• 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 24: Sound, Light and Thought

After a simple lunch, our teacher led us up the mountain. With the help of Acrylic and Fleur that navigated me over the blind spots of my bad eye, we followed the gryphon through the forest of pine and spruce, around bushes and streams until we’ve reached our destination. This turned out to be the mouth of a cave in which Cloud Feather knocked against the stone to give it an echo.

“Through here,” he said, “is the perfect place for our next step towards enlightenment. In which we call it sound. This little cave is a perfect demonstration of that step.”

He was quite right, as we entered, even from my blurry bad eye, I even I could tell that the space wasn’t that big. I dare say that it reminded me to be the size of my Dining Room back in Canterlot. This natural room was hollowed out in a dome shape in which every step we took, every movement of the fabric of our robes, even the purring of our cat, it echoed right back at us.

We took our seats and our teacher took is, “Sound my students,” he said softly, “it deals with truth, that is blocked by lies. Take a moment to listen to yourselves when you ask, not what kind of lies you’ve been telling others, but the ones that you’ve been telling yourself.”

Inside the cave, all went quietly in the dim light with our ears perked up at the hollowed sound of the earth. In my head, I pondered what he meant by, “Lies I’ve been telling myself.” For a long while, I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. What sort of like would I be telling form somepony like me? After all, any resident in Canterlot already knows that I prefer all genders; that I’m honest with my clients about whatever art they have is really worth; and that everypony already understands my opinions about the elite.

Then my mind paused. Deep down, an echo reached my inner ears that said only one word: Liar. The straight face before someone like Jet Set and Upper Crust that although I know are downright arrogant, I had to pretend that I agreed with most of the things that come out of their mouths. Or that I pretend to agree about the ideas of the rich should rub their fortunes into the faces of those who are less lucky.

At the same time, I knew why – being the most influential pony in Canterlot, only second to the Royal Family, I have to keep up the façade that I’m just like them.

“Well students,” Cloud said softly in the echo of the chamber, “what sort of lies have you been telling yourselves?”

I heard my bodyguard spoke up, “That I belong in Canterlot.”

“That I’m normal,” Acrylic stated.

Sighing, I admitted, “That I’m just like my wealthy friends.”

“Those are your lies?” our teacher asked. We nodded. Closing his eyes and hiding his claws behind his sleeves, he hummed for a minute. The cave ringed in that low note of his meditation. Finally, he opened his eyes and addressed to Fleur, “Why is it a lie for you? You were a royal soldier, and now a bodyguard to this stallion. So why do you say that belonging to Canterlot is a lie?”

“Because, and Fancy knows this, that the city in which I work in, isn’t what I like to call home. I know I may not sound like it, but I wasn’t born in Equestria, rather I’m from Prance, at least, the southern part of it. So please understand, I grew up as the pretty tom boy in the countryside and not from the cities. The meaning behind my cutie mark of the fleur de lis is really a symbol of pride of knowing who I really am, and what I can do. When my family moved to Equestria, I was old and free enough to pursue whatever I wanted. I wanted to be in the guard, but in order to do that, I have to move to Canterlot where the training is. To be honest, I never felt comfortable there. Not completely. It’s that I don’t like the buildings or the food, or even the ponies. Rather, in the cities, anywhere, I don’t feel at home compare to nature. So whenever anypony asks me where I’m from, I answer Canterlot because it’s a normal answer someone would expect to hear, when I know that it’s a lie.”

“So you have to lie about being part of the complexities of a modern city, but your soul tells you that you belong here in the natural world?” she nodded. “I find it fascinating that you lie to yourself about where your home really is. Often times ponies would envy those like my fellow brothers and sisters in the monastery because we try to live a simplistic life. But in your case, however, you have to tell others and yourself that you belong inside the complex web of civilization in which you took part of. I can see by now that you have one hoof stuck firmly in your duty as a warrior, yet the other yearns for life among nature.”

“But I have to keep up the illusion that I belong in Canterlot,” she said. “After all, when you’re walking alongside those that Fancy and I have met, the idea that you prefer to be out here is considered below them. If you’re not on the same level, you’re not worth anypony’s attention, even if that means to protect them. Even in the Guard, such an idea that I prefer to be among the fields, the mountains and the trees would consider me as a Hick, a backwater pony, regardless which country you came from.”

“Ms. Lis,” the old gryphon said, “has to keep up appearances really been worth more than peace of mind? To deny the truth of your background, and your source of happiness only makes your excuses to those around you only makes you self-aware of how hollow you’re pretending really is. I would suggest for you to make it frequent to go to the place where you’ll have no need to lie to yourself over. Because living a lie can be much more damaging to your inner peace then telling one,” he then turned to my coltfriend. “Explain to me a bit more about your lie about being normal.”

“Uh…” the Artist rubbed his hooves in circles. “It’s… It’s really hard for me to explain in a way that you can understand.”

Our teacher raised an eyebrow, “Try me.”

He gulped, looking over to me for support. “You don’t have to tell him anything you don’t want to,” I said.

“But how can I help if I don’t know, or at least in part, of what the problem is?” our teacher questioned, his deep voice ringing off the walls.

“Well… that’s just it,” Acrylic rubbed his foreleg. “I don’t know how you’ll react to it either. I could already hear you say something along the lines of, ‘The truth will set you free,’ but what if it only further condemns you, even if you did nothing wrong? I know me being normal is a lie because I can never be that. Especially when you don’t know if the next pony you’ll meet would just simply nod or want you tied to a stake and burned all because of one little thing.”

The old gryphon tilted his head to the side. “I must apologize for this in advance, but I need to ask: Does this have to do with your yaoi feelings towards Mr. Pants?”

“Yaoi?” Fleur asked in confusion. “What does that mean?”

“Oh!” our teacher quickly realized, “In Equestrian, the word loosely translates to... boys love.”

“What!” Acrylic screamed, his voice thundered inside the cave. He leaped back to the wall in fear, “How did-”

“Quietly please,” Cloud raised a claw, “two things: first, you’re being way too loud in here. Second, for somepony that seems insecure about this to the point he’s hiding his feelings towards him,” he waved over towards me. “You’re not that good at it.”

Acrylic still looked on at him, “How… how did you know?”

The old gryphon gave a deadpanned sighed, “When you’re at my age, you tend to pick up a few things from those that come seeking our help. It was rather obvious if you ask me, Mr. Brush. The facts that you tend to be really helpful in leading your half blind partner around and the comfort you gave at the Fire step was so noticeable, that even a blind pony could have picked it up, no offense sir.” That last comment was towards me.

“None taken,” I said, “But I’m assuming you don’t mind?”

“As I’ve said,” he shrugged, “Love is a form of energy that, like the air around us, flows and takes on every shape and form that engulfs everything. I have seen all levels of love during my time in the monastery, from mother and daughter to lovers that seek advice. Besides, since we believe that spirits can be reincarnated, gender is overall meaningless in the scheme of eternity. So yes, Mr. Brush, your ‘secret’ is not only safe, but it is considered sacred.”

“Sacred?” my coltfriend raised an eyebrow, “Well that’s new. Because up until I’ve met Fancy, I’ve been lead to believe that what I had was anything but. That I was a pervert that was incurable; a sick monster in a pony’s hide; an inferior being physically, mentally, spiritually… sexually; forever cursed to be different, to be hated, to be easily be forgotten, all because of… this.”

“Do you feel shame for knowing what you are?”

He plopped back down in his seat, Cleo walking up to him, arching her back as she pressed against him. “I don’t deny for knowing what I am if that’s what you’re asking. I’m by no means prideful at all.” The red stallion started petting the feline, “I just don’t know why that everypony, like you, Fancy and Fleur could accept the truth about me, but I still can’t.”

“Because, if I may speak plainly (as well as a touch crudely) to you, is that you are influenced by those to believe that to accept yourself is considered morally wrong. However, as I’ve learned, the truth never once gave a buck about morality at all. Traditions, customs, mannerisms, tastes, religions, morals, opinions, philosophies and even feelings, all of them have one thing in common: they can change. But truth does not. Truth is never compromising. It is absolute, for it can be tested repeatedly, changed, and even bend, but it cannot ever be unaffected, unmoved, or be broken. For there’s no amount of hatred, prejudice, ignorance from others, or you yourself, can change the truth you already know.

“To this day, I don’t know why love is complex. That should be straightforward and simple. But like the clouds in the air, no one could dictate how it should look or what mood it should be; because that’s the way the universe demands it should be. If you are in love with Mr. Pants, in whatever way, to do so is considered a sacred step in Enlightenment, but to deny who you are would only lead to discord in the mind. For the only way to find inner-peace is to come to grips with yourself that you are what you are. And no amount of self-lying could change that.”

Finally, he turns to me, “And your lie is that you’re like your friends, is that right?”

I nodded, “Allow me to put this straight forward. Unlike Fleur, I was born in the elite; I know how things function and how to behave around others. But, I’m not arrogant like them. In a way, I actually envy Acrylic’s honesty and bluntness because he could say to them what I could not. Unlike them, at least my father had given me an education about cultures other than my own, even given me an idea of what life is like for those who aren’t on the same status as I am. However, if I had to get anything done, then I must put on a face that doesn’t tell them what I really think of them like how classist and at times downright racist ideal of being the proud unicorns on top. So I must live with a lie that I’m exactly like them in thought in order for me to conduct business with them.”

“So in other words,” Cloud said, “You have to believe in the lie that you’re like your prejudiced friends in Canterlot, even though you’re not in real life.”

“Pretty much,” I nodded. “I’m guessing you’re going to give me the same advice as Fleur? Where living an authentic life is a much better alternative?”

Our teacher put a claw underneath his chin. “That too, but if I may add to it, if you’re giving your friends a version of yourself that isn’t you, then you’re only presenting to them a pony that only exists in fantasy. However, if you wanted to have your friends, and yourself, confront the truth, (and this goes to you too Mr. Brush) then I suggest that you take precautions in telling that truth. While lies can enslave the truth, dishonesty cannot live forever, so it would be wise to present what your thoughts and feelings are in order to give yourself and others some peace. Like for example, having a mediator likes your partner as a spokespony, or better yet, to teach you how to say the truth without fear.” He closed his eyes and said, “Take this moment to embrace the truth about yourselves, and let the lie fade from your mind.”

We took a deep breath and exhaling our worries.

_*_

“Congratulations,” the old gryphon said, “We’re now two steps away from enlightenment.”

The four of us were now sitting in a clearing on the mountain. All around us, grass and light blue flowers sway in the breeze while Cleo is playing in the green. Here and there, weeds grow in patches while the shady trees towered around us in the sunny spot.

Clearing his throat, our teacher said, “We’re now on the step in which we call light. It deals with insight, and is blocked by illusion.”

Acrylic tilted his head, “What illusion is that?”

He looked up at the sun overhead, “I am talking about the illusion of separation. All the things in which we think set us apart, are in reality connected together as one like threads in a cloth. Take a moment to focus on what you think separates you from everypony and everything else. Who are they? What are they?”

I confess, almost immediately, I could list off so many ponies that I would not be in the same room as me. For example: Mr. Pride and Mrs. Prejudice, Caesar, the Changelings, anyone that doesn’t believe in me or have a prejudice against me, a chunk of the Canterlot upper class, arrogant artist that put no effort into their work, Zesty Gourmand and much of the Nobility.

“Well my students?” our teacher asked, “Do you have your answers?”

The three of us listed off everything we could think of that we mostly our opposites; the infamous food critic, the Changelings, Acrylic’s parents, we’ve named them to him.

Meanwhile, Cloud Feather sat there, listening to us of who separates us. “Is that all?” he asked.

“I think so,” my bodyguard said.

“Now it’s time to ask yourselves a much more challenging question: What do you all have in common with all of those you’ve just named?”

The three of us blinked. What was he talking about? What do we have in common of those that we’ve just named, even some that I’ve never heard of? I don’t know who the drill-Sargent that Fleur had mentioned, nor do I know much about the last landlord that Acrylic had to put up with. So really, what do all of us have in common?

At first, I thought was that we were all ponies. But this line of reasoning was quickly dashed when Changelings are taken into consideration. After all, even I’m not certain if that my last coltfriend was even equine, to begin with!

But a thought came to me, what if the answer was much more simplistic than I’m making it out to be? “Is it that we are alive?” I asked.

“Very good,” our teacher smiled. “I will say this again, in Neighpon, everything has a soul. From the air that comes and goes from our lungs to that rock, even your cat is a living thing. Once you realize this, suddenly, everything and everyone that we consider different from us is just part of a living, breathing universe. Regardless of where one is from, or what nationality they belong to, or what gender they pick up, or what profession they do, everyone is equal to the universe. Therefore, separation is an illusion while we think it is true that differences make us, we would argue that the opposite is the reality of eternity. Take this moment to meditate back of all you see as separate, and see it as the illusion that it is.”

Closing my eyes, I once again saw those faces of opposition. It turned out, the old fellow did have a point, even down to the Changelings that attacked our city, the one thing that they did have in common with us ponies was that they were alive. Yes, I know that all lives are important, but does that include those that had sought to do harm to you? It would be easy to point to something like them and call them animals. But then again, if that were true, would we be accusing ourselves too for carrying out the same duties that they have. To breathe, eat, drink and reproduce is unacceptable when ponykind has been doing it since the dawn of time?

The more I thought deeper into it, the more cracks I spotted with those that I didn’t like that separate us. In that, every one of us has the same basic needs of seeking the means to be safe, fed and happy. Breathing in, I saw the world as divided; breathing out, the whole of creation was whole.

“Excellent,” Cloud nodded. “Now follow me to the final step towards enlightenment.”

_*_

“I will be honest with you,” our teacher stated. “Out of all the steps we’ve undertaken today, this last is the most difficult.”

Our final destination was at the cool tops of the mountain. From up here, we could see out into the Luna Sea in the flat horizon over the peaks of the city below. It is also from there that we could see the trail that we’ve undertaken all day to make it up this high. As for Cleo, she had already found a place to rest in Acrylic’s long sleeves.

“In the final step, it is known as thought. It deals with the great eternity of the cosmos, and it is blocked by earthly attachment. What is the very thing that attaches you to this world?”

My… where do I even begin? Should I start with the fortune I’ve made, the art I’ve collected, or the ponies that I know and love? Then again, material things have a price and could always be replaced. Ponies on the other hoof can never be. There is no price tag of my closest friends like Hoity or Fleur, nor is there for somepony like my father. However, as to who that I cannot leave this planet without would be the one that has gotten me here, my coltfriend.

Yes, although we’ve known each other for only about a couple of months, I do feel that with him around, that I’m complete. To me, he’s the embodiment of hope of having by my side, not the pony that has the same interests, but what I need as he does with me. Acrylic has been the only coltfriend that I know that yarns to have a real commitment to me that I’ll be willing to trade everything and do anything to make him happy.

“Have you found your attachment?” our teacher finally asked.

“I think we have,” I said, and the others agreed.

“Now here comes the difficult part,” Cloud added. “Focus on that very thing that keeps you bound to this world, and let it go.”

“What!” Acrylic said in surprise, “Why?”

“I didn’t say to forget your attachment,” the old gryphon told us. “But in order to achieve enlightenment, you must learn to let go of certain things if you’ll be able to see the big picture. By preparing to let go of your earthly attachments, heartbreak is meaningless, death loses its fear, and loss is pointless when you let those concerns about what you hang on to drift away. I’m not saying that it makes anything you find value any less important; rather, see this as a way to move on when the unexpected happens. Because the truth is, one day, you will lose either that thing or pony that attaches you or vice-versa, in which you’ll have to confront of having such a loss.

“Note when I never once said that doing such is easy. I mean, even I who have been doing this for years still find this the most difficult step. This is why we do these meditations and steps daily because enlightenment is a lifetime process to reach. For we are born to be taught to hold onto things that need us, family, friends, lovers, wealth, power because these things are worth caring for. However, this step is important because the blow of seeing these things gone will help ease the pain. It is to teach you how to not only let go, but also to learn how not to make your emotional and mental pain become the only voice to listen to. So I ask again, focus on that very thing that keeps you bound to this world, and let it go.”

Compared to all that we’ve been asked today, Cloud Feather was asking the impossible. I’ve grown fond of Acrylic, and I wouldn’t trade the day we’ve met for anything. But now, I’m being asked to let go of the very pony that has brought me up here? It’s absurd!

On the other hoof, he’s right. As much as I care for him, I know that the enviable will come. I’m nearing middle age for crying out loud! I probably got another thirty, maybe forty years if I’m lucky left in me. What would happen to Acrylic when I’m not longer around? Or what if it’ll be the other way around? Worst yet, what if Acrylic tries to commit suicide again, and succeeds? How would I cope?

How can I let go?

I confess I couldn’t do it – not now, not like this.

_*_

“So,” Haiku asked as we rode our taxi back to the city, “How was your day at the Monastery?”

“It was… insightful,” I answered.

“We’ve learned a few things,” my bodyguard said.

“Quite an interesting experience,” my coltfriend added. “So, where are we going for dinner?”

“I’m glad you ask,” our guide smiled, “there’s a place by the harbor where it serves the best sushi.”

“Isn’t it made out of freshly raw fish?” I inquired.

“Well, it is run by a gryphon family, but they do have a menu that aims at ponies too. They have some very excellent food over there.”

While Mr. Pose went on talking, my mind went back to the mountain top in reflection. That I was able to let go of my fear, guilt, shame, grief, self-lies, and illusion, but I couldn’t with what makes me want to stay on this planet. I’m not sure if that old gryphon sensed it or not, but once our journey towards enlightenment was over, we headed back to the monastery where our things and our guide were waiting.

“Fancy?” my coltfriend turned to me, “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

“When we were on top of that mountain, did you take that step? About letting go earthly attachment?”

I looked on at my bodyguard and Haiku who were by now having a conversation of their own. “If I may be honest with you, the truth is that I found it too difficult to take. But I assume that you didn’t either?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think letting you go won’t be that easy for me, especially after what I’ve learned from you today.”

My ears folded back, “Yes, I showed my moment of weakness.”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” he shook his head. “What happened at the Monastery just made me realize how much I really meant to you. Besides, Cloud Feather is right on one thing: we need each other. You need my support as I do with you, which is why,” he took a moment to breathe, “I need your help to get me to come out to my family in Lightning Falls.”

Both of my eyes opened wide, “Acrylic! Are you sure? You know you don’t have to because that monk said so.”

“I know. But for the sake of peace of mind, I think that they should know the truth about me. Only, I can’t do it alone. I need to take some… precautions to make sure that if the worst does happen, I at least have something to fall back to. Some sort of plan that will help them understand plainly why I’m dating you.”

“Understandable,” I nodded. “Now that I think of it, perhaps I should get father on this.”

“You mean Tweedy Pants? Why?”

“Because, if worst comes to worst, and that they won’t listen to either of us, father would be there to act as a mediator for them. After all, I can guarantee that he’ll know what they’re going through. If all else fails, he could act as the voice of reason when they won’t hear what we have to say.”

“You mean you want to drag your dad all the way to Lighting Falls, a mining town, as for the sake of security.”

“Given what colorful language your parents had to describe ponies like us, I think we’ll need all the help we can get.”

He shrugged, “Good point. Do you suppose we can do this after we’ve learned if I got accepted into college?”

I put a hoof on his back to give it a comforting rub, “If that’s the way you want it, I’ll oblige to it.”

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