• Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Black Paint [The Manifold Curiosity]


The Ghost Lord
Disclaimer: This is a review of Chapters 2-3, since 4 is being revised.

Hoo boy. Here's where we get into the fun bits! :D I really like how you make everything seem... off without getting into the gruesome horror right away. Particular highlights are the Skarmory scene and the radio scene. Good spooky stuff for the season right here.

I really like the way you get into Sal's head too. The short, subtle flashbacks to his mentor are a nice touch that really fleshes him out as a character.

As for the chapter 3 ending...

Welp. I feel sorry for Puffles. Also never trusted the lady and her creepy butler, of course.

I'm gonna reserve judgement of Chapter 4 for when it's rewritten, especially as my only knowledge of it is Canis' review (which i skimmed to avoid spoilers anyway.) I do have faith in you putting out a more satisfying ending than what it apparently was!


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
This chapter has been revised from the previous chapter 4, which was supposed to be the original ending, but ended up being an absolute trainwreck. The conclusion was much darker than it needed to be, and left a lot of plot holes, so I worked quickly to try and rewrite that chapter as well as write an entirely new chapter that serves as the proper ending to this fic, which explains some stuff that wasn’t clear before and ends the story on a much more hopeful note. For that, I want to thank @canisaries, for reviewing that misfire of a final chapter, since I was able to reverse its damage in a timely manner.

I’ve also added more to the first chapter, further foreshadowing Zed’s involvement with the story.

Chapter 4: Day Three?

When he next awoke, Sal found himself in the studio again. He was placed on the stall, sitting up straight as if nothing happened before. But it did happen, and a chill washed through his spine as he realised what situation he was in.

“Ah, so you’re awake,” a femme voice called. He turned to see the impostor holding something behind her back. His paws were free. Sal leapt towards her, trying to claw at her when her slender hand grasped at his throat.

“Nice to see you’re putting up some sort of fight. You’d be braindead not to, after all.”

Sal struggled under her grip, flailing in an attempt to free himself, but then he saw something glinting in the lamplight above. It was a blade. He gasped as it plunged itself at his forehead, only slightly stopping short of making any contact, dangling above him, teasing him. He let his arms down. The impostor flashed a twisted grin and guided the knife to his chest.

“If you make any sudden movements, I’ll kill you here and now. And believe me, that’s not what I want right now.”

She let go of his neck and slowly turned him around to the canvas, where his unfinished painting stood. In front of him was Puffles, standing in his usual pose, however, he drooled from his maw, with his flashing white eyes transfixed to the ceiling.

“Don’t you worry about him,” she said. “The Puffles you know and love is back. Listen.”

She pressed the tip of the blade to Sal’s back, making him shudder.

“You are going to finish that portrait for me at all costs. I want every strand of fur on that beast’s coat painted as precisely as possible, like the masters would’ve done it. This has to be in perfect condition, otherwise...”

She pulled a monitor out of her pocket and held it close to Sal’s wide eyes. On the screen, Harvey was tied to a chair. There was no sign of Roy, Mari or Anorak anywhere. The jade-eyed monster prowled around the room, going off-screen and coming back again. Sal shrieked at the sight of it, calling for his team at the other side of the screen, even if they couldn’t hear. The impostor pulled away the screen, leaving the three alone in the room once more.

“Don’t look back now. Keep your eye on that mutt and start painting, or else I’ll command Zed to slaughter them all like Flaaffy.”

She took a few steps behind him, wandered to one corner of the room and laid a heavy object on a table behind him.

“If you try to communicate with that beast in any way, I’ll order him to carry out the hit regardless. Trust me, my camera will know if you do.”

A few more steps to the side. A creak from behind.

“You will not come out until I know you’re finished. Get to work.”

She slammed the door shut, clicking not long after. Sal focused on the canvas again, heart thundering in his chest, his whole body shuddering under a cold sweat. He stared at his paws, which were strangely still. The odds Sal could work under those conditions were looking slim. But he had to. His team was depending on him. But what did she have in store for him after that?

Thoughts came flooding in all at once, making him feel like his head ballooned. He nursed it in his paws, tensing his throat up in an effort to stop himself from sobbing. He wouldn’t cry. No matter what happened, there would be no tears on the battlefield. No matter how hard it was to swallow, no matter how much his eyes misted up, he wouldn’t break down. Not here, not now. For a moment, he went back to one memory with Santa, where after several consecutive days worth of studying, Santa rewarded Sal with a small cake he baked himself, even when he barely had the money to buy food at that time. They shared it between them that day, and even though Santa barely ate anything, the younger Smeargle could see the colour rush back to his master’s wrinkled face.

Several years older now, Sal smiled. Even if it was an illusion, even if reminiscing on the past didn’t change the present, he would carry that memory with him and forget about the underlying pressure, if only for a while. It could either burst a pipe or make a diamond at that point, after all.

Sal pulled out his magnifying glass and observed the Houndoom with it. Whether he truly was Puffles at that point or not, he didn’t know. However blankly the Houndoom stared, Sal continued examining every point of his body, taking note of every strand of fur he’d need to paint. Not too many strands that it overshadowed everything else, but just enough that it created the illusion it was all real. That’s what it was, in a sense, just smoke and mirrors. Sal picked up a small brush, dabbed it in his palette and marked the darkest values for the strands. He started with the face, which would have thinner strands than the rest of the body.

Sal continued to add lots of other tiny details to the rest of the face, such as adding more highlights where necessary and adding more reflections to the eyes. The Houndoom sat as still as a rock. However, some of the colour returned to his eyes, making it look like more of what they used to look like before: an intense, yet clear shade of red. He blinked, several times in succession. Sal paused, then remembered the camera behind him and continued working.

Unlike before, there was no pounding this time. In its place though, a lone drone pulsed through the floor. It could’ve been the presence of the Gastly calling out to Puffles, or it could’ve been Sal’s imagination filling in the gaps. There was no telling. But either way, the Smeargle kept his focus on the painting, not stopping to take a break until he considered himself finished.

Moments passed. Sal sat back and took a deep breath, inspecting his work. It was huge, but everything was up to scale. Not one element was out of place or disproportionate to his subject. Every detail was painstakingly carved into the work, more like a sculpture than a painting, as Santa would’ve made him strive for. Now, all there was left was the humming below him. Sal breathed in and out. In and out. Anything to delay the tension. The impostor would be coming back at some point, after all.

Heavy footsteps pounded outside the room. Sal squeaked, heart pounding as he waited for the door to unlock. The key rattled inside the lock, and with a click, it creaked open. More footsteps. The door shut behind him. Another deep breath. Footsteps became louder behind him.

“Ah,” the impostor said, “Excellent work. I knew I could count on you.”

More footsteps. Eventually, Sal saw the impostor enter his line of sight. In his calm, he noticed she wore a different outfit, in military gear fitted with thick-looking padding from head to toe. He half expected her to be wearing a badge or an insignia on her outfit, like the big ‘R’ Team Rocket wore on that show. The impostor inched close to the Houndoom, keeping an eye on him. Slowly, she guided her gloved hand towards the beast’s head and placed it down. A pulse. A deep breath. The impostor stroked behind the Houndoom’s ears.

“There, there, who’s a good little Houndoom?”

She went to Sal again, back turned to the Houndoom, holding up the knife close to his chest. He flinched.

“Remember. Our contract is still on the table. If you make any sudden movements now, it will be null and--”

In one quick motion, the Houndoom pounced on her back. The knife flung across the room, and the beast pushed the impostor to the floor and accidentally knocked Sal over in the crossfire. He watched as the Houndoom’s fangs tore into her shoulder from behind. She screamed, desperately trying to push the beast away, and managed to flip herself over before they continued their power struggle.

Sal grovelled, back towards the wall, trying to tear himself away from the scene, but couldn’t. The imposter, in her desperation, flailed one free arm around reaching out for a needle by her belt and held it close to the beast’s neck. The two were locked in a cycle of pushing and pulling away, avoiding each other’s wrath. The Smeargle wasn’t entirely sure if the beast was capable of rational thought any more. Then, the beast opened his mouth and shot a fireball at her hand, shattering the needle into a dozen shards on the floor while liquid spurted out. She squealed in pain while the beast pinned both her arms to the floor.

Listen, human!” Puffles shouted, “You’re going to tell me everything that happened! Why you killed my family, why you captured Sal, everything! I’ll spare you if you cooperate!”

The impostor smiled with an expression that didn’t entirely reach her eyes. She kept that expression until she started convulsing, a strange amber liquid spilling out of her mouth. Puffles backed away and watched the woman twitching on the floor before stopping altogether, where she gazed up at the ceiling vacantly with flecks of drool, blood, and the unknown substance dripping down her face.

The Houndoom stared at the body for a while, then turned to the Smeargle, which made him flinch at first, but when he saw the expression, a mixture of horror and sadness, Sal looked back and the two stared at each other for a while. Then, Puffles bowed to him.

“I’m terribly sorry you had to see that, but we don’t have a lot of time. Can you get up?”

“Y-yeah, I think so.” Sal used the wall as support to prop himself up. “W-what just happened?”

“Blighter must’ve killed herself. It’s a wonder I recovered so fast from that last drugging, but never mind that. I need you to search her quickly.”

Before Sal could ask why, Puffles propped himself onto the impostor’s twisted frame. Sal shook his head.

“N-no, I’m not g-going anywhere near th-that thing.”

“You’re the only one who can do it,” Puffles said with a severe look, “You can use your paws that way. I can’t. Without you, I can’t find out who’s truly responsible for this mess.”

“B-but I--”

“Do as I say!” Puffles shouted, looking more furious than ever before. Sal nodded vigorously and scrambled over to the body, wincing as the full force of that liquid’s pungent smell hit his senses, like rotting flowers and oxidation.

“Check all her pockets.”

Sal nodded and patted at the pocket slots to see if anything was there. Something thick nestled in her trousers, which he pulled out to reveal a wallet.


“Great job. You hold onto it for the moment, it might be useful later. For now, climb onto my back. Let’s go save your team.”

Sal nodded. He climbed up and grasped the Houndoom’s horns once more, storming out the door into the hallway. Sal thought back to the video feed he saw and prodded his mount’s back.

“Do you even know where they are?!” he yelled.

“Yes!” Puffles shouted, “The storage room!”

Sal didn’t pay much attention to where they were headed. His thoughts were focused on his team. If Zed was the one who carried out all those murders for the impostor, all Sal could do was hope he hadn’t gone ahead and killed his friends.

Without warning, Puffles rammed his horns through a door and charged through it, flinging Sal far away from him along with the wallet. The Smeargle rose to his feet soon after and witnessed the scene before him. In one side of the room, Harvey was stuck to his chair in the right corner with his three Pokeballs in the left. On the other, Puffles started to lunge towards Zed. He knocked the monster over. The Houndoom clawed at its body. It clawed back. The two were locked in a cycle of clawing and retreating, clawing and retreating, until Zed got back to his paws. There seemed to be a black aura floating around his head. With one sweep of his arm, Zed cast a dark wave of energy towards Puffles and struck him, toppling him over on his back. The Houndoom writhed on the ground, dazed, while the Zoroark advanced further, claws menacingly extended.

Sal's heart pounded again, head whirling with all the different outcomes. However, there was little time to think, so Sal looked to the Pokeballs at the side once more before charging up the pigment in his tail. He raised it before him, and shot a paintball straight into Zed's face. Splat. He staggered back, pawing at his face to get the substance out of his eyes, while Sal made a beeline for the Pokeballs, releasing all of his teammates, Roy, Mari and Anorak.

"Quickly!" Puffles said, getting back to his feet warily, "Free your trainer! Human, command your team to fight, and I'll help! Come--"

He dodged out the way of another swipe. Roy promptly freed Harvey from his restraints, and the trainer pointed a finger at the attacker.

"Anorak, get up close and use String Shot to bind him! Mari and Sal, get in front of me, copy her moves and both stagger him with Razor Leaf! Roy, use Close Combat to finish the job!"

Sal rushed to Mari's side and put a paw on her back as he watched Anorak spin around in the air, weaving a silky web around the Zoroark's legs, which bound him. Mari shot a flurry of sharp leaves in Zed's direction, and Sal felt the energy from her pulsing inside him. Zed guarded himself, withstanding the storm as they created little nicks all around his body. Roy sprang towards Zed's body and aimed a punch at his head as the Zoroark prepared to block again. The Machoke was faster, and socked him in the face, knocking him to the floor where Roy continued. He pounded his head over and over until Zed's arms slumped to the floor.

"Good!" Harvey said, "Now keep at it!"

Roy continued bashing his fists, until he found himself pounding at the bare ground as the image of Zed before him disappeared. Roy quickly got to his feet, and the rest stood alert, looking for any sign of the disappearing Zoroark. Sal stood in front of his trainer, grappling his tail in preparation for the next command.

"Mari, Magical Leaf!" Harvey said.

The Bayleef shot a few glowing leaves at the thin air, and they stuck to an invisible force. The image faded in to reveal Zed once more, but by the time he came into view, he was already within arms length of Harvey, claws raised. Sal's heart stopped. There was little time to think. He thrust his tail in front and commanded the powers he channelled before to come forward, like a magician pulling cards out of a hat. The same flurry of sharp leaves shot at Zed, this time, at point blank range, giving him the full brunt of a Grass Type's wrath. Zed screeched and shuffled backwards. His body was covered with leaves sticking out of him, like pins on a cork-board. Puffles came into the picture, charging a fireball in his maw, when Zed sprang towards the door, avoiding the attack. With one final look of panic on his fanged features, he vanished into the air.

The room was quiet once more, save for everybody's short breaths. Harvey collapsed to his knees, stifling laughter.

"Holy ****," he said, grasping at his chest, "You actually saved me back there, Sal. I owe you my life, literally."

"Yeah!" Roy said, loosening his shoulders, "You kicked ass there!"

"Well done," Mari said. Anorak chittered an approving response as well.

"Enough, all of you!" Puffles shouted, drawing the team's attention to him. "We need to escape now. Forget about whatever belongings you have and follow me. We can't waste and more time or else he'll come back."

They all nodded and headed towards the door, but not before Puffles grunted, stopping them in their tracks. He went to one corner of the room and came back with the wallet in his maw, handing it to Harvey who shot a confused look at it.

"Put it in your pocket," Puffles said, "I'll explain why later."

Harvey shrugged, yet complied, tucking it away in his trousers. With Puffles' approval, the team headed out all together, trailing behind Sal as he ran through the hallways.

"There's an exit through the maze in the back garden!" Puffles said, "If we mow our way through there, we can get that Zoroark off our tails. The front door is too much of a risk."

"Seriously?" Roy said, "Through the maze of all places? Why couldn't it just a normal garden instead?!"

"I have a plan, just shut up and follow me!"

Eventually, they stepped out into the thundering night, breaths heavy, where the entrance of the labyrinth laid, beckoning them in. Puffles stopped short of entering the maze when he assumed a battle stance.

"All of you, get behind me and watch my back."

The Smeargle joined his team, who formed a half circle around their guardian. The horned protector groaned, a wave of energy emanating from him, and soon after, a brilliant spear of white light emerged from his mouth. It pierced through the topiary, incinerating it until there was nothing left to burn, and formed a wide path straight to the dark part of a forest. Sal looked on with amazement. As if to punctuate his efforts, Puffles let an uncharacteristic chuckle escape his lips.

"Now the coast is clear. Come on."

Sal followed alongside his team, charging through the gale. Being the second smallest in the group, Sal was mostly protected from the rain, although the force of the wind still blew through him and chilled him to the bone. Nevertheless, he folded his arms around his body and persevered through the storm, the exit getting closer and closer to his view.

Behind him, the bushes rustled. Sal didn't stop to look back at first, but as he heard a crash, something hit him from behind, filling his ears with a high pitched cacophony. He sunk to his knees, then looked in front of him as the whole world around him melted into a puddle. The team in front of him didn't stop to check on him, in fact, they didn't look back either, even as their forms melted into the floor. Sal reached out to them, screaming for help, but he heard nothing but the sharp noises piercing into his brain. Then the bushes melted too. Then the sky. They all dripped before him, like a watercolour painting dissolving in the rain. Then the floor disappeared. Sal grasped at thin air, sinking further down into the abyss. All that surrounded him was black. Everlasting black. He let out one last silent scream before all of his senses faded entirely.

He woke up in Zed's embrace. The Zoroark's claws surrounded him, locking him in a death grip. Sal flailed in his grasp, trying to free himself, but it felt like all his limbs had turned to lead. He couldn't move. He was on one side of the maze, with the topiary regrown, while his team called out to him on the other side, visible through a small clearing in the bushy wall. Puffles shot a fireball at the hedge, only for it to disappear and dwindle into smoke. Harvey and Roy tried to reach through the clearing, only for their hands to stop, pressing flatly against something like an invisible window. They both pounded at the air, but the illusion held strong.

"Sal, don't panic!" Harvey shouted, "I'll get you out, I swear!"

"You waste breath, human," Zed said, "I have him. Do not follow. Else, all will die. My last warning.”

The team shouted one more time before the clearing closed completely, muffling their voices. It was just him, the Zoroark, and the transforming space around him. Sal screamed out for Harvey.

"Shut up, weakling," Zed said. He turned away from the wall and placed Sal on the hard ground. A dark energy surrounded his limbs, and pulled him into the dirt, like the earth's roots had a mind of their own and were trying to sink him into the earth. Sal struggled against it, but it was useless. He was paralysed.

"What are you gonna d-do to me?" he quivered. "Oh god, please don't eat me!"

A fanged grin spread across Zed's features, and he placed a single claw on Sal's chest.

"I won't kill you. You're way too valuable. Someone heard about you in Goldenrod. They put a price on you, and as soon me and that dumb human were done with Elora and the rest, we took the contract. She was greedy though and tried to make an example out of that Houndoom. She died a fool. But no matter, you’ll do.”

"C-contract?" Sal spat, and let out an exasperated laugh. "Why me? All I wanted was to paint, dammit!"

"Exactly, and you will." Zed hovered his claw up to Sal's head. "Just for us, this time, if all goes well. Now, sleep."

A blunt force struck Sal across the head, and he returned to the everlasting black void.
Last edited:


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
Chapter 5: Future Days

Puffles watched as Harvey bashed his fists against the impenetrable wall. There was nothing else that could be done. If his own fireballs were nullified and a fighting type’s strengths weren't adequate, what chance did a human have in breaking down the barrier? It was not just any common Zoroark's illusion magic at work here, this was another world entirely. Puffles nudged at Harvey's leg in an effort to get him away from the maze and continue their escape.

"No!" Harvey shouted, "I'm not leaving without him! Get the police! Anyone!”

"Listen!" Puffles shouted back. "We’ll only get into more trouble if we call them! We have to escape now. If we linger on any longer, who knows what that monster has up his sleeve?"

"I don't care! I want my friend back! I want him back!"

He continued punching at the walls, so hard that blood ran down his hands. Puffles shot Roy a glance, the Machoke grimacing as he watched his trainer.

"Roy, please knock him out. We need to run right away."

Roy sighed and put his hands on the boy's shoulders as he uselessly continued to punch.

"I'm sorry about this, pal." Roy whacked his trainer behind the head with the flat of his hand, and Harvey fell to his knees. The Machoke hoisted the boy up on his back, carrying his legs between his arms like a rucksack, and followed Puffles through the forest. There, they rushed through the hard road.

It was manmade, something William had installed as a leisurely way to get in and out of the city, and was usually maintained by groundskeeper Charles. Once clear and smooth to walk through, it was now neglected and lined with debris. The rain didn't help matters, making all the garbage look as if it had melted into the granite. He would've taken longer to walk through this path and appreciate it one last time if the threat of the Zoroark didn't loom above him. The three Pokemon towing the human followed beside him, all eerily silent. He could hardly blame them. A part of him wanted to stop and apologise for everything that happened right away, just so it would delay the tension a little, but again, they had to make haste.

The downpour beat heavily at their heads, matting Puffles' own fur with moisture and slowing his movements. At least it was downhill, he thought. But even then, his short breaths got shorter, and decided to stop for a few seconds to take a breather. While he regained his breath, he stopped to stare at himself in a puddle. His eyes were back to normal, thank the white god. They didn’t look the same, however, not after what he experienced. He remembered how the impostor and Zed would pin him down after the dosage wore off, and they'd force that small needle by the side of his neck, and how he’d go to an entirely different place, conscious, but stuck in a prison of flesh, unable to control any of his outside impulses.

"H-hey," Roy called, drawing Puffles' attention back to him. He bared his teeth, caught somewhere halfway between laughter and fear, and pointed to the thundering skies above. "D-do you reckon this is what h-happens whenever a Castform p-p-pees?"

"Really?" Mari said flatly, staring daggers at him. "It's hardly a good time to be joking."

"All the more reason to joke!" he said, almost shouting. "This whole situation is screwed up! I have to get my mind off things otherwise I'm gonna lose it!"

"Whatever, you two," Puffles said, grinding his paw into the gravel. "Let's get moving."

They advanced further through the road, getting past the trees into the views of the city, where the horizon glimmered with light. Eventually, the group came across a junction where cars passed in a cacophony of beeps during rush hour, and Puffles led the way by the side of the road as they walked through the rain. The thought of stopping in the middle of the road to get someone to take them to the inner city crossed Puffles' mind, but decided against it, as he was sure it would have little effect in all this traffic. By the time they reached Saffron, the group found themselves shivering under the roof of a closed shop, drying off as Puffles' let a Will O' Wisp hover around them, casting a small amount of warmth. When Harvey slowly blinked into consciousness, Roy was the first to tend to his side as his trainer stirred from his knockout, shaking him gently on his shoulder.

"Hey," he said, more for himself than his trainer, "I'm sorry, I hadda do that. Are you okay?"

Harvey stared into space ahead with his jaw hanging loosely.

"It's no use," Mari said. "He won't listen to us. Not that he can, or does anyway."

Anorak chittered a sad response and nuzzled close to his trainer. Puffles himself sighed. Now they were safe in the confines of the city, he had time to think, time to reflect, but what was there to reflect on? A lot of the events that swirled around him were a blur, only remembered in brief flashes through a hazy lens. One event stood out, and that was on the day when the duo came.

It started out like any other day, where the whole family sat around the table at the stroke of the morning, ready to eat whatever butler Jones had prepared for them. Puffles didn't remember exactly what each member said, as the events were still fuzzy to him, but he remembered them in broad strokes. Both William and Vanessa talked about their projects throughout the day, and briefly expressed their concerns about the status of an unlicensed educational project they helped fund in Sinnoh, something they had not heard back from in weeks. He remembered the name of that project was ‘Gestalt Learning’, but otherwise knew little about it. Felix and Richard sat next to each other, making passing comments about each other's hairstyle and whose was worse than the other's, while William occasionally chided them.

Then there was Elora. The real Elora. She was aging well like a blossoming rose, and even though her responsibilities as an assistant in Williams' operations often got in the way of spending time with Puffles, who often volunteered in other projects, they would still meet everyday as he sat on her lap. She stroked behind his ears, telling him about his plans for the day while he gave encouraging advice to her and how to deal with issues such as befriending certain Pokemon.

She had discovered him all those years back, curled up by the roadside as he strayed away from the forest in a bloodied state, certain he headed towards Yveltal’s door. She commanded chauffeur Pauls to pull over and she took him into a Pokemon centre, and from there, took him in as their own, teaching him all manners of things from tutors, such as the human tongue, arithmetic, and the way the world at large worked. He would sometimes get involved in their projects when there were no responsibilities hefted on him, where he would teach other Pokemon the same gifts they had passed on.

Elora kissed his forehead and made a teasing remark about his name, which she'd given herself. It was an inside joke of theirs, which Puffles himself always took in his stride. Then, the door crashed open. People in hooded, black suits came in with their Pokemon, including Zed, and with a single command from one of the suits, their underlings and their Pokemon started detaining all of the butlers, and then at last, the family, including Puffles himself. Try as he might have to escape from a certain Kabutops’ grasp, he couldn’t, and when he looked into its eyes, he saw no compassion or thought in them. They were completely blank, just like his were when later drugged.

One person in the suit stepped forward, asking William where all the legal documents and the treasuries for their charity were. He wouldn’t answer. Then Zed, who was the only Pokemon that appeared lucid, pressed a claw against his throat, threatening to torture him if he didn’t relent. Then, Puffles sprang forward. Elora cried out for him. Puffles started on Zed, who he swiped and dodged, and vice versa. Only one could succeed, and Puffles, unaccustomed to the Zoroark's aptitude for illusions, was overpowered. He was pinned to the floor by an Imprison spell, and one of the black suits stuck a needle by the side of his neck. The rest was a blur.

A phone rang, snapping Puffles back to reality. It came from Harvey's jacket, which he patted at frantically until he retrieved the phone from his pocket. He held it to his head, hand shaking.


A voice shouted from the other side, too noisy to fully make out, but its tone was unmistakable.

"What? No, I'm in Saffron."

More shouting. Harvey's expression dropped.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't have it on me."

Yet more shouting. At this point, Harvey's lips quivered, looking like he was on the verge of tears.

"Look, can you cut me some slack? My friend's missing and I don’t know what the hell to do!"

Harvey gripped the phone, looking as if he was about to crush it in his fist.

"Okay, okay! I can pick up my stuff tomorrow, it's only a few hours away. We're kind of stuck here for the night though, so just give us a little more time, please!"

The voice on the other end was a little softer this time. The trainer sighed and rubbed his eyes.

"Alright, thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."

He threw the device on the ground, shattering the screen into little shards like a Spinarak's web.

"Well, it looks like we're being evicted." Harvey buried his head in his lap. "****."

Silence followed. Puffles had not asked what circumstances brought them to the manor, but he could probably guess they were duped into coming there by the impostor in exchange for money, somehow. However, he decided against bringing it up to Harvey again, who sobbed quietly. Puffles also heard a few stomach rumbles from the group, including his own. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he ate a proper meal. The silence grew more disquieting by the minute, and Puffles stood on his hindquarters, facing the human.

"Excuse me," he said, "We should probably find a place to eat, or maybe rest for the night. We'll be better off inside than out here in the cold, wouldn't you agree?"

Harvey rubbed his red eyes and patted at his pockets, opening a tattered wallet and staring at its empty contents.

"Do you still have the other wallet? There could be something in there."

Harvey grew wide eyed and sunk his hand in again to retrieve the impostor's purse. There were a few Pokedollars bills in there, which Harvey counted to be around 4000. It wasn't as much as Puffles expected, but it was still enough to afford a meal between all of them. The two glanced at its other contents, which was filled to the brim with all sorts of cards from different banks. It was likely the impostor stored most of her riches in there. He wasn't hoping to grave rob someone just for a little money, however, he believed something in there would help reveal the nature of the impostor's team.

"I want you to check that again later," Puffles said, "But for now, we should take a break."

Each member slowly got to their feet with Puffles leading the way to the nearest fast food place. He was used to more refined cuisine, but he put his old creature comforts aside for the rest of the team and entered, sitting in one booth. The Houndoom sat to one side on his own with the rest of the Pokemon bunched up next to Harvey on the other, watching as their trainer silently browsed through the menu on the touchscreen in the middle of the table.

"Harvey, was it?" Puffles asked. The human just nodded in reply. "I'm not sure about everything that happened, but if you're willing to tell me about what brought you to the manor, it would help me understand things on my end."

Harvey blinked, then rested his head on the table, staring at the talking Pokemon on the other side.

"Could say the same thing about you, buddy. Mainly, what the hell did that lady even do to your family? What did your family even do to piss her off? What was that business with the Gastly earlier? And finally, why the hell did that monster take Sal?"

"Yeah," Roy said, bashing his fist on the table, "We want answers, pal."

Puffles sighed, but kept his gaze fixed on the trainer and his Machoke. "I'm afraid I don't have a good answer for the last one. But my family led the charge of the PEWFund charity. I'm sure you've heard of it, correct?"

The party shook their heads and Puffles gave them all a sour look.

"They got involved helping Pokemon like me, actually teaching them the sort of stuff you humans would get to learn, setting up community projects all across the globe, and rehabilitating Pokemon who got involved in street gangs. How could you not know about this?"

"We don't really catch up on the news that much," Harvey said. "Don't have much time for it."

"In any case, when the drugs wore off the night you discovered those Gastly, I sneaked off to the treasury room. They took everything. All the secret documents, the money stored in the safe, the will, they cleaned the lot."

Mari's head-leaf drooped, and she gave a bemused expression. "So they just wanted money all this time?"

"Not exactly. Money was part of it, but that wasn't their main goal, I don't think. In fact, my best bet is they wanted to damage the heart of our charity to cripple our efforts. If it conflicts with their goals or stops them from taking advantage of other Pokemon, then it’s plausible. We still have the main office and the subdivisions elsewhere, but without the funding, they won't function for much longer."

"Hang on," Harvey said, holding up a finger, "Wouldn't the government pay for all this?"

Puffles couldn't help but smile at that one, but it wasn't due to the humour of the situation, rather the lack of it. "They don't fund projects like that. William, our CEO, was one of a kind. He was actually willing to share his fortune, so most of it was just him. On another note, it's very lucky you had someone like Sal on your side. He was a rare breed as well. I take it he had a tutor?"

"Well," Harvey said, frowning, "He had another master, a painter by trade, so he taught Sal everything he knew. Of course, Santa's no longer with us now."

"I see. I'll just say this right now.” He made sure he got the attention of everyone around the table before continuing. "If it wasn't for a person like Santa, he never would've learnt such a skill. And, pardon my Kalosan, the government doesn't give a flaming Rattata's ass about whether Pokemon like him succeed or not. The same goes for you lot and me."

He let those words linger for a moment, and watched everybody else's reactions. The Machoke crossed his arms, looking to his side. The Bayleef looked down at her feet. The Spinarak's bulgy eyes drooped. The human, however, sniffled, and tears streamed down his face.

"Oh god," he said, "It's all my fault. I'm the one who pushed Sal into doing that painting for them. I never knew it would come to this. I just took advantage of him, all because of my sorry ass. I'm just a failure of a trainer, to him and all of you."

That brought the attention of the rest of the group to him. The trainer curled up into a ball on his seat, ignoring the onlookers around his table.

"I didn't deserve someone like him. If it wasn't for this stupid trainer business, I never would've roped him into it. Not like it matters now, I'm gonna be homeless soon. I should just disappear! I should--"

"That's enough," Puffles said, gently enough that it was sympathetic, but loud enough that his words carried weight. "There's no way you could've known about the impostor. I agree you shouldn't have used another Pokemon like that, but you shouldn't shoulder the burden for his disappearance."


"You still have the rest of your Pokemon by your side. I see they all care for you. Keep on living for their sake, and do your best to work as a team."

"I'm their trainer though!" Harvey raised his voice. "It's my job to make sure they do the best they can, and yet, I suck at this! All I do is lose, lose, and lose some more, and I don't know how to fix it!"

"Okay, okay, let's work with that then." Puffles looked to Mari first, who tried to avoid his gaze. "Miss Bayleef, you said your trainer doesn't listen to you. Is that true?"

"Well," she grunted, then nodded. "Even though I can't speak with him directly, I try to warn him when something isn't working out, like that one time when he tried to take on a higher level Heracross, and he did it anyway."

Puffles hummed and looked to Roy next, who leaned forward.

"True that," Roy said, "I tried to face him head on, ya know, but anyway, our trainer sucks. He doesn't change plans when things get hairy, and we have to do the legwork to try and get the upper hand, which rarely works out. He's like a Rhyhorn slammin' into a wall over and over again. He pulled himself together for that Zed stuff, but still."

Puffles finally looked to Anorak, who perched himself on the edge of the table.

"Screw him!" he bleated, "If it were up to me, I'd have his guts for dinner!"

The rest of the team stared with wide-eyed amazement, especially Roy, who nearly turned white.

"Hey, uh, pal, when was the last time you talked like that, huh?"

Anorak got back to his seat and chittered once more. Laughter churned in Puffles’ belly, but he stifled it and kept a straight face to Harvey, who had been oblivious to the whole conversation. It seems the team had a lot to work on, but what could he do? He wasn't their Pokemon, so what right did he have meddling with their affairs? Unless...

"Harvey," Puffles said, "It seems like miscommunication is the biggest problem here. Listen, I know it's a long shot, and I don't mean to impose, but would you mind if I joined your team?"

Harvey grew wide eyed, and pointed at the Houndoom.

"Really? I thought you'd be a bit out of our league."

"That's no problem. It doesn't matter much to me, I just want to help out. That way, I can help you understand your team better, as well as work on your battle tactics. Even teach them your language if we have the time to."

"Hang on," he said, leaning over the table, "I really don't wanna force this on you just because I suck. And besides, what about your family?"

"Well..." His voice faltered a bit, but he cleared his throat, trying to ignore the aching sensation. "They're already dead. The way I see it, I have nowhere else to go. Besides, I'd feel a little remorseful leaving you behind after what happened."

Harvey clasped his hands, twiddling his thumbs a bit. "Only if you're really sure. I'm really sorry about what happened to them. It sounds like they treated you well. I wanna do the same for you, but I don't have a lot of money left or a fancy house, let alone a house in the first place. It'll be rough."

"I know," Puffles said with a smile, "But it can't be any harsher than what I've experienced before in the wild. I've seen cubs snatched away from their mothers by bigger predators. I've seen rivers run red with blood. As long as I have a few companions with me, I'm sure that will make up for whatever's in store for us in the future."

"So," Roy said.

"Are you coming with us?" Mari finished.

Puffles nodded, and he saw the faces of the group brighten up considerably. It was the first sign of relief from them in a while after Sal's disappearance. The Houndoom lowered his head to Harvey, gesturing him to pet his head, which he did. He growled affectionately. It was nice to feel the warmth of a human's touch who didn't plan to sell him off. He heard a sniffle from the other side, expecting it to be Harvey, but it was actually Roy. His red eyes sparkled in the light above.

"Poor fella.” He turned away from the group. "Don't look at me like this. I'm a mess."

"Oh, stop that, you big goof," Mari said, her eyes filled with concern. "You don't have to be macho all the time. It's okay to cry."

"S-shut up!" he said, stuck halfway in a fit of laughter and sobbing. "I-I'm not crying! You're crying!"

Mari smiled through her moist eyes. "So?"

"Well," Harvey said, "We should probably eat. Since you're one of us now, I'll treat you to anything you like."

The group forgot about their troubles temporarily and ordered from the tablet. Minutes later, their meals came out from under the table with different trays, without a trace of human contact. They dug in, and relaxed for a bit as they digested their food. Puffles could taste how processed the food was, but it was filling, in any case. They'd stay there for the duration of the night, undisturbed by any of the other customers or staff there, and slept in the booths until the sunrise, where they got woken up by one of the janitors.

Once they gathered themselves, they made their way to the Magnet Train station and hopped onto one of the carriages, headed straight for Goldenrod. The journey passed in silence, for the most part, as the team looked visibly tense from the events before, plus a night of rough sleeping after. Puffles sat next to Harvey, his head on his lap as the human stroked idly by his horns.

"You know," Harvey said, "The day we travelled to Saffron, Sal actually sketched all the Pokemon on the other side. He was really into it. They all looked so real as well, like you could actually pull them out of the page."

"Did he?" Puffles crooned. "He truly was talented."

"You should see his other paintings then. Before we leave that house, I'll show you all his stuff."

For the rest of the trip, they said nothing, just soaking in all the ambience around them, from the chugging of the wheels to the cries of the Pokemon, and the occasional screeching of the rails. It was their last moment of respite before they reached Johto again, where they advanced through the busy crowds of the station, then made the long trek to Harvey's place of residence in the grimy-looking streets. It was a far cry from what Puffles was used to, with Pidgey picking out bits of rotten food from split garbage bags, and the sun-bleached appearance of the brick houses there. He made no comment and followed Harvey into his place. The smell hit him as soon as he entered: an oppressive air of cigarette smoke and a faint whiff of ammonia. They went into the living room, where one housemate lounged about on a beaten-up sofa, stroking his Meowth while watching a show. He waved to Harvey.

"Yo," he said, "How did it go?"

Harvey was silent. The housemate sat up and stared down the group.

"Where's Sal?"

"He's been kidnapped," Puffles said, making his presence known to the stranger. "I'm sorry to be so blunt."

The housemate grew wide-eyed, undoubtedly surprised by the sight of a talking Pokemon before him.

"****, man," he said, "Well, that sucks."

"You tell me," Harvey said, "And on top of all of this as well."

"Yeah, yeah, she phoned me up to say. I mean, you're always welcome to crash by our place if you need to. All you need to do is just avoid her whenever she comes around."

"Thanks for the offer." Harvey smiled, then rubbed his arm, "But I need to get my act together first. I'm pretty sure I'd just waste away if I stayed here all day. I gotta go, I have to pack."

"Fair enough, man. Well, I'll see you around." He gave another wave before returning to his vegetative state, and Harvey led the way upstairs to his old room, where everything laid as messy as it was, but with the added smell of mould growing from the waste there. Puffles wrinkled his nose at it, but again, felt little need to comment. He looked to one corner where a stack of canvases laid, slanting on a wall.

"Alright Roy," Harvey said, gesturing to the mess on the floor, "Can you pick up all the stuff we need to take while I talk to Puffles? Don’t bother cleaning up; we’re not getting the deposit back anyway."

He nodded and plucked bits and pieces off the floor, laying them on the bed. Harvey went on one knee while he sifted through each one of the paintings. They all caught Puffles’ eyes, as each example was as masterfully crafted as the other. One in particular caught his eye: a colourful painting of a little Houndour puppy with a accessorised ribbon tied around its neck. Oddly enough, the sight of it brought a certain heaviness to his heart, but he couldn’t exactly place why.

"That's not all," Harvey said, "There's all the sketchbooks he finished, all the commissions he did, the notes he made, all the other studies he painted as well of other paintings. It would probably take all day if we went through them all." He frowned and clenched his fists. "It's not fair. He busted his ass all his life on this, and that will just disappear with him."

Puffles took a deep breath and nuzzled close to Harvey's ankle. "He won't disappear. He's still alive. If you want people to remember Sal though, do your best to honour his memory too. Show his work to anyone you can meet. Show pictures or videos of him painting. Make his story known to those that ask it. If the day comes that people start speaking the name Sal the Smeargle worldwide, I'm sure he'll be listening out for them, somewhere, wherever that might be. In the mean time, we’ll do whatever it takes to survive, and find out about this group in our own time.”

Harvey smiled again and coursed his hand through the Houndoom's back. Then, he made an 'o' shape with his mouth and dug his hand into his pocket, revealing the purse once more.

"You said for me to look through this, right? Do you think it'll help find out why they took him?"

Puffles cocked his head, attempting to shrug but not having the capacity for it. "It’s worth a try."

He inspected its contents and dug out every card the impostor had accumulated through god knows how long. They were all credit cards with not a trace of identification on them, all belonging to different names, presumably aliases. It wasn't until he had emptied all the compartments that he grew wide eyed, and felt around for something in the notes pocket, pressing it with his thumbs.

"Say, I don't suppose you could rip open this part with one of your horns?"

Puffles hummed and leaned in to point the sharp tip at a blank part of the wallet. The material ripped and Harvey dug his hand in to pry it open. Something glimmered in the lamplight. He held it up with one hand to reveal a metallic card, with an insignia of two hands wrapping around a large eye, and incomprehensible symbols at the bottom, both laser carved into the thin material.


Epilogue – Endless Days

Weeks passed, or was it months? Sal couldn't tell. He couldn't remember the last time he saw the sunlight either, just the lamplight of his desk, shining on the canvas, ready to start the new painting he was ordered to make: a forgery of another master painter's work. His paws had turned multicoloured with the different blotches of paint he used in every recreation. Before he started work again, he stared at the underpainting on his canvas, a void of pure black, and found himself plunging into its depths.

The names of the people he used to be close with gradually slipped out of his memory. His teammates, he could no longer remember the name of. Puffles was only a brief memory. There was Santiago, whose teachings led him through to his survival, if only subconsciously. The only two names that truly stood out to him now were Harvey and Zed. His trainer, despite all the time that passed, still remained in a piece of his heart, and always wondered how he was doing without him. And then that Zoroark, who sold Sal off to whatever group he found himself stuck in, would return in his dreams, where he would get his revenge.

Weeks or months ago, he would've wept at this predicament, but after the countless amounts of beatings he endured that turned his fur grey and whipped him into shape, almost literally, he had no more tears left to shed. Just bitter words. If Arceus was listening, if there indeed was an almighty presence in the sky looking down upon him, Sal would've cursed his name through the depths of hell and back. Nothing but hate. Hate. Hate.

There was a knock at the door. Sal immediately leapt to his feet and hobbled over to there through his chained legs. He expected it to be the cook handing him his next order of slop, and groaned, opening the door.

Instead, it was another Pokemon taller than him, perhaps double his size, with scars covering the entirety of his body to the point that they interlaced with themselves, fighting to map out the regions of his scaly frame. A crest-like mohawk adorned his head, running all the way down to his back. He held his baggy pants up with his paws and smiled through his bloody nose.

"Yo!" he said, "I heard all about ya! Ya must be that paintin' guy there were all yappin' about!"

Sal frowned at him. "Go away."

The new Pokemon chuckled and put an arm around his shoulder. "Ey, yo! That's no way to talk to a stranger! Sure, we might all be eatin’ from the cream of the crap, but we still gotta look after each other, haven't we?"

"What do you want?" he said.

"Just lookin' at your work there." The Pokemon looked all around the walls, looking at the varieties of different forgeries hanging on there, obscuring the bricks of the foundations. "D'you paint all these? Ace, mon!"

Sal took one look at them and spat on the floor. “All fake. No passion in them. Hate this work.”

"Yeah," he said with a shrug, "But ain't we all workin' for some bastard-human's dream?"

From what Sal heard, the other Pokemon in the base were forced to do a lot of illegal activities pertaining to their type. At least he wasn't some thuggish drone, like the fighting types were often conditioned to be.

"I guess."

"Look," the Pokemon said, offering a paw to him, "I’m a Scrafty, but I guess you can just call me Ess for now, kay? What's yours?"

"Sal," he said, "Smeargle." He stared at Ess’ paw, whose palm was lined with nicks and calluses.

“Ess the Scrafty and Sal the Smeargle. Kinda rolls off the tongue, don’t it? Anyway..." He took Sal's paw without asking and shook it vigorously. "I ain't supposed to be here, but I wish the best of luck to ya. It might suck now, but at least we're embracin' the suck together, huh?"

Sal couldn't help but smile, bringing the first bouts of pleasure he had aside from his revenge-fantasies. "I hear you."

Ess scrambled towards the door and went out, but before he left, he popped his head from behind the frame.

"If you're smart, you'll stick with me, 'kay?"

Sal gave him a weak nod, and with that, the door slammed shut, leaving the tiny Smeargle and his big canvas alone once more. He stared at the blank space again and picked up the paint brush to continue his work on the next forgery, but smiled, and flicked it at the work in progress, leaving lots of tiny, colourful dots onto an otherwise all-consuming void.

Last edited:


Dragon Enthusiast
This review has been long overdue. Time to actually get to it! I actually had a glance at the original ending, and I do agree, it’s incredibly dark, and didn’t go at all with the original three chapters and their tone. So, I’m curious on what you actually did to change it, while still getting that intended backstory for Sal as a part of a larger story without changing things up too dramatically. Okay, enough prefacing. Chapter 4!

“Remember. Our contract is still on the table. If you make any sudden movements now, it will be null and--”

In one quick motion, the Houndoom pounced on her back.

WELL, okay! Didn’t quite expect that sudden strike! But then again, Sal was just trying to pacifist his way through this, so I see why Puffles would ultimately have to do the first move. It seemed like the spell to keep the Houndoom in check was wearing off enough to do that… I’d consider this to be the “hope spot” of the work, though there’s still no telling how it’ll actually turn out.

Holy **** did she just cyanide herself or something? That’s a suddenly dark turn regardless! And while sudden, she was quite cornered. Killing herself suggests that she’d be in even hotter water if she survived the ordeal…

Puffles gazed in horror as Jones' head rolled on the floor separate from his body.

Here’s what I feel may be a bit of a remnant of the old tone of the final scenes, since this, compared to the rest of the scene, feels oddly out of place.


Honestly, the rest of the chapter more or less flew by. There wasn’t everything explained, but I don’t think it necessarily needed to be. It seemed clear that they mostly wanted Sal for his value as a counterfeit artist, and everything else was more or less a “political” gesture of sorts, or more like a motion against an agenda, rather than for the money on its own. Though I get the feeling that was a nice bonus for them.

So, overall, there still wasn’t really much closure to the actual matter, since Harvey still is without Sal, and it seems clear that he’s still going to try to find him in some way, and then there’s Sal and his predicament still not being particularly different to how I recall the ending originally. It’s still open-ended, and Ess seems even more enigmatic than before. I wouldn’t call it a weak ending, since it does tie up some of the loose ends, and I generally know what the ending situation is for the characters involved in a more satisfactory way, but the open-endedness is still the tough part for me. But I think that’s both a matter of taste on my part, and design on your part. After all, this story is a tie-in as backstory, right? So you… can’t really end their stories. It had to be this way. Ahh, tricky, tricky…

Either way, it was a fun ride. Thanks for the read!


sometimes i get a deadache, yeah
Alright! It's been a small forever, but I finally got around the checking the new end. I didn't reread the three previous chapters before, but I did skim through the third one to remind myself of where everything was and I think it was sufficient enough for a recap. Anyway, let's go.

Something thick nestled in her trousers,


which he pulled it out to reveal a wallet.


Extra "it" in the middle there, by the way.

He thrust his tail in front and commanded the powers he channelled before to come forward, like a magician pulling cards out of a hat. The same flurry of sharp leaves shot at Zed, this time, at point blank range, giving him the full brunt of a Grass Type's wrath.

Ooh, Sketch. Either that wasn't in the original, or I forgot to comment on it. Either way, neat to see it used.

Probably from one of the hundred of Pokemon movies release before.


They all dripped before him, like a watercolour painting dissolving in the rain.
Then the floor disappeared. Sal grasped at thin air, sinking further down into the abyss. All that surrounded him was black. Everlasting black. He let out one last silent scream before all of his senses faded entirely.

A newline seems to be missing between these two.

The Zoroark's claws surrounded him, locking him in a death grip


"You waste breath, human," Zed said in Harvey's tongue, "I have him. Do not follow. Else, all will die. My last warning.”

Trust me, he ain't lyin'. *looks into the camera and winks*

"No!" Harvey shouted, "I'm not leaving without him! Get the police! Anyone!”


"D-do you reckon this is what h-happens whenever a Castform p-p-pees?"

Well, they have the balls to store it in

Eventually, the group came across a junction where cars passed in a cacophony of beeps during rush hour,

Initially read that as "bees". BZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

"Well, it looks like we're being evicted."


However, he decided against bringing it up to Harvey again, who sobbed quietly in his lap.

Wait... Harvey is in Puffles' lap? Can quadrupeds have laps? Having trouble visualizing this.

But my family led the charge of the PEWFund charity.

oh my god... the bad guys work for t-series...

yes I know this is the second joke I've made on the name but mommy needs her chuckles okay

which stood out as the only other painting with used a prop.

I think there's something wrong here? I can't make sense of this sentence.

Puffles took a deep breath and nuzzled close to Harvey's ankle. "He won't disappear. He's still alive. If you want people to remember Sal though, do your best to honour his memory too. Show his work to anyone you can meet. Show pictures or videos of him painting. Make his story known to those that ask it. If the day comes that people start speaking the name Sal the Smeargle worldwide, I'm sure he'll be listening out for them, somewhere, wherever that might be. In the mean time, we’ll do whatever it takes to survive, and find out about this group in our own time.”

Aw. This is really heartwarming, even if Sal ends up forgetting them.

Didn't expect a song to pop up here. I personally kind of dislike quoting of lyrics or other literature in fics and stories in general, but I do feel like this wasn't pushy or heavy-handed unlike the examples that have caused me to form that opinion.


General Comments

You already know this, but this really is a way better version in terms of tone and sense of closure. The fourth chapter has a more appropriate and logical end, and the fifth chapter gives hope for the side characters and prevents it from being such an unnecessarily massive downer. The epilogue, from what I recall, doesn't seem to be changed that much. I think I get a more hopeful feel off it this time, but I don't know if that's just due to the context changing. The author's notes help clear up why the story ends in what feels like the start of another.

I can't think of anything else to say at the moment, but if you want my opinion on more stuff, just hit me up on Discord. Actually, I do have one thing, though it's a bit inconsequential: I'm glad that the rainy garden maze did stay in this version, I thought it was a really cool set piece.