted away when she saw the intricate machine inside the box. Its base was a little metal rectangle, with a circular pad on top and a handle for cranking attached to the side. Next to the pad was mounted a sort of enormous horn, with its mouth agape to the world and its mouthpiece lost in complex machinery that terminated in a little wheel.
“It is known as a phonograph, I believe,” Pal said.
“It... certainly is something,” Palette replied. “But what does it do?
“Well,” said Pal, “not very much, alone. Mais
!” He rooted around inside a drawer, and pulled out some sort of disc. “With this, it will make music!”
Palette looked closely at the object in Pal’s hands. It was deep black, nearly as black as wet black paint, and covered in little circular grooves that spiraled outwards from an inner white circle, which itself was punctured through the middle. The inner circle had writing in it, in fancy lettering that Palette could just barely make out:
“UNTITLED, composed by ♬ and performed by the Alomomola Symphony Orchestra.”
“Watch, and see!” Pal placed the disc gently on the floor, and took the phonograph out of its box, setting the machine on the floor next to the wall. He ran the box into the kitchen. Then, he picked UNTITLED back up, and fitted it clumsily into the top of the strange machine. He set the wheel carefully into one of the grooves on the disc, and turned the crank vigorously. The crank made an ugly click-click-click noise as Pal worked.
Then, finally, he let go, and the crank immediately started to turn the other way... but so did the disc, and when the disc moved, the horn of the phonograph crackled and spit and started singing the most gorgeous song Palette had ever heard. She gasped aloud, and Pal smiled broadly.
, do you know how to dance?” Palette shook her head slowly. “Ah, then, follow my lead. Ce n’est pas difficile
Palette couldn’t reach Pal’s hip, as the traditional stance would require, so they grasped claw to paw and paw to claw. Pal showed her, with light motion, how to sway and step to the rhythm, to the ebb and flow of pianissimo and mezzoforte. Her feet stumbled and jerked at first, but eventually she found a sync, and then they were dancing. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, then.
For a measure, or perhaps it was a hundred measures, they said nothing; they were too busy concentrating on their steps, and on each other. But then, for the second time that night, Pal broke the silence.
“Palette... er... about those paintings. The ones which were still on the easels?”
She tripped over her own foot, and crashed to the floor, but caught herself. “Yes, the... the children made those. They had been having nightmares.”
Another long silence. Pal and Palette swayed and stepped.
“Palette,” Pal said finally, “something very big is going to happen, is it not? Something even bigger than those disappearances, even worse than the disaster with that ice dragon.”
“I think,” Palette said, “perhaps, you are right. And those children, caught up in the middle of it...”
“Us as well, caught up in it,” Pal mentioned.
“Us too, yes.”
Pal was silent, again, for a moment, but Palette knew he had much more to say. And he did.
“I am afraid,” he admitted, “of everything I have worked for all these years, just blowing away in some wild wind. I am afraid of losing all of that.” He grasped Palette’s claws tightly. “But, beaucoup plus important
, I am afraid of losing you, ma chérie
. Please, promise me? Promise me that you will never blow away again.”
“Now, about... about what you said, that night.”
“No!” Palette interjected, suddenly. “No, I... I know I was wrong, you don’t have to–”
“You were not wrong,” Pal said, with a hint of sadness. Palette listened.
“I have never been very good at expressing myself,” he said. “Not in words, that is. And I am afraid that I hurt you, as a result.
“You said, or you said everything but, that I only gave you a home because I felt sorry for you.” He looked away briefly, in shame. “And that was the truth. At least, it was the truth at first. You were a young girl, and I could not live with myself if I allowed a young girl to be endangered so often only for money, you understand?” Palette nodded. He had said as much before.
“I felt that way for a very long time, but I thought I felt that way for much longer than I did. When I thought... when I thought you had died, though, I knew it had been more than that. I could not eat, I could not sleep, and I could not paint. I would have been prepared to give up, you see? To give up everything. Just to see you again.”
“Pal,” Palette said. There were tears in her eyes.
“I have never told you this,” he continued, “so how could I expect you to know? I was a fool, and I deserved those three days to remember what it was like to be lonely again. But, Palette,” he looked her straight in the eyes. “You are much more to me than a lost child, or a student, or an injured animal in the woods.”
“Then what am I? To you?” Palette whispered.
Pal smiled, and his smile made Palette smile, too, and the two of them swayed and stepped circles and pirouettes until the morning.
Final part to "Inspiration" by