• Published 2nd May 2016
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The Last Impressionist - CrackedInkWell



On the way home one night, Fancy Pants discovers a painting of extraordinary quality being thrown away in the trash in the poorer part of Canterlot. Curious, Fancy discovers a depressed artist who's down on his luck named Acrylic Brush.

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Chapter 23: Of Water, Fire and Air

Around our rocks, we sat in the middle of a small pond. Behind me is a small waterfall that cascades down to our place of meditation. Between Fleur and Acrylic, Cleo was watching the koi fish intensely that swam underneath us. Our teacher, facing us, took in a deep breath.

“Now we’ve come to the next step in Enlightenment, simply called Water. It deals with pleasure, which is blocked by guilt. Take this moment to ponder – What do you blame yourself for?”

I glanced over at my coltfriend, taking in that mental image before looking into sifting reflection. My mind wonders back to the things that I know I’m guilty of, especially against him. Such as the time when I first found his painting on that rainy night that I didn’t stop to investigate further, I might have prevented him from becoming homeless; or times that I didn’t pay too close attention to his mental and emotional states that attempted suicide would never have happened. No, those aren’t true at all. I think I did know that something was wrong and I did nothing until it became serious. I’ve become so focused on making his dream come true that I didn’t see what was happening in reality.

I could feel my ears folded backward, in which our teacher noticed, “Have you found something Mr. Pants?”

Turning to Acrylic, I said, “There is. I’m guilty of knowing that something was wrong with you Acrylic from the start, but I did nothing to help.”

“Fancy?” he asked before our teacher asked him about his guilt. “Oh… Well,” he glanced at me before answering. “I feel guilty for being too self-conscious about who I want others to proceed me to be.”

Cloud Feather tapped his beak, humming, “And you ma’am?”

Fleur, still in that meditated position, looked up at us. “I blame myself for letting my sense of duty getting in the way of making real friends when I was younger.”

“I see,” our teacher hummed in thought. He meditated on the rock while the water babbled and swooshed underneath. “Your guilt of being too self-conscious fascinates me. Would you expand a little on what you mean?”

“Well,” the scarlet artist said. “Even when I have grown slowly to accept myself, there’s still something in the back of my mind that’s telling me what to do. ‘Don’t walk like that. Don’t let others hear you speak like that. Don’t go overboard with how you dress. Don’t look at them like that when you’re in public. Keep your distance. Keep your tongue in check. Don’t let anyone know that you’re different.’”

Just wonderful, now I have another reason to be feeling guilty over.

“Interesting…” the old gryphon stroked his beak. “Can I ask you a question, Mr. Brush?” he nodded. “Do you always feel this restricted, and if not, how come?”

“Not until recently,” I saw him smile. “W-When I found my… special somepony, who knows what it’s like to be me, it’s as if I can just drop the mask around hi- uh I-I mean, them, and can just be myself.”

“Yet you’re self-aware, even now,” our teacher noted. “Mr. Brush. In Neighponies thinking, it is considered that the most hidden that is found is the most beautiful thing of all. So I can assume that this special somepony has gone through some tough work just to peek inside, am I wrong?”

He shook his head, “Right on the head sir.”

“And is this special somepony someone who is not afraid of displaying who they are and not worry what others think about them?”

A quick glance later, he answered, “Much more, to a degree.”

He nodded, “As long as you have that kind of pony beside you, both of you will learn to find a balance between having self-control and letting yourself free.”

Then it was Fleur’s turn, “Here in Neighpon, it’s not uncommon when I encounter those who let their jobs get so entangled in their lives that their social life seems to dry out around them. Although, you said when you were younger, so I assume that you still feel guilty about this?”

My bodyguard nodded, “As a former Royal Guard in Equestria, I had put so many hours in training that I’ve neglected many things such as birthdays, holidays, several family gatherings, all in the name of protecting and serve. For a time, I’ve become an isolationist for a while, but as I grew older, I came to realize all the time, all the memories I could have made but missed.”

“But did you find a balance between work and pleasure?”

“I won’t be lying that I’m still trying to find that balance,” she admitted. “It’s only the past that I feel guilty over.”

“Ah,” our teacher leans over to the side, dipping his claw into the smooth currents of the cool water. “Time is such an unpredictable thing. Like the water in these ponds, we never know when the next opportunity to experience this or that in life will either flow in circles or flow out of the pond. While we have no control over what comes down the current, we can decide what we can do with whatever comes.”

Finally, he turned to me, “Mr. Pants, it is rather difficult to find the moment when to step in and help. At times, one's problems flow away all by themselves, but at others, we don’t know how much they will linger. Don’t blame yourself for not assisting in Mr. Brush’s problems, for telling when to step in and when not to can take a lifetime and is a never-ending learning process. The best anyone can do in your horseshoes is to try to take note when it happens again, and to seek forgiveness from the one that was neglected.”

“You’re right,” I turned to my coltfriend, “Acrylic, for my foolishness and insensitivity, forgive me.”

“But I already have,” he smiled.

Our teacher nodded, “Take another moment to confront your guilt once more, see the way to navigate it, and let it go.”

We all did, breathing in, and letting that emotion flow down the creek.

“Good,” the old gryphon nodded, “Now onto the third step.”

_*_

We went back to the monastery where the four of us, including Cleo, went inside a room that was filled with hundreds of candles and a smoky fire pit in the center. If it weren’t for the flames around, the room would have been considered quite dim.

Once again, we took our seating positions by the rather warm flicker of the candles while Cleo wandered through the grill of candlesticks.

“This step is called Fire,” our gryphon teacher said. “It deals with will-power, or passion, that is blocked by shame. For this, ask yourself: What are you most ashamed of? Or in other words, what are your biggest disappointments about yourself?”

Again, my thoughts go to Acrylic – this time, back to what he said on that ledge that fateful day when he was just about to jump. I confess that the thought had hit me at full force. I almost, almost let not just my then coltfriend-to-be, but a pony die because of me. All because I didn’t-

“Mr. Pants? Are you alright?”

I opened my eyes that were overflowing with tears, “O goddesses!” I tried to cover them up. But it was already too late; Acrylic had gotten up to hug me.

“Fancy? What’s wrong?” he asked in genuine concern.

“Acrylic!” I croaked, “I’m so sorry!”

“What’s this? What you’re talking about?”

“You… you al-almost died. Because of-of me!”

I felt his forelegs held me closer, “No. No, don’t do this to yourself. You’re not to bla-”

“But I s-saw the signs!” I interrupted, “You were s-so down on yourself. I d-didn’t tell you how v-valuable you and y-your art w-were. And I-I n-never confronted a-about your feelings! I left you t-thinking you were w-worthless. Acrylic, I-I’m so s-sorry!”

“Master Cloud Feather,” I heard him say, “may I take care of this?”

“By all means,” he replied.

“Fancy. Fancy, look at me,” I did. “The last thing I ever want from you is to think that you were responsible for my own actions. If anyone is to blame for not calling out for help, it’s me. I may have chosen to die on that day, but you know what? You pulled me out when I thought nopony wanted me. If it wasn’t for you, I may as well be forgotten, and you wouldn’t be this happy, and that we wouldn’t be here. I owe a debt that I can never pay for because you saved me from making the dumbest mistakes of my life, for that, I thank you for it.”

I wiped away the tears and took in some calming breaths, “That was needed. What would I do without you?”

He chuckled, “I’m sure you’ll come up with something, sir.”

I leaned over at my teacher who shrugged, “I’ve got nothing. Mr. Brush, if we are finished, I like to move on to you and Fleur.” After letting go, he returned to his seat. “Now then, what are your biggest disappointments about yourself?”

“Oh,” his ears folded back. “That I’ve lost my temper that made me disown my parents. Even though they didn’t know any better, I yelled at them and told them that they were dead to me.”

“Ah,” the old gryphon nodded, “A serious shame indeed. Got passionate at the moment?”

“You… could say that.”

“Mr. Brush, I’ve come to realize that, like these flames, that anger and passion is really just the same.”

“Huh?” the artist tilted his head, “What do you mean?”

“You see, as the flames in this fire-pit, passion is a wise servant, but a cruel master. Use just so, and it can be used as a beacon for those who are lost in the dark. But use it unwisely or carelessly, and somepony will end up getting burned. You see, being passionate or angry isn’t really a bad thing. It only when it is being used carelessly that could seriously hurt something or someone. Do you understand?”

He nodded, “But how am I going to make it up to them?”

“We’ll get to it in good time,” he waved a claw before turning to my bodyguard, “And for you?”

“I showed a moment of cowardliness in a time of great need.” At this confession, the three of us looked over to her in sheer surprise.

“Cowardliness?” I asked in disbelief, “My dear, whatever are you talking about? You’re the single bravest pony that I know.”

Her ears and her lips drooped downward, “Fancy, have you ever wondered why I’m no longer in the Royal Guard?”

I admit that I would be lying if I say that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. But I simply couldn’t imagine her being a coward at all! She has protected me more times than I could count, including during the Changeling Invasion.

“Is that where your shame lies?” our teacher inquired.

With a sigh, she responded, “The day before I was discharged from service, I was one of the hoofful of guards that were escorting Princess Celestia to Ponyville on one Summer Sun Celebration. We were almost there to the town when we were suddenly ambushed by this shadow. All of us tried to defend our Sun Princess, but that… thing as too powerful, it swallowed up anypony that touched it. I never saw anything like it so that I… I ran. I abandoned the Princess and my team behind. The next morning when Princess Luna returned, I was discharged from duty because I ran. Although Celestia has forgiven me for my actions, I’m not sure if the others of my original team have.”

Wow… Even now, that’s all I can say about it. I just thought she was hurt in action or something, I didn’t know that she was discharged from something like this.

“That’s quite a story Ms. Lis,” Cloud Feather said. “I’m going to tell you a little secret about warriors; it’s that all of them have experienced things that have overwhelmed them. It is understandable that you were caught off unprepared by something you didn’t understand. Yet, even from this experience, you still have the code of honor to protect the weak and serve the helpless, as any worthy warrior should. I would argue that because you’ve experienced cowardliness that you learn what it really means to be brave. As the old saying goes, being brave isn’t about not being afraid of anything, but rather, it’s about being scared yet, having the determination to keep going. You say that you’re a soldier now?”

She shook her head, “Bodyguard for Fancy Pants.”

“Ah,” he nodded, “then realize that you’ve already learned that you were able to transform your shame into will-power to protect this one pony. See that moment of cowardliness not a moment of shame, but as a learning experience to find wisdom in weakness.” The old gryphon closed his eyes, “Focus on your shame for a moment, and let it burn before you.”

The three of us took in deep breaths, letting our shame go up in smoke among the candles.

Now we were ready for the next step.

_*_

“This next step is called-” our teacher started before Acrylic interrupted.

“Air?” he asked. Cleo meanwhile was clinging onto his robe as a pegasus monk pushed the incredibly thick cloud above the monastery. It was so thick that I'm surprised that it held all of our weight. At the same time, however, I’m rather thankful that we weren’t too high off the ground.

Cloud Feather smiled, “Very good.” He said before turning to the Pegasus, “これは十分に高い, あなたの弟に感謝.” He let the cloud rest, bowed, and turned back earthwards. “In this step towards Enlightenment, Air deals with love and is blocked by grief. Now I don’t ask for all of you to tell me for who or what you’re grieving over, but please let it all layout in front of you.”

The three of us breathed in the mountain air, letting my mind return to memory lane. If there was one pony that I have grieved about for a while, it would be my mother. When news of her passing reached me, I confess that I did cry. This was because after I came out, she was the first to never show any change of her kindness, understanding, or love for me. With a mare that had social anxiety, she was strong in the face of my father’s objections. But when news came that she died, it would seem that my world was in a state of free falling before father changed.

“I can see in the three of you that you all have experienced loss,” Cloud stated, I wondered for a moment how he knew that. So I peeked, and like me, there was unhappiness on both Acrylic’s and Fleur’s faces. “All you still care about those who you love and them too in return. But love is a form of energy, like the wind, it swirls around us without end, even when it’s still. The love of others is not lost to any of you, for it takes on the shape of new shapes, new faces like the clouds.”

My mind saw a new face indeed, it was Acrylic’s. I saw his happiness, his passion, intense creativity, his straightforwardness, and kindness. Memories danced around from that night under the stairs to laughing about the stuck-up elite, even admiring his masterpieces.

As cliché as it sounds, but Acrylic Brush really is the breath of fresh air that I need.

“Let the pain drift away,” our teacher said as we did exactly that.

I saw my coltfriend drying his eyes, “Can I have some water please?” he asked.

The old gryphon looked up at the sun. “I say that it’s already time for a lunch break. Once we’re done, we shall continue on our last steps towards Enlightenment.” After calling up the pegasus monk, we were pushed back to the ground.

“Mr. Feather, can I ask you something?” I asked.

“Of course.”

“Why didn’t you let us say who we were grieving for?”

“Because grief is an extremely hard thing to admit, especially to your fellow peers – that I would think of it as impolite to mention it aloud. Grief is something that only you yourselves could overcome.”

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