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A Matter of Perspective · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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This Is Water
Palette met the bee by his easel.

It was a winged drop of silver moonlight. It buzzed nearby as he painted, finally alighting on his brush as he cleaned up. He offered it drops of honey from his lunch, but it seemed satisfied with the pigment layered into the wood handle, remnants of a hundred projects.

When he returned the next day, it found him again. It would circle his ears or fly lazy eights above his canvas, tracing the long, slow brushstrokes he used for trees, or the precise daub of grass. It kept him company and he enjoyed its melodic flight as his painting developed.

When he applied the final wash of color to his canvas, the spring blossoms were nearly gone from the trees. He looked at his easel, sitting in the dappled shade, and sighed.

"What should I paint next?"


He looked at the bee, silver as a daydream. It zipped towards him, ringing his head and darting to and fro. He shrugged and cleaned his brushes.

That night he dreamed of water.

He tossed and turned on his thin mattress, the warm air wafting in the window of his cheap hotel room. In his mind rushed great torrents of water, clean and fast, deep and purple. They looked perfect for diving, for washing away his troubles and refreshing his mind. But no matter how he ran he was too far away.

"What a dream."

The vision hung mistily in his head, burning away as the sun roused him. He rubbed his eyes and nodded to the bee. It sat atop his suitcase, fanning its wings to stay cool in the heavy air. Spring was over, and summer was rolling in. It was time to find another painting.

"North?" Palette wondered as he stowed his meager belongings. He packaged and postmarked his painting, addressed it to his agent. "North would be cooler." Tall mountains filled his inner eye, strong and wide and capped with ice, solidly implacable in silent self-assurance. Train-tracks stitched between them, lacing the giants together with steel thread. Griffons lived there, wild and free. He wanted to paint mountains, revel in their hugeness and taste midsummer snowmelt.

But the bee circled his head and his dream returned. Purple torrents swallowed midsummer snowmelt. A mountain stream would barely rinse his hooves. He craved water to paint.


There was a river to the west. It was broad and flat, slow and sleepy, but maybe he could paint it. He zipped his suitcase and heaved it up.

The walk west was slow and hot with summer rolling in from the south, carrying rainstorms and sweat. He was drenched and steamed in succession, sleeping in fields and hedges. Finally, he reached a village on the river's edge.

"Hello, excuse me!" He wandered the streets, looking for anypony who could help. The bee droned alongside or rested on the brim of his cap.

"Can you direct me?" He finally found a villager. She gave his muddy coat an uncertain look, but nodded. "I'm searching for water. It's deep and purple, rushing and strong, but refreshing and beautiful. Have you seen something like that around here?"

His new friend shrugged wordlessly and pointed towards the river.

Palette prepared his easel on a rise over a river bend and stretched a new canvas. He blocked a few shapes, laying lines with light touches of his pencil. But before he even began, he knew it was wrong. The bee encouraged him, enthusiastically walking his sketch, but it was useless.

"This isn't right." He chewed his lip and surveyed the water. It was slow and deep, cool and refreshing on a summer day. But it was a muddy brown at the edges and a stagnant, rotting green in the middle. "This isn't right at all. This doesn't move, or change, or charge or rush or drive. It's dead asleep and dreamless. This isn't the water I need." He rolled up his canvas, folded his easel, and trudged back into town.

He rented a bed and curled under a thin blanket as thunderstorms rolled overhead, whipping chill air in their wake. The bee walked the handle of his suitcase all night as he dreamed of water.

It rushed and crashed, swayed hypnotically, charged and retreated. It danced and sparkled beautifully. It was blue and bright, energizing and exotic. If he reached it, it would soothe and relax him, float his troubles away and caress him gently.

When he woke, he looked at raindrops simmering on his window pane and pondered.


There was a forest eastwards, a deep army of sylvan giants where mist rose in the early evening and wrapped the woods in mystery. He loved the shade trees spread, dappled, dancing with the sun's joy and an invitation to nap. There could be deer, ephemeral as spirits, leaping in the depths and gliding through shade to nibble shoots and branches.

He wanted to paint a forest, dream in morning mist and walk forgotten half-invisible trails, losing all sense of direction and stumbling on things unseen for a hundred years.

But the bee landed on his nose and his dream returned. Water was timeless and trackless. Morning mist vanished in sparkling spray over fish ghosting deep like deer. He craved water.

"South?" Following the river would reach the sea. There would be other ponies, gathering around and obscuring the view of wandering painters… but maybe he could paint the sea. He zipped his suitcase shut, and searched for a paddleboat ticket.

The boat was slow and filled with noisy, nosy ponies. The further south he floated the slower the river moved, heavy with silt and effluence. He stayed up late and slept later, sketching ponies he caught alone at sunset or empty stretches of the deck at night, under the moon and running lights. The bee enjoyed that, riding his pencil as he stroked deft lines in his sketchbook.

He reached the port, where the river surrendered its mud cargo and dissolved into a vast delta, abandoning countless tons of black earth to ooze the last miles to the ocean alone.

He walked busy quays and docks, trading friendly nods with sailors and seaweed gatherers, drinking cheap beer and listening to tales about mermares, but always, always looking to the sea. "I'm searching for water," he would claim. "It's blue and warm, and if you swim it, your troubles are washed away. It rolls in deep waves, with gentle strength. Have you seen anything like that?" The sailors would smile wryly and the gatherers would laugh flatly, but they all waved him towards the port.

He eventually unpacked his easel, begging a spot at the end of a dock. He stretched his canvass and stared. The bee landed on an ear-tip, watching as he framed the boats, placed the horizon and sketched a few gulls. But when he got to the waves, he knew he was wrong again.

"This isn't right." He looked into the trackless expanse. This was blue, but not the bright azure he needed. It was sullen navy, or angry slate in a storm. It rolled with waves, but not the tall, stately combers he dreamed of. They were small and choppy, fighting against the breakwaters and the bay cupping the port. "This isn't inviting." He saw a boat, a seaweed harvester drifting along the swampy coast. "This is river-water, gathered together." It had gotten somewhere after oozing all this way, but it was no different inside. He packed up his easel with a gray heart.

He hunted for a better spot for a few days, a rooftop or hill, a vantage point looking out to the water he needed, but never found it. The more he talked the more he felt this just wasn't his water. This water was sailed every day. Chains of ships, forged by links of gold, marched back and forth across the deep, grinding money daily. This water had gone from rotting and stagnant to cold and uncaring.

He stumbled back to his rented shack and collapsed in his hammock. The bee tried to comfort him, spiraling over his forehead and dancing tiny loops, but he couldn't shake his frustration as he drifted to sleep.

The coast wind was warm that night. He sweated as he slept and dreamed of water.

It fell from a blue sky in sparkling diamond drops. It shattered on the ground and filled the dust with pools and filled the pools with intricate rings, mysterious, magical circles which danced along the surface. If he could get under the downfall, the sunshower would wash away the dirt of his travel, wipe him clean of the sweat and beer and loud nosy crowds of the port town, pour silence and solitude and peace into him till he brimmed over.

He woke with a sigh, and considered his options.


There was a desert to the west. He pictured graceful walls of rock, sculpted by lascivious wind and ageless, patient sun. The sand would bake his hooves, scour the moisture from his nostrils. It would be quiet there, the deep, lost silence of unbroken desolation. He could glory in the company of cacti, somber and spiny fortresses with their weirdly branching limbs. Lizards might see him seeing them, locking him in tableau as each waited for the other to move. It might be nice, painting a desert.

But the bee crawled out from under his cap and his dream returned. A memory of beginning his painting long ago, stumbling on water unexpected as desert rain, carving that rivaled the wind’s, quenching a barely understood thirst. He remembered water once painted, and craved it again.

"I'll take the train."

He swept his cap up, letting the bee hitch a ride before he seized his suitcase and dashed for the station.

This time he didn't mind the long ride. He watched the passing landscape, smiling at the river, forest, and the growing mountains. He debarked in a high city. It reached above him, terraced onto the face of the Canterhorn in steps and ledges, buildings packed in intricate knots of brickwork and masonry. He heaved his easel onto his back, abandoned his suitcase at the baggage claim, and trotted into the city.

"I'm looking for water."

Everypony he stopped would listen. The bee would circle as they talked or investigate nearby flowers, drawn as ever to bright colors.

"It falls in great silver drops and fills the ground with pools and rippling patterns of light. If you dip under it, it washes away your sweat and tension, cools your anger and refreshes your mind. Have you seen anything like that?"

As he worked his way upwards they all smiled and nodded, and pointed him towards the castle, to the beautiful, intricate fountain in the castle garden. It was a masterpiece, the work of a dozen masters at the height of their skill who had produced something finer and more wonderful any made alone.

He knew it from years past. It was a cherished treasure, the only memory approaching his dreams. But as he reached it and stood staring, his fears were realized.

"It's not the same." He sighed. He set up his easel anyways, sharpened his pencil. The longer he looked, the less he wanted to paint it. It would be a shadow, a drop against his thirst. "Not like I remember. The magic is gone. How did I not see it before? There's no give." He touched the water and it was ice cold. The stone was merciless, hard and sharp as flint. The water fell in perfect arcs, unmoved by wind. He saw the builder's visions, drifting underwater like fish, caught and trapped by chisels and hammers, but not his. Not anymore.

"I can't change that, no matter what." He morosely packed up his easel. The bee sensed his mood and tickled his back, but he didn't look, wouldn't surrender to the distraction.

"Something wrong?" A pony spoke behind him.

"I'm looking for water." He sighed, replied without turning. "It's rushing and purple, refreshing mountain ice in midsummer; crashing and blue, relaxing sun-dappled shade for napping; dancing and silver, beautiful wind-sculptures loved by lonely cacti. But I can't find it."

Thirst clutched his dry throat. The noise of the city rolled in on his ears. Exhaustion crushed him, shaking his knees and chilling his coat. Road dust burned in his sandy eyes, and he nearly toppled over.

"Hmm." The voice was warm and friendly. "My little pony, have you searched long?"

"Weeks." He turned and discovered the Sun Princess, Celestia herself. "Months, Princess." He swiped at his eyes ineffectually, ran a hoof awkwardly through his mane. "I apologize." He sniffled half-heartedly and made a shallow bow. The bee buzzed comfortingly at one ear, and he pointed. "Ever since I found this little one."

"Indeed?" Celestia's expression shifted to curious. She leaned in closer, until the bee lifted off and circled his head. "Oh!" She leaned back, smiling gently. "And your name?"

"Palette Knife." He smiled nervously.

"Palette, you need to see my sister." Celestia nodded firmly. "I would be very grateful if you did. Would you?"

"Of course." He set his ears returned her nod weakly. "If it's your desire, of course."

"Thank you. She should be rising soon." Celestia waved to the horizon, the steadily lowering sun. "Would it be too much trouble if I asked you to wait?"

"Of course," he repeated numbly. "I'll, I'll wait here."

Celestia nodded and smiled and paced off.

Sunset came gradually. Palette nibbled the flowers, drank from the fountain. He sketched sprays of water or drew the flight of birds and nodding the daffodils in his notebook. But his energy dimmed with the light. He curled on a bench, hoarding his flagging attention, but the gentle gloom swarmed him, snatched at his mind until he pillowed his head on his shoulder and drifted into a dreamless slumber as red clouds burned in the west.

He woke soon after to the nudging of a warm wing.

"Hmph?" He mumbled and pried his gummed eyes open. Looking up, he found Princess Luna standing near. "Oh, your Majesty! I'm very sorry." He stood and stretched, masking it with a deep bow.

"It's fine." She gave an easy reply, her voice soft. She looked him in the eyes. "I didn't like to wake you, but sister said you had—" She paused as the bee crawled from under his cap and flew to her. "Oh, there it is." Luna smiled as the bee, silver moonlight on black ink, circled back and forth. "Tell me, Palette Knife, what are you looking for?"

"Water." He mumbled, frowning in distant confusion. "Water full of beauty and joy and wonder. But no matter how long I searched, I couldn't pin it down, couldn't trap it on my canvas. I would half-find it, but it would be stagnant, or it would be angry, or it would be another's. No matter how I searched, I just couldn't find it."

"I see." Luna looked down, a serious expression on her face. "I'm a painter of sorts, Palette. It's nearly time to bring out the stars. Would you watch?"

"Ah…" He froze for a moment, until he processed the words. "Of course, your Majesty! It would be a great honor!"

"Well." Luna's mouth twisted wryly as she nodded. "Then here we go." She raised her head, a spark on the tip of her horn. As the last shred of sun fled she flicked her neck, snapping a drop of moonlight skywards. It buzzed and circled as it rose, drifting lazily upwards in tiny loops and eights, glittering silver and black.

It gleamed and settled into the sky as the other stars began surfacing. Amazement touched Palette as they bobbed into sight in groups and clusters, each constellation laying foundations for those that came behind. They built gradually but implacably, sprinkled in a rain of silver, ebbing and flowing in the deep blue canvas, finally finished in a rush smeared across the sky end-to-end.

Looking up at the glittering drops, the rushing river and the sea of deep, silent black, he was quenched and filled with peace.

"Was this always here?" He turned to Luna.

"Did you never see it? Take the time to look?" She smiled. "But it's slightly different tonight." She looked to the first star she had placed, and leaned down to lay a kiss on his brow. "Thank you, Palette, for your dreams of water."
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