“Yo, Twilight! Rarity!” Rainbow Dash called as she kicked open the library door and dashed in in a dashing manner, “me and the Pinkster got some stuff that you might be–”
She abruptly stopped mid-step and the aforementioned curly haired girl bumped right into her.
“Hey Rainbow Dash, why’d you–” Pinkie Pie began before joining her friend in staring with silent wonder.
“Um… Twilight?” the cyan clad athlete frowned, “I know you like reading and all, but is it really a good idea to be building a book fort in the middle of the library?”
It was a good question, though it would technically be more accurate to call it a book palace than a fort. Huge piles of texts and tomes were stacked to dizzying heights to form perimeters and parapets, piled so high that the girls actually had to crane their necks to get a glimpse of the top. It was from behind one of these massive, literary constructs that the purple-haired scholar poked out her head.
“Oh, hey girls,” she called with a loud crack of her stiffened neck. “What’s up?”
“Apparently you are,” Pinkie Pie giggled from her lower vantage point as the terrible pun elicited generous eye rolling all around. “So me and Dashy here went to talk to Soarin and he told us some pretty interesting stuff about Big G.”
“I say, is someone there?” a dry, raspy voice called from somewhere amidst the books. It took a moment, but Professor Dewey finally popped his head out next to his protégé and peered down at the girls with large, bespectacled eyes.
“Ah, these must be the young ladies you were telling me about,” he smiled as he straightened his glasses. “Pleasure to make your acquaintances. I’m Professor Dewey.”
“Hey there, old timer,” the colorful flyer called back with a grin. “Name’s Rainbow Dash, and this here’s Pinkie Pie. Hurry up and get down from there so we can tell you what we found out!”
“Please tell me it’s something substantial,” the musical voice of Rarity called out as she, too, popped up from the tower of texts and blew a wayward, violet curl out of her face. “We’ve been at this all day and we haven’t uncovered so much as a birth certificate.”
“Wait, seriously?” Pinkie Pie frowned. “But you’ve got enough books there to fill a library! Well obviously, it’d have to be a smaller library because we’re already in a library, but you get what I’m saying, right?”
“Unfortunately, we do,” Twilight smiled wryly. “One thousand, four hundred, and thirty eight journals, profiles, reference guides, codices, restatements, and even a dictionary or two. Not a single mention of Graves in the entire lot.”
“Now are you absolutely sure that you’re looking up the correct person?” the elderly academic asked with a scrutinizing glance. “It’s highly unlikely that we could go through so much material without finding any mention of this elusive Graves. Perhaps you were thinking of someone else?”
“Believe you me,” Rarity replied with a slightly strained smile, “that is certainly the person we’re looking for.” It was clear this wasn’t the first time the question had been asked, and with the mounting frustration of unsuccessful efforts, tempers were definitely starting to mount.
Fortunately, the potential conflagration was pre-empted by another loud clattering of the library’s doors.
“Hey there, everyone!” Applejack whooped in greeting. “Me an’ Fluttershy found the nicest feller who told us a whole heap ton about–”
She paused, and Fluttershy softly bumped into her back with a tiny squeak.
“Uh, Twilight? I know yah like readin’ and all, but is it really a good idea tah be buildin’ a book fort in the middle of the library?”
The sweater-vested bookworm let out a long, weary sigh.
“Let’s just hear what you girls have to say, shall we?”
“Er, I’m terribly sorry if this comes across a bit short, but… is that all?” Rarity asked with genuine befuddlement.
The six young ladies plus one wizened old man were seated around the large mahogany table at the center of the library for the mutual sharing of findings. The book party had already established the futility of their efforts, so they sat and listened as the two parties who ventured forth recalled their tales. However, the end of their journey, in the minds of some, wasn't much different from the beginning.
“Aw come on, seriously?” Rainbow Dash cried out in disbelief. “We got you some real dirt on Big G out there. Primo, grade A news. What do you mean, 'is that all'?”
“Don’t get me wrong, Rainbow dear, I’m very grateful for your assistance,” Rarity hastily added in gracious gratitude, “but it’s just that I get the feeling we didn’t learn much that we didn’t already know.”
“I kind of have to agree,” Twilight interjected with a sad frown. “It was all very interesting, having some more eye witness accounts of the marshal's behavior and escapades, but it still only confirms what we already knew about him: he’s a pretty untalkative guy who’s got a gift for some very difficult magic. That’s certainly impressive, but once again, we already knew that Graves was an impressive person to begin with.”
“But what about all them things they was sayin’ about him? You know, how he might be one of them magical doohickey’s an’ that he ain’t even human?”
“Applejack, certainly you don’t put any stock in such... chicanery, do you?” the violet-haired beauty exclaimed with mild alarm. “People honestly think that Graves is some sorcerous construct, or even more outlandishly, some kind of reanimated cadaver? Of all people, I’d expect you to keep a level head on the issue.”
“My head’s as flat as a fresh cut board,” Applejack retorted, “but yah gotta admit, it does kinda seem like it’d fit. We've all seen how Graves gets every now an’ then. I don’t know whether it makes him one o’ them magically fangled thingamabobs, but even you've got to admit that Graves is a sight different from normal folks.”
“Yeah, but Graves a robot?!” Pinkie Pie snorted with laughter. “That’s gotta be the funniest thing I ever heard! Imagine, a machine that doesn’t make pies, but eats them! What’ll they think of next?”
“It is a pretty far stretch of the imagination,” Twilight murmured, “But it does raise some interesting questions.”
“It does?” Fluttershy asked softly? "How so?” Indeed, the question seemed unanimous as all eyes were directed towards the purple-haired scholar. Lightly clearing her throat, she began.
“So the reason we’re here is to figure out more about Graves, what he was thinking and what motivated him to leave, correct?” Twilight asked and received assenting nods in return. “So to do that, we tried to find more facts about him, and while it seems like we’re a bit light on the facts, we’ve at least been introduced to a couple of theories that might explain his behavior.”
“Uh, guess I kinda missed out on that part,” Rainbow Dash said as she scratched her head. “What theories are you talking about?”
“Namely whether Graves is motivated by a sense of duty or nothing at all,” Twilight replied. “This morning, Feather Duster suggested that Graves might be motivated by misguided heroic tendencies, seeking to separate from us before we get hurt. What Soarin told us seems to confirm that fact, if we equate the so called heroic tendency to doing things that need to be done. Now we have Hemmingmane, and whether or not we take stock in his golem or revenant theories, it does raise the question of how much Graves actually feels. He may very well be far less emotional than we think and really was just faking the whole time he was with us for the sake of his mission.”
“Huh, I never thought about it like that,” Applejack murmured. “So what yer sayin’ is Graves might either be too good for his own good, or too blah to bother givin’ a hoot?”
“Er… not in those terms, but… yeah, I guess,” Twilight tentatively agreed. It all sounded right, but sometimes Applejack’s turns of phrases could get a little too rustic for easy comprehension.
“Still, something doesn’t quite add up,” Rarity added with pursed lips.
“How so?” Fluttershy inquired once more. “I mean, I certainly don’t know Graves as well as you, but they all seemed like they sort of, just might possibly make sense.”
“And that’s just it,” the pretty dressmaker replied. “Both of them seem very close to the whole truth, but there’s still just something missing. Graves is certainly selfless, but that still wouldn’t explain how his attitude took such a chilling turn. Being naturally apathetic might explain it, but then do we really believe his behavior in Ponyville was just a sham? However good something may be at recreating emotions, I doubt it would ever be good enough to pull off such a convincing performance as… as the Gala evening,” she finished with a flush.
“Maybe it’s both then,” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “From the way you say it, it sounds like it could be a little of this and a little of that.”
“Perhaps,” Rarity frowned, “but it still feels like there’s something missing. It's like... oh, how should I put it... it's like I’ve seen a dress from every angle except the front. I can’t say why, but it still feels like something’s not quite right.”
“Professor Dewey, you’ve been listening to all of this,” Twilight said as she turned to the elderly academic. “What’s your take on this?”
“… Listen to what’s not there and you might hear the truth instead.”
The room fell silent.
“Uh, say what now?” Pinkie Pie asked as that incredibly odd statement bounced around in her head like a smaller version of her on Nightmare Night.
“It’s like I’ve told young Sparkle before,” he began, pushing up his spectacles with a gnarled finger. “Sometimes it’s what’s not said that’s the most informative.”
“Oookaaaayyyy,” Applejack intoned. “So what wasn’t said?”
“A very large portion of young man’s life,” he smiled. “Rainbow Dash, how far back did Soarin’s tales of the elusive marshal go?”
“Probably two, maybe three years?” the cyan clad flyer shrugged. “He told us about what’s happened since he came to Canterlot, and he didn’t transfer from the Manehattan team till two years, eight months, and twelve days ago.”
“I… see. And you, Miss Applejack. Just how far back did master Hemmingmane’s anecdotes go?”
“Er, probably about three years too,” she replied, the wheels slowly starting to churn in her blonde head. “Why, what're you sayin'?”
“Only this,” the Professor began. “From what we've seen, readily available information only goes back for three or so years, which just so happens to be right in the time period of the mysterious Operation Elder, if the records on the Dragonslayer's Mark can be trusted. Beyond this point, we have nothing. Of course, this could indicate Graves has only been active for three years, but let us set aside rather improbable conspiracies theories till we have ruled out simpler explanations. If we operate under the assumption that Graves is in fact human and that this human must have a history, then it logically follows that either nobody knows what happened to him before three years ago, or that nobody can say.”
Silence again, but of a very different, much more considering sort.
"That does make sense," Fluttershy murmured, " But what I don't understand is why? Why would someone go through all the trouble to hide everything about Graves? It couldn't have been easy to make sure everything about him was so well hidden that people couldn't even talk about it anymore."
"Indeed," the aged scholar mused. "My only theory on that matter is that it must have something to do with this elusive Operation Elder we keep routing back to. Considering the secrecy with which it's been dealt, I can only fathom that it was of such great import that even those involves were concealed in the deepest veils of confidentiality. So much so, in fact, that one could very well say that they no longer exist."
"Well that doesn't help us,” Pinkie Pie frowned, "if everything's all hush hush and nobody's talking, then we're sunk like a frog on a log in a bog. I mean, it's not like we can find something that isn't real anymore.”
“So you would think,” Professor Dewey grinned, “but what if I told you that even when knowledge no longer exists, it still exists?”
For the third time, Professor Dewey rendered them speechless just before their unified reply.