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burner

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
[this story is undergoing significant revisions and as such is not eligible for Review Blitz 3]

burner


Six months after Lysandre nearly obliterates Kalos, a first-year art student accidentally starts a graffiti tag war with an unlikely competitor.

---

ohhey! a belated posting of my entry for last year's oneshot contest, with some gentle tweaking. open to any and all crit; always down for even more tweaking!

content warning: some curse words (?)

\*\*/*/​

Roller, spray, gloves, mask. Nico chanted the checklist over and over again as he approached the alley.

Act natural, he reminded himself, even as his hands shook. He was faintly aware of a couple walking down the street behind him, engaged in loud conversation. They didn’t notice him, which made sense. If he didn’t look like he was doing something wrong, no one would care. Artists got commissioned to make public murals all the time. He just … wasn’t one of them. Yet. Yet? It wasn’t like anyone even owned this wall anyway. So who was he even hurting? He held fast to that idea, exhaled, and began.

The spraypaint came out of the can with a smooth hiss. A bit of it blew back on his gloved hand, cold to the touch. Nico stared at his handiwork, his heart hammering in his chest: the grey cinderblock of the wall was unmistakably black now. Absently, he rubbed at it with his right hand and found that, as expected, it didn’t come off. He’d done this. There was no turning back.

The second pass was easier, and his hand steadied. Press lightly; this would allow for fast, even strokes. The instincts flooded through his muscles as his heartbeat slowed to a manageable rate. Slowly, Nico fell into a rhythm. The spraypaint sputtered as arching lines formed. Block in the outlines. Fast, cutting lines of gold for the sun-kissed horizon. By the time he’d gotten the roller out for the blue paint, his entire world was two-dimensional, an interplay of paint and brick.

The alley was peaceful, but on the wall, there was chaos. Quick blocks of grey brought out a rolling hill filled with rock and ash; in his mind’s eye, dry grass bowed in the breeze, so he added flashes of yellow. The respirator made it impossible to smell the fumes of his handwork, but he imagined there was soot and newly-made hay and just a hint of ozone. The clouds were soft, deft streaks of white across a maroon sky. He was careful to drag them out low to the ground, because a gentle breeze on the ground meant fast-moving winds up in the clouds.

He was detailing the highlights on the foreground stones when he realized someone was watching him, and his heart stopped for a moment. His audience was across the street, a middle-aged man holding the shoulders of a small boy. Nico turned guiltily to them, simultaneously aware that the respirator made him look monstrous while also hiding his embarrassment.

“Sorry!” the man called back. “It’s looking great! We didn’t mean to bother.” The slightest hint of a Sinnohan accent hung from his words. “Keep it up!”

Beneath the soft rubber of the respirator, Nico’s cheeks burned. He turned back to the wall, inhaled stiffly—it was musty; he’d need to change the filters soon—and began again.

He began a foreground with shadow falling on his landscape. The hulking giant unfolded before him, disproportionately long limbs and gaunt cheeks and slouched shoulders. Nico had painted the grass as already trampled, and now he blocked in the boots that had done it. Wrinkled hands, a shadowed face.

This part was almost second nature; his mind wandered.

AZ had been a sort of legend; mentioning him seriously had been as outlandish as claiming to have seen a wild lapras at the beach. The man who had begged the gods for the end of the world, and who had gotten his wish.

He’d lived during the worst war Kalos had ever seen, before or since. That part was known; Nico had written an entire paper on it in high school, but sources diverged on how the war had actually ended. The legends were simply that: legends. A mere foot soldier—and a madman, at that—earning the favor of an ancient and powerful pokémon that was never seen again? Preposterous. No one took it seriously. But Nico had always been enthralled with the idea. Not quite enamored, not quite obsessed, but there was something horrible and magical about the entire concept, that mankind would ask its creators for a boon of destruction, that those creators would grant it.

Nico remembered getting the paper back, accompanied with the usual redlines from Mr. Berger, a few notes on grammar and flow. The paper’s closing line had been a little dramatic, even back then:

If such a power had truly existed, why hasn’t anyone tried to find it again?

And Mr. Berger had written back in small, terse caps: The line between history and speculation is often thin one, Nico, but for the purposes of this class, I must ask that you stay on the side of answering questions rather than asking them.

Nico had dug up that last page half a year ago, when the headlines had flared to life. It turned out some questions were better left unasked, unanswered. Lysandre had done both, and history had almost repeated itself once again.

Six months, endless speculative thinkpieces, and a deluge of litigation later—it seemed like everyone had forgotten. It was time to move on, Malva had announced last week to a sparse crowd of microphones. Kalos needed unity. She’d turned to shake hands with Diantha, her teeth suddenly shining in the harsh flash of a camera. It was the kind of picture Nico had expected to see plastered across every news app in Kalos: Diantha, with careless grace floating around her shoulders; Malva, with an imperious but confident smile; both of them, betrayed by the white-knuckled grip of their handshake. But Kalos had grown silent, because Kalos had moved on.

Some of Nico’s thoughts must’ve leaked back into the stony canvas, because when he looked up, AZ stared down at him, eyes grim, glistening—perhaps the paint wasn’t yet fully dry. AZ didn’t have Diantha’s grace or Malva’s smile, but he clasped his own hands tight to his chest, knuckles white with urgency. A charred and ashen landscape swirled around him, clouds streaked red with sunset, a smoking city in the distance. The fake AZ slouched towards the real street, out of the wall, away from the ruins he had created.

If Mr. Berger was correct and history class was for answering questions, then art was for asking them, and it was no wonder that Nico preferred one over the other. He took a few steps backward, slowly emerging from the meditative trance that painting had put him into, and exhaled. If this mural could ask one question, if AZ’s cracked lips could open and demand something from the world once more, it would be this, and it would be in Diantha’s voice:

What right do I have to say when it’s time for the world to move on?

\*\*/*/​

“We missed you at the library yesterday,” Maevis said out of the corner of her mouth, not looking up from her canvas. “Study group’s just not the same without someone to ask when the post-modern era started. For the fifth time.”

“I was busy.” Nico sighed and swung his bag over his shoulder before settling onto his stool. Studio days were usually something he looked forward to, but today the prospect of six hours of still life seemed insurmountable. The table in the center of the room was filled with its usual eclectic mix of objects: today was a shining silver kettle, a wine bottle, a handful of persim berries, and a lopsided stack of coins.

“Catching up on your anatomy assignment, I would hope,” Maevis said, frowning as she absently tucked a stray curl of hair behind her ear, leaving a smudge of grey by her temples. “Zartmann’s going to flip if you turn in another rushed portfolio piece, you know.”

Nico bit back a sigh. Anatomy had been on his mind all day yesterday, technically, but the actual assignment had been the last thing he’d been thinking about. That was the nature of spray—you couldn’t just take down the wall and turn it in, and there was always the legal grey area of that kind of art existing in the first place.

“You’re just asking to be caught red-handed,” Maevis said when he didn’t answer, casting a knowing look at his hand.

Nico jolted and saw a tell-tale line of red paint at the base of his wrist, right where his glove must’ve ended. Reflexively, he pulled his sleeve down. “Hey!”

“I’m kidding,” she added flatly. “You’re fine. Social media’s buzzing with your mural already. Not bad for baby’s first! Might be a burner if the city doesn’t take it down.”

Burner. Maevis had taught him all the slang words, which she in turn had stolen and greedily hoarded from (apparently) Unova. You didn’t notice most art, she’d explained the first time. The curve of a coffee cup, or the way that two sidewalks met. But sometimes there was a piece that shone so bright in your mind that it stayed there, and if it did that for enough people, it would catch flame, and burn.

“Queulor commented saying he liked your monocolor choice for the floette,” Maevis added, almost casual.

“Queulor saw it?” Nico asked, hardly daring to believe it. When he’d gotten back to his dorm last night, he’d been exhausted. He’d had just enough energy to shower, watching the thin trickle of paint-stained water in a daze, and then he’d collapsed in bed. In the rush to get to Studio on time this morning, he hadn’t checked to see if anyone had noticed, but if Queulor was saying stuff about it …

Something else tugged at the back of his mind. “Floette?”

“Yeah. You get the street art king of Lumiose to notice your work on the ‘gram and it’s for your least favorite still-life subject. Karma’s funny.” Maevis swapped to white pencil for the highlights in the glass bottle. Then she rolled her eyes and tossed a knowing look at Nico’s canvas, still blank. “It was a sick floette though. Didn’t know you had it in you. Sucks that he won’t trace it back to your actual socials, but it’s nice to get some recognition from the people who inspired us, no?”

Hastily, Nico reached for his charcoal, only to realize it was already in his hand. He closed his eyes and choked back a sigh. Studio was going to be rough; he could already tell. But he was hardly thinking about the kettle in front of him. “I didn’t draw a floette.”

“Park and Tenth, right? Across from Lysandre Labs.” Her voice stilted. “Or like, where they were, you know.”

Nico allowed himself five seconds to recover, pretending to be intent on getting the lighting of the curve around the kettle’s handle just right. There was a strangeness to this whole thing that he wasn’t sure that outsiders like Maevis would ever really understand. Geosenge was deep in the boonies for folks like her, the kind of place she’d gloss over if it didn’t happen to have a nice liberal arts university that was a quarter of the price of Lumiose Visual Arts. With a population of just over fifty thousand, it wasn’t like Geosenge had much in the way of museums, or skyscrapers, or even a nice downtown. Lysandre Labs was the skyline. When Lysandre announced construction of their largest campus over two decades ago, Geosenge’s population had more than doubled. And then it had all collapsed overnight. That wasn’t just something you brushed away with a were.

But you couldn’t say those parts out loud. No one wanted to hear that Geosenge had cheered Lysandre to the bitter end.

“That’s the spot,” he said instead.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” Maevis said, with a rare smile. “You should be proud. I thought it turned out really nice. Worthy of skipping study group.”

His hands were already covered in charcoal, and it was bad form to pull out a phone during Studio, but he was dying to check and see what all the bustle was about. “I didn’t draw a floette,” he repeated slowly.

“Yeah, at this rate, I’m surprised you drew anything.” Maevis threw another withering glare at his canvas, which, aside from a few shaky construction lines, was woefully empty.

“I mean it. I—” Nico cut off just as Maevis jabbed her elbow into his stomach. Madame Page was an excellent studio teacher, but she had a nose for sniffing out people who weren’t focused, and now she was making a beeline towards them.

“We’ll talk after,” Maevis said in a curt whisper before turning to greet Madame Page with a smile, nodding vigorously as she was sucked into a brief mini-lecture on edge lighting.

Nico watched, numb, his half-empty canvas forgotten again. A pit formed in his stomach.

\*\*/*/​

Maevis was right: it was a sick floette. The problem was that he couldn’t remember making it.

Nico wasn’t sure how long he was allowed to gawk: now, without the getup, he wasn’t the artist. He and Maeve were the same as everyone else strolling down the street. Would anyone notice themlingering now?

Most of the wall was familiar. AZ still slouched away from a ruined city, tight-lipped and outlined in thick streaks of black. But opposite him, a waifish white figure cut through the wasteland, her flower clutched tightly to her, shielding her from the rain of ash. Nico had painted in heavy, saturated colors: the seven-colored beam that had shot out of Lysandre Labs six months ago had bathed Geosenge in a bright, ethereal light, the kind of palette he’d never seen before and hoped he would never see in reality again. But Floette was drawn almost entirely in greyscale, with just hints of green around her flower and eyes, unaffected by the shadow AZ cast.

The second addition was smaller and integrated so seamlessly into the background that Nico wouldn’t have noticed the change if he hadn’t spent eight hours staring at the original. Quietly, resolutely, Floette drifted towards the remains of a splintered, six-petaled flower in the distance, where a silhouetted, miniature crowd of humans and pokémon waited with tools and shovels.

In the legends, AZ had set off to wander alone, cursed with the immortality that was the price for his wish. That much was universal across stories. But someone else had hidden his weapon, carefully deconstructed it and buried it deep, deep underground so that it would never hurt or tempt anyone else ever again. His brother, some stories had said. His floette, other stories had suggested.

Maevis snapped a quick picture. “It looks good,” she said, when Nico turned to look at her accusingly. “The lighting is better in the afternoon anyway. Can’t have Queulor commenting on your dumbass backlit mural.”

“It’s not mine,” Nico said quietly.

“Yes, of course. This work is entirely anonymous.” Maevis’s sarcasm had fewer barbs than usual, and she’d already put her phone back in her pocket. “We have no idea who made this, and even if we did, it certainly wasn’t Nico Cartier, who, if questioned by local authorities, can provide the names of four of his friends who will vouch that he spent all day yesterday in the library, diligently working on his art history homework.”

“Maevis—”

“And there’s even records of his student ID being scanned at the library, because he was definitely there, and not because someone had to go through the turnstyles on three separate occasions before the timing was right,” Maevis continued loudly. “And besides, it’s a grey area. That wall is owned by Lysandre Labs, and it’s not like they’ll miss it.”

“I mean it,” Nico hissed. “Some of it was me, but some of it got painted over.”

Maevis’s brow furrowed. “That doesn’t make any sense, Nic. If they wanted to top your tag, they wouldn’t bother trying to blend it in with the original.”

But she was already darting across the street, converses flopping loosely on the pavement. Nico followed half-heartedly—it was almost like getting close enough to touch the wall would make it real. But Maevis didn’t have that reverence or that reservation. One of her hands slipped out of her cardigan pocket, and she traced over the lines of AZ’s shoulder, following them lower to the ground and across the landscape until they merged into Floette’s shadow, and then Floette herself. She looked over her shoulder at Nico, her fingertip barely grazing the white, three-pointed flower. “This part, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Your greyscale form isn’t nearly this good,” she said with a scoff. “I should’ve known.”

Irritation flared up in Nico, and he took half a step towards her. “I didn’t ask anyone to do this.”

Maevis pursed her lips and took a step back from the wall, glancing around at the rest of the mural. “I don’t get it, though. Who would go through all the effort to blend in like that?” One finger twisted in her curls. “The rest is yours?”

“They added a bit to the background over there,” Nico admitted, jabbing his finger towards the offending corner of the painting, with its shadowed crowd of hopefuls. “The rest is mine.”

“I didn’t think you had any secret admirers.” Maevis jammed her hands into her pockets and began walking away. “Usually you just slash and move on.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Wall next to us is perfectly clean, too. This is a weird throw-up, Nic.”

Nico took a few rushed steps to catch up to her. “You’re leaving?”

“Not sure what else I’m supposed to do,” she said airily. “My backpack’s full of anatomy books, not the six gallons of paint that you’d need to buff that one out. It’s a nice burner. It’ll probably stay up for a while unless the city gets frisky. I dare say the additions help.”

“Five gallons.”

“What?”

“It’s five gallons of paint to buff the wall,” Nico found himself saying. “I did it in an hour. Could be half an hour. If I had a crew of two.”

Maevis didn’t look at him. “It’s a nice burner,” she repeated firmly. “Really good for a first outing. You got some buzz. Why not live with it?”

“It feels wrong,” Nico protested, lingering by the wall for a moment longer. But Maevis was still walking away, and Nico found himself half-jogging to keep up with her strides.

“People slash toys all the time.” Maevis traced the letters of the acronym in the air, index finger crooked like she was cradling a can of paint. “Tag. Over. Your. Shit. T-O-Y-S. It’s part of the game, Nic.”

“I’m not a toy,” Nico hissed. But it wasn’t that; somehow, he almost wished this was just a more experienced artist trying to put him in his place and throwing something up on top of him. The part that didn’t sit right was how they hadn’t tried to destroy his work. They’d simply changed it, which somehow made it sting even more. His original piece had been meant to question Kalos’s right to rebuild. But now it was about glorifying it, about letting Diantha and Malva slouch after AZ while the damaged had to pick up the pieces and bury them.

And burying secrets was what had gotten them here in the first place. It had been so easy to write off Flare as some sort of weird, fratty, but ultimately harmless cult. Nico had done it too, wrapped up as he’d been in portfolio pieces for his application to Geosenge College of Art and Design. Everyone had excuses. Besides, what were a bunch of goons in overpriced suits going to do? Never mind that their influence had spread. Never mind that, when Nico checked the headlines, there’d been three people from his high school on the list of individuals indicted. Flare had been easy to ignore, until they weren’t.

“Yeah, you aren’t a toy. In fact, I think you’re quite good.” Maevis’s voice cut into his thoughts, and when Nico looked up, she was facing him, both hands in her pockets, eyes earnest beneath her wire-framed glasses. “Look. Maybe Geosenge is different. I haven’t been around long enough to know. But back in Lumiose, tags don’t stay up forever, especially when you’re new. Either the kings and queens get you, or the cops do. Sticking around forever isn’t what graffiti is for. Not every piece is going to be a burner.”

Nico opened his mouth to retort, and then closed it.

Maevis’s expression softened. “Nic, listen. You want to throw-up on your own killer piece? Go ahead. I won’t stop you. But I’m not going to help you, either.”

\*\*/*/​

Maevis had been right, of course. It would’ve taken six gallons of paint to buff out the wall properly. The first five had left a thin afterimage straining out from the cinderblocks, a collection of ghosts beneath the milky whitewash. Nico hissed under his breath, leaning heavily against the roller. It would do.

This time, it was harder to get into a rhythm. He kept glancing over his shoulder, as if there was someone watching from the abandoned café across the street, waiting to pounce and repurpose his work again. His lines felt more jagged, rushed. The spray paint nozzles felt foreign beneath his hands, and twice he caught himself reaching for the wrong color on accident. Behind him, the ruins of Lysandre Labs had already been cleared down to an empty lot, but the fence stood sentry.

When he stepped back, the wall was awash with that ghastly seven-colored light, this time welling up in the heart of a silvery, six-petaled crystal. Those bits had come easily, at least. Bright colors, refraction, a deadly bloom; it was easy to condense all of this into simple geometry. The bits of the old mural that still poked out from beneath looked like haunted, washed-out afterimages now, erased by the light of the ultimate weapon. This was the moment before it all was over.

In the fairytale version of the story he’d read as a child, AZ had begged Xerneas for help. First to revive Floette—a wish that had been granted. And then later, when his grief had soured to rage, to destroy both armies, so that no one else would have to die.

{I will not destroy them and theirs, nor will I destroy you and yours,} Xerneas had said simply. {I cannot. I am creation.}

And so AZ had turned his machine into a weapon of destruction. What Xerneas would not give, AZ found a way to take, so he did.

When Nico finally collapsed into bed that night, it felt like there was paint in every pore of his body. He lay in bed, basking in the soft light of his phone, and the next thing he knew, it was morning. He reached down to untangle his phone from the covers to check the time.

nice rework, said the text message from Maevis. you’ve been busy :o

Thanks,
he swiped back and then flopped his head against his pillow. Thirty minutes until class. He had plenty of time.

vines again?

Heart thudding, he slid his thumb across the phone to unlock it. The fatigue vaporized. No?

The telltale trio of dots on his screen told him she was typing, and then she trailed off. He could imagine her pursing her lips, already weighing the words in her head.

Maevis. Don’t tell me.

No response.

Maevis?

The next response was immediate: you told me not to tell you.

The picture came soon after. Nico only had to look at it for a moment before he threw his phone down, frustration welling up from somewhere deep in his chest.

Vines. Freaking vines. They sprouted up around the ultimate weapon, curled over its open petals, and bloomed into white pea blossoms. Grass grew around the weapon’s base. The glimmer of deadly light in its throat dissolved into warm sunlight filtering in through a gentle grove. The weapon itself was still visible, shards of crystalline light peeking through the overgrowth, but it was no longer poised to destroy. Years had passed, and time had taken its toll—now the thing was inert, gentle even, as nature reclaimed its own.

\*\*/*/​

“So this mystery artist—”

Now departing University Station. Please stand back from the platform gap.”

The train lurched forward on its rails and the bright awnings of the street cafés and shops slowly ran into a tri-colored blur.

“So this mystery artist,” Nico began again. When he looked over, Maevis was curled up in the orange plastic of her seat, hunched around her sketchbook, both headphones in. Nico huffed and poked her on the shoulder.

With an exaggerated eye roll, Maevis lifted one ear of her headphones and looked pointedly at him. Silent.

“So this mystery artist,” Nico said for the third time, and steamrollered right through Maevis’s sigh. “What do you think his deal is? Why just me? I haven’t seen his tags anywhere else around town.”

“One, you haven’t seen their tags at all,” Maevis said, idly crosshatching one corner of her sketchbook. “And two, careful how you talk when you’re packing this much.” Her tone didn’t change register, but one converse-clad foot tapped pointedly up against Nico’s duffel bag full of paint, which clinked traitorously. “I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”

“A good captain goes down with the ship.” Nico grumbled, pretending to be offended.

“And notice how there’s nothing about the second mate, Nic.” The reflection of Maevis glasses briefly flashed white as she flipped to a new page and scowled at the old man sitting patiently twenty feet from them, gently smiling out the window. She began to sketch again. “Most art isn’t illegal. Studio is one thing. Out in the wild, up to your gills in supplies, is another. You never know who will hear.”

Nico sighed. It seemed Maevis was being obstinate today, but she did have a point. He glanced around the train, which was mostly empty. “So this mystery—”

This time, Maevis yanked her headphones down around her neck, tangling them in her curly hair. “This mystery artist. It’s all you’ve been able to talk about for days, Nic. And I get it. It’s frustrating to have someone poke your art. But it happens to all of us, and honestly, if you wanted something permanent, you’d pick a different canvas. You and I both know that.” Her pen hit the ground with a clatter, and she didn’t bother to pick it up. “So what do you want me to do about it? Sit outside of Park Avenue on Thursday evenings and wait for them to show up.”

“What?”

Maevis sighed impatiently. “It’s not that hard, Nic.” She bent down to pick up her pen but continued talking. “Someone tops your shit each night. You want to find them? You know exactly where they’re going to be.”

Nico couldn’t help but lean in a little. Why hadn’t she just opened with this? “Maybe it’s not one person. It’s pretty complex.”

“Maybe. Doubt it.” She scribbled a set of circles, biting her lip, and then a woman with a bag of groceries began to take form on the page. Nico looked up—there she was, her head tilted back up against the window. “Whoever it is, they’re new to this. They’re talented, but they’re new. They’re probably doing monocolor because they can, and because they don’t have someone hauling all their colors around for them, and because they’re afraid to get caught. Those straight lines are freehanded because they didn’t bring a pole.” The woman at the back of the train shifted, her head falling against her chest as she dozed off, but in Maevis’s notebook she was already pinned in place, neck tilted up against the glass of the train window. A few deft strokes captured the crevasses of her jacket, and then Maevis shut the notebook suddenly and began stuffing it into her backpack.

Now approaching Midtown Station.”

“That’s my cue. Coffee’s on me if you’re going to come along and study for a change.” Maevis was already standing up. The train had just begun to slow down. She sighed, and her expression softened for just a moment when she looked back at Nico. “I scraped up the time and the money to go to university to learn about things bigger than the streets. I’ll play along when it interests me, but I’m not getting sucked back in to the petty parts. You’re probably grinding your axe to go to war with some kid in secondary school, Nic. That’s what it looks like to me. But you want to do something about it? Then don’t waste your time talking to me. Take it up with them, or move on.”

Her words finally drove home the reality. Confrontation wasn’t exactly his strong suit, and never had been. His stomach knotted. But Nico forced a smile and said in what he hoped was a calm voice, “You’re right. Can you come with me?”

“You want me to hold your hand?”

“The more people who are around, the less dicey these things tend to be.” He tried to make it sound like he actually knew this was true.

She leaned lightly against the rail closest to the door, one foot slightly bent. “Not that it’ll get dicey. We all run in the same circles here. But it can be scary. I get that.”

Please mind the platform gap.”

“Thursday night at eight, then. Maybe you can catch up on some reading while we’re there.”

Maevis tossed him a two-fingered salute and was already halfway out the door before Nico managed to croak, “Thanks.”

The doors slid shut. The train lurched on.

\*\*/*/​

When he approached the wall again, he already knew it was a lost cause. Maevis was probably right, and it’d all get slashed on Thursday night. But that didn’t stop him from lugging out six gallons of whitewash, and his rollers, and his dwindling collection of spray paint back out to the spot. And besides. At this point, it was personal.

Xerneas unfolded before him, twenty feet tall, horns gleaming all the colors of the rainbow. Objectively, it was good work—the lines were solid, the colors vibrant, the composition striking—but it didn’t seem to speak to him. Its eyes, washed out in the light of Geomancy, seemed unfocused, no matter how hard he tried to make them spear the pedestrians in the street. He mostly spent the last hour just staring, trying to figure out why it didn’t feel complete, where that missing fire had gone.

Whatever. Someone was going to rip it to pieces anyway.

\*\*/*/​

Park Avenue was cold at night. Lights danced across the sky, and the raucous music of the clubs a few blocks over wafted slowly through the crisp air, but over here, the bass was barely a buzz. The night was still. Nico zipped his jacket up to his neck and hunched his shoulders against the cold. He huddled his hands closer to the paper coffee cup in his hands, trying to glean some vestigial warmth from it. His gaze drifted down to the book in his lap but his mind refused to focus. He’d spent fifteen minutes staring at the same page depicting a large red square with one strip of blue down the middle (Kalos Divided, oil on canvas) before giving up and letting the pages ruffle in the wind.

Three hours so far and nothing.

Maevis was sprawled out on her two -thirds of the bench, empty coffee cup on the ground beside her. Her blackbook was leaned up against one thigh, and she’d idly done a few riffs off his mural before returning to a rough sketch of what looked like a warrior who wielded an aegislash.

“It really is a nice piece,” she’d said when they’d sat down. “So were the other two.”

Something rattled in the alley, like glass bottles being kicked across the ground. Nico kept his head pointed at the book, but his gaze flicked over to the darkness. Nothing emerged. Probably just a pokémon. He willed the surge of adrenaline away, and took a sip from the coffee cup, more as a distraction than anything else. Art history. He looked down at the book. The post-modern period had started—

Another rattle. This time, Nico really did move his head, and he really did see a beige pokémon scampering across the lamplight. He forced his gaze back to his book. The post-modern period had—

Clink.

The post-modern—

There was a strange creaking sound, and when Nico glanced up again, a tiny, hunched figure hung off of the lamp pole, straining to reach one of the higher spots of his burner. A green paintbrush dangled from its hand.

“Hey!” A cry ripped from Nico’s throat, and the next thing he knew, he was already halfway across the street, coffee cup overturned on the bench behind him. He was dimly aware of Maevis swearing, gathering their books away from the coffee spill, but he ignored her. “Hey! You!”

The figure dropped down nimbly from the lamppost, and it was when they were both on the same level that Nico could see how tiny his opponent was, barely coming up to his chest. He blinked furiously, trying to process it, but no matter how many times he shook his head, the painter in front of him was still unmistakably—

“A smeargle?!”

The initial surge of rage gave way to confusion, and then embarrassment. If anyone else in Geosenge found out that his biggest beef this year had been with a dog

The smeargle looked at him fearlessly, eyes wide and alert, one hand still cradling its oozing tail. Its head tilted to one side. One ear flopped over.

Nico hissed in frustration and rubbed his forehead with one hand. He’d wasted three hours on a stakeout, rehearsed his confrontation speech on tags and art and freedom of expression, slashed his own murals, for a pokémon. No wonder it hadn’t seemed to understand basic street cred. “Look. You can’t draw here. This is mine.” He gestured at the mural for emphasis. “Mine,” he repeated slowly. “Not yours.”

The smeargle blinked back, otherwise perfectly still. Almost comedically, a blob of green paint dripped to the ground.

“Mine.”

The smeargle slowly sidled closer to the wall.

Mine,” Nico repeated, louder. “Don’t you dare.”

Almost delicately, without breaking eye contact, the smeargle lifted its tail and pressed a blob of green paint into the wall.

Nico surged forward, his hands clenched into fists, but he was far too slow: the smeargle was already taking graceful, bounding leaps down the alley, its pelt blending in with the concrete. He took a few steps after, but in another instant she’d vanished, leaving Nico alone with his ruined mural.

“What the hell was that?” he sputtered after a long moment.

“She, I think.” Maevis’s voice came from behind him.

“She?” Nico’s voice cracked, but when he turned around, Maevis was dead serious, peering with mild curiosity down the alley where the smeargle had vanished.

“Yeah, I think so. She’s one of the few regulars this far north who still sticks to green. Tags as Rosetta or something. Not entirely sure.” Maevis squinted at her phone, where she’d zoomed all the way into the floette from Nico’s first piece and was scrutinizing it carefully.

“There’s a smeargle doing throw-ups on other people’s works and you know her?” Nico practically squeaked.

“Not personally; didn’t think she did throw-ups,” Maevis said breezily, sliding her phone back into her pocket. “But there aren’t too many smeargle in the game. Most of them tag in Cyllage City anyway. A bit closer to their normal haunts. It’s harder for smeargle to jump on the rail and cityhop for a weekend jaunt like we do.” The smile on her face faded when she caught Nico’s eye. “Lighten up, would you?”

“I could get a pokéball. Find a trainer.”

“Nico.” The lightness had dropped from her voice immediately.

“What?” he said defensively. “It was only a joke. But I could.”

“You can’t just go around catching anyone who tags up on your stuff. Maybe they do stuff differently down here in Geosenge, but that’s … that’s beyond messed up.”

“I’m just saying—”

Maevis leaned forward and slammed his shoulder into the wall with bruising force. He felt the fresh paint from the smeargle against his arm. But Maevis’s glare was withering, her voice as unyielding as stone, and he was surprised he didn’t just evaporate on the spot. “There are so many reasons that’s not okay, but if the only one you’ll listen to is that absolutely no one will respect you if you resort to catching your competition, then I’ll lay it out. We’re here for freedom of expression. If anyone hears that you so much as thought about crossing that line, trust me, getting your pieces slashed will be the least of your problems.” She threw her hand aside with a scoff and took a step back.

The shame rose in his throat like bile, and with them, excuses. Geosenge was deep in the boonies for folks like her; she had to understand that out here, people like him didn’t really get pokémon. A smeargle was just as real to him as Diantha was—some flashy thing on television, gone with the next advertisement. People like him didn’t spend time thinking about if putting a fork in a drawer would make the fork feel bad. Maybe glitzy cityfolk were different.

The retort was already coming back at him, though, and part of it in Maevis’s voice: You can’t be dropping burners protesting the idiots who wanted to genocide all pokémon by day and then by night advocate catching the first one who does something that annoys you.

Laid out like that, he wished he could swallow his words up and erase them from Maevis’s ears. “I’m sorry,” he said instead. “That was messed up. What should I do, then?” He was suddenly aware of how thin his voice sounded. “Talk to her?”

“Seems like a good start. Maybe use your inside voice this time,” Maevis muttered darkly. Her backpack was already on her shoulders. “Nic, I like what we’ve done together, and I’ll write this off as a shitty joke that you told after not sleeping for forty-six hours, but if you keep letting this consume you, I’m out. Skipping your homework was one thing. But a pokéball. My god.”

“Maevis ….”

“Watch yourself, Nic. This isn’t you.”

\*\*/*/​

The next evening, Nico waited alone at the bench, his backpack leaned up beside him.

Unfortunately, watching the wall for Rosetta meant … watching the wall. And its new modifications had only grown more elaborate overnight. Rosetta had added tangles of grass around Xerneas’ feet, softened the harsh light around its eyes so that its pupils could shine through and look out. Monochrome flowers sprouted now, some of them slowly climbing around its hooves. The thick lines Nico had used to split Xerneas’ legs from the foreground were soft and gentle now, hazed by a string of spiraling butterfly pea blossoms on the vine, just beginning to burst into bloom. He’d drawn Xerneas in a wideset stance, legs splayed as it braced against the sapping force of Lysandre’s weapon, and Rosetta had filled in all that gap with curling vines and unfurling flowers. All it had taken was a dozen shades of green, scattered around the piece like chaff in the wind, and the entire piece felt softer somehow, more hopeful.

But something about it wasn’t finished this time. Maybe she felt it too. Or maybe he’d have to throw up over his work a fourth time.

Nico sighed. It was a nice piece. He didn’t need Queulor or Maevis or anyone else to tell him that. It just didn’t feel fair, now that it wasn’t his.

Something shifted in the alleyway, and Nico’s head pricked up. He saw two flashes of green in the lamplight, like reflections of a pair of eyes, and then they began to recede again. Alarmed, Nico scrambled to his feet. “Wait! I just want to talk.”

There was the dry sound of claws on concrete, and then the smeargle slowly emerged from the darkness again. This time, her tail trailed behind her, and she stayed on all four paws, poised for flight.

Nico took a steadying breath. “That was you, right?” He kept his hands at his sides and pointed with his chin towards the mural. “I … I like the shading. It’s nice.” He could almost hear Maevis’s sarcastic retort in the back of his head, but this was the best he could bring himself to do.

The smeargle slinked out a little further.

He wished she didn’t look so small. It’d been a lot easier when she’d been faceless, because then in his mind he could pretend she was just a monster and he wouldn’t have had to talk to her at all. “My friend says you’re called Rosetta. Is that true?”

Cautiously, she tilted her head, and then inclined it in what looked like a nod.

The smile he wore felt fake. Nico desperately prayed she wouldn’t notice. “Well, Rosetta. It’s nice to meet you.” He faltered. He’d spent the evening planning out what he’d say, and in an instant every memory of that speech had been obliterated from his mind. “Could you. Could you maybe stop slashing my work?” Gods, that sounded so pathetic—

Rosetta stood stock still. Slowly, as if with a mind of its own, her tail coiled around her rear legs and she drew herself up.

They both stared at each other, the street like a dividing line between them, and then Rosetta drew closer until she was only a few feet from Nico’s bench. Slowly, she shook her head.

He wished Maevis was here. Maevis, at least, was comfortable enough with the idea of pokémon who could spraypaint that she knew them by their tags. But he was out of his element here, and he was alone. “Why not?”

The smeargle fixed him with a dubious stare, and then nimbly hopped up onto the bench next to him.

It was easier this way, now that they didn’t have to make eye contact. Nico looked at the mural instead, at this thing they’d both made. Art was a voice, of some sorts, and for someone like her, it was her only one. He frowned, and then reached for the bag at his feet.

Almost immediately, Rosetta stiffened, and the fur on the back of her neck stood straight up. “I’m not … I’m just,” Nico spluttered, and quickly withdrew from his backpack, black sketchbook and pen in hand. “Here,” he said, pressing them towards the smeargle. “If you wanted to, you know, talk.”

Rosetta’s ears flicked, but she reached out tentatively for the pen while Nico rifled through dozens of old sketches until he found a blank page. A soft scratching sound drew his attention back to her—the smeargle’s face was twisted in fascination as she made a meandering spiral on the wooden planks of the bench beneath her.

Something in her expression finally made him stop. His grandmother had been the same way when she’d shown him her new cellular phone. No cords! But it could make phone calls!

He imagined Rosetta speaking in her voice now as the scribble grew even larger: no paint! But it makes lines!

Somehow, that gave him courage.

“I don’t know why I started tagging this spot,” Nico said quietly, steepling his hands beneath his chin. “I mean, I know exactly why I kept tagging this spot, but …” He trailed off. The words didn’t quite come out the way he’d been planning, but when he looked over, the smeargle was waiting patiently, her tail tucked over both of her legs, the pen grasped tightly as she idly tried scribbling on her other paw. “Um. Where to start. From the looks of things, you’ve heard some of the same stories I have. Do they have any for the stones south of Geosenge?”

The smeargle nodded, and then squinted at the sketchbook between them. She pulled it close, pen hovering over the paper, and then she leaned in. A few moments later, the rough outline of a skull appeared.

Nico’s breath caught in his throat. “So you do know how to draw things that aren’t flowers after all,” he said with a half-hearted chuckle, which died in his mouth.

Rosetta hadn’t stopped drawing, and now the page was half-full of skulls. Another four lines, the curve of an eye socket, a nasal cavity, a jaw. She coaxed them all out of the white void of the paper, large and small, in all different shapes and sizes. Nico couldn’t help but notice—

The tempo shifted. The outline of a foot took place. Then a leg, a torso. A human male, hulking and monstrous, with dark, heavy-lined eyes glared defiantly up at him from a mountain of bones.

He’d heard rumors that AZ had been down in Geosenge that fateful night, when that rainbow beam arced across the sky and the world had been poised to end. What went through your brain the instant you watched someone try to replicate your worst sin? What went through your brain the first time?

Mr. Berger had taken them on a field trip to the ruins, two months after Nico had written his paper on AZ, three years before Lysandre tried to replicate Kalos’s largest mass grave with some dogma about national technological superiority and ensuring Kalos would last forever. It was easier to think of the rocks as tombstones, not lives. Quiet stones speak volumes, the docents used to say. So we will not speak for them. And it was true; as soon as you stepped foot in the sacred site, a quiet, oppressive silence began. The gravel pathway gave way to dirt; your footsteps went silent as soon as you passed under the stone arch. The wind itself seemed to cease. There were pokémon, sometimes, but they never made a sound.

The site itself was three thousand years old. Maybe whoever had built it hadn’t intended for it to last this long. Maybe they’d expected it to get buried in the sands of time. Maybe it hadn’t been built at all. It hadn’t felt like a monument—too sprawled out, too spread apart. You had to journey throughout the entire garden to get a sense of scale, but once you started walking, it became clear that each lump in the fog was another grave, another life.

A monument would’ve had a plaque, maybe, a small podium for speeches, somewhere to stretch a ribbon across for a ceremonial opening afternoon. A statement, a symbol. A monument would’ve been tied up in the same debates that Geosenge was now—what should be built here instead? Why isn’t Diantha denouncing Lysandre? Who is Serena Beaumont? Where should Xerneas go?—and at the end of the day, Nico knew a whole lot of people would’ve talked and a whole lot of people would’ve been angrier for it.

Staring at three thousand year-old stones, Nico had decided something important in that moment: Mr. Berger was right about a lot, but he was wrong about one thing. History was for answering questions. But it was also for asking them.

Starting with the same question Nico had been asking himself for six months: what do you do with your life once something like this has happened to you?

The soft scratch of a pen nib on paper caught his attention. Rosetta had turned to a new page and was midway through detailing the bricks in this alley, their features smooth and unblemished. A few deft strokes captured a tall woman in a Flare suit; three harsh lines formed the scowl of her face. Her hand was outlined in thick black, fingers clenched around what was unmistakably a pokéball, aimed out of the page.

Somehow the artistic rendition of the pokéball finally made the guilt feel real. She could draw this, and he would’ve tried to imprison her for it?

“Did … she try to catch you?”

The smeargle shook her head.

“Did you battle for her?”

This time, the smeargle stared at him, hard, before pressing the sketchbook back into his lap and the pen into his hand.

He held the pen uncomprehendingly. “Did—”

Rosetta placed her paw on his hand and pushed it gently into the page. Nico sighed. Could he … he tried to sketch the smeargle into the frame somewhere. He mimed some sample lines, pen hovering in the air, but none of them felt right. Rosetta didn’t seem like a fighter, any more than he was. The understanding settled in clearly after that, and when he pushed the sketchbook back over, a black and white, jagged sketch of the smeargle was in the corner of the greyscale alleyway, beneath the lamppost, watching with wide, fearful eyes.

Rosetta nodded.

“So then why pick this—”

She pushed his palm into the page again, and Nico bit his lip. He stared at the scene so far. What story was it telling? What questions did it ask?

Behind this bench was an empty lot that used to hold the largest building in Geosenge. Six months ago, the woman on this page had been real. Six months ago, Nico had been in the library, idly thumbing through a book on broad-leafed plants for good references for a long-forgotten project, when everyone’s phones had started buzzing and the sirens all went off at once. Six months ago, Kalos had held its breath, and Lysandre had made a choice.

It was obvious when he knew what to look for, because it was the kind of thing he’d been trying to shape as well. The foreground wasn’t quite balanced yet. There was a piece missing here, a big open space for someone to step forward. Nico wasn’t sure what it had been for Rosetta specifically, who it had looked like for her. For him it had been Maevis’s hands on his shoulders, how she’d clamped down and pulled him up, her voice hard as she stood up and ordered everyone to evacuate into the basements. He’d known as soon as he saw her eyes that she knew it was pointless, but he’d followed her anyway.

And here, who would’ve stood up for a smeargle cowering in the corner when there were bigger things to save, bigger villains to stop? Maybe it was Serena, Kalos’s new darling. Maybe it was one of the dozens of other trainers who had rushed in. Had their pokémon been as afraid as he’d felt in that moment, when they’d all consigned themselves to obliteration? Had they hesitated? Had it mattered?

Rosetta had picked this spot to paint, to speak, for the same reason he had. The important places weren’t where despair had almost won. They never were. What mattered were the places that people had carved out, for themselves and for each other.

He’d spent a lot of time trapped in the same pit every artist probably had, starting out—how loudly could you scream into a void before your voice gave out? If the world kept plugging its ears, if someone kept painting over you, how long could you keep going? The world didn’t want to look at your pain unless you could make it beautiful, palatable to them somehow, but if you could do that, they’d let it live forever. That was what it meant to burn.

Nico silently placed the notebook between them and crossed the street. The mural eclipsed him in a sprawl of blue and silver, a tangle that resolved itself slowly into twining vines, spiraling horns, one armored hoof outstretched in seven-colored light. With his head craned up, Nico felt so small in the eyes of a god, pinned in place by the x-marked pupils.

Maevis compared Flare to a dumpsterfire. It was the same as any shit who spewed hate, she’d said. You could sputter, and you could rage, and you could stink, but you couldn’t last forever. Dumpsters didn’t reach everywhere. Eventually your hate would burn itself out, and someone would defeat you, and someone would bury you. It had happened three thousand years ago, and it would happen again here.

The can of spraypaint was in his hands before he realized it, and with thick, flowing strokes of green, with Xerneas’ watchful eyes staring down at him and the ruined lab, he finished the painting he and Rosetta had made together:

I AM CREATION.

Rosetta scampered up next to him. Solemnly, she dipped her front paw in her paint and placed it next to Nico’s tag.

They both looked up at the wall. For the first time in months, Nico felt light.

Maybe some things weren’t meant to last forever. But maybe some things could.

\*\*/*/​
 
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Sinderella

Angry Female Protag • PFP by Canisaries
Staff
Location
In Guzma's Closet
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/sylveon-shiny
  2. gothitelle
HIIIIII KINT! Sorry for my late 'nip, but I'm here to take a dive into this!

So, first and foremost, your prose is stellar. Like, wow, publish a book already. I especially loved the way you described the the way the graffiti was being done, and how all of these characters went about drawing things as the story went on. You're a powerful describer of things, and I really dig that! It hella shined through in this piece. I also really liked the dialogue here, especially from Maevis--she really popped off the page for me. Her words and actions seemed so real (partially because I literally know somebody exactly like her lol) but you really had her down packed. I think every time she spoke or had an interaction with Nico, I grinned, because I was like "Wow this is a legit moody-yet-stoic art kid." Even down to the CONVERSE, and the HEADPHONES that she wears while she's drawing, leaving Nico to have to poke her to get her to listen to him. 10 stars on yelp, miss ma'am, and many golf claps.

I also really enjoyed how deep we got into the word of graffiti art and all of its slang! I've always been hella interested in that stuff, so I found this to be a very interesting read all because of that. However, there were a few times where the slang had me tripped up. I did have to search up what a burner was (my context clues had me thinking it was a graffiti piece that didn't get washed out by authorities or whatever, but it turns out it's just a big elaborate piece, which makes sense in the context of the story's title!). Also was confused about the term 'tagging' being used because I thought 'tagging' was throwing up an artists symbol or something. The part I got the most tripped up on was the TOYS part--"Tag Over Your Shit" read more like a motto graffiti artists would follow, rather than it being something to refer to somebody as (i.e. referring to Nico as a toy). But I mean, even with that, it was still very enjoyable to see that some clear research went into this, and it shows!

I also had a lot of questions about Pokemon in this universe! There were a couple of points that came up that really got me thinking. They were kiiiiind of answered after some exposition, but I still found myself lacking answers in other areas. It seemed that Maevis was way more comfortable with the idea of Pokemon doing this "human-like" activity of painting, while it was throwing Nico for a loop--it was indeed explained that, I guess, people who live in BFE don't have the same relationship with Pokemon as say, city dwellers do. That was quite interesting to see a standpoint where Pokemon were just kind of almost celebrity-like beings to these boonies residents; they knew of them but didn't really ever interact with them. That, contrasted with Maevis commenting on how Smeargle can't train hop like them makes me believe that A.) Pokemon are kind of second class citizens here and B.) Cannot just roam freely????? I put question marks because, then again, Maevis seemed to know (and be comfortable with) the idea of Smeargle being active in the graffiti community. She knew who Rosetta was pretty much right off the bat, which was pretty neat!

However, there was that part where Nico suggested catching Rosetta, and Maevis got what seemed to be very offended by that--I chalked it up to the whole 'why would you do that to somebody who's trying to express themselves' but then it seemed that even Rosetta herself was about to freak out when Nico reached into his bag around her, and I have to assume (based on Nico's reply) that Rosetta thought he was pulling out a ball. So like, it Pokemon catching a taboo, almost, in this world? That's sort of the vibe I was getting from the way a lot of these interactions went down, but I could be reading too far into it.

All in all, this was a fun read, and I really really enjoyed it! Thanks so much for writing this :)

A few line-by-lines
reaching for the wrong color on accident.
I think the correct verbiage would be "by accident."

Her tone didn’t change register, but one converse-clad foot tapped pointedly up against Nico’s duffel bag full of paint, which clinked traitorously.
Again, the IMAGERY of this stoic art student is superb LOL

Maevis was already standing up. The train had just begun to slow down.
This was a personal gripe, but I would combine these two short sentences into something like "The train had just begun to slow down, yet Maevis was already standing up."

The post-modern period had started—
Laughed a lil' at this because of Maevis's earlier comment.

“A smeargle?!”
The 'AWWWWWWWWWWWWW' that came out of me, wow. Iconic.

The smeargle blinked back, otherwise perfectly still. Almost comedically, a blob of green paint dripped to the ground.

“Mine.”

The smeargle slowly sidled closer to the wall.

Mine,” Nico repeated, louder. “Don’t you dare.”

Almost delicately, without breaking eye contact, the smeargle lifted its tail and pressed a blob of green paint into the wall.
The way I fucking visualized it like it was straight out of a goddamn Nicktoon, holy shit

He’d wasted three hours on a stakeout, rehearsed his confrontation speech on tags and art and freedom of expression, slashed his own murals, for a pokémon.
Soooooooooooooooooo clearly Nico doesn't think of Pokemon equally as a human? I wonder why?

It’s harder for smeargle to jump on the rail and cityhop for a weekend jaunt like we do.”
This concept is so interesting to me, so like.......Pokemon can't just freely travel? Do they need like human chaperones? Do they need licenses? Very curious!

A smeargle was just as real to him as Diantha was—some flashy thing on television, gone with the next advertisement. People like him didn’t spend time thinking about if putting a fork in a drawer would make the fork feel bad. Maybe glitzy cityfolk were different.
AHHHHH that answers my previous question then, Nico has a different kind of upbringing in terms of Pokemon interaction.

But a pokéball. My god.”
Wow, is catching a Pokemon outside of being a trainer like, a taboo??????

Almost immediately, Rosetta stiffened, and the fur on the back of her neck stood straight up. “I’m not … I’m just,”
This furthers my previous question, like, is it bad to whip a ball on a Pokemon? Is that not considered normal? Is it one of those things where the human and Pokemon kind of mutually agree to work together? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS THAT HAUNT ME.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
HIIIIII KINT! Sorry for my late 'nip, but I'm here to take a dive into this!
SIND!! sorry for my late reply as well! nano had my cylinders firing wild and none of them were on this lol

So, first and foremost, your prose is stellar. Like, wow, publish a book already. I especially loved the way you described the the way the graffiti was being done, and how all of these characters went about drawing things as the story went on. You're a powerful describer of things, and I really dig that! It hella shined through in this piece. I also really liked the dialogue here, especially from Maevis--she really popped off the page for me. Her words and actions seemed so real (partially because I literally know somebody exactly like her lol) but you really had her down packed. I think every time she spoke or had an interaction with Nico, I grinned, because I was like "Wow this is a legit moody-yet-stoic art kid." Even down to the CONVERSE, and the HEADPHONES that she wears while she's drawing, leaving Nico to have to poke her to get her to listen to him. 10 stars on yelp, miss ma'am, and many golf claps.
:'))))
THANKS MOM

Maevis was definitely one of those characters who just wasn't in the original draft at all, and I kept pulling her back in because she was helpful/compelling to progress the plot, hmmm.
I also really enjoyed how deep we got into the word of graffiti art and all of its slang! I've always been hella interested in that stuff, so I found this to be a very interesting read all because of that. However, there were a few times where the slang had me tripped up. I did have to search up what a burner was (my context clues had me thinking it was a graffiti piece that didn't get washed out by authorities or whatever, but it turns out it's just a big elaborate piece, which makes sense in the context of the story's title!). Also was confused about the term 'tagging' being used because I thought 'tagging' was throwing up an artists symbol or something. The part I got the most tripped up on was the TOYS part--"Tag Over Your Shit" read more like a motto graffiti artists would follow, rather than it being something to refer to somebody as (i.e. referring to Nico as a toy). But I mean, even with that, it was still very enjoyable to see that some clear research went into this, and it shows!
This is true! I, yeah, struggle a bit with exposition, especially 1) exposition that's actually real world and not worldbuilding and 2) exposition that everyone involved already knows. I tried a little to make Nico more of a newbie so I could explain things to the audience, and that definitely got tweaked between the contest and now, but I don't quite think it landed.

Burners are kind of weird--the term is really opinion-based and what everyone even defines a burner as is kind of weird lol. It basically means "this shit is fire; it burns", but like, it can kind of be anything lol.

Tagging is usually with symbols but in my experience it can be anything? But! That might vary too, so I see why using it for both the symbols and just general art would make that definition very muddled, yeah. Big rip! This section is to be revisited!
I also had a lot of questions about Pokemon in this universe!
god same
There were a couple of points that came up that really got me thinking. They were kiiiiind of answered after some exposition, but I still found myself lacking answers in other areas. It seemed that Maevis was way more comfortable with the idea of Pokemon doing this "human-like" activity of painting, while it was throwing Nico for a loop--it was indeed explained that, I guess, people who live in BFE don't have the same relationship with Pokemon as say, city dwellers do. That was quite interesting to see a standpoint where Pokemon were just kind of almost celebrity-like beings to these boonies residents; they knew of them but didn't really ever interact with them. That, contrasted with Maevis commenting on how Smeargle can't train hop like them makes me believe that A.) Pokemon are kind of second class citizens here and B.) Cannot just roam freely????? I put question marks because, then again, Maevis seemed to know (and be comfortable with) the idea of Smeargle being active in the graffiti community. She knew who Rosetta was pretty much right off the bat, which was pretty neat!
This is honestly just tied to the idea behind this story--originally I'd wanted it to be set in not-Brooklyn, Castelia, a few months after N's whole summoning of a castle thing in Black and White. I think that would've been a much better lens for me to have attacked the pokemon/human relations without also having to try to make coherent commentary on Team Flare, because I simply, cannot.

I ended up scrapping that idea because I thought it'd be too obviously me for the contest and I thought that a discussion of green-themed people arguing over personhood through the lens of artistic expression might, hmm, be a little too much rehashing of the same hat.

The middle ground I ended up reaching was close to what you're saying where it's kind of a cultural thing--BFE folks like Nico don't really understand pokemon and definitely don't see them as people; this was more meant to be similar to how sometimes we don't really see celebrities as people, we break into their bushes to get paparazzi pictures, we spill all their dirt on our magazine covers--like as a whole we're pretty shitty to them even though they're also humans!

I think the comments on them train hopping would've made more sense in the Unova version, but it's not really like pokemon can by train tickets in any of the canon universes either. They typically end up being second-class citizens in most canons I think?

Maevis is probably closer to the exception than the norm--she's pretty much a firestarter progressive pokemon-rights activist and most people on the streets might be more okay with pokemon than Nico is, but would still be weirded out by things Maevis just thinks are neat (like pokemon artists).

(If you want my truly spicy takes on pokemon personhood, they all come out in the envy of eden, where I have a lot more time to explore things more fully)

However, there was that part where Nico suggested catching Rosetta, and Maevis got what seemed to be very offended by that--I chalked it up to the whole 'why would you do that to somebody who's trying to express themselves' but then it seemed that even Rosetta herself was about to freak out when Nico reached into his bag around her, and I have to assume (based on Nico's reply) that Rosetta thought he was pulling out a ball. So like, it Pokemon catching a taboo, almost, in this world? That's sort of the vibe I was getting from the way a lot of these interactions went down, but I could be reading too far into it.
It's not taboo to catch pokemon who want to be caught, regardless of profession. Rosetta just doesn't want to be caught. Maevis can recognize this and understands the difference. Nico does not.

This bit also struggles some because Maevis is probably above-the-bar on that front and would lambast Nico for this when a lot of people in this world wouldn't--catching pokemon for convenience isn't necessarily illegal or even societally frowned upon in this version of Kalos, but Maevis would argue that it's still immoral. Arguably this dichotomy was too ambitious for a oneshot lol.

Bless for the line-by-lines btw! I'm not going to implement them directly because there's a 70% chance I just shift the entire fic back into Unova and everything gets yeeted, but if those lines stay I'll be sure to implement them!

This concept is so interesting to me, so like.......Pokemon can't just freely travel? Do they need like human chaperones? Do they need licenses? Very curious!
SAME TO YOU TBH CAN SOLENE BUY GROCERIES CAN LOIC GET ON A PLANE BACK TO ALOLA IF HE WANTED THE PEOPLE MUST KNOW
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
I put most of my critique on a googledocs document because I have found that much nicer for me. Here is the link to it. I hope that works for you. Let me know if not.

As my googledocs comments mentioned, I had some trouble following the metaphors toward the end. But ultimately, I read the story as affirming the value of hope and the possibility of regrowth after destruction, especially in art. If you only have the flame of anger, you burn yourself out (okay, well, the story said it more elegantly.)

I appreciated the description of the mural—I could visualize it very well throughout the story, its beauty and the contrast between Rosetta's muted style and Nico's more colorful compositions. To me, the contrast represents her placidity vs Nico's anger and youthful hot-bloodedness. Or at least, she seems to want to express placidity, hope. I think it's a little hard to say if that's part of her personality per se.

The only thing I didn't visualize that well was Xerneas. Initially, for some reason, I assumed it was facing the viewer like AZ, but later description makes it seem more likely that it's facing the weapon (bracing against it)? I also wasn't so sure what Nico was going for when he painted it.

I feel like there's some meaning behind the post-modernism thing. Maybe it has to do with post-modernism in many ways being antithetical to searching for meaning, especially in metanarratives, as opposed to Nico's attempts to find meaning in history and his experiences. Beats me.

Anyway, I enjoyed the story.
 

Negrek

Summer of the Soul
Staff
Edit: Sorry, I missed the note about revisions on this one. Apologies if this wasn't the sort of feedback you were looking for; let me know if you'd prefer for me to delete this or otherwise change things.

Glad to see this one posted up on the forums. Really need to respond to more of last year's contest entries--there were some really wonderful ones. And this is one of them!

This feels a little more open-ended than some of your other stories, or maybe it's less focused on a singular message than they tend to be--there's elements in here of art as healing and art as a call to action, about reconciliation and the importance of communication, the difference between talk and real communication, and about how collaboration across lines of difference can create something more powerful than any individual could create on their own. I dig it! It also feels more concrete than a lot of your other stories--less steeped in metaphor and with more direct prose. A bit less detached, maybe. Which is neither a good nor a bad thing; you do have some lovely prose when you let yourself go ham with it. But it does feel different, and I'm curious if you had anything you were looking to accomplish in using a slightly different style for this one.

I quite enjoyed the descriptions of Nico's paintings here--I feel like I can picture them quite well, although I'm sure if we both drew them out they'd look quite a bit different. But I thought you did a good job of evoking the beauty and impact of the paintings despite having no visual reference for them, as well as capturing the feel of creating a piece of artwork, as well as how Nico's working through his feelings in his own creations. I like that what Rosetta brings to his pieces is a sense of hope and rebirth to complement his justified feelings of anger and despair.

I also quite enjoyed the bits of graffiti culture and language that you used here. I think it adds a lot to a story like this to capture the sense of a particular subculture; makes it feel more genuine and gives a glimpse into a slightly different world. Adds some real texture to the story!

Maevis is excellent as someone to call Nico out on his bullshit while also caring about him, and Rosetta is a delight. I love how determined she is, and how brave, and the whole sketchbook scene where she urges Nico to take up her own means of communication and really learn something is golden. Great name for her, too. Maevis says she "tags as" Rosetta, but I kind of wonder how she accomplishes that, if she presumably can't write the word?

All in all this strikes me as a quiet story with a lot going on beneath the surface. Sort of like how Nico has a lot of grief and unresolved emotions churning around below the surface! I quite enjoyed reading this one, so thanks for getting it polished up for posting!

A bit of it blew back on his gloved hand, cold to the touch.
I wonder what kind of gloves he's wearing that he can feel a light spray of paint through them. I don't know all that much about graffiti, but I thought they tended to use gloves heavier than e.g. surgical ones?

Quick blocks of grey brought out a rolling hill filled with rock and ash; in his mind’s eye, dry grass bowed in the breeze, so he added flashes of yellow.
Filled with or covered by?

Nico turned guiltily to them, simultaneously aware that the respirator made him look monstrous while also hiding his embarrassment.
"Simultaneously" seems out of place to me here. I think you could either cut it or give the back part of the sentence more direct parallel structure by changing the last bit to "and also that it hid his embarrassment."

The line between history and speculation is often thin one, Nico, but for the purposes of this class, I must ask that you stay on the side of answering questions rather than asking them.
often *a thin one, unless Mr. Berger just made a typo. :P

Nico sighed and swung his bag over his shoulder before settling onto his stool.
I think you'd usually say "off" his shoulder if he's taking it off, "over" if he's putting it on. My impression here is he's putting the bag down, so probably "off."

Her voice stilted.
Her voice... stilted?

But you couldn’t say those parts out loud. No one wanted to hear that Geosenge had cheered Lysandre to the bitter end.
Maybe cheered "for" Lysandre, or "cheered Lysandre on?" This usage reads more like they were making him happy than showing support for him.

Madame Page was an excellent studio teacher, but she had a nose for sniffing out people who weren’t focused, and now she was making a beeline towards them.
I think you could drop "sniffing out" here if you were so inclined, or swap "nose" for "knack" to make it sound a bit less literal.

Would anyone notice themlingering now?
Random word smush.

Never mind that, when Nico checked the headlines, there’d been three people from his high school on the list of individuals indicted.
Ooh, I like this detail.

Heart thudding, he slid his thumb across the phone to unlock it. The fatigue vaporized.
I feel like it might make more sense for "the fatigue vaporized" to come first.

The reflection of Maevis glasses briefly flashed white
*Maevis's

He willed the surge of adrenaline away, and took a sip from the coffee cup, more as a distraction than anything else.
Don't like the comma before "and" here.

“Mine.”

The smeargle slowly sidled closer to the wall.

“Mine,” Nico repeated, louder. “Don’t you dare.”

Almost delicately, without breaking eye contact, the smeargle lifted its tail and pressed a blob of green paint into the wall.
I adore this sequence. Makes me smile just to picture it, and the comedic timing is great.

The shame rose in his throat like bile, and with them, excuses.
*with it

A smeargle was just as real to him as Diantha was—some flashy thing on television, gone with the next advertisement.
Huh, this is interesting to me. Smeargle would probably be considered an exotic pokémon by most people, a TV-only pokémon, but I'd expect that even out in the boonies people would have plenty of interaction with pokémon--spearow, caterpie, rattata, those sorts. And even in rural areas I'd expect people to work together with pokémon to help with things like agriculture or industry, or simply as pets. I can definitely buy that people outside of cities have a different relationship with pokémon than the people inside them, or hold different attitudes towards them--the way people relate to animals is different in urban vs rural areas in our world, after all. But "Pokémon don't feel real to me because they're far-off and outside my frame of reference" is harder for me to understand unless pokémon in this setting are rarer than what we see in the games/anime.

All it had taken was a dozen shades of green, scattered around the piece like chaff in the wind, and the entire piece felt softer somehow, more hopeful.
I'm a little confused by how Rosetta's paint additions look. Earlier the floette was described as almost entirely greyscale with just hints of green, whereas here it sounds like all the paint is some shade of green. Maybe it's because this time Rosetta was only doing plants, so she only needed green anyhow? I'm just a little confused as to whether she's supposed to be able to do black/white or only greens.

Something shifted in the alleyway, and Nico’s head pricked up.
You'd normally say "ears" pricked up, for animals with ears that can move; I don't think it makes much sense to say that someone's head pricked up. You could say "Nico perked up," though.

The smeargle fixed him with a dubious stare, and then nimbly hopped up onto the bench next to him.
Really want to drop either the "and" or the comma here.

He frowned, and then reached for the bag at his feet.
Same deal here.

The smeargle nodded, and then squinted at the sketchbook between them.
And here.
 
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