• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 12,847 Views, 641 Comments

Return to the Gala - GentlemanJ



We can all remember how the "best night ever" turned out. Well, looks like it's time for

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Chapter 9

Chapter 9

“I tell ya, ish not eashy bein’ the captain,” Spitfire slurred, a splash of beer sloshing out of her cup and onto her hand. “Theresh jusht sho… sho much preshure from everyone. The exshpectashions… it’sh all sho overwhelming.”

“I know the feel, girl,” Rainbow Dash giggled, face flushed as she sipped from a glass of cherry brandy. “See, what you need to do is get yourself some sweet, sweet lovin’. Blow all that steam right off.”

“Oh wow, would you look at the time,” Twilight interjected with a nervous laugh as she quickly stood up. “I’d better be on my way. Don’t wanna get in the way of your… very interesting conversation.”

“You’re… you’re right, Rainbow Dash” Spitfire gaped with eyes wide in tipsy amazement. “Thass shuch good advice. It almosht feelsh like you... you know me, like you’re in my head, or shumthin...”

As the two continued their discussion, Twilight made as hasty a getaway as she could considering the barracks were packed to the gills with soldiers, servants, and miscellaneous guests. It was difficult, but when Rainbow Dash started getting that look in her eye, the level-headed librarian felt it best to expedite her own exodus.

Outside in the cool night air, she heaved a sigh of relief. They were all good people, she was sure, but those kinds of parties always made her nervous. With so much noise and such large crowds, it could get a little overwhelming, especially when you didn’t know anyone there. The trio of Applejack, Fluttershy and Princess Luna had stopped in for a bit, but had promptly left and rolled several casks away with them. Twilight had felt it best not to ask why.

Fortunately, she had better things to do with her time than ponder the mysteries of social lubricant. On her own as she was, the young scholar was now free to meet her brother and figure out just what exactly he’d intended to tell her about Graves. It would be nice to settle that niggling bit of curiosity, this was true. But in all honesty, what she was really looking forward to was the meeting’s location.

Giggling in anticipation, Twilight entered the palace and made her way to the library, taking the secret corridors and unused passageways as she had when she was a little girl. Thusly avoiding the crowds and party guests who might take her time up with idle chit chat, the indigo-clad scholar finally arrived at what was probably her favorite place in all of Equestria.

*****

In truth, Twilight could probably have spent the rest of her life in that library. At least twenty times the size of Ponyville’s already expansive collection, the Royal Archives housed the largest collection of tomes, texts, and tracts anywhere in the world. With rows upon rows of books containing everything from modern day novels to ancient arcane grimoires, just standing between the massive stacks was enough to send a rush through the young girl’s chest.

“Oh, I’ve missed you so much,” she breathed, her heart all aflutter. “I know I shouldn’t but… ooh, it’d be really nice if Shining Armor was busy for a bit. Then I could squeeze in a little bit of reading!”

“Eh! Who’s that? Is someone there?”

From somewhere deeper in the library, a dry, dusty voice called out with much the same sound as the crinkling of old pages. The voice was soon followed by a wizened old man with thin wisps of grey hair on skin that looked like aged parchment. His eyes, however, still shone brightly behind his massive spectacles and only grew brighter at the sight of the girl in the dusky dress.

“Twilight Sparkle!” he wheezed in delight as he hobbled over. “By Marelin’s staff, it is you!”

“Professor Dewey!” she gasped and rushed over to give him a warm, if very careful hug; as the oldest scholar in Canterlot by at least a decade, he wasn’t exactly a sturdy individual, you know. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again!”

“And you too, my dear,” he chuckled. “This place just isn’t the same without my favorite little book worm devouring everything in sight.”

“I know, and I’m sorry I haven’t visited more,” Twilight winced in dismay. “I’ve just been so busy with my studies in Ponyville, I haven’t had a chance to get away.”

“Bah, think nothing of it,” the old man said with a dusty cackle. “Knowledge doesn’t reside solely within these walls. A young scamp like you should be out there creating new knowledge, and you’ve been doing just that. I, for one, couldn’t be more proud.”

“Thanks, Professor,” the little bookworm blushed. Coming from one of the foremost teachers in Equestria, as well as a man she considered as close as a grandfather, it was a very nice thing to hear indeed.

“Still,” he continued with a severe look, “it wouldn’t hurt to stop by just a little.”

“Will do, Professor,” Twilight giggled. “Wouldn’t want you to get lonely, now would we?”

“Me, lonely?” he called with a dusty harrumph. “I just want someone around who can appreciate my work. Speaking of which…” He paused, his eyes lighting up with excitement as he leaned in for a conspiratorial whisper. “… how would you like to be the first to see my latest project?”

“Really?” Twilight gasped. “Can I?”

“Well, let’s find out,” the old man chuckled. “Follow me!”

With the same excitement as a couple of kids on Hearth’s Warming Day, Twilight followed the surprisingly spritely old professor deeper into the cavernous library. Coming upon a closed off wing marked with a “Private: No Trespassing” sign, the elderly librarian turned to address his young charge.

"I assume,” he began after producing a small iron key, “that you’ve heard about the new history museum they’re putting up in the main square?”

“But of course,” Twilight nodded. “It’s supposed to be a collection of the greatest works of Equestrian culture: paintings, sculptures, inventions, and so on.”

“That is part of it,” the elderly man chuckled as he unlocked the door. “But a major part, the project I’ve been working on, is something a little different.” Upon opening the door, Professor Dewey drew out his gnarled old wand and with a flick, lit the lamps within.

“Celestia on high,” Twilight breathed in wonder. “This… this…”

“... Is a complete collection of the histories and records of Equestria’s Royal Army,” he beamed with pride. “Organized and codified by yours truly.”

He hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said complete. The entire expanse of the spacious gallery was packed to the gills with all manners of spectacular displays. Collections of ornate swords, spears, and shields, suits of polished armor, murals of battles, portraits of heroes of old, and so much more filled the room as testaments to centuries of gallant service.

“Wow,” Twilight gasped again as she examined a particularly impressive suit of runecraft armor, the enchanted plating ready to increase its wearer’s strength fivefold with just a touch of magic. “This is incredible!”

“Isn’t it?” Professor Dewey cackled in glee. “I’ve spent the last three years developing this collection, and come fall, it will be on display for the world to see. But you get to see it first.”

“There’s just so much to take in,” Twilight breathed, even giddier as Pinkie Pie at the thought of free candy on Nightmare Night. “Where should I start?”

“Well, we could take a look at the recordings of Colonel Trebuchet, who kept a remarkably detailed record of the Battle of Appleloosa. Or, we could take a look at the paintings of the first alliance between Equestria and the Griffon Imperium. But if you ask me, the most fascinating display by far is the complete collection of military service medals.”

“Ooh, that sounds fun!" she beamed. "Let’s go see that!”

Following the professor, Twilight found herself in front of a long crystal display case where rows upon rows of medallions glittered. Pinned to an inside lining of soft, black velvet, several medals shone in gold and silver while others were cast in sturdy metals like bronze and iron and still more glittered with multitudes of precious stones.

“Wow,” the young lady said again, now suffering from an uncommon loss of vocabulary. “There’s so many of them. What do they all mean?”

“All sorts of things, really. Take this one for example.” Opening the case with a flick of his wand, his gnarled fingers pulled out the medal at the center of the display. It was a magnificent eight pointed star, the four larger cardinal points shining gold, the four minor points shimmering in silver, with a rather large and impressive looking diamond glittering in the center. “This is the Equestrian Star," he explained, "a medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry at the risk of life above and beyond any call of duty.’ It is without a doubt the highest award a soldier can achieve. Very rare for this to be given out. In fact, the last recorded issuance went to a fellow named…”

The professor continued his explanation, but surprisingly, Twilight for once wasn’t paying attention. As she’d panned her view over the display case, one particular medal had caught her eyes. Tucked into the top leftmost corner was a peculiar medal that’d she’d almost missed. Resembling a stylized dragon’s head, the emblem was carved from a mysterious, translucent black crystal that almost blended in with the jet black velvet underneath.

“Professor, what’s that one called?” the lady scholar asked as she pointed, a faint sense of deja vu tickling the back of her mind. Though she couldn't quite figure out why, that medal in particular seemed oddly familiar.

“Ah, this one?” the professor asked as he replaced the star and picked up the object in question. “Yes, the Dragonslayer’s Mark. A most curious specimen indeed.”

“Really?” the young scholar inquired. “Why’s it so curious?”

“See, here’s the thing,” the elderly academic began, his voice dropping into a hush as if he’d begun speaking of something restricted. “First, this is what you would call a campaign medal.”

“A campaign medal?”

“One crafted to commemorate a specific event, such as a single battle, or a particular campaign that had been concluded. Unlike the Equestrian Star or the Crescent of Luna, which have been consistently given throughout the years, these are only given to specific individuals who were involved in the event in question.”

“Okay,” Twilight nodded. “So what’s so curious about this one in particular?”

“Well, from my research,” the old man continued, “there are approximately thirty or so official campaign medals in Equestrian history, though the exact number is debatable as some were transitioned into consistent use. Regardless of the number, each one stemmed from a very important conflict, and none of the events in question had fewer than one hundred and thirty eight listed recipients. But this one,” he said, staring at the little piece of stone like it were a complex puzzle, “this Dragonslayer’s Mark? The number who received it was only five.”

“... What?” the young lady blinked. “Five?”

"Just five,” Professor Dewey affirmed. “What’s even stranger is that none of the names are recorded. For every single other medal, there are detailed records listing every recipient, full with rank, branch of service, and role in the event. For this one, the only information recorded is that there were five medals commission for some conflagration called Operation Elder.”

“That really is curious," Twilight replied with a bemused nod. "So what’s Operation Elder?”

“Once again, no idea,” the elderly academic shrugged. “I searched high and low, but beyond the original commission, I couldn’t find a single record that mentioned that name. The only fact I could confirm was whatever this operation was, it must have been something of extraordinary import.”

“Really? Why’s that?”

“Because the originals?” Professor Dewey said, hefting up the small medal. “The originals were carved from pure dragon heartstone.”

Twilight just blinked.

“But… but that’s impossible!” the young librarian scoffed. “Dragon heartstone comes from the last drop of a dragon’s lifeblood and is incredibly hard to find. I mean, it’s so rare that if that medal really were made of the stuff, it could probably buy out half of Ponyville!”

“Precisely!” Professor Dewey exclaimed. “And that's what makes it all so mysterious! Think about it. An incredibly small number of unnamed soldiers were engaged in some unknown battle important enough to warrant medals crafted of the most valuable substance in the world. But there are no records of it. None! I’ve scoured every corner of the library, every report, every scrap of paper, and still, I’ve found absolutely nothing!”

“… Wow.” Twilight breathed once more. What else could she really say? It was rare that Professor Dewey didn’t know anything off the top of his head; he was almost as good as a walking encyclopedia. But for him to actively try to find out something and turn up nothing? It was as easy to imagine as Fluttershy punting a puppy.

“It’s so strange though,” the young scholar continued, her voice dropping to a murmur as she thought aloud. “I could have sworn I’ve seen this before.”

“Really?” the Professor asked, eyes lighting up in excitement. “Where? Was it in a reference book? Something that I may have overlooked?”

“I’m not sure,” she frowned. “It was something… something not too long ago… Ooh, what was it, where did I see it…?”

“…”

“I’ve got it!” Twilight exclaimed as the memory hit her like a blast from the party cannon. “It wasn’t a book, I actually saw the real thing!”

“You… saw the real thing?” Professor Dewey asked in wide-eyed shock. “How?

“Because it was in Ponyville! See, there’s this new guy in town, a marshal named–”

Her statement was cut off by a loud burst of dusty, coughing laughter from the Professor.

“Hey, what’s so funny?” she demanded, a little miffed that her explanation had been cut off by his wheezing guffaws.

“Oh, I’m sorry my dear,” the elderly academic apologized as he wiped a tear from his eye. “But hearing you say you saw one of these incredibly rare medals in someone’s possession, and in Ponyville of all places–”

“I did see one there,” she insisted.

“Except that’s impossible,” the old man stated simply with another dry laugh.

"What do you mean ‘impossible’?” Twilight asked, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why couldn’t I have seen it there?”

“Well…” here the elderly librarian paused, as if unsure of whether he should continue. “There was one last piece of information regarding this medal, but I didn’t want to bring it up; not exactly something a young lady like yourself would likely want to hear, you see.”

“What is it?” she pressed. “Tell me.”

“... Very well,” he sighed. “Though records don’t say who got the medals, they do state all the original medals were locked away in the royal vault for safekeeping after their... posthumous presentation.”

“…”

“…”

“… Posthumous?” she repeated faintly. “You mean…”

“I’m afraid so,” the professor nodded slowly. “Nobody currently possesses any, because the only people who’ve ever earned this medal are already dead.”

**********