The wall was worse at night.
From Palette’s vantage point on the ground, it stretched upward forever. Moonlight played across it, but the cool rays only emphasized its emptiness. This was not a surface ripe with potential, or some oversized canvas, or even a problem to be solved; it was an oppressive void, a force of nature threatening to swallow Palette and everything she’d ever worked for. It would destroy her, eventually, she thought.
Hatch, Tohne, and Charcoal were somehow asleep. She stared at them, and tried to keep her thoughts on dark moons and hidden kings and proud beasts silenced by strange hands, but she failed. She couldn’t stop herself from dwelling on her argument with Pal.
What had he said to her?
He’d told her the truth, of course. She couldn’t just wish the wall painted, or wish to be someone else, she had to work at it. She knew that, but the way Pal had said it... it sounded as though he really thought she was just going to return to that worthless urchin from so long ago, staking her life for a bit of food. Did he really think that it all meant so little to her — all the progress she’d made, all the trials she’d undergone?
But what had she said to him?
Was it really true? Did he really only keep her around because he felt sorry for her? He had never told her otherwise, and he could be so very hard to read, but... no, there was something more. She couldn’t name it, but it felt... well... it felt like he believed in her.
That was it, wasn’t it? Il y avait son secret
. He’d been her guide and her mentor, but also her only fan, and the only one who had ever believed she could become an artist. And now she’d betrayed his trust.
“It’s no use,” she said aloud, staring at the silvery fringe of the window and wishing she could sleep.
“What’s no use?”
Palette looked over quickly. Hatch and Charcoal were still snoring unpeacefully, but one of Tohne’s eyes was cracked open and staring at her.
“Oh,” she said, “you’re awake?”
“Of course I am,” he replied, “but why’re you?” A beat. “Are you still sad about what happened with your friend?”
Palette thought about lying to Tohne, about just telling him to go back to sleep and forget about it.
“Yes,” she admitted, “I suppose I am.”
“I’m sorry,” Tohne said, “it’s all my fault. If I weren’t such a loser, maybe I could’ve stopped them from spilling all those paints, and then maybe he wouldn’t have been so mad.” He sighed. “I’m never gonna be nothing more than the youngest, though.”
“That isn’t true!” Palette retorted instinctively. “You can be anything you want!”
She sat up all the way. “Promise me this, yes? Promise me that if you are unhappy with how you are, you will try to change. If you keep to that promise, I would be a fool not to forgive you.”
Tohne’s other eye opened, and Palette had his full attention.
“Alright, Palette,” he said, “I promise.” Then he closed his eyes, and drifted off into nightmares.
Palette thought very carefully and very deeply. Then it occurred to her that, for once, she might have a plan.
“Tootsie, no! We said we wouldn’t do that!”
The Venipede sighed. “Well, how’re we gonna stop the fire from spreading all the way to Windswept Woods then, Roll? You know what happens if it gets there, those woods are all... windy!”
Roll the Aron rolled her eyes arrogantly. “I told you what we were gonna do! We were gonna do one of those team moves, like in all the stories! Your Rollout with my Mud Slap! We were gonna put the whole thing out in one go, remember?”
“Oh, right,” Tootsie frowned. “How’d I forget that?”
“Dunno, you must have amnesia or something. You gotta get that checked out, Toots, or you’ll never put out fires like the Corps!”
Warm sunlight returned once more to the Tao Village daycare, and with the dry season came the constant threat of inferno. Sure, the cities were well enough protected, but the great wilds between the kitchen and that one Slakoth everyone made fun of? And what of Castle Draclugia? Someone would have to take up the difficult task of making sure all those blazes were properly under control, and the Lollipop Evactuation and Fire Treatment (LEFT) squad would be damned if they wouldn’t have a hand in it.
Tootsie was careful and goodhearted, but maybe a little slow. Roll was her hyperactive and bossy partner in crime, and together they were going to make sure nobody ever got burned up again. Well, after they were old enough for Missy to let them leave, that is. They hadn’t decided who would be the leader, but Roll did have a habit of following Tootsie’s orders in a pinch.
“‘Course I will,” said Tootsie, “I’ll be better than the Corps, even. I’ll– excuse me, miss, do you want something?”
Roll turned around. A great grey monster with a flowing mane of auburn lay on the floor not far away, her chin resting on her claws.
“Please,” the Zoroark said, “call me Palette! And, well, I could not help but listen in. You wish to fight fires?”
“Yeah!” chimed Roll. “We’re gonna be the best in the world, someday.” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why, you some kinda agent?”
“No, no, not at all!” Palette backtracked quickly. “I was just wondering... fighting fires, would you say that it is your dream?”
“Dream? Like, what you see when you’re asleep?”
Palette laughed musically. “Not really, no. You do not need to be asleep to dream, not at all! A dream is something that gives purpose to your life, when it feels like just living is not purpose enough. Tell me... Toots?”
“Tell me, Tootsie, do you really, really, really want to be a firefighter?”
Tootsie lit up like a firework. “Yes! Absolutely! And so does Roll; right Roll?”
“LEFT, Toots. You bet I do!”
“Then,” said Palette, “it is your dream, and you should hang onto it with every shred of willpower that you can muster. If you do not give up, you will definitely succeed.”
Roll didn’t really understand how she felt about Palette’s words; it was like being hugged comfortingly by a close friend, but with much less physical contact. Still, hearing her talk all about dreams made her curiouser than anything.
“Hey Palette,” she said. “Do you have a dream?”
The Zoroark didn’t answer at first, but stared right back. Then, she made her offer.
“How would the two of you like to be in a painting?”
This ritual was repeated many, many times over the next few days.
Palette eventually managed to talk to every child under Missy’s care, asking each one about their ambitions and offering to include them in her mural. Then she sketched, and erased, and sketched again.
Part 8 of "Inspiration" by