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Black Paint [The Manifold Curiosity]

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by NebulaDreams, Sep 24, 2018.

  1. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Hello, dear readers! I hope you've enjoyed my main fic The Curious and the Shiny so far! I've really enjoyed writing it myself, but I have been working on it continuously for months, so I thought it was high time to work on another project in between hiatuses, so I took one of my old ideas and managed to write a novella length fanfic of it. It was probably my most prolific writing period yet.

    This is set in the same universe of stories as The Curious and the Shiny, which is known as The Manifold Curiosity. While this story can work as a standalone story, it also features a grand overarching narrative that has consequences for the other fic. The main character himself is also set to appear in another character’s backstory from that fic, but it won’t be apparent until much later when I’ve actually gotten to that point in both their narrative arcs. While this one marks a genre shift into horror, it contains the sort of character moments you'd come to expect from my main fic, so if you enjoyed that, you'll definitely like this one too.

    Summary: In dire need to pay rent, Sal the Smeargle and his trainer don't even question it when a rich mistress offers to settle their debts in return for a commissioned painting at her manor. However, all is not what it seems when Sal begins to notice something is not quite right, and that there may be something alive lurking beneath them.

    Content Warning: Death and Violence. This only really shows its teeth in the last act, but for those of you who aren't very fond of that sort of thing, be forewarned going into it. With that said, I hope you enjoy this story.


    [​IMG]

    Chapter 1: Day Zero

    Shadows around the room blanketed the girl. The oppressive stench of iron floated all around her, belonging to the bodies of her family. Her heart beat in her throat. She could hear her own ragged breaths against the grunting presence in the room, and the only thing she could see was the presence’s jade eyes, gleaming like jewels in a black ocean. It leered above her, looking down at her as if she was only a bug beneath its foot. It inched closer to her. Closer and closer still. When she gazed into its thin pupils, she could feel herself falling into its blackened voids. Tears streamed down the girl’s cheeks.

    “P-p-please!” she said, in between bouts of sobbing, “Don’t d-d-do this! I won’t mention this to anyone, j-j-just stop already!”

    The presence only moved closer, to the point the girl could feel its hot breath licking at her face. She closed her eyes.

    “No. Please go away. Just go. Just—“

    Shk. A sharp pain spread to the rest of her body like wildfire. She fell backwards to the floor. With the last ounce of strength in her body, she opened her mouth to speak.

    “Pu…”

    —-

    It wasn't the first time Sal had to deal with a difficult customer. It probably wouldn't be the last time either. He had stationed his easel in one of the bustling streets of Lower Goldenrod, far away from the hub of Goldenrod where the trainer commerce thrived the most. Still, it was a place where Sal got to see the many different faces of both trainers and Pokemon alike, even if the stale, petrol filled air wasn't to his liking. He considered this the perfect place to do caricatures, and although he was limited to markers in place of his preferred oil paints, he still kept his paws busy nonetheless.

    Not every Smeargle had the chance to pull off such a feat. If anything, Sal often found himself out of place whenever there was a human on the opposite side of the street doing the same as he did. But he kept a grip on his markers anyway, offering his services to anyone that asked for it at a lower price than most. Of course, not being able to speak directly to humans had its problems, but their Pokemon kept him company, which was enough.

    For the most part, the days went at a Slowpoke's pace. On a good day, he would get a dozen commissions in, and the smiles he would see on both the trainer's and their Pokemon's faces stuck with him until the next commission, but even at the end of his shift, the money box was still light whenever he collected from it. On this day in particular, one trainer strutted to his area, looking so caked in make-up, she and the Jynx that travelled with her were nearly identical.

    "Hey," the trainer called out, diverting Sal's attention from his board to her, "Do me and her one of those drawing things."

    Sal stood on his stall, putting him at an equal level to the foundation-heavy face, and held out his paw to her. A moment passed. She tilted her head before Sal realised what the problem was, and he pointed at the price board his trainer had constructed and laid out for him, visible to everyone that passed by. Although his maths and literacy skills were negligible at best, he knew the prices were 500 Pokedollars a pop with payment up front. It was customary to pay any artist before they started working on anything, after all. However, when the trainer realised what Sal was asking for, she laughed.

    "Um, but you're, like, a Pokemon. What do you need cash for anyways?"

    Again, he pointed at the text that was clearly visible to her, indicating that he and his trainer would need emergency funds for rent. Despite this, she looked just as confused as before. Her Jynx only looked off to the side with a blank look.

    "Or just, uh, you know, battle other trainers and take their stuff. You Pokemon usually do that, right?"

    Even if Sal could answer, he thought it was none of her business. He still prodded at the price list, adamant to get the next commission over and done with. Her plastic face contorted with rage.

    "Oh, so you think you're better than me, huh? I bet I could draw better than you anyway, stupid Smeargle. You know what?" She turned to her Jynx and patted their shoulder. "Ice this hoe."

    The Jynx started walking towards him.

    “Nothing personal and stuff,” Jynx said, “My trainer’s always being a dummy anyway.”

    “Um,” Sal said with a nervous smile, “Could we not talk this over?”

    Jynx only raised her hands. Sal knew the ship to reason had sailed. Instinctively, he grasped for his tail and aimed it between the attacker's eyes. Concentrating his energy on the pigment in his tail, he shot a paint-bomb at them. It blasted the two in the face with multicoloured patches of paint. They scrambled to the floor in a blind frenzy, giving him ample time to pack everything up and run away with his equipment in tow.

    Sal didn't want to risk being seen again in case the duo was chasing his tail, so he retreated back to the street where his trainer's flat resided. It had turned cloudy, casting the rubbish strewn streets in a dull light. The wind whistled from the crevices of the street, slowing his pace to a crawl. Halfway through, he had to shake a plastic bag off his head when it flew into him. He had never seen a cleaner come to that street in the months he spent there.

    When he came in, the house was in a state of disrepair as usual. The furniture was scratched up from the Pokemon of the other house-mates, leaving spongy clumps on the floor alongside everything else down there: dirty clothes, empty cans, scrapped parts, everything an inspector would never want to see if they ever cared about the place. Nevertheless, Sal's pulse steadied when he came in, as even the smells of ash and Meowth pee started to become familiar to him. Sal dropped his belongings and got a rag from the kitchen to rub his paint splattered face with, then climbed up the stairs to his trainer's room. He pushed his way in, as the floor was similarly filled with clutter, and there was his trainer, Harvey, on his laptop while his Pokemon either crowded around the bed to watch him or occupied themselves in various different ways. They all turned their attention towards Sal when he entered.

    "Yo!" Harvey said as he put his device to one side, "You're a bit early. Did something happen?"

    Sal climbed up his bed and stood, presenting the rag to him. Harvey frowned.

    "I take it you had to run away again, huh?"

    Sal nodded in reply.

    "Oh well, c'mere." Harvey gestured to a pillow at his side, which Sal nestled in, and his trainer stroked at his beret-like head. "Roy, can you get his stuff up for me?"

    Roy, the Machoke, put aside his dumbbells and tip-toed through the mess of microwaved-meal packets to get the equipment, coming back moments later with Sal's canvas and his money-box containing that day's earnings. Roy casually tossed the box on the bed for Harvey to sort through, who counted it out for everyone.

    "And... that's 3500 Pokedollars. Nice one! That's taken a bit of a load off my mind. At least now, we can eat."

    Harvey patted him on the back, and the other Pokemon congratulated him on his effort as well, even Anorak as he swung down from his web to clap his spindly legs. Sal stood up and rubbed his head.

    "No, really guys, it was nothing," he said to the other Pokemon.

    "That's not nothing!" Mari, the Bayleef said, perched on the edge of the bed, "You're really talented at this!"

    "Yeah," Roy said, "I was wrong 'bout you, pal. I never thoughta Pokemon would get rich off this thing, but now, I'll--" He stopped himself and stroked at his chin. "What do them humans call it, heat my curds?"

    "Eat my words," Mari corrected, turning her nose up at him, "Honestly, I thought you'd know their expressions by now."

    "Whatever," he said, nudging her with his elbow, "A pose by any other name, right?"

    "Sorry to interrupt," Sal said, "But how did the training go?"

    "Eh," Roy grunted, "Trainers are kicking our ass left and right. Harvey still doesn't know what he's doing half the time."

    "I wouldn't say that," Mari said, frowning, "He's doing his best."

    "If his best is shouting the same moves over and over without changing tactics, I don't wanna know what his worst is. But whatever." Roy turned away from the group and went back to his weightlifting.

    Sal looked to his side and saw Harvey splitting the money up, with a quarter of the bills for food and the rest for savings. Harvey sighed, and Sal couldn't help but join him, feeling a lump in his chest.

    He thought everyone else was right. The fact such a lowly Pokemon like him was able to make a small living off of art was mostly unheard of, even in the largest city in Johto, according to his trainer anyway. He enjoyed the work he did, as it satisfied the urge in his gut to create more than it did to destroy with fighting, but looking at his teammates, who were actually doing tangible work battling other trainers, he felt small compared to everybody else.

    Harvey put a hand on his paw and gave him a weak smile.

    "Sorry about this," he said, "I know things were probably easier when Santa was around."

    By that, he meant Santiago D'Errant, Harvey's uncle that taught Sal the tools of his painting trade for years before he gave him to Harvey and passed on. Sal didn't want to show weakness in front of his other teammates, but as he remembered Santa's wrinkled face, he nodded in agreement.

    "Things'll get better, I promise. We'll be out of this dump once we get our badge. Don't worry about the rest for now and get on with your sketching."

    Sal nodded once more and returned to his canvas, forgetting about the heaviness of his chest as he got on with his studies. For him, guiding the pencil down the pad gave him more power than he ever had in the arena. When he truly got into the zone, as one needed to focus when drawing detailed faces from memory, it even made him feel like more of a human than a Pokemon. He often imagined himself having his own work in a gallery, standing next to the human professionals in the same league. Answering questions about his work if he could speak. Sampling the hors d’ouvres. Drinking from wine spritzers. He grinned as he kept in his bubble. There was a knock at the door. The bubble burst and Sal was back in the room. His trainer fumbled out of his bed and opened the door to see one of his house-mates.

    "You might wanna put some pants on, bud," he said, "Some chick's at the door for you."

    "Are they?" he said, brows furrowed, "Crap. If it's the landlord, tell her I'm not here."

    "Nope, we don't have any clue who she is. Well, if she's with you, you two better not be too loud up there."

    "Shut up." Harvey slammed the door on him and scrambled to put some sweatpants on. Sal stared at the blank space, wondering what the other house-mate was implying to get such a reaction from him. Harvey turned to his team.

    "I'll be back in a sec." Harvey shut the door behind him, leaving the room in silence. Roy chuckled to himself, cutting the thick tension.

    "You think someone would really score with that guy?"

    "Ugh," Mari said, "Don't let that other human put ideas in your head!"

    "Why don't we find out?" he said as he peeked out the window. The rest joined him, including Sal, and saw their trainer was talking to a hooded woman. The two talked for a while, then, Harvey disappeared into the house along with her.

    "Huh," Roy said, "I'll eat my curds."

    "Words," Mari corrected. The rest turned away, but Sal kept looking, staring out into the night sky. From the corner of his eye, perched by a chimney on one of the houses, he saw a shadow. It stood on two legs, much like a human would, but the rest of the features were anything but, as the paws were digitigrade, not plantigrade. What stood out to him the most were its eyes, whose green features pierced through the dark air. Sal blinked and the shadow wasn’t there before. He stared out for a while before the door behind him creaked open, and Harvey came in alongside the woman, who let her hood down. Her face sparkled under the ceiling lamp. Her make-up accentuated her rosy features, unlike the troublesome trainer Sal met before, and the way she smiled, parting her lips slightly, made even Sal's heart melt.

    "Sorry," Harvey said, clasping his hands together, "It's a huge mess at the moment. I'm sure you're not used to this where you're from."

    The woman shook her head. "Oh no, it's perfectly alright. My family can be very messy when they don't have any servants looking after it."

    She looked down to Sal and knelt down to his eye level.

    "Why hello there," she said, "You are Sal, correct?"

    Sal nodded, not sure of what to say even if she could’ve understood him.

    "I saw your work in town, and I must say, I'm very impressed. It was a shame that gaudy looking trainer had to ruin it all."

    "Hey," Harvey said, "I know I'm not much of a looker, but I wouldn't say I'm gaudy." The woman shook her head.

    "No, I'm referring to someone completely different." She relayed the information of what happened to Sal before to his trainer, and Harvey clenched his fists.

    "Crazy *****." His eyes widened and he covered his mouth with his hand. "Sorry, language. The amount of entitled customers Sal has to deal with is insane."

    "Pity," she said, "These people take so many Pokemon for granted these days."

    "So, uh," Harvey said, "What did you want from him?"

    "I have a proposition, actually, but I would like to see his work before I mention it." She knelt down again as Sal approached her, maw hanging open. The woman glanced over to his canvas and smiled once more. Sal squeaked, scrambling over to his stack of paintings on the floor in the corner, showing her every single piece he’d made over the course of the last few months. They showed off a variety of different subjects, both human and Pokemon, all painted in oil. The last one he presented was of a Lickitung with its tongue stuck in a peanut butter jar, rendered in such clarity that one could see each deliberate brush stroke. His heart thumped against his chest. He held his breath waiting for the mistress to reply. She nodded, coursing a hand through the Smeargle's rough coat. Her skin was as soft as grass to the touch.

    "These are extraordinary," she said, "You've easily beaten all the dilettantes I've seen in most galleries."

    Sal put his paw on his chest. It was common to have compliments thrown his way from customers and his own team, but none of them ever rang true for himself when he looked at his own work. To have someone who radiated taste and influence praise his work, he was at a loss for himself to try and describe what he felt. Satisfaction was it? Or maybe honour? He didn't know exactly. But it easily made him forget the troubles he had earlier with that other customer.

    Finally, the woman stood up and cleared her throat.

    "In that case, I'd like to make an offer for you both. I've been meaning to have a portrait done of my Houndoom, something I'd like to hang up on the wall back home. I haven't exactly found the right person for the task, but now I've seen your work, I'm sure you'd do an excellent job. Not only would you be paid handsomely, you would gain widespread recognition in this city, then possibly, across the region."

    "How much would you be willing to offer?" Harvey said.

    "One hundred thousand Pokedollars."

    "Holy mother of--" Harvey cut himself short, then pumped his fist in the air, "We'll take it! When can we start?"

    "As soon as you'd like," she said, handing him a card, "Our address is on there, which I'm sure you'll be able to get to easily on the Magnet Train. Until then, I must get back to my place. Would you be willing to escort me out, sir?"

    Sal could see Harvey's whole face rush with blood as he led the mistress out of the room. The rest of his team started cheering for him, with Roy whooping in the air, Anorak chittering in the background and Mari pouncing on Sal with joy. Sal, however, internally blocked out everybody else from the room. It sounded nice in theory, but he had never taken on a task that huge when it came to drawing for other people. They often came to other humans who had already built up a reputation rather than some unknown Pokemon, after all. Harvey didn't even ask before taking on the offer, which was something he always did before. He had to talk with him.

    Sal escaped the grasp of the prying paws behind him and exited the room, then jumped down the stairs, step by step to find Harvey. He was in the kitchen, talking to the other house-mates with an excitable look on his face. Sal climbed up to the kitchen counter and prodded his back, turning his attention towards him.

    "Oh hey! Really proud of you, buddy!" He ruffled through Sal's coat, although Sal stood stiff as a statue, staring him down.

    "What's wrong?" he asked, frowning. Sal crossed his arms and pointed to the back garden. In response, Harvey picked him up and brought him outside. They sat on a brick wall, watching the twilight.

    "I thought you would've been proud of yourself. It's not every day you get an opportunity like that a-knocking, is it?"

    Sal grumbled, which he hoped Harvey would take as a 'no'.

    "Then," Harvey looked into his eyes with a confused expression, "What's got your Gogoat?"

    Sal didn't consider himself good at asking open-ended questions. Simple 'yes' or 'no' questions were easy enough for him to answer, but something like that required more nuance. In an effort to act it out, Sal stood on the bank and mimed the mistress knocking on their door, her looking at the pictures Sal drew, Harvey shaking her hand, and to top it off, Sal zipped his mouth shut. Harvey cocked his head slightly to try and understand it, then frowned.

    "I didn't ask you first, did I?" Another head shake. "Sorry. I just got so excited, that didn't even occur to me. But it's a helluva lot of money. If we took that on, that'd help get us out of this dump." Then, he put his hand on Sal's back. "I guess you're pretty nervous, huh?"

    Sal nodded vigorously. He had no idea if any Pokemon was asked to do such a task before. Maybe in the news, if he ever bothered to listen to it. But certainly not where he came from.

    "It'll be alright," Harvey said, "I’ve seen all your work. Your painting skills are stunning. No matter how hard I tried to study from the greats, I could never live up to that old man's expectations. But you did, so now's your chance to prove yourself to the rest of the world, eh?"

    Sal couldn't help but smile as his trainer gently tapped him on the back a few times. He knew he had the skills as he didn't spend hours on end in Santa's atelier, doing still life paintings and master studies for nothing. As long as he remembered his former master's training, he was sure he could create something worthy of being hung up on a wall for generations to come.

    Harvey looked to the sky again, dangling his legs over the garden as the blades of grass brushed past his bare feet. "Besides, there's plenty to look forward to besides that. Believe me when I say that lady's loaded. Elora's her name. She lives in this manor just outside Saffron City, and she's offered to let us stay there for no extra cost, so we'll get on the Magnet train tomorrow morning." Harvey pulled a huge grin. "Can't say I've ever been to a manor before! I'm sure you and the other guys will love it!"

    Sal couldn't help but grin widely as well. Staying in that damp, dilapidated room all the time wasn't exactly the best environment for him to work, so he was pleased to get away from that. He had heard many things about the Magnet train and all its sights from his trainer, so that was a bonus for him. Sal looked up again. Each star glittered as white specks standing out in an inkblot sea. They were looking brighter than ever to him that night. Or so he thought.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
    Yureishi likes this.
  2. Phoenixsong

    Phoenixsong you taste like fear

    Hey there! A shortish horror story, eh? Sounds like a I'm already loving the idea of a smeargle protagonist--such a versatile pokémon (literally!), and yet it almost never shows up anywhere. (Or does it? I'm currently in the process of crawling out from under a huuuuuuge rock, so I'm not up on... anything in fanfiction, haha. But I feel like it doesn't get enough love!)

    As a note, I haven't had a chance to check out The Curious and the Shiny yet so some of the references may go a bit over my head for now--still, this sounds like an intriguing premise, and I'm excited to check it out and see where it goes!

    This is very evocative! I always love it when people mention the iron scent of blood, heh. This gets across a lot of intensity and just the right sort of cornered, helpless terror. Really nice contrast with the relatively peaceful, normal scene that follows, too.

    There is a bit of awkward word choice in a few spots here. It sounds kind of weird to say the "smell of iron belonged to the bodies"; most people don't often describe a scent as "belonging to" something. Maybe the smell is "emanating from", or just plain "coming from" if "emanating" sounds too overwrought (though I think it fits a scene like this). Similarly, it also sounds strange to hear breaths "against" something; that implies physical contact, almost like one sound is leaning on the other, which is an interesting mental image but not quite appropriate for sound. Is her breathing (to her, at least) louder than the grunting? Then maybe she can hear her breaths "above" the grunting, or "in spite of" the grunting.

    Hm hm hmmmmmmm. Just managing to stammer out the first syllable of "please", or trying to say something important? We shall see, I suppose!

    A caricature artist smeargle! Also not something I think you see too often. (Are the oil paints his natural tail paint, or does he have an actual separate set of oil paints?) Might want to avoid the repetition of "Goldenrod" in the second sentence; maybe "far away from the hub of the city"?

    "Oh, so you think you're better than me, are you? What with your not having enough money to pay rent, let alone afford approximately twelve cases of makeup per day? What a pompous jerk!"

    Pfft. :p That is a bit of an odd reaction to a sign that essentially says "we have no money, please help", but it gets across her jerkish and airheaded attitude pretty well. As does the jynx's "welp, she said attack, haha she's so silly oh well!" response. I'd say a bit of paint in the face isn't entirely undeserved.

    A flat doesn't generally "reside" anywhere, as it's not a living being. Again, be sure you've got the right context or connotation for a word that looks like a straight synonym before you use it Similarly, wind can whistle through crevices, but the alleyway/buildings would be what causes enough wind to slow someone down while walking, and an alley, while narrow, isn't small enough to be a "crevice".

    I like this. The bit about the inspector is a nice touch. In general I'm enjoying the description of the messy flat; you're hitting a lot of specific, memorable things, microwave dinners everywhere, the smell of cat urine... very easy to picture. (Unfortunately, heh.)

    Aww, Sal's little fantasy here is cute. I wonder how much of that he actually knows first-hand from his time with Santa, or at least had heard about from him, and how much is just him thinking "well, 'wine spritzer' is a thing that exists at fancy human gatherings, so if I'm gonna be a real artist I should probably have wine spritzers, right?"

    What is "it" referring to? The pronoun doesn't match anything in the rest of the sentence. Presumably you mean the family's house, so since you haven't directly mentioned it before, I would do so before resorting to a pronoun. (Also, given how you've described this place earlier, that is an extremely messy wealthy family, ha. Unless she's just trying to be polite, I guess.)

    It's nice to see Sal able to feel a little pride over his work after how down he's been feeling about his contributions so far. This is a fairly chunky paragraph already, but I almost want to see a few more specific examples of his paintings, both to enjoy the fun subject matter and to give Sal a bit more chance to puff up a little about his accomplishments. Maybe there's a way to work that in there? Or perhaps it could be extended into a few short paragraphs, with a brief description of a painting and either the woman's reaction to it or Sal's own opinion/feelings about it. You don't want to spend ages going on about these since I doubt these existing paintings are ultimately relevant, but there's definitely room to have a bit more fun with this considering your main character is an artist!

    But hm, a proposition... right now the story's relatively light-hearted, but knowing where things will be going, that word's more than a little ominous, heh.

    Heh. I was trying to work out how much 3500 pokédollars was given the price of poké balls (although that depends on whether you see things like poké balls and potions as expensive equipment in your setting), but that's definitely a solid amount. (Noooo, Harvey, it's too good to be truuuuue...)

    Another lovely, evocative description. Also, dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn

    This seems like a pretty simple setup chapter overall: establish the characters, give them a direction, give them a compelling reason not to run at the first sign of some horrible supernatural happening... Nothing providing any real clues about the events to come, at least not anything obvious, so that's still a complete mystery and something to look forward to. But I expect things will get really unsettling really fast, especially given this is only a four-part story and the only horror we've had so far was in the very beginning!

    Obviously I'm excited to see the main event, but I'm also curious as to how the various characters you've introduced will play into everything. We've only had a taste of Mari and Roy and even Harvey, and Anorak hasn't really had any characterization at all; obviously this is Sal's story, but what role will these other characters play? Victims? Support? A lot of possibilities there. It's always intriguing to see how difficult and harrowing situations can change people, drive them apart or bring them together. We don't know much about the harrowing situations, and I'm not sure we have enough info to really predict any changes, but seeing that unfold will be part of the fun!

    All in all, I'm definitely looking forward to what happens next!
     
    NebulaDreams likes this.
  3. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Hey, I saw you talking about this prior, and you had me curious! I know nothing about any of your other work, so I'll be a blind perspective in terms of anything else relevant to what you've got going on.

    It's a good point--and as someone with a natural PMD bias, I appreciate this story being centralized on the Pokemon rather than the humans, if only as a matter of taste!

    r/ChoosingBeggars is leaking.

    Despite the prior description you had of their little... abode, this single sentence really helped to illustrate the state that they're living in. I'm not really sure why--just the idea of having to wade through and over the trash, that action accompanied by the environment, really brought the whole image together.

    I mean, that's sorta how it works for most Trainers that I've run into...

    Good job on basically emulating my exact reaction. And good job on subtly showing the scale of how much that actually is by doing the pocket change of 3.5k just before!

    Heh, nice buildup, though I feel like you could make for a more powerful, subtle sort of irony if you nixed the last sentence completely. Just, "They were looking brighter than ever to him that night." End. Just go full irony.

    __

    Overall, this was a nice introductory chapter! I'm not entirely familiar with the Pokemon team as a whole. The most I have envisioned is the Machoke in terms of the secondaries, but for the most part, I have the strongest vision of the cake makup trainer and her Jynx, Harvey, Sal, and the rich lady. Maybe the others, if they're important, will get more limelight later, but for now, I'll just zero in on Sal and his experiences.

    Looking forward to Day 1!
     
    NebulaDreams likes this.
  4. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Hi! I heard of this story's premise via the Discord and was intrigued - art's always been a big thing for me and lately I've started dabbling in horror. I finally had time to check this out, so here's a review.

    Smart move to put a intense supernatural scene right in the start! The description is minimal, but describes the right things, creating atmosphere and awakening curiosity in the reader. One tiny thing, though:

    Both first sentences use the be-verb as the predicate, which can be slow compared to direct actions or more colorful verbs. Something like "shadows cloaked the room around the girl" or "the smell of iron floated all around her" could be more dynamic. Like said, this is a pretty small difference - it probably wouldn't matter elsewhere in the text, but the very first words of a fic tend to have a lot of power, so I'm pointing it out.

    While I'm on the subject of prose, I can say this read rather well to me. A few sentences maybe felt a bit long, but generally they flowed gracefully, and there were a lot of nice ones in the mix such as the one about the difficult customer looking like her Jynx. I couldn't spot any grammar/spelling errors, so good job on that too.

    Pokémon seem to have a unique place in this world. They're sentient and intelligent, only unable to speak human languages (but still able to understand them). They're usually owned, but they can do business. I'm taking them to kind of be second-class citizens? If said citizens were found in the wild? Hard to say from so little and not having read The Curious and The Shiny. I managed not to dwell on that and have it affect my enjoyment, though. Well, except for one part that sort of confused me:

    So I assumed that Pokémon spoke a common language that humans can't understand (as mon only speak to each other and have to mime to communicate with humans), but this raised a question. Are phrases like that in poké-speak loaned straight? Would the humans at that point hear "*incomprehensible machoke noises* heat my curds"? That wouldn't make sense, though, as it would mean mon were able to speak human words after all. The other option would be for Roy to have literally translated the phrase he'd misheard and therefore gotten wrong, which I'm starting to lean towards as it's just kind of an odd thing to do instead of an internal logic error like the straight-loan option would be.

    Either way, that just made my mind take a small detour during the read.

    Onto the characters: I love Sal. I just love him. He is pure. I loved the silent-filmy gestures he did to get past the language barrier, and I loved how passionate he was about his art. The other characters didn't have too much focus yet, but I can understand it as the story's just getting started and even more so if only Sal and Harvey are headed for the mansion.

    I had to read this sentence a few times before I managed to read it right. I think it could use some restructuring to make it easier to process.

    True in two ways, as caricature is actually based on how humans remember faces through comparing them to an "average" face and then the brain exaggerating the differences for easier recognition. Source: this video tutorial series for caricatures I've been following. The video linked's worth a watch if you're interested in caricature stuff - provided you haven't watched it already.

    Was the "asking" here meant to be "answering"?

    Alright, that's all from me. You can count on me catching Part Two when it comes out!
     
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  5. Umbramatic

    Umbramatic The Ghost Lord

    Well, for my 13th Missing Mod Madness review I decided to review a horror fic, and this one was A. new, 1. short, and *. by a writer who's work I'm already pretty fond of.

    And you get to the horror part straight away in the prologue! It sets up the tale nicely while still leaving a lot of mystery as to what this creeping presence is.

    Then it cuts to the character-centric stuff that's definitely your strong suit. Sal is an adorable Smeargle protagonist, and I have a lot of sympathy for him trying to get himself and his Trainer through their living situation.

    This lady is veeeery suspicious though. I suspect she's related to the creeping presence. Or I could eat my curds- I mean, words.

    Not much stands out to me in terms of crit, which is a good sign. Looking forward to where this goes and also dreading it because horror fic but that's par for the course.
     
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  6. The Walrein

    The Walrein Well-Known Member

    Hello! As I mentioned on the Discord, I liked The Curious and the Shiny, and I like Smeargle, so I'm definitely going to check this out!

    I have to second canisaries here - the first several sentences feel weak, although for me it's less due to the verb choice and more due to the repetitive structure they have.

    This sentence feels a bit oddly phrased - I think it might work better with 'she could feel herself falling into their blackened voids', as right now it reads like she's gazing into the creature's pupils, but the second 'its' still refers to the creature as a whole and not just its pupils.


    I'm not sure what's going on here - did some sort of effect radiate out from the creature's touch to the rest of the girl's body, or are you implying the creature tore apart the rest of her after starting with her belly? I can't speak from experience, but I'd imagine that even a really bad cut would still only cause pain relatively localized to the area it happened in.

    Overall, I was kind of ambivalent about the opening scene. I guess it lets the reader know what they're in for with the fic, but it still feels a little generic as an opening to a horror story - there's a monster, and it kills someone. I might have found it more interesting if there were was more of a clue as to what makes this specific monster unique, or if there was more of a suggestion of what the mystery might be. Right now, we know that the girl believed that the monster would be concerned about her telling someone about what it did, which is a little unusual - but not unusual enough to draw me in. And I guess the "Pu..." bit might have payoff later, but it doesn't really add anything right now.


    On the other hand, I think this is a pretty effective opening. It presents just enough setting detail for me to be able to imagine the scene, and more importantly, gives me a good sense of the difficulties Sal faces as a Pokemon trying to make it as a painter. There's also the immediate hook of the conflict with a difficult customer, which is nice.

    The trainer and Jynx 'scrambl[ing] to the floor' seems like an odd way to describe this - scrambled implies they were intentionally trying to fall down, which I'd assume isn't the case.

    Huh, I'd say making drawings and bringing home cash counts as tangible work more so than battling would - which doesn't actually produce anything other than experience. I guess it would make sense that Pokemon would consider fighting to be what's really meaningful in life, though.

    Definitely a cute scene here. It also feels kind of sad, what with Sal aspiring to be more like a human even as they look down on him and treat him as inferior for being a Pokemon.

    I'm not sure why Harvey would assume he was the 'gaudy looking trainer' at first, but this exchange also builds on the pathos of Sal's situation, driving home the fact that he can't communicate with Harvey and needs someone else to explain what happened to him.

    Heh, that seems like it would be a cute painting.

    Okay, so I really liked Sal's character in this. I'm not sure how I feel about Harvey - it kind of feels like he's just living off of his Pokemon's effort without providing much in return - at least, if Roy is to be believed - but the rest of the cast seems nice enough. Can't wait to see what sort of terrible and awful things will befall them when the horror elements start showing up!
     
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  7. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Well then! This story's barely gotten started and there's already a lot to love here. It's great to see a Smeargle protagonist--that's such a wonderfully underused Pokemon with basically limitless potential. And you did a really good job of setting both him and his trainer up as instantly sympathetic. As the others have said, that description of their flat painted a vivid picture of just what kind of life they're stuck in, and it's not an easy situation to get out of, even with a meager side income of commissions.

    I like how you've taken the world of the Curious and the Shiny (one where it's commonplace for Pokemon to understand humans) and flipped it by giving us a protagonist who hasn't learned to speak human. You've already done a good job of showing the mundane troubles that this can bring, and I'm sure it will cause more serious difficulties once the horror elements set in.

    Not much else to say, as the story's just getting started. I'm very curious to see how things will go downhill once they get to this manor...

    ~Chibi~
     
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  8. kacklord

    kacklord 私はただ悲しかった

    hi there. this is my first review so sorry if it's a bit flawed, hehe.

    i'll start by saying that i like the worldbuilding here. it's really easy to be lazy with things like that when everything's set in the "Pokémon World," which people seem to have consensus on despite the fact that it's fairly poorly defined. often what i see is writing that kind of follows the cliches of the setting and kind of handwaves their own stuff in when it's convenient, but what you have here is a pretty clear idea of what world your story takes place in, specifically, and the roles of humans and pokémon within it. particularly, pokémon seem to have a very strange relationship with society, and by picking a main character whose lifestyle really pushes the envelope of what society at large considers "okay" for a pokémon, it's illustrated really clearly. we get a good idea of the environment even down to the minor details— as other reviewers have noted, the description of the apartment in particular is very vivid, and i found the description of the street pretty nice too.

    i think i'm fairly particular about the kinds of pokémon characters i like, and in general pokémon that act like anthropomorphic people kind of flop for me, but i actually like sal quite a lot. the way you handle the language barrier is interesting, to me: sal is about as intelligent as the average human but can't communicate the full extent of his intelligence, so there's a bit of a song and dance in communicating ideas, and some information is lost there. reading the pantomimed actions described in detail was cute, too. i also like that he represents an anomalous relationship between humans and pokémon— not only is he working for wages out on the street, which is apparently abnormal, but he was also trained to paint by a human (i'm assuming?), and i find that cross-species mentorship fairly intriguing. i'm going out on a limb a bit here and making some inference, but interestingly it seems like even sal's trainer takes advantage of him to a certain extent. his quick approval of the commission without first reaching out to sal suggests sal's role as a tool rather than an equal partner. i guess we'll see where that goes, but it's definitely something i noted.

    as far as criticism goes, i'm uncertain about the usefulness of the prologue bit there. certainly it's written fairly well and we get a strong sense of the horror aspect that this story is supposed to delve into later, but it doesn't seem like there's any actually useful information that we might be able to extract from it and keep our eyes peeled for later, with the exception of the purple eye color and possibly the fragmented speech at the end. i can't claim to know for sure since i haven't read the rest of the fic yet of course, but i'm left wondering exactly how necessary that prelude actually is for anything except hinting at the horrors to come. really what we get out of that snippet is just that there's a monster, and i guess it attacks people, which is certainly good to know but i'm unsure whether it's necessary to know immediately rather than when it eventually becomes pertinent. again, i could very likely be wrong here and it remains to be seen, but it's just something that occurred to me while reading it.

    finally, a minor nitpick i have is the woman in makeup and her jynx. i think we're supposed to get out of this is that a) that pokémon are treated unequally by humans by sheer virtue of them being pokémon, and b) that pokémon have a tendency to obey their trainers even if they disagree with the intent, which contrasts with sal's self-image as an independent individual. however, in portraying the woman and her jynx as vapid and insolent, i can't really tell if she's treating sal this way because she's exceptionally prejudiced, or because this is just the kind of treatment pokémon can expect to receive. harvey's behavior seems to indicate that her behavior isn't ordinary, but it also seems like his empathy for pokémon might not be ordinary either, so overall i'm left with some questions as to the exact place of pokémon in society.

    overall, though, this read really fluently and my attention was held from start to finish. i'm looking forward to more, especially as it begins to turn into horror.
     
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  9. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hi there! I thought your story sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a look. I love the fact that you put a Smeargle as the protagonist--I feel like they're underused in fics (and give that I'm more familiar with the older games, I like that it's a Pokemon I don't have to look up to see what it looks like ^_^; )

    I'm sorry to start off with a nit-pick, but I feel like you would have been totally fine without saying "around the girl;" it reads as a bit wordy and unnecessary. Especially since the next sentence uses the word "around" again, it makes it feel a bit repetitive.

    I feel that you tend to repeat sentence structure or the words in sentences; this was noticeable when going into Smeargle's little fantasy of being a famous, rich artist--I get that part was intentional, but you kept to simple sentences even when he snapped out of it, whereas I feel that changing the sentence structure would have interrupted the flow and emphasized him being jarred back to reality. Again, it's nitpicky, so don't worry about it.

    Overall, I thought your opening scene was fine. We don't know anything about the characters or story yet, so more than anything it gives us a sense of mystery and sets the tone that this is, indeed, a horror-themed fic. I know other reviewers might disagree, but I thought you pulled it off well enough.

    Ah, I love Roy! This scene in general is a really nice one; I love the bonds of friendship they show between each other, and how Harvey's first reaction on seeing Sal is to make sure he's okay. It's really sweet.

    Lol Roy

    Ewwww hahaha. And lol I love Sal's innocence.

    And I like the scene where Sal has to mime out the actions to get Harvey to understand what he's saying. I think it's a cool way to cut across the lack of Pokemon-human dialogue.

    This paitns a really pretty mental image--with an ominous sentence at the end!

    Overall, I thought this was a nice opening chapter. Were it not for the first scene, I would even call this fic "cute," as Sal's interactions with those around him make him so endearing and loveable. As others have said, you've certainly done a good job starting out and worldbuilding. There's not much else I have to say except that, overall, you did a good job and I look forward to more!
     
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  10. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Thanks, everyone who has read so far! I'm overwhelmed with the fast response this fic has had already through its first chapter, so I hope you'll all enjoy the next chapter to come. Since there's so much to respond to, I'll only respond to a few general points everyone has had so far as well as a few specific points other people have raised.

    • I appreciate the critique towards the opening. It was my first real stab (hehe) at writing horror like that, but as I've learned, it doesn't seem to mesh well with my writing style. I struggle with sentence variety and wordiness in my writing in general, and that kind of shows in the opening where making the most out of the language would be the most important. Story-wise, I thought it would've been a better scene setter than starting with Sal's problem, which is a fine scene on its own, just not one that sets the horror mood. Plus, the opening does foreshadow certain bits throughout, but that remains to be seen why.
    • I'm kind of surprised to hear Smeargle hasn't been utilised in fics more often, as they seem like the kind of Pokemon that would be a lot of fun to write about, particularly with the Sketch move that gives them an edge over a lot of other Pokemon. I hope @The Walrein can step up with their idea and give Smeargle the love they need in fics.
    • I think Harvey is quite guilty of using Sal as somewhat of a tool in that situation, which Sal calls him out on, but still. In his case, Harvey is the kind of trainer that means well for his Pokemon, particularly Sal as he understands his wishes to paint, but doesn't have the battle-smarts to support his Pokemon to the fullest extent.

    @canisaries That's a good point you raised. My philosophy with the Pokemon dialogue is that I tend to go with lines that add to the spirit of the character rather than consider every mechanic used, but I understand why that would cause confusion. With this example, I think he would've literally translated the phrase into his own language.

    @Chibi Pika While it takes place in the same world of The Curious and the Shiny, I enjoyed writing the human speech aspect here more with Sal than in that fic, as I enjoy the conflict Sal's situation brings.

    @kacklord I like all the points you raised about the world. I think it's subjective, as people have different ideas on what the Pokemon World is like, and they're all valid. My view is that Pokemon are just as intelligent as humans, as shown by a lot of Pokemon in the anime, but don't have the means to progress further in society because of how it favours human education over Pokemon. This is highlighted more as one of the central conflicts in The Curious and the Shiny, but that's another kettle of fish (plus it's a difficult fic to recommend in its current state). About the woman with her Jynx, she's just an especially entitled trainer that clashes with Sal. There is an element that Sal is taken advantage of for being an artist, as @Namohysip pointed out the kind of logic seen in r/ChoosingBeggars, but him being a Pokemon also doesn't help matters.
     
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  11. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Chapter 2: Day One

    The following morning, Harvey scrambled to pack everything in that bag of his, including his clothes, all of the equipment Sal would need to carry on the commission as well as other knick-knacks for his other Pokemon. Sal saw the easel disappear in the smaller looking bag and briefly wondered if there was a portal somewhere at the bottom of it, wherever the bottom was. Once he was done, Harvey gathered everyone in a group and put everyone in their respective Pokeballs for the journey. When it was Sal's turn, he stepped away from it, as he hadn't needed to be stored in a Pokeball for a long time. Harvey knelt down to him and smiled.

    "I know it sucks, but I'll release you once we get on the train." Sal cocked his head at him, as he understood it cost extra for trainers to let their Pokemon out on account of saving space.

    "Yeah, it's a little pricey, but we're gonna be living the boujee life for a few days anyway, so I say screw the costs."

    He didn't exactly know what 'boujee' meant, but ruled it out as another form of human slang, and so, tapped the Pokeball, storing himself in there.

    Time passed and didn't pass all the same. According to his trainer, each Pokemon’s experience inside the space was subjective. For Sal, it was like existing in a perpetually unfinished state, transformed into a sketch the artist of the space neglected to clean up and left on a blank page. In the real world, he felt small. In that temporal space, he felt microscopic.

    So, when he and the rest of his team were released onto the train, Sal felt whole once more. Roy stretched, undoubtedly feeling stiff being stuck in a sphere for so long, and Mari went to stare outside the window behind the seats with Anorak beside her. Sal and Roy went to join them, and their jaws collectively dropped when they saw the landscapes zip past them. The forests, mountains and cities all became a blur outside, yet on the inside, everyone kept their balance. Sal clutched the seat's handle, feeling dizzy at first, but once he acclimated to the fast panning backgrounds, he could sit down and feel his sight returning to normal again.

    From left to right, the carriage was lined with assortments of Pokemon and their trainers, some he had never seen before in Johto as well. He hadn't seen that many varied Pokemon crammed into one space at once. The itching sensation in his paws returned. Without asking, he reached into his trainer's bag and brought his sketchbook out alongside his materials. Being on a fast moving train didn't impede his line-work, which was as steady as ever. Before Sal knew it, he had already started sketching the crowd lined up before him on a blank page: a Feligatr, a Wooper, a Sudowoodo, a Hitmontop, and many other different faces. It was only when he was on his 2nd page that he noticed his team crowding around him. Almost squashing him as they were that close. Sal fidgeted in his seat, clutching the sketchbook to his chest.

    "Hey, uh guys," he said, "Can you give me a little space? I’m a little cramped here."

    "You were fine before," Roy said.

    "I didn't notice before," Sal replied, "Would you ease up a little, please?"

    "Alright, mon," he backed away with the rest of his team, "Artists, amiright?"

    "Ignore him Sal," Mari said. He grunted a reply as he continued to sketch the rest of the line to his left. In the middle of the crowd, one face stood out, not a Pokemon, but rather a black-clad man with hair as white as a sheet. The rest of his features were unremarkable compared to the varied bodies of Pokemon before him, except for his green eyes, which seemed to stare into Sal's soul. Sal had to sketch him down just on that virtue. While Sal was sketching, the monochrome man gazed at him, and even when Sal moved onto the tall purple-looking Pokemon beside him (which he thought of as the result of a Mr. Mime making whoopee with a Jynx, if that was even anatomically possible), the man continued to stare. He soon blocked him out of his mind and went back to his own little world, at least until the automated voice spoke through the intercom announcing their approach to Saffron City.

    Sal smiled and presented the sketches to his team, which they praised him on as usual. Then, Harvey pointed at the monochrome man on the 2nd page.

    "Who's he?"

    Sal pointed at where he sat, only to find he was pointing at the thin air. He looked back at his team, slack-jawed.

    "Well, I don't remember seeing him before," Harvey said, "That space has always been empty."

    Sal looked back at the man in the sketch, then back to the empty seat. He definitely saw him there, otherwise he wouldn't have spent a good few minutes drawing him.

    "Uh," Sal said, more for the rest of his team than his trainer, "Maybe he just went to pee."

    "Whatever you say," Roy said, nudging him with his elbow, "You've gotta active imagination, pal."

    Sal sighed, but didn't feel the need to press on and closed his sketchbook. The Pokemon passengers had started getting up, ready to hop onto the platform with their trainers, and Sal might as well have done the same too. He crammed the sketchbook back into the bottomless bag.

    Moments later, the train stopped at the station, and with his trainer, Sal put his paw onto the dirt of Kanto for the first time. As they walked amongst the mess of trainers and their Pokemon trying to squeeze through, Sal couldn't see past the waist of a lot of the passers by, so he ended up clutching onto his trainer's leg for safety. He yelped once as a sharp pain shot up his spine, but once they were out in the clear, he let go and got back to his feet. He nursed his tail, which was marked with dirt.

    “Oh, there she is!” Harvey said. Sal held onto his tail as he went forward with his group.

    "Hello again," Elora's sultry voice called, "I hope you had a pleasant journey."

    "It was alright," Harvey said. As Sal looked up, he could see he was rubbing his head with a nervous smile. "But it was worth it to see you, I mean, come here."

    "I hope so," she said with a smile. Elora had still been dressed in her hoodie, which Sal noticed as odd considering her apparent wealth, but didn’t think to comment. Then, he looked to his side to see the monochrome man again, holding out a banner with his trainer's full name on it. The Smeargle felt a chill wash over his tiny body. He pointed to the man who did not seem to notice him.

    "Oh, how rude of me,” Elora said, gesturing to the monochrome man, "Everyone, meet Zed, my butler."

    Zed hummed to himself and bowed at the team.

    "He's not much for conversation, but he will be here to take care of you if you need it. Now, let's get going, shall we?"

    Elora and co. started walking towards the exit. It took a few seconds for Sal to process that his team was leaving without him, so he scrambled to catch up with his friends at the back.

    "Those paint fumes been getting to you, pal?" Roy said with his back to Sal.

    "But, but, he's the guy I saw earlier!" Sal protested.

    "Sounds like one helluva coinkidink if it was."

    "Well," Mari said, "I believe him."

    "You do?" Sal said.

    "It sounds strange, sure, but this world's strange enough as it is, so there's probably an explanation for it."

    "So it's a hunch," Roy said.

    "Maybe. But it's still possible."

    Sal's mind drifted off as he navigated through the maze of legs and hindpaws. He wasn't sure if he could trust himself at that point. As Mari said, there probably was something happening, supernatural, maybe, but for a person to be at two places at once, and invisible to everyone else before, no matter how hard Sal thought of a reason for it, his brain matter felt more and more overstuffed by the minute. He shook his head and continued on. He had bigger things to worry about than some sort of illusion.

    Finally, the space around Sal was clear again and he exhaled. He made a mental note that next time he was to go into crowded places with his trainer, he would just climb onto Harvey's shoulder and avoid the hassle his small stature brought. When he looked up, he recognised he was in a car park where Elora was getting behind the wheel of a limo as Zed joined the passenger seat at the front. She gestured for everyone else to sit at the back. Sal was wide eyed as he entered its spacious insides. He'd always seen vehicles like these in various shows he could never remember the name of, but he never thought he'd actually see one in the flesh. The others shared his sense of wonder as well, as Mari bounced on the seat cushions and Roy lied down on the other side, taking up the entire space. Harvey and Anorak looked just as pleased, although they simply sat close to each other. Sal joined them, and gave the leather seat a few test bounces. He didn't know if his furry behind was worthy of such comfort. Harvey gave him another tap on the back.

    "You like it?" he said, to which, Sal nodded. The car started, and soon enough, the team were on their way.

    ---

    Once it stopped, Zed opened the back doors and led each member out into the front garden of their manor. When he got out, Sal stared in marvel at the sight of it. Buildings interlaced with each other. The windows were adorned with intricate frames. Not only that, the garden itself was no slouch either, the path to the manor lined with palm trees and other exotic plants. If Sal had more time on his paws, he would've loved to have drawn the whole thing, as architecture was something he hadn't studied enough. However, he saw his own team heading towards the front door, so he went to join them, putting his priorities on his current work. Zed opened the front door and led the way through the manor's interior, from its painting-laden hallways to the lavishly furnished bedrooms they would be staying in. They were given time to unpack everything, and once they made themselves at home, the team collectively sat on the four poster bed. Sal felt as if he was sinking inside the mattress, it was that comfortable. A far cry from the springy bed back home.

    There was a knock at the door. Harvey went to answer it, greeted by Elora, dressed in much more formal attire, with Zed by her side.

    "I hope everything is to your liking," she said.

    "Is it ever!" he said, "Man, I can't tell you how glad I am to get out that shithole. Pardon my Kalosan."

    "No, it's quite alright. In any case, I need you to gather Sal's equipment so he can start on the painting. My Houndoom will be joining us shortly."

    Harvey nodded and gathered all of Sal's paints and materials, gesturing for the rest of his team to come along with him. They left together with Elora leading in front.

    "If you'd be so kind," she said, "I'd like to hear exactly why your place is such an, ahem, shithole, as you'd call it."

    “Well,” Harvey said, wringing his hands together, “We did quite well up until we beat that gym leader at Azalea. Every Pokemon or trainer we butted heads with got super beefed up after that, so by the time we got to Goldenrod, we bled most of our savings out.” He grimaced. “We settled in that flat a couple of months ago, but the landlady’s been ripping me off since day one, so yeah. Changes the rent on a whim, you see.”

    "Pity," she said, "I'm glad I never considered going into the league myself. I saw little point in joining such a rat race."

    "But I guess you're still a trainer, since you have a Houndoom and all."

    "Only so I could get the right to own one. Money was not an issue for me to buy a license, and I was willing to play with fire, so to speak."

    "I see."

    They stopped outside a locked room. Zed produced a key for it and Elora guided the group away from the door, looking at them with a serious expression.

    "He will have to calm him down first before we can get started. Trust me, he gets in a foul mood if he hasn't had his Miltank Munchies."

    The team nodded and watched with bated breath as Zed turned the key inside. Click. He took a deep breath and slowly guided his hand to the doorknob. As soon as the door was wide enough to fit himself in, he thrust himself in there and slammed the door shut. Howling could be heard from the insides, followed by random bursts of noise, with objects clattering and furniture being knocked over. The howls alone sent shivers running through Sal's spine. According to his trainer, their howls were thought to be the calls of Mister Death himself. Even without that, the thought that the beast was able to produce that much noise by itself alone was enough for Sal to grasp his tail in anticipation for what was to come. While this was going on, he noticed the fuzzy coat of Anorak trailing beside his legs. He picked him up and held the poor Spinarak for comfort.

    After a moment, the noises stopped. They all stared at the door to see what would happen next. The door gradually became ajar, and out came the Houndoom, chewing noisily on some Miltank jerky as if nothing happened, and Zed came out after them, his clothes in tatters and stained in patches of blood. If Sal's coat wasn't already a shade of white, it would've turned grey by now. He looked to Zed, who dabbed his bloody forehead with a handkerchief, then down to the Houndoom, who was staring him down with a set of glassy eyes. He froze.

    "Um, hello?", Sal said.

    No reply. The Houndoom padded over to him and sniffed him down. Sal hoped fear didn't have a smell, otherwise, he was sure he'd be doomed to a fiery fate. Then, they stopped and went to Elora, where they presented their belly for her to stroke. They grunted affectionately under her grasp.

    "Everyone, I'd like you to meet Puffles."

    "Puffles," Harvey said in a deadpan tone.

    After being groomed by his owner, Puffles started sniffing down the whole team, and sat down, panting all the while. Roy was the first to lend his hand to the horned beast. Sal covered his eyes, expecting it to bite Roy's hand off in one fell swoop. When he opened them next to see Roy petting him in all sorts of places without loss of limb, he let out a sigh of relief. Roy was chuckling like an idiot.

    "Heh, look at this fella, he's loving it! How could you not like this cute little monster?"

    Elora cleared her throat, diverting the group's attention to her.

    "We should get started soon. I'll lead you to your studio shortly. In the meantime Zed," she looked off in the distance with a smirk, "Clean yourself up, and try not to get blood on my new carpets."

    Zed nodded and disappeared down a diverting path of the hallway. Puffles joined Elora and the two led the team to another room, which seemed to be a study. It was filled to the brim with books, with mahogany furniture as far as the eye could see, all leading to the centre of the room where a desk sat with a leather chair. Sal thought back to Santa's atelier and how that was loaded with all sorts of books and random materials, although those were more for picture reference than for reading. He personally preferred his old master's studio to this one, but it was a close tie for the sort of room he would liked to have built if his trainer ever had the money for it. Puffles sat himself down on the desk, making himself the centre of attention in the room. Sal half expected him to dress up in a suit and start addressing them about business matters, he looked that important. Instead, Elora walked to one part of the room and pulled up a chair, facing opposite to her Houndoom.

    "Now," she said, "If I can get a new canvas, would you please set up the equipment for this kind Smeargle?"

    "Sure," Harvey said, propping up the easel in front of the chair with all the materials set up in a cabinet beside it. Moments later, Elora carried in a large canvas, triple the size of Sal's body, and placed it in front. Harvey picked up Sal to stand up on the chair. Sal could see nothing but the white space ahead of him. He turned to Harvey, frowning.

    "Um," Harvey said, "This might be a problem. He's a bit small, you see."

    Elora nodded. "That shouldn't be a problem if you tilt the easel around."

    "Right," he said, and did as he was told. Although Sal had to crane his neck back and forth to navigate between his subject and the painting space, at least he was able to see what was going on. Doing the best he could with his paw, Sal gave a thumbs up to his trainer.

    "Excellent," Elora said, "Now that's all settled, I'll ask all of you to leave this room. I’ll need to talk to him personally to discuss what I want from him, if you wouldn’t mind.”

    "Of course," Harvey said, and gestured to the rest of his team to head towards the door. They left quietly, leaving the three to their own devices.

    Elora went over the sort of things she was looking for in the portrait: giving the Houndoom a specific pose in mind with the goal of making him look intimidating, yet noble at the same time. She gave Sal free reign to do whatever he wanted as long as he painted in a classical style, which was easy enough for him to pull off. She would call them back out once it was dinner time. He gave another thumbs up to Elora and she left, and at last, the imposing Pokemon and the not-so-imposing Pokemon were left on their own. Sal stared him down.

    "So, uh," he said, giving him a nervous smile, "Guess you’ve never had a Pokemon draw you before, huh?"

    No response. Puffles continued to look off into the distance as instructed to, leaving Sal with an unsure expression.

    "Not much of a talker, huh? Alright, I should get started then."

    With that, he grabbed his pencil and visually measured out each part of Puffles, from horn to paw. It was important to be as accurate as possible when referencing from real life, after all. The moments spent drawing passed in silence. Then, Sal heard a low rumbling down below. He blinked.

    “Um, did you hear that?” he said. No response. Sal shrugged and continued to draw in silence until he heard the rumbling again, this time a little louder. He carried on. Then, it rumbled for a third time, sending vibrations from the chair to the tips of his hinds. The lead of his pencil broke, leaving a large black spot on the space.

    Sal sighed and sharpened away. He hummed to himself, imitating a song he heard through the radio that one time in an effort to drown out the noise below. Without changing his pose, the Houndoom leered at him, presumably to get him to stop. Sal thought back to Zed's brush with him before and continued.

    It was now time to start underpainting. He mixed his paints with turpentine and dabbed his brushy tail in the pot, dragging it across the canvas. This second part was crucial to getting the tones right, as it would dictate the mood of the piece. The atmosphere around him seemed warm, so he started with the warm colours of oranges and yellows. He would block in the blues and greys for the Houndoom later. A nice contrast of warm and cool tones. The rumbling continued, although not as strong as last time, and Sal sighed. He had to find another way to block out the noise. His heart beat steadily as he opened his mouth.

    "So, um, do you mind me talking?" Sal said. Still no response.

    "I'll take that as a yes. There's nothing wrong with you not talking back. It's nice to have a good listener after all."

    Puffles grunted. He took it as a better response than being given the gaze of doom.

    “I usually talk to my subjects, you know, since I used to do caricatures. I loved what I did, and liked the conversation, but sometimes, they’d ask questions about why I started doing this. Why I wasn’t out battling with my trainer and such. I always felt like they were judging me, you know. I could see it in their eyes, glaring at me, one way or another. So I didn’t answer.”

    Puffles blinked. Sal held his tail still and glanced at his subject’s eyes. They were clear and white, like newly polished crystal orbs. They looked relaxed as well. Despite his first impressions early, his pulse steadied a little, and Sal smiled, returning to his work.

    "I had to admit, I was kinda scared at you at first, but it seems like you’re a nice guy. You know, it's crazy that I'm here, painting for a human for this much money. I never would've dreamed of it even when I had my old master. There was this painter who raised me, you see. I was given to him by a good friend of his when I was in an egg. He didn't have many friends, you see, so he relied on him for a lot of things, including food. Poor Santa. Even when he was making such beautiful paintings, he was just barely scraping by. At one point, he couldn't even afford to turn the heat on. But I grew up in that environment, so I've gotten used to being poor. Then again, it's much better than being in the wild. I don't even know if I'd survive out there by myself. I don't know about you, but I'm sure you've had experience with that. Then again, you're kind of like an apex predator, so I doubt you’d have much trouble, would you?"

    No answer.

    "Still, I'm very lucky to have this gift. I know it's not in most Pokemon's nature. Heck, most people wouldn't even bother teaching a Pokemon to draw, or do much else. Maybe teach them the human tongue, but aside from that, nothing. But I couldn't have had a better master than Santa. I trained my paws to hold objects, then I could use a paintbrush, and then he taught me all sorts of things about art theory and all that. How to use colours correctly. How to blend in different tones. How to accurately capture your subject. If I didn't learn to do all of that, I probably wouldn't have a reason to live now."

    Puffles grunted again, this time, a low grumble. The end of the Smeargle’s tail drooped.

    "I’m boring you, aren’t I? I'm sorry, I'll stop."

    The Houndoom opened his mouth.

    "Continue." It was the first peep he heard out of him. Only one word. However, it was said in a deep voice, like Puffles built up all his energy to express it. Sal smiled and continued painting and talking about anything under the sun, from his favourite artists to praising the interiors of the manor. Even if it was a one-sided conversation, the Smeargle enjoyed the company and had stopped hearing the rumbling underneath the floor.

    Then, the door opened behind him, and the Houndoom shifted from his place. It was Elora. She walked over to Sal's work, hands behind her back, and inspected the painting with a smile.

    "Excellent work so far. You can leave your equipment here. For now, I'd be delighted if you could join us for dinner."

    She stroked Puffles' head as he walked beside her, with Sal following closely behind him. He flexed his paint-covered paws. After a few hours straight of painting, the handiwork wore on him, but as long as he took the time to relax afterwards, he would be ready the next day for more.

    He met the rest of his team again at the dinner table, and while they waited, Sal asked what they got up to during the day. Roy did most of the talking, who said they explored the maze in the back garden on their own and got lost in there for a few hours before Zed had to wrench them out of there.

    "So yeah," he said with a grin, "Not a bad day overall."

    "And how is your painting coming along?" Mari said.

    "Alright, I guess," Sal said with a shrug.

    "Yeah, alright," Roy chimed in, "The freaking Smeargle that's painting for this rich chick is just doing alright."

    "Well," Sal said, scowling, "What am I supposed to say? I've just been underpainting all this time. It's still too early to say whether it’s good or not at this stage."

    "Alright, I gotcha." Roy turned to his side and started adjusting his cutlery. Zed brought in an assortment of dishes on the tray, as little as a few kibbles for the Spinarak, and as big as a whole roasted Psyduck for Zed to have on his own, with other stacks of side dishes all to himself. As for Sal, he dug into a plate of Magikarp cutlets for himself with a knife and fork, something else he learned to use with Santa. The dinner mostly passed in silence. The clatters of cutlery echoed in the spacious dining room, as the table was probably long enough to fit a huge crowd of people. When Harvey put the cutlery on his half-finished plate, he spoke at last.

    "So Elora," he said, "If you don't mind me asking, where's the rest of your family?"

    "Oh," she said, holding up a messy bib to her face. She hummed, deep in thought. "They're on vacation in Alola, yes, Alola. Pretty nice place."

    "So I've heard. But why aren't you with them? I'm sure they would've loved to have taken someone like you along."

    She smiled. "You flatter me. But, there were some matters I had to attend to back here with Zed. Business matters."

    "Such as?"

    Another pause. To Sal, it seemed to fill up the whole of the room. In the midst of the silence, Sal briefly looked to where Zed sat, who chewed loudly as he was halfway through his Psyduck.

    "Decorating," Elora said, "The inspectors will be coming here in a few days, so we thought we'd spruce up the place as nicely as possible. As I said, my family can get pretty messy. That was sort of the reason I sought out your Smeargle, since we haven't had a nice portrait of Puffles for ages."

    "Sorry you had to stay behind then."

    "No," she said, shaking her head, "It's quite alright, I didn't exactly want to come for another family trip. Besides, it was just another excuse for father to schmooze with all these uptight businessmen, so I need to spend time alone sometimes, after all. But enough of that. All that matters is that we're here on this table together."

    "Aw," Harvey said, smiling as he cut his steak into portions, "You're making us feel like guests of honour."

    "In a manner of speaking, yes."

    They continued their meals in silence until everyone was finished. All that was left of Zed's plate was a pile of bones. When Sal saw that, he gulped a little, partly at the sight of such an unassuming man consuming such a big portion so quickly, and mostly because it probably could've been any Pokemon under his knife, including Smeargle. If that was the case, Sal hoped his species tasted horrible. But he put that thought aside as Zed started collecting all the plates. Sal patted at his belly. It had been a while he had eaten something that wasn't processed in a factory somewhere.

    Suddenly, Elora stood up.

    "Now," she said, "Would you all like to join me in the guest room?"

    Harvey nodded and led the rest of the Pokemon on the way. Like the rest of the mansion, the guest room was painstakingly decorated, from the rugs lining the floors that tickled Sal's paws, to the paintings of all sorts of different figures adorning the walls. Although Sal noticed a blank spot marked where a painting should’ve been, he shrugged it off. They sat down in a circle as Elora got out a wine bottle with a few glasses, one for herself, one for Harvey, and to everyone's surprise, Roy. The Machoke looked down at it with one eye raised, as did his trainer.

    "You seem surprised," Elora said.

    "Just a little," Harvey said, "I didn't know Pokemon could have alcohol."

    "Well, yes, it is illegal to serve to Pokemon, and dangerous to most, after all. I certainly wouldn’t give it to something as small as a Smeargle—“ She cut herself off to look at Sal briefly. “No offense. But humans and Machoke are close as species, having evolved similarly to each other, just on different islands. A few studies point to them having a similar alcohol tolerance as humans, so he can probably take as much as you can, nix a glass or two."

    "Huh," Harvey said, tilting the glass, "You seem to know a lot about this sort of stuff."

    "Well," she said with a smirk, "I like to keep myself occupied with my studies. But in any case," she looked to Roy, "I hope it's to your liking, if you're up for it."

    Roy nodded, and Elora poured rose wine in each of their glasses. Elora raised her glass to them and gulped from it, spilling some onto her dress. She excused herself while Roy and Harvey looked at each other for a moment, and clinked both of their glasses together, which Sal couldn't help but smile at. After Roy's complaints about Harvey's training methods, it was nice to see them getting along. While Harvey sipped his, the Machoke drank all its contents in one gulp. He hiccuped after a few seconds of taking it in.

    "Hey buddy," his trainer said, patting him on his toned back, "You should pace yourself a little, otherwise you'll be knocked out in no time!"

    Roy gave a sheepish grin and shrugged. When Elora came back wearing a cardigan, she held a board game out, one Sal had never seen before. Harvey explained the rules to both his Pokemon, as Mari and Anorak just watched them, and they played a few games. By the time they were finished, the clock in the common room struck ten times, and Zed came in, leading the team back to their bedroom. There was some difficulty getting Harvey and Roy up the stairs as they had a few glasses to drink, but otherwise, got into their room without too much trouble and collapsed on the same bed. They locked arms with each other, snoring loudly. Mari chuckled as she witnessed the scene.

    "I wish someone in our group was good at taking photos," she said, "This would be good for blackmail."

    Sal cocked his head. “What do you mean by that?”

    "Nothing." She yawned. "But anyway, let's call it a night. You've got a big day ahead of you tomorrow, so I would get as much sleep as possible."

    She curled up in a tiny circular bed with Anorak, and Sal got up on the bed, resting by his trainer's feet. He closed his eyes, ready to turn in for the night, slowly succumbing to the fruits of his labour that day.

    DOON. DOON.

    He opened his eyes. The floor rumbled again. Sal shifted in his spot on the bed, readjusting himself to get in a more comfy position.

    DOON. DOON.

    The rumbling continued. Flakes from the ceiling fell onto Sal. He patted them off his side and leapt off the floor. He stood stationary on the balls of his feet.

    DOON. DOON. DOON.

    The rumbles had turned into knocks. Despite feeling the vibrations in his paws, when he turned to his team, they did not stir. Then, he looked to the door. At that point, he was convinced something was after him ever since he got on the train to Kanto, following him all the way to the manor just to interrupt him at inopportune times.

    Sal looked to his team. He crept close to Mari, almost putting a paw on her side when he retracted it. It was no use waking up the rest of his team for this. He tiptoed to the door and reached for the knob. It took a few jumps before he finally touched it, where he hung onto the handle. He swung backwards, finally opening the door with a creak. Sal looked behind him once more. Everyone was still sound asleep. Exhaling, the little Smeargle crept through the opening and made his way through the corridor.

    The floorboards squeaked underneath his paws. The rest of the hallway was drenched in darkness as thick as smog. Thankfully, most Pokemon had an aptitude for seeing in the dark they inherited from the genes of those that lived in the wild. According to Santa, Sal's father had lived in the wild before finding a trainer, which was another mystery to him as he knew nothing about his parents. Deep down, he wondered what his parents would think of him if they saw their son doing art. He hoped they'd be proud of him, although for most Pokemon, as he learned from looking at the world, pipe dreams like that were better as just dreams than reality.

    Step by step, he climbed down the carpeted staircase. The wood felt brittle. With each descent, his paws felt as if they would break through the floor. Sal hung onto the rails for safety.

    Once he reached the ground floor, he stopped to listen out for the rumbling.

    DOON DOON DOON.

    Sal knew in his heart he was getting closer to the source of the noise. It beeped rapidly as he walked further and further through the darkness, like a noise detecting radar. He went straight down the hallway, only to find the noise was getting quieter. He turned around and went the other way. The rumble got louder and progressively quicker, each pulse a drum beat reverberating through the floor. Eventually, he was faced with an area he hadn't seen before, another hallway with a small door at the end of it. Sal held his paw close to his chest. Something in his gut told him that was where the noise was coming from. He advanced further down the hallway, letting his mind wander into a variety of different scenarios. The noise might've been the Houndoom, who had to be kept under lock and key in a room if last time was of any indication. He could've been let out, prowling the hallways at night for any intruder that dared to disturb its domicile. If he spotted Sal, surely, he would've sunken its terrible teeth into the silly Smeargle's side, tearing him into two.

    He shook his head. It was best not to be paranoid in this situation. He thought about what Roy would do, as he looked to him whenever they trained together. On one such occasion, Roy had faced a Pokemon twice his size and didn’t back away. If Roy wouldn't retreat from danger, Sal wouldn't either. Setting his eyes on the door at the end, he charged through the hallway, advancing further and further to the source of the noise and its pulsating percussion.

    Then, a candle lit up on his left. Sal jumped at this, then froze when he looked down at what the light was casting itself onto. The bust of a Skarmory leered over to him with the whites of its eyes. He gasped, then let out a sigh of relief. The material was fake, he noticed. If it truly was a stuffed Skarmory, its metallic plumage would be shining in the light. Then, it shook. The bust jerked violently on the walls, as if trying to escape. Sal backed away from it, feeling his heart pound all the way up his throat. With one final motion, it fell to the floor. There was a pause. The rumbling stopped. Sal took a few steps back to where he came from, then turned, running as fast as he could from the bust. But he heard the air whistling behind him, grating on his ears like claws on a chalkboard. He tilted his head back. The bust was flying after him.

    Sal let out a shrill cry, sprinting up the stairs, forcing his tiny body to get up there even if he had to climb his way to his sanctuary. In the homestretch, he continued to sprint towards his room with heavy breaths. When he made it to his team’s base, he slammed the door shut, panting as he leaned against it.

    Everyone else had woken up. The only light in the room came from Harvey's phone, shining like a torch across the room. The trainer looked at his Pokemon, squinting his eyes.

    "Huh? Wazzup?"

    Sal let out a series of cries expressing what he saw downstairs, although to his trainer, it would’ve been little more than white noise. In Mari's groggy state, she walked up to him with a worried look.

    "Don't worry about it for now. You’re tired and thinking about tomorrow, that's all."

    "But, but, what I saw!" Sal said, "You believe me, don't you?"

    She frowned. "It's too late for this, Sal. Get some rest, please."

    Harvey fished through his belongings and found Sal's Pokeball, which he presented to him from the bed.

    "Just stay in here if you’re scared, c’mon.”

    Sal stared the spherical object down, and slowly nodded. As much as being in there felt like prison, he wasn't sure if his heart could take the rumbling any longer. Sal tapped the Pokeball, and soon enough, he was back in his little bubble, safe and sound.
     
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  12. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Read chapter two!

    *Feraligatr

    Haha, roasted. Wish I could've figured out which mon it was, though... my money's on Gothitelle for now.

    Wait... black clothes, white hair, green eyes, invisible to others... HOLY CRAP I FIGURED IT OUT

    [​IMG]

    *lay

    Man, a bunch of species really get screwed over in this verse.

    whoa now it's a REAL horror story

    Extra comma.

    thaaat's not suspicioouusss

    ah yes let's get the buff rowdy fighting type drunk, I can't possibly see anything bad resulting from this

    General Comments

    We're getting into the horror now! So far I'd say you're doing pretty good at it. Sal being a sympathetic character - and still gaining more depth, such as looking up to Roy and wanting to be brave like him - helps the suspense a lot, as the reader truly feels things are at stake.

    I really like all the art elements here, such as the pokeball metaphor and description of Sal painting. I know I'm biased, but it's oddly satisfying to read.

    One suggestion I'd give is to drop a mention of Mari's species somewhere, just as a quick refresher, as her presence isn't as strong as Roy's and her name isn't indicative of her species unlike Anorak's. I was only 50% sure she was a Bayleef until I re-checked.

    Anyway, that's all I have! Looking forward to the next chapter of the story. Really good stuff.
     
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  13. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    For some reason, this scene really resonated with me. It just popped in my head, envisioning Sal painting while his team crowded around him in curiosity, just watching it all happen like some kind of magic show.

    Boy, I wonder if this man is going to be important later?!

    Okay so maybe I’m a little spooked.


    You know, in general, I think that’s the first real moment where we got a little mystery to work with! And unfortunately, I feel like it happened kinda late! If it wasn’t for the summary/introduction post about the story, I may have lost interest, but I suppose that’s the benefit of stating your genre upfront, eh? So, I suppose no harm done.


    ___


    A crazy Houndoom, huh? Which author am I reading from again? Heheh…


    I mean, but of course.

    I’m noticing this error a lot, so I feel I should point it out: When someone is being addressed in a sentence like that last one in this quote, it’s supposed to be preceded by a comma. So, in this case, the correct way to phrase it would be, “In the meantime, Zed,” and so on.

    Checks. Huh. Yeah. I can see how those can be thumbs. Two thumbs, in fact, per hand.

    Oh boy, here we go.

    Holy hell what an impact. I audibly made an O face and was like, “Hooooly—” at this moment, even though it’s so simple. I still have no idea what to think about this Houndoom. It’s probably the greatest enigma so far, even though, technically, it hasn’t displayed anything particularly supernatural, like Zed has.

    You LIE.

    Why you do this?


    ___


    Alright, it looks like the spoop is finally beginning, as of the end of this first day! I’m definitely interested, now. At the beginning of the prologue I was more along the attitude of, “Eh, well, sure, I guess we can see where this goes,” but now that day 1 has finished, I’m definitely hooked to see what the next two days have in store. Zed was the immediate hook, and while I know little about him, if you wanted a bit of mystery at the start, having something like that happening earlier may have helped, or something. I’m not sure if that’s canonically possible, but it’s an idea.


    The Houndoom is by far the most interesting, as mentioned above. Just one word, too. I’m looking forward to reading more about this.
     
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  14. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Thanks for enjoying the second chapter, @canisaries and @Namohysip!

    Yup, you guessed right! You win the prize of virtually nothing but bragging rights!

    Yeah, I'm starting to realise I'm not so good at writing initial hooks in my stories. It might've been possible to have something earlier on, maybe if Sal caught a glimpse of Zed outside his flat's window beforehand, that would've added more mystery at the beginning and have linked back to this chapter. I'm not too sure if it's too late to change it, but if it helps the story, I would do an edit.
     
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  15. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    NOTE: I've added more to the dinner scene since I didn't address the fact that food seems to materialise out of nowhere.

    Chapter 3: Day Two

    When Sal came outside his Pokeball into the confines of his trainer’s room, all of his teammates stared at him expectantly at the edge of the bed.

    "So, uh, buddy," Harvey said, "I don't know what happened last night, but are you alright?"

    Memories of the levitating Skarmory rushed back to him. Despite not knowing what would've happened if that bust did catch him, Sal nodded, having calmed down in his personal bubble.

    "Good. Whatever it is, just don't overwork yourself today, okay? We have more time on our hands than yesterday, so feel free to take a break whenever." Harvey turned to pick his dirty clothes off the floor and scratched his hairy behind. "I just need to get changed, then we'll head down for breakfast."

    The other three still watched over him, with Mari showing the most concern on her face.

    "Right," she said, "Now we're all awake, do you mind telling us what's going on?"

    Sal cradled his legs. hugging himself. "I'm not sure you'd believe me if I told you."

    "Like I said, this world is strange enough as it is, so whatever you tell me won't faze me."

    "Either way," Roy said with a grin, "It'll be one helluva story!"

    Sal obliged and retold his story, from the bumps in the night to the bust chasing him.

    "Hey," Roy said, "Wasn't this on an episode of Detective Pikachu?"

    "Which one?" Mari said. "There are, like, bajillions of them."

    "Ugh, who knows? But anyway, there was this one bit where the bronze bust of this dead guy started floating and harassing that Pikachu and his partner, which they spent the whole episode solving the mystery of. Turns out it was possessed by a lonely Misdreavous who just wanted some company to scare, or some kiddy crap like that."

    "You reckon that's what happened?" Sal said. Roy just burst out into laughter.

    "You kiddin' me? Of course not! You really take things at face value, don't you pal?"

    Sal would've furrowed his brows if he had any.

    "Still," Mari said, "It wouldn't surprise me if something did possess that bust right here. It doesn't sound too far-fetched, after all."

    "What do Leek Pokemon have to do with it?" Roy said.

    "No, you dolt. I mean the, never mind." Mari let out a sigh as she went to sit inside her bed. She twitched her head-leaf towards Sal, gesturing for him to join her. She leaned to whisper in his ear.

    "Listen," she said, "Ignore what that clod says. If you hear whatever it is by the end of tonight, come to me and we'll check it out together. If it turns out to be a monster, my leaves will tear through them like ribbons, you hear me?"

    Sal nodded. As much as he wanted answers immediately, he still had work to do for the sake of his and his trainer's future, so he decided to put that aside in favour of enjoying a good breakfast.

    They met in the dining room again with a massive fruits basket in the middle of the table for all the Pokemon to enjoy. The tender berries nourished Sal after last night’s scare, even spoiling him with some other exotic berries he didn't know the name of. The humans had a full plate of some other kind of breakfast, with Zed having several plates worth of food to himself. Sal watched him scarf plate after plate down, and wondered if his stomach had the same technology as his trainer's bag did. No matter how much he ate, it still looked as if a light breeze would've knocked him over.

    "Well well," Elora said, slurping tea from her cup, "I heard there was a bit of commotion last night."

    "Oh," Harvey said. "Sorry about that, we didn't mean to disturb you. Sal wandered off during the middle of the night and came back screaming. I don't know what he saw but something must've set him off."

    "Oh really?" she said, humming to herself. "Strange. I can't say I've ever known this house to be haunted. Well, I'm sure that'll add extra points to the contest once the homeowners come here. That will make this quite the tourist attraction if it takes off." She let out a short, elegant laugh. Harvey joined her, although his laugh was more akin to a maniacal Gengar than anything belonging to a human.

    Once they were done, Elora led Sal to the same study room where his equipment lay before him, untouched. The painting was as exactly as he left it. Puffles got into the same place on the desk as before. Some degree of normalcy had re-entered Sal's life at last, at least, if a Smeagle painting a realistic portrait of a mostly-mute Houndoom was considered normal.

    Before Elora left, she tapped Sal on the shoulder, turning his attention towards her.

    "Sal, come with me please. Puffles, you can stay there for a minute."

    Sal nodded slowly, not sure where this was going, and Puffles stayed in place. The Smeargle followed the human out, and they got a few paces down the hallway before Elora suddenly picked him up by his sides, putting the two at eye level. His back was to the wall as his legs dangled in the air. Sal caught her gaze, which, for the first time, looked like it could penetrate his tiny skull.

    "Don't talk to Puffles, ever. Not about what you saw, not about what he's doing here, nothing. He will attack you without warning if you do. Just do your job from now on. Is that clear?"

    Sal's mouth hung ajar. He hadn't seen Elora that frazzled before,

    "I repeat," she said, raising her voice, "Is that clear?"

    Sal shook his head rapidly, wanting to be free under her grasp. At last, she smiled, her lips creasing up her otherwise dainty face. Sal felt even more goosebumps prickle up than before, and she let him go back to his workspace. He stared blankly into the canvas. Why was Elora so reluctant for Sal to have a conversation with her own Houndoom if she couldn't know what the two were actually talking about? The way she picked him up as if he was her puppet made him feel small again. A few moments passed with Sal shrinking in his state before he shook his head and picked up his tail-brush. Working on the painting would put his mind off things. At this stage, he had to start working on the actual colours and refine his underpainting.

    First, he blocked in the shades of the Houndoom with warmer grey tones for highlights and cooler blue tones for shadows. Getting the shapes of each of the shadow regions was important before blending. He carried on, forgetting about his previous telling-off with Elora and got into the zone again. That was, until the rumbling started once more. Not as intense as last time, as his paws didn't pick up any movement, but still listenable in the background. Sal found himself tapping his foot rapidly on the seat. With explicit instructions not to talk to his model, it was a lot harder to drown out the doom-bringing drones. As he was halfway through blending in between midtones and shadows, he sighed and tossed his equipment to one side. That drone pierced into his head all the way to his brain and festered there like some sort of disease. If he didn't find some way to drown out the noise, his head would’ve probably exploded. He climbed down the seat and looked to Puffles, who gazed at him with his head cocked.

    "Sorry," Sal said, "I need something to put on in the background otherwise I'm gonna flip out. Feel free to stretch your legs if you need to."

    Sal jumped to the door-handle, letting the Houndoom leave first before getting out himself. Vaguely remembering his trainer had a radio somewhere in his bag, Sal headed to where Roy was so he could fish through his belongings. He never knew where half his trainer’s possessions lurked in there, after all.

    His first instinct was to look for the back garden, if there was one, as he was sure Roy had to flex his combat muscles somehow. But with the layout of the manor looking the way it did: a convoluted mess of passages and corridors, Sal couldn't trust his own intuition.

    Puffles stopped in his tracks behind him. He looked to the Smeargle and tilted his head to him, then to his back. Sal stood there for a moment, then realised what the Houndoom was trying to say.

    "You want me to climb on your back?"

    A nod. Sad padded over to him and slowly got on his back. Before he could properly orient himself into a comfortable position, the hulking beast of a Pokemon leaned on its hindlegs. Just in time, Sal wrapped his paws around the Houndoom's horns, hanging on as if his life depended on it. Puffles was on all four again, and with a mighty roar, he charged through the hallway with Sal in tow. The air flew by Sal's ears, whistling around him. Soon enough, they were out of the dim corridors and into the bright, sunny landscapes. The Houndoom slowed his pace down and before Sal was allowed to soak in his surroundings, Puffles shook his body, booting the tiny Smeargle off his back. Sal groaned as he got back to his feet, giving him a view of the garden before him.

    True to Roy's word, there was indeed a maze over the field, made of topiary, and even with that included, there was still a huge chunk of greenery that allowed all sorts of flowers to grow in with a different variety of colours. The scent of roses wafted lightly in the air. As for his team, Roy, Mari and Anorak were having a free for all in the wide garden area, while Harvey and Elora watched in the distance, sitting next to each other on sunbeds.

    Mari shot a razor leaf at Anorak, who swung out of the way using his slingshot web, when Sal walked into the fray.

    "Training, are we?" he said.

    "Yup," Mari said, "We've been putting this off for way too long, so I'm glad to be working up a sweat again. So what's up?"

    "I need Roy to do me a favour, if he can come with me."

    "Yeah?" Roy said, loosening his shoulders, "Go on, spill it."

    "Can you get out the radio for me? I think it's in Harvey's bag."

    "What for?"

    Sal looked to his side. He didn't want to explain he heard the noises again, so he had to settle for something less crazy-sounding.

    "I just need something to listen to in the background while I'm working."

    Roy shrugged and walked over to where his trainer was. He gestured to the bag and his trainer gave him a thumbs up, allowing him to fish through it. He dug his whole arm into the thing. It took a minute before he found exactly what Sal was looking for, a small portable radio he could easily perch on top of his paint cabinet. Roy handed it over to Sal, who clutched it in his paws.

    "Thanks." He looked down to Puffles and nodded, aware of Elora’s presence. They walked into the house again and back to the studio not long after. Puffles got back in his usual place, and Sal set up the radio on his side. It took a few knob adjustments before he found the channel he wanted, settling for classical music before continuing to paint the subject.

    Something Sal didn't miss about his classes with Santa was the silence. His teacher was very strict on certain methods, like not over-blending or using more paint strokes than necessary, which was fair enough. One thing he forbade that never made sense to Sal was listening to music while he painted, as he considered it distracting and took away attention from the piece. Sal personally found he didn't listen to the music anyway and just had it on in the background, so he didn't see any harm in it. Besides, when there may or may not have been a ghost underneath the manor, the rules could've been bent a bit.

    The hours flew by. At that point, Sal had finished up the main shades of the piece, giving the Houndoom in the canvas form: a tangible, living thing at last rather than just a combination of pigments on a flat surface. Any fledgling Pokemon would’ve stopped there. But what separated the amateurs from the masters were the details in the subject. Each whisker, each tuft of fur and each reflection in the subject's eyes had to be accounted for. For this, Sal had to look very closely to capture every detail in his head, like a photographic memory, to translate it onto the canvas. One piece of equipment he hadn't used in a while, but was nevertheless important to finalising the piece, was a magnifying glass. He fished it out of his toolbox and closely inspected the Houndoom's figure with it. Just in time as well, as the radio switched from its usual broadcast of orchestral tunes to the news.

    "In recent news, two disappearance cases have popped up in two different regions. The first of which happened in Sinnoh, where seventy-three doctorate students in their fifth year are reported to be missing. Friends and family have expressed their worries, not seeing those affected in weeks. All that is known is each student underwent a program in secret, the details of which they were not allowed to disclose."

    Sal paused to look at the radio, then looked back to the Houndoom. As long as he wasn't in the same region as them, it was none of his concern.

    "And our top story today in Kanto, an entire family has also been reported missing after a week of silence, where an investigation will be commenced in the next few days. William Daniels, the CEO of Pokemon Education and Welfare Fund, or PEWFund for short, has cut ties with his company unexpectedly and has not been heard from since. The rest of his family, including his wife, Vanessa, his two sons, Felix and Richard, and his daughter Elora have also not been heard from. Their manor in--"

    Crash. Sal got knocked to the floor, bashing his head on the hard, wooden surface. It took a few seconds for him to register what had happened, but Puffles had leapt off the table and attacked the radio, knocking Sal's cabinet over. Paint tubes scattered all over the floor. Brushes rolled to the other side of the room. Meanwhile, the Houndoom wrestled with the radio in his maw, digging his fangs into the electronics before throwing it against the wall. Once a source of tranquillity for Sal, it was now just a mess of wires and loose plastic casing. Sal stood up in his haze in an effort to get the beast to stop. The beast stared back at him. He felt Death's gaze piercing through him again. When he realised what was happening, Sal ran towards the door in an effort to get away. The beast followed. It pounced on him, pinning him against the wall with its heavy paws, snarling at him with a set of sharp teeth, so close that flecks of spit dribbled down Sal’s face. He covered his eyes, expecting the worst.

    DOON. DOON. DOON.

    The floor rumbled again, sending ripples through each of their bodies. The beast looming above Sal whined, releasing its grip on the tinier Pokemon. Sal slowly opened his eyes. Puffles had tears streaming down his face. There was a hollowness to his eyes, not blank white like before, but deep grey with a hint of red. While all of this was going on, Sal's heart pounded like a drum. He grovelled to one corner of the room, hoping Puffles had reverted back to his old self. The Houndoom padded towards the door. Each step he took echoed in the room. He stood on his hindlegs to push the door open. He gave one final look at Sal with bloodshot eyes, and left the room with the door ajar.

    DOON. DOON. DOON.

    Sal groaned as he nursed his head. Not only was he reeling from the injury, the droning noise below continued, making it feel like his head had been pumped with gallons of water. He crawled to where all his equipment had scattered and picked up each piece, one by one. Sal turned to the painting, which miraculously, hadn't been overturned in the aftermath, and let out a sigh of relief.

    "Bless my tail."

    With all of his paints in one place again, Sal left the room. The hallway spun before his eyes, like a washing machine stuck on a full cycle. Then, the whole room tilted before him, sending him crashing towards the wall. The breakfast he ate rushed back from his stomach into his throat, and before he knew it, it spewed out his mouth. Sal collapsed, and the light left his eyes.

    When he next stirred, all Sal heard were muffled voices. He guessed they belonged to his teammates as their tones of voice sounded familiar to him. His eyelids lifted up, but all he saw was black. His head pounded. The events of the spinning hallway before he fainted were all fuzzy as well.

    Something smacked him across the cheek. Hard, like Arceus' divine backhand. Sal's vision came back, and saw Roy with his palm raised.

    "Hey hey hey!" Sal said, kicking at the dirt beneath his paws, "I'm awake, I'm awake!"

    Roy let out a quick 'oh' and put his hand down. Sal's team stepped back, allowing him to get back to his feet and orient himself to his new surroundings. He was in the back garden again.

    "Buddy," his trainer said, "I'm getting really worried about you. First, there was that incident last night, and just then, you were lying face down in a puddle of your own puke."

    Sal looked down to his feet and patted all around his coat frantically. It was clean. He looked back at his trainer, who smiled weakly.

    "We saved you the trouble of cleaning it. But, Sal..." Harvey crawled over to the Smeargle and put his arms around him, lightly embracing him. "I’m sorry for being so selfish. I know I should’ve asked first before signing you up to this thing. None of your work is worth this much stress. If you're not feeling up to it, we can always call this deal off. Screw the money. We can find some other way to pay off the rent, I don't care how. Just tell me if you want to continue or not.”

    Harvey backed off a little and put his hands on Sal's sides. The two locked eyes with each other. In a heartbeat, Sal nodded.

    "Are you sure?" Harvey said, narrowing his eyes at him. Another nod. His trainer smiled and went to hug him again, along with the rest of his team, who huddled around the two.

    "Just take care of yourself, buddy. We've still got plenty of time, so finish at your own pace."

    "He's almost done," Elora chimed in, standing above the team. "I saw the work he did today and all he needs to do is finalise it. However, his well-being still matters so for now, we'll call it a day. We shall regroup at the dinner table." The team dispersed, giving Sal a view of Elora as she went back in the manor. There, he had time to soak in his surroundings, as he was back at the garden, except it had turned cloudy with gradually blackening skies in the distance. Harvey sat down, watching Sal with a worried look. Mari was the first to come up to him.

    "Did it happen again?"

    Sal gazed at the flats of his shaking paws.

    "I don't know what's going on any more."

    "Well, can you try to explain anyway?"

    Sal shook his head. The memories of hours past were all a blur. There was the feeling, deep in his gut, that told him he would have to do some investigating tonight, where he would get all the answers he needed.

    "Do you mind if I tell you all when we're alone?"

    "But we are alone," Roy said, eye cocked.

    "Later tonight, I mean. I need to think on it for a bit."

    His team nodded. They all headed back inside for dinner, where they stayed at the table in silence. As usual, Zed tore through portions no human would've been able to consume by themselves. The Houndoom was nowhere to be seen. Memories of their last painting session came back to him in pieces, where Sal remembered the broadcast that set him off. Before Puffles broke the radio, there was the news report that announced Elora's name. He was willing to chalk it up to coincidence if there happened to be another Elora, but the fact the report mentioned the manor as well was too specific to dismiss.

    Sal stared at Elora in front of him, or at least, tried to stare through her. He kept a close eye on the way she moved and the way she ate. Her elbows were on the table. Her face was a mess from the steak she ate. At one point, she brazenly put her dirty cutlery on the table. Sal grasped at straws at that point, just so he could get even an inkling of what was going on in the manor, but something about her table manners didn't seem to fit at all. Even last night, she made a mess of herself, looking back at it. If only he had the rest of the pieces on the puzzle, he thought.

    "Hey," Harvey said, putting a hand on his paw, "I would eat if I were you. You need to keep up your strength for tomorrow."

    Sal nodded and sampled his own meal. After being sick, the dinner in front of him felt like a mountain of food instead of a balanced plate, but he chewed on, piece by piece, as he knew he had to fill his belly up once more. Thinking about mountains of food, he looked at Zed's finished plates, all stacked on top of each other like a leaning tower of porcelain, then looked to one of the doors, which he thought must've led to the kitchen. As far as he knew, Elora and Zed were the only ones in the manor. Who cooked all of that in the span of one day?

    "Sho," Harvey said in the eating the last morsel of his meal, "That butler eatsh like a monshter."

    "Well," Elora said, dabbing at her face with a dirty handkerchief, "He has quite the healthy appetite, after all."

    "Yesh." He swallowed. "But I can't even start to imagine how much time this would've taken to cook, and I don't think there's anyone else here aside from you guys, so where's all of this coming from?"

    Sal gulped. Harvey must've read his mind, or had as many suspicions as he did about Elora. The mistress flashed a nervous grin and rubbed her hands together.

    "Well, er, Zed was working on it all day, um, weren't you?"

    Zed nodded without so much as a blink.

    "The man's gotta feed his appetite, after all!" Her accent started to slip.

    "Yeah, I get that," Harvey said, pointing his fork to the two, "But how can one guy do all of this, plus our meals, plus clean-up duty afterwards? You'd need a whole team to do this sort of stuff. I mean, I would, otherwise I'd blow my brains out!" To accentuate this, he made a gun-cocking gesture with his hands. Elora set her cutlery down with a clang.

    "Er, well, Zed's a very dedicated butler. It doesn't matter how long it takes, he'll just do it, you know."

    "At the same quality, and at the same time?" he said, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, I don't know much about cooking, I've lived off noodles for years now, but I've seen enough cooking shows to know you can't do both, so what gives?"

    Sal noticed something flicker in Zed's form, if only for a brief second, with shades of black and red flashing by. For the first time, he thought he saw something completely different to the implacable man. Elora brought back his attention when she laughed, not the elegant, tea-drinking laugh one might've expected from her, but a kind of harsh, chain-smoking laugh. She rose to her feet, bashing her knee on the table as she nursed it, and lifted Zed by his shoulder-pads.

    "Well Zed! It looks like you've got a lot of cleaning up to do, huh?" She got behind him and pushed him towards one of the doors. "Go on, get to it! I'll bring the plates in later."

    "A-ah," Zed said, the first syllable Sal heard from him in days, "What meaning this? Let go! This ridiculous!" His voice was strangely deep for someone so straw-like. Despite being spoken in human, it didn't sound human-like at all. Before he had a chance to complain any more, Elora shoved Zed into the whiteness of the kitchen and shut the door, leaning against it as she sighed.

    "I expect you must be done with dinner now!" she said. "How about we go continue our game? Zed will take care of the rest!"

    The team collectively looked at the kitchen door, then back to the table, and reluctantly followed Elora through the corridor. Harvey and Sal exchanged glances, and both Pokemon and trainer felt like they belonged on the same wavelength. On top of his suspicions about Elora piling up, Zed's illusion started to break as well. It reminded him of that black and red monster he saw on that show that could deceive other people, although he couldn't put his finger on what its name was, but in any case, he put that thought to one side and headed into the common room like before, waiting to see how the night would play itself out before jumping fully to conclusions. When it came time for Elora to pour the glasses for the previously-drunk duo, Sal snatched both the glasses out of their hands and returned them to the master of the house. Harvey kept his cool, although Roy looked at him, wide-eyed.

    "Hey," Roy said, "What's the big idea?"

    "Look," Sal said, more for the other Pokemon's sake than the human, "I'll need both of you sober tonight. I'll explain later, but trust me on this one. Besides, I think you had a bit too much last night.”

    Roy stared at him for a bit with those brown eyes of his, then shrugged and patted Harvey's shoulder, who smiled to Elora.

    "Sorry, miss," the trainer said, "I don't think Sal here wants me drinking tonight."

    "Fair enough," she said with a smirk, pouring her own glass. "That won't stop my pursuits, however." She put her mouth close to the rim and sampled the wine, smacking her lips. "This is perfectly good wine you're missing, I must say."

    "Uh huh," Harvey said with a leer. They continued their board game campaign throughout the night, although Sal sat out to think about the rest of the night to come. With each passing moment, Sal started to notice more details about Elora. The way she spilled the wine without much care. The way she put the bottle back in the cases, not knowing where to put them at first. If Sal's suspicions were right, he would need his team to see them first hand, as not all of them seemed clued in yet.

    When they returned to their rooms and bid Elora good night, his team all looked towards Sal.

    "Alright," Roy said, nostrils flared, "Tell us what the hell's going on, now. None of this mysterious crap, just the raw details."

    Sal took a deep breath and closed his eyes. This would be the moment where he would reveal everything he knew about the household at once, or at least, relay his hunch. He opened his eyes and exhaled. At once, he told them everything that happened up until that point: Elora's interrogation, the news report, the attack, the whole score. Then, he said this:

    "All of this leads me to believe Elora and Zed are fakes, and the answers are in the basement."

    The rest of his team were gob-smacked.

    "Huh?" Roy said, arms crossed. "Okay, now you're talkin' crazy. If that chick isn't a part of this house, then I'm freakin' Rex Revolver. And besides, who do you think they're really supposed to be anyway?"

    "I don't know," Sal said with a shrug.

    "You don't know,” he said in a mocking tone.

    "Hey, I know it's not much to go on, but if you've been through what I've put up with these past few days, you'd be thinking the same thing. For starters, why do you supposed she was wearing that hoodie before?"

    "Because, uh," Roy said, scratching his chin, "She liked it that way?"

    "So she'd disguise herself in public. If this was the real Elora, who is apparently missing, she wouldn't need to go into hiding, would she?"

    "Yeah, but..." Roy continued to scratch, until he grunted and smacked at his own head. "I don't believe this! All of this is so whacked out!"

    "Look, I find this all hard to believe too. But if I don't find out what's going on now, I'm going to lose my mind here. I know this is a long shot, but please, I need you all to come with me downstairs. If it'll stop that rumbling, if it'll give me some answers, I'd be very grateful if you'd all give me a paw in finding out."

    They all stared at him, including Harvey. Even though the conversation fell on deaf ears with the human, having a different tongue and all, the sentiment was the same. He went up and patted Sal's head.

    "I see you're worried," his trainer said. "And I wouldn't blame you; both of them are awfully fishy to me. If there's anything you want, I'll be willing to help you out."

    That was all Sal needed. He looked to his other teammates, offering a paw to them all.

    "Well, are you with me?" he said. Mari and Anorak went up to him and put their paws together.

    "I had a feeling it would come to this," Mari said, "Plus, I did offer to help you out, so I'm in."

    Anorak chittered a response as well. Sal looked to Roy, who still had his arms crossed, and stared down at the set of paws. Finally, he sighed and put his hand with the rest of them as well.

    "You're crazy, pal, you know that? But whatever floats your Gogoat."

    "Boat," Mari corrected. They chuckled in unison and dispersed. Roy grabbed his trainer's phone, much to his surprise, but before he could protest, Roy turned on the flashlight feature. He took the bag with him and headed towards the door with his other teammates.

    "Wait?" Harvey said, joining Roy as he had his bag in tow, "Are we all going out now?"

    The team nodded. Harvey let out a sigh and nodded too. "Right. I'll come with Just let me get changed first."

    And so, the team trekked through the creaking hallways together with Roy pointing the torch at the front. This time, Sal had the added benefit of actually seeing ahead of him as opposed to letting his eyes adjust to the dark. They crept down the stairs, feeling ever more fragile under their collective weight. Sal led the way through the rest of the ground floor, up until the point where the corridor led to that room.



    DOON DOON DOON. The rumbling continued. When Sal looked to his team, they all stared at the door, wide-eyed.

    "Can you hear it?" he asked.

    "Y-yeah," Roy said, trembling, "I heard it."

    Sal continued walking, stopping when they reached the Skarmory bust, which was on the wall once more. He backed away from it, expecting it to clatter onto the floor and chase after him again. But nothing happened. Before he could move on, Roy raised a fist at it. All it took was one punch for it to crumble into pieces; a cloud of dust emerging from its ruins. The team stared at him.

    “Y, you know,” he said, “J-just to be on the s-s-safe s-s-side.”

    Sal gestured for the rest of his team to follow, passing by the remains of the bust. Then, they stood, face to face with the door.

    DOON DOON DOON. DOON DOON DOON.

    The rumbling shook the foundations of the house. Sal put his paw on his chest once more, feeling the familiar burn, and took a deep breath.

    "Roy, please open the door for me. I can't reach the handle that easily."

    "O-okay," he said, light shaking underneath his grasp, "Sure thing."

    He tiptoed to the door. The rumbles turned into tremors. Roy flung his hand away from the knob like he'd just touched a hot iron, and shuffled backwards. Harvey put his hand on the shaking Machoke's shoulder and went up to the door in his stead. He turned the handle. Light streamed into the opening. The rumbling stopped. Mari and Sal looked to Roy, whose teeth chattered.

    "I thought you were the fearless type," Mari said.

    "S-shut up!" Roy said, "I'm fine with battle situations, it's crap like this I can't take, ghosts and stuff."

    "Aha!" Sal said, pointing at him, "So now you believe me!"

    "Whatever! Let's get goin', anyway!" They all nodded and crept down the circular stone staircase, footsteps echoing in the narrow passage. The ground felt cold underneath Sal's feet. He couldn't see past Roy and Harvey's legs, but of what he could see, dull brown spots randomly trailed across the lower part of the walls. If he was a betting Mon, he would've guessed it was blood. There must've been a struggle.

    "Pwoarr!" Roy said, pinching his nose, "What’s that smell?”

    “Well it’s not me,” Mari said.

    Sal held his own paw up to his nose, as the stench of decay wormed its way into his cavities, and grimaced. If there was anything Detective Pikachu taught him about basements and odd smells, that usually meant bad news. They advanced further down the stairs slowly. The further they descended, the more chilling the air felt around Sal. At one point, he swore he could see his own breath. Either that, or it was another trick his eyes were playing on him. Eventually, they reached the lower level. All it led to was another corridor with several wooden doors on each side of the wall. Alongside Roy, Harvey checked each door, but all of them were locked. Sal listened out for the knocking again in an effort to find its whereabouts, but nothing answered his wishes. The duo turned to the rest of the team.

    "We can't get into any of them," Harvey said, "And to be honest, I don't want to find out what's behind there either. I--"

    The duo turned white. Their eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets. Harvey pointed his torch at something out of Sal's view. Everyone else turned around. A pair of horns greeted them.

    "W-whaddya want?" Roy said, pushing himself in front of the rest of the team. "Look, you've been cute and all this time, but you hurt my pal here! And you're creepin' me out!"

    With his fist raised, Roy focused his energy at the beast and shot a Force Palm at it. It dodged to one side, then pounced on the hulking mass. Roy struggled, bashing his fist at it to get out of its grasp. Then, the Houndoom looked towards the door at the end of the corridor and charged through the rest of the team, knocking them over. The beast threw itself at the frame, horns first. Wood chips flew from the where it struck. It bashed its head into the door, over and over, until it knocked it off its hinges, slamming it onto the stony floor. The rest of the team got to their feet, then followed slowly, bracing themselves for anything the Houndoom threw at them. Instead of being greeted with the horns once more, they were greeted with a purple, spectral light. It streamed from the room and into the hallway, making the otherwise dim grime of the walls glow pink.

    “Okay,” Harvey said as the light shook from his hands, “Now what?”

    The team stood silently for a moment. They were sure whatever waited for them in that room would lead to a confrontation of some sort. The rest stepped backwards, trying to get back up the passage from where they came, except for Mari and Sal. The two stood close to each other and advanced forward.

    “Hey hey, wait!” Roy said, feet slapping on the hard floor. “You guys aren’t going on your own, I’m coming with you!”

    Harvey and Anorak joined them too, and together, they padded into the room, side by side.

    In front of Sal, the Houndoom sat, staring at five purple orbs, all lined in a row. The white faces etched on the black voids revealed themselves to be Gastly. They stared at each other while Sal's team looked on as spectators. One by one, the Gastly crowded around the Houndoom, enveloping it in a dark aura. One of them floated in front of the beast. It looked its usual, perpetually smiling self, then frowned, gazing at him longingly.

    "Puuuuuuu. Puuuuuu-fffffff."

    Its words came out in short bursts, like static repeatedly cutting out and cutting back in again.

    The Houndoom looked to its side. Tears fell down and dripped onto the stony floor. Then, it tilted its head up and howled in the stagnant air. Its voice resounded throughout the room, and through each member of the team, including Sal. For a moment, he forgot about who he was, as well as his reason for coming down there in the first place, and instead, sorrow filled the void in his thoughts. He remembered a Houndoom's cries to be the cries of Mister Death himself. If what he heard upon his introduction was its death knell, then what he heard at that moment was its dirge. For the first time, in a long while, he remembered the day Santa passed on in a hospital bed from old age. The grip of his withered hands. His hoarse breaths croaking through the ventilator. His sunken, grey eyes peering at him longingly. The emotions from those memories years past trickled into his present, and Sal's face became a waterfall. Everyone crowded around him, although he could barely notice their presence.

    "I'm sorry," a human voice said. Sal snapped himself back to reality and wiped his face to see where the voice came from. It wasn't Harvey, as he didn't sound that deep. It couldn't have been the beast in the middle of the room. Could it?

    "I'm so sorry, everyone," Puffles said in the human tongue, "I couldn't protect you. I was weak." Sal's jaw dropped, as did the rest of his team. The Houndoom turned around, and when his and Sal's eyes met, he could see the soul in Puffles' eyes. They were red. Not a milky white like before, but an ember red, burning brighter than ever.

    "And I'm sorry for attacking you," he continued, padding towards him, "It was too painful to me to listen on."

    "Wait, hold on!" Harvey said, pointing at the talking Houndoom. "You just--"

    "Spoke? Yes. I know it's a surprise after all this time. They, or rather, my family, taught me."

    "So," Sal said, "It’s true. That lady up there..."

    Puffles sniffled, wiping his wet eyes with his paw. "Whoever she is, that isn’t my owner. She must’ve ordered a hit of some sort against my family. I was too drugged to get the full details."

    "Then." Sal pointed to the crowd of Gastly, who floated behind Puffles, casting him in a purple rim-light. "Who are they?"

    "My pride and joy. They took me out of the streets when no one else came, taught me everything they knew, and would've gone on to give every Pokemon in the world the same gifts I had if it was up to them."

    A moment passed. In place of the rumbling, the air around them filled with a low, droning noise, like electricity humming from a pylon. Sal stood up, noticing the floor was sticky. Underneath his paws, he noticed a blackened patch of wood that trailed to the side and stopped. Another patch lied adjacent to that in the shape of a human body. The stench of decay wafted from below the floorboards, even stronger than before.

    "We need to get the hell outta here," Harvey said, "Forget the painting, forget all that business with the flat. Let's just vamoose and never look back."

    "Then," Puffles said, padding over to him, "You'll need help. The imposter will come running after us. Not just that, that butler of hers too, he's not what he seems. All that work of his, looking human and all, is an illusion. But I'll be here to protect you, just run as fast as you can and never look back."

    Sal looked to the Gastly group.

    "But what about your family?"

    “I can’t stay.” A tear streaked down Puffles' eye, which he wiped away. “If I linger on any longer, it’ll end badly for all of us.”

    Puffles headed out of the room, craning his head for the rest to follow him. "Come on, we've got work to do. Human, turn your flashlight off, otherwise they'll spot you. Quickly now."

    Harvey complied and they retraced their steps back up to the ground floor in silence. Sal's mind drifted somewhere else as his paws carried themselves. He played back the events in his head, a slideshow of random sketches, and pieced that together with what he found out. He solved every mystery with Puffles' confession save for one: why did the fake Elora kill his family? If her father was an important figure in a charity benefiting Pokemon, there certainly wasn't any bad blood. Who would go out of their way to harm anyone doing good in the world?

    Maybe he was naive. Maybe he was always a small Smeargle trying to grasp at human affairs infinitely bigger than his. But for now, his primary thought was to get out of the manor, safe and sound, with his friends.

    They advanced up to the ground floor. At first, the hallway seemed empty, looking pitch black. The team huddled close to Puffles, keeping in close contact with his tail for support. Sal listened out for anything that might’ve lurked around them. Nothing. Only his own breaths coming through his nostrils. Then, a heavy set of shoes pounded before them. White flashed, blinding the team as their eyes adjusted to the new light source. The light came from the impostor’s torch in one pocket. In her hands, she held a fire extinguisher.

    “Going somewhere, are we?” she said, her tone of voice sounding deeper than before.

    “Murderer!” Puffles roared and shot a flurry of fireballs at her. She aimed the nozzle in front of her and pressed it, cancelling out each ball of fury one by one. It filled the room with gas. The Houndoom leaned forward, keeping his battle stance. Sal scrambled backwards, as did his team. Only a second later, the fire canister came hurtling towards Puffles’ head from the cloud of smoke. His horns barely missed catching it. It smacked his face, sending him hurtling towards the team. His face was covered in blood. The imposter emerged from the gas with Zed, who, before the teams eyes, morphed from his suited figure and transformed into a jade-eyed monster just as tall as her.

    Mari and Roy stood in front of the rest of the team, assuming a battle position. Force Palms and Razor Leaves flew in their direction. With one swiping motion of the monster’s claw, it cancelled out each attack. Then, the two were knocked back. Before Sal could counter, something knocked the wind out of his stomach. He hurtled towards a wall and slumped to the floor. Before his vision gave out, the shadows in the hallway merged with one another. Then, total darkness followed.
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018
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  16. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Period in place of comma?

    *Misdreavus

    *thinks about whether or not Smeargle would have brows for way too long*

    Sentence cuts off?

    Nice try, Nebby, but hiding in a fic isn't enough to escape the bag. NOW GET IN

    Missing period?

    Aw. The details really make this.

    *Team's?

    So on the initial read-through of this, I was pretty confused on the role of the Gastly. It's not that I didn't put together that it was the family, but more like I took some parts to go against that theory. On the second read-through, it makes more sense, so I think it the confusion was mostly from my size. I figured I may as well mention it here, though, as it's possible I'm not the only one. I guess one of the parts was Puffles referring to the Gastly as his "pride and joy", which feels to me like it fits more in the mouth of a caretaker than the one being cared for. I suppose it's the "pride" part - but then again, most phrases aren't supposed to be taken literally.

    As a semi-related critique, I expected the crew to have more of a reaction to the Gastly. The wave of sorrow was mostly focused on just Puffles.

    Anyway, on a positive note, I like that Puffles's speech is in italics. Helps the reader remember it's in human tongue.
     
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  17. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    You LIE?

    Oh good, time for everything to come falling apart.

    Oh good, classical music in a horror story on the second act. This’ll be good.

    And so it begins.


    __


    Midway theory: It seems like Elora isn’t Elora, and is perhaps some sort of illusion of some kind? Honestly I can’t really tell, but Zed’s appetite is making me wonder if he’s perhaps a Pokémon. Zoroark? And everything else is an illusion of some kind, except for, perhaps, Puffles. I’m not sure what the appetite of a Zoroark is, though, unless making illusions is a very taxing ordeal… Ahh, but how would they keep up the illusion if Zed had to manhandle Puffles for a while? Unless he re-established the illusion after the battle. We never see him get struck. Hm. Well, time to continue reading.


    As an aside: The intrigue is definitely building. I’m still not sure what the significance of Sal’s team will play in all this. They’ve been woefully ignorant up until this point, so I hope they’re actually caught up on matters before the final act. I dunno if Sal can properly defend himself against whatever is to come, unless we’re going for full-blown survival horror.

    Missed a period.

    I feel like I’m not familiar with what species most of these folks are, unfortunately. I know that some folks don’t like epithets, but with a full team of six in a short story, I think it wouldn’t hurt every so often to remind us of what these species are. Mentioning attacks like Razor Leaf and Force Palm helped, but for the others, I’m at a loss without going back to look.

    Was not expecting this bit.

    No! The ultimate weapon! Owen’s best kept—Okay, I’ll stop with the Missing Mod business.


    __


    And that’s all! Looks like Sal’s passing out and who knows what’s going to happen to his team at this point… That has me concerned. But I’m also not sure what species Zed became. Jade-eyed monster? That’s green, I think, but I think Zoroark has blue eyes typically, unless this is just a different eye color. In which case, I only know it’s about human-sized and has claws, which still leaves Zoroark in the running, but I’m not sure, as it was never made explicit.

    Also, as an aside, I feel like Roy and Mari are the most prominent of Harvey's team aside from Sal himself, but the other three (he has three others, right?) I've totally forgotten what species they were, let alone what role they have on the team. I can probably count the number of scenes they've been involved in, and how many lines they had dedicated to them, on one hand.
     
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  18. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Thanks for reading on, @canisaries and @Namohysip! I don't have much else to say, but I do have one thing to point out.

    I didn't mention Harvey having three other Pokemon. I thought I already established Harvey only had Sal, Roy, Mari and Anorak in his team. I think the lack of epithets might not have helped with that, so I'll have to consider that more if I get round to editing the whole thing again.
     
  19. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    *Flaaffy

    I'm not totally sure why the shackles on Sal's feet are needed if he can't escape anyway. He must already be able to walk with them as he uses the magnifying glass.

    If I read right, there actually was no mention of the pounding being there before this part.

    [​IMG] where them be?

    Missing space.

    Is something missing from that second sentence?

    LOOT LOOT LOOT

    *Even?

    They referring to... the scream? Either way, something's wrong here.

    Red barb...? Is this the Zoroark or some statue I've forgotten about? Because before, Zed was only described as black and I don't think it was every really emphasized that his appearance had changed between encounters, when that feels like it really should be. Also, I just... really don't know how describing an anthropomorphic fox as a barb works.

    I think this could use a namedrop of Harvey, as I kind of got confused and read that it was the impostor (or what's left of her) again.

    Extra apostrophe.

    Extra period.

    I'm confused. Why does Zed need Sal to be handed to him by Puffles? It isn't really up to Puffles whether Sal chooses to cooperate or not, is it?

    General Comments

    So... I have pretty strong opinions about the ending, and I have to say that unfortunately they are not positive. I apologize if I come off as harsh, but I want to give my honest opinion.

    To me, this ending was extremely unsatisfying and out of place. The previous three chapters read like a horror-themed episode of some ultimately lighthearted show, but in this the whole team is just killed so fast, suddenly and gruesomely that the whiplash just numbs the emotional reaction I would've had. Their deaths felt... purposeless. I was expecting it to be a trick of the Zoroark, given it's the illusion Pokémon, but then it just was real.

    There are so many things that received absolutely explanation or conclusion - how Puffles was mind-controlled, what the extent of it was, why it affected his eyes, what the role of the Gastly was in everything, why the bust flew at Sal, what the extent of Zed's powers were and probably a bunch more I'm forgetting. It just seems like it's sort of hand-waved with that mysterious card, but as this is a short story, we won't be learning anything about it anymore as the story is over. Puffles is never seen again. This group and the Scrafty at the end come out of nowhere with no real hints beforehand and feel like they're from a completely different story. I don't want to believe this whole short story was done just to set up something else.

    Then a whole other bunch of questions is raised. Why was the impostor lady even needed? Couldn't Zed have played that part? Why was Puffles kept alive? If they needed a subject to paint, why not use the impostor? Or anything else? Who is this random Scrafty at the end? Why is a group setting up elaborate schemes to find an artist to paint for them, when with all the resources they have, they could just kidnap artists and keep killing them if they turned out to be insufficient? It is true that virtually no work of art, no matter how beloved, holds up 100% logically, but those flaws are ignored as the rest of the work holds up so well and feels satisfying.

    I'm not saying Downer Endings can't be done. While I'm a fan of happy endings, I don't require them to be in everything. But I, and I believe most readers, do want a sense of closure. Even stories with open endings still have their ends feel like ends. Here, the story just seems to stop and switch to another one.

    For what I actually expected... I guess I look stupid now, but I expected Zed and the impostor to be something more supernatural or mysterious than just a human and a Zoroark part of some forgery ring. I thought the painting was needed to seal away Puffles' will or something, with how it was emphasized every detail needed to match the real thing.

    Alright, I don't want to end this all with so much negativity, so I'm lucky that there's a silver lining. This is the fact that me complaining about this means that you managed to craft a gripping story with a compelling protagonist. If that wasn't the case, I'd barely be feeling anything. I wouldn't have read to the end.
     
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  20. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!
    Hello, and I’m super sorry for the abrupt announcement, but you might’ve noticed I deleted the last chapter of this story. After reading @canisaries original review, I’ve decided I really can’t leave it in this sort of state, and so, I want to work on rewriting the ending to make it much more tonally fitting.

    Their review really struck a chord with me, as it basically confirmed my worst fears about the ending, and helped me gain a new perspective on my story. I went way too far in terms of ending the story in such an unnecessarily grisly manner, and it ended up having the opposite emotional effect I wanted to achieve. Therefore, I feel leaving it up with the original ending wouldn’t match the intentions I have for it now.

    I will try to rewrite it in the following week, and again, I’m extremely sorry about such a dramatic decision change. It also won't be the last chapter, since I originally planned to make Puffles' story after the events of that a follow up one shot, as it answers a few questions left over from the previous events, but since it's pretty much essential to wrapping up the story in that regard, I'll decide to make that the final chapter instead.

    @canisaries review will still be up to add context to the original post.

    On a side note, I was also very misleading in terms of this story’s involvement with The Curious and the Shiny. At the beginning, I stated this was set in the same universe as TCATS, but was otherwise a standalone story. However, since this story’s mysteries at the end heavily tie into the mysteries of that fic, although saying how much involvement this story has at this stage would be spoiling the future chapters of the other fic, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    This story was intended to serve as an origin story for Sal, who would appear much later in the story of TCATS as he eventually crosses paths with Curio and plays an important role in her backstory. She even references him (indirectly anyway) during her speech to Shine at the end of Chapter 5 in that fic.

    I will not only change the ending of this fic, I will also add more to the beginning announcement to make sure its ties with The Curious and the Shiny are quite clear.

    Again, I apologise for this, but I want to make sure my stories hold up a fair standard, and I don’t feel right leaving this one on such a disappointing note.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2018

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