• Published 24th May 2018
  • 2,169 Views, 138 Comments

Pronoia/Paranoia - TooShyShy

Twilight Sparkle is transferred from Canterlot's elite police force to the boring town of Ponyville. She expects this to be the end of her detective work, but she couldn't be further from the truth.

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Chapter 1: Midnight and Morning

Welcome to Ponyville.

The bright flowery letters almost made Twilight's eyes hurt. She squinted at the postcard, trying to find some meaning behind the pointlessly cheerful text. It was done in that faux washed out style that seemed fairly overused with postcards. The sign gleamed in an unnatural sort of sunlight, the type of perfect illumination that could only exist in the imagination of somepony who had never been to Ponyville.

The sign was wrong. Twilight had seen the actual sign, that generic wooden eyesore bearing the image of a smiling family. It said Welcome to Pnyville. The O was missing.

“Oh, its always been like that,” Pinkie Pie had chuckled.

She'd then laughed at her own accidental joke for nearly five minutes.

Why doesn't someone fix it? Twilight wanted to ask. But she stayed silent, listening to Pinkie's laughter. She realized she had no right to ask that question. Twilight didn't belong there. It wasn't her town. She was not going to be there long enough to justify knowing.

Twilight tore the postcard in half, splitting it right down the middle. She watched the remains flutter to her desk. Wel to P said one side, while the other pronounced comeonyville. Even more wrong than before. She'd been there for three years and she still hadn't asked about the sign.

Shaking her head, she flipped open the folder marked Friday. The day's reports spread out before her like a canvas of tedium. Words, some attached photographs, all stamped with that familiar symbol of a shield and sun.

Possible burglary at Sweet Apple Acres. Turned out to be a family of angry raccoons. Raccoons not taken in for questioning.

Minor dispute over dropped produce at marketplace. Resolved. No arrests.

Suspicious figure seen hanging around outside schoolhouse. Turned out to be a scarecrow. Owner of scarecrow charged a modest fine.

Local graffiti artist arrested over lewd drawings. Officially released after heated debate over the definition of “erotic”. Nopony charged. Art remains subjective.

Twilight skimmed the details. She couldn't wait to get home. Her bed was at home. Good coffee was at home. Twilight used to hate coffee, but time had converted her. It only took one year for her to go over to the dark side. Now her daily cup of hot paradise was one of the few things Twilight looked forward to on the regular.

She closed the folder and looked at the clock. Nine past ten. As per usual, Twilight was the last one out. Everypony else—laughing, smiling, waving—had already clocked out around nine. She probably should have felt a little creeped out, seeing as she was all alone in an empty police station. But Twilight laughed to herself at the very thought, a long bitter laugh that echoed in the otherwise empty building.

Twilight levitated the folder back into the filing cabinet. She only bothered carrying out her obligations because it was just in her nature. If she'd been able to deprogram herself, Twilight would have.

She got up from her desk and hurried to the door. There was something satisfying about the way the door creaked open, the sound spilling into the empty reception area. Twilight listened to the door shut behind her, its hinges straining ever so slightly. She then listened to her own hoofsteps, each a deafening thud in the silent station. She walked past the receptionist desk and to the double doors separating her from the outside world.

Twilight let the cold night air waft over her. Compared to Canterlot, Ponyville was a lot different at night. The air wasn't permeated by a sense of desperation. Twilight didn't feel like she had to glance behind her every second as she trotted home, but she did anyway. City habits are the hardest to break.

Her cottage was far from the main town area, a mercy she'd been granted by pure good fortune. When Twilight approached, she saw that nearly all the windows were lit up. She smiled to herself as she mounted the steps to the front door. It really felt amazing to be home.

Twilight unlocked the door and stepped inside. Another city habit. Barely anypony locked their doors in Ponyville.

A purple dragon was lounging on the couch, his body taking up the entire piece of furniture. He was lying on his belly, his thick tail flicking back and forth and his face propped by his hands as he read a magazine. The dragon glanced disinterestedly in Twilight's direction as she closed the door behind her.

“Slow night?” he said.

His voice was deep and slightly intimidating, but also friendly and warm. There was a parental quality to it that put Twilight at ease.

Twilight rattled off her usual complaints in reply. Her words trailed behind her as she made her way to the kitchen.

“Pinkie really needs to stop using those strawberry-scented pens,” she said. “And how does she even get so much confetti everywhere?”

She pulled a mug down from the cupboard, frowning in frustration. Nopony else seemed to get it when Twilight went off on Pinkie for being unprofessional. It made the whole thing even more annoying. But Twilight pressed on, keeping Pinkie on her radar even as her attempts rose in futility.

“I keep telling Rainbow she can't nap on the job,” said Twilight. “What part of “on duty” does she not understand?”

She turned on the coffee maker.

Spike grabbed his magazine and pulled himself into a sitting position. He peered into the kitchen area, cocking an eyebrow at Twilight and the coffee maker.

“Coffee?” he said. “This late at night? Really?”

His tone of voice made Twilight feel guilty. Yes, coffee. Yes, that late at night. They'd been over it. She thought he understood. Spike probably did, but he also disapproved. He disapproved of a lot of things she'd turned into habits since coming to Ponyville.

“It's decaf,” she said.

Spike rolled his eyes at the weak defense, but he let it be. He shouldn't be the one to cast the first stone. Spike had his fair share of bad habits. His love of drinking cider on weeknights had been the topic of discussion more than once. But Spike didn't see anything particularly wrong with this indulgence. It wasn't like he was on the force anymore.

“How's tomorrow looking?” he said.

Twilight laughed sourly.

“Boring,” she said.

It was ironic. She knew at least ten ponies who'd kill to be in her situation. Miles away from the dirt and grime of the city, established in a relatively safe little town very few visited or left. Dealing with drunk vandals or escaped pigs instead of brutal murder and assault. Canterlot had turned good ponies into trembling puddles of nerves and reduced some of the bravest to babbling cowards. Anypony else would have been ecstatic to escape all that and settle into something so familiar yet wonderfully different.

But Twilight wasn't like those other ponies. It wasn't that she wanted a pile of bodies. She just wanted a challenge, something to really get that big brain of hers working. A robbery that went unsolved for more than ten minutes—it was always either a misunderstanding or a bird—would have sufficed.

“Did you get the mail?” she said.

Spike pointed a claw at a pile of envelopes and papers on the end table. As was the norm, it was mostly advertisements and invitations to various functions. He always wrestled with the inclination to toss everything into the trash. Twilight usually ended up doing that anyway, so he thought it would be nice to save her a step.

While the coffee maker brewed up Twilight's midnight-ish drink, she went through the mail. Same old stuff. An invitation to a barn dance she wouldn't be attending, farming magazines begging for her patronage, a small packet containing a free sample of raspberry jam from some local place, and various other nonsense. Twilight threw most of it into the garbage, but she kept the sample of raspberry jam. Raspberry just happened to be her favorite.

“Anything good?” said Spike.

Twilight replied in the negative. Her mail in Canterlot hadn't been more exciting by comparison, but everything mediocre hit her extra hard in Ponyville.

She started to levitate the pile of magazines into the trash can. It was amazing just how many free subscriptions she'd gotten saddled with upon entering Ponyville. Like she needed a monthly edition of Hard Plow, the most unfortunately named magazine about farming in the whole of Equestria. Twilight dropped the magazines into the trash one by one, satisfied as every one came to rest in a pile of candy wrappers and empty bags of potato chips.

Spike lay across the couch again, this time on his back. He was absorbed in his magazine again, eagerly drinking every word of an article about proper claw grooming. He didn't look up as he held up an envelope in his claw.

“This was by the door,” he said.

Interested, Twilight grabbed it with her magic. She held it up to her face and examined it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just an envelope. Maybe a bit dirtier than it should have been, like it had recently come out of the ground. It had Twilight's name on it, written in hoofwriting that didn't look even vaguely familiar to her. Nevertheless, it had to be another of Pinkie's silly invitations. She was always badgering Twilight to get more involved in the community.

She carefully opened the envelope. To her surprise, there wasn't an immediate explosion of confetti. She instead reached in and pulled out a torn piece of notebook paper. The paper looked even dirtier than the envelope itself, plus it was slightly damp. Twilight held it to her muzzle and noticed it smelled of some mysterious chemical. Frowning, she turned it over and read the words printed on it in lopsided letters.

It begins.

Twilight turned the paper back over to examine the back. Nothing. Simply those two words.

“Who left this?” she said.

Spike shrugged.

“It was just waiting by the door when I got home,” he said.

Detecting something odd in Twilight's tone, he closed his magazine and sat up again. He hadn't thought much about the envelope. It was all just mail to him. Spike had only separated it from everything else because he thought it might be something extra-personal.

Twilight neatly folded the paper and put it beside the coffee maker. A joke. It had to be some kind of joke. Some kind of surreal attempt at humor. Not something she would have expected from this boring as hay town, but small towns like Ponyville were full of surprises. Maybe somepony with an odd sense of comedy just wanted to give Twilight's day a boost.

“Do you want some coffee?” she said.

Spike shook his head. He'd already had his nightly glass of cider. Twilight could complain all she wanted, but the cider really did help him get through the night. She had her coping methods, he had his. It just so happened that Spike's coping method worked a little better.

Twilight's phone buzzed.

She didn't hear it at first. She'd been expecting her alarm clock, so any other sound was inconsequential. Twilight lay there in bed for quite some time, listening to the buzz of her phone and not recognizing it for what it was.

Then something broke into Twilight's sleeping brain and manifested itself as a single thought: Pick up your sun-cursed phone. It came to her in the voice of her former boss, a strict stallion who'd always disliked phones and the noises they made. Leaving hers on during a meeting had been Twilight's first rookie mistake. With that gruff reprimand ringing in the ears of her dream self, she abruptly woke up.

The phone continued to buzz. Now that Twilight had joined the waking world, the sound immediately started to grate on her. It was better than Pinkie's annoyingly upbeat ringtone, but not by much. Grumbling, she snatched the phone from the night stand and held it close to her face. The readout on the lock screen indicated it was a whole three hours before dawn.

She was going to strangle Pinkie Pie. She hadn't seen the number yet, but who else would be calling her at that hour?

Twilight took the call without thinking. She wanted to ignore it, but that buzzing really was annoying. It was also very early, so she hadn't had her shot of caffeine. Her brain was a bit sluggish and unable to move far beyond the desire to make that stupid noise stop.

“Hello?” she said.

She practically spat the word into the phone. Twilight braced herself for that disarmingly blissful voice on the other end. This time she was going to break her rule about not yelling. Twilight had met a dozen Pinkie Pies during her time on the force and she was used to dealing with them in the same way. But this wasn't Canterlot. Pinkie Pie wasn't going to harden up and stop goofing off if Twilight didn't start being tough on her.

The voice on the other end wasn't blissful, but it successfully disarmed Twilight. Her first instinct was to mutter some obscenities and hang up, but she just froze.

“You need to see this.”

It was Rainbow Dash, although Twilight completely blanked on this fact for a moment. The voice on the other end was strained, as if its owner was having trouble getting their words together. It sounded as if Rainbow was in some kind of shock and possibly on the verge of crying. That didn't sound like Rainbow Dash at all. Neither did calling Twilight three hours before Celestia raised the sun.

“See what?” she said.

Rainbow spoke again, her voice even more strained. She was definitely on the verge of something. She was either about to start sobbing or vomiting. Rainbow sounded so unlike her usual self that Twilight forced herself to listen closely.

“You have to see,” she said. “We're in front of the library.”

Twilight could hear wind in the background. She started to ask what the Tartarus was going on, but Rainbow suddenly hung up.

The moment the call ended, Twilight jumped out of bed. She didn't need to ask herself any questions or come to any conclusions. She'd heard the urgency in Rainbow's voice and that was enough. Shouting Spike's name, Twilight grabbed her uniform from where it lay folded on top of her dresser. She dressed in record time, still shouting for Spike.

For the first time in ages, Twilight forgot that she was a big time officer working in a small town. She forgot that Spike was no longer her partner. Twilight forgot that this was Ponyville, a town where nothing ever happened and nopony seemed to mind. Something was happening, except Twilight had no Celestia-damned idea what it was. None of that was important. The importance lay in those few cryptic syllables uttered by a distressed Rainbow Dash.

Spike was waiting for Twilight in the living room. He asked no questions, just gave her a businesslike nod. He understood everything—or at least everything relevant—by just the look on Twilight's face. Spike chose to keep his thoughts to himself. He dutifully followed Twilight out of the house, his two feet barely able to keep up with her galloping four.

As Twilight ran, she considered the possibilities. A late night robbery? A massive dispute between neighbors? Arson? The last seemed the most likely. Twilight imagined some disgruntled store owner torching another pony's business for petty revenge. She'd seen worse revenge schemes in Canterlot, but that seemed just mild and wild enough for a place like Ponyville.

Or maybe Pinkie Pie had finally snapped and decided it was party time whether Twilight wanted to or not. With how determined she was to shove social interaction down Twilight's throat, it wouldn't have surprised Twilight to find out that this was all a trap. A trap for the sole purpose of making Twilight dance and initiate awkward conversation with a bunch of ponies who were still practically strangers to her. Diabolical. Also insane.

But that panic in Rainbow's voice had been real. Twilight had heard panic like that before and she knew it was impossible to fake. So either Rainbow was an acting genius in disguise or something unthinkable really had happened. Twilight was betting on the latter.

Her and Spike finally reached the library. On an average day, Golden Oak Library was a ghost town. Ponyville either didn't care about reading or the citizens just hated their local library for some reason. Twilight actually found that convenient. She probably would have given up on books altogether if she'd run into more than one local during her daily trips to the library. Even in a small town like Ponyville, solitude was a blessing.

The inside of the library was empty, but the outside was packed. A huge crowd of ponies were gathered in front like they were watching a live demonstration. As Twilight approached, she caught more than one look of utter horror and disbelief. Ponies were covering their mouths, many of them pale and clearly on the verge of throwing up. A few patches of ground were already splattered with vomit. What in the name of Celestia was going on?

“Police!” Twilight said.

Nopony paid any attention, even as her and Spike shoved their way through the crowd. Hooves were stepped on and sides were nudged, but reactions were mild or nonexistent. It was like they were all frozen in a single moment, unable to react to anything outside of their initial experience. The surreality of the situation was making Twilight uneasy. She thought she recognized it from somewhere, but a date or event wouldn't come to her.

Now at the front of the crowd, Twilight blinked in surprise. Whatever she'd expected, it hadn't been, well, competence. She was used to feeling like the only pony on the force who actually took their job seriously. It was bizarre to see her fellow ponies in uniform act like they'd earned their badges. But sure enough, Rainbow Dash and a few others had done a pretty good job keeping the crowd back. They were taking charge and doing their jobs in a way Twilight had so far only fantasized about.

She approached Rainbow Dash who—shockingly—seemed to be in charge. Rainbow looked more put together than she'd sounded on the phone, but she was obviously shaken. Whatever had happened, it was far beyond her capacity as a small time officer in a sleepy town. She'd probably only joined the force because napping on the job had been downright encouraged.

“What's going on?” said Twilight.

Pinkie Pie was there as well, along with Rarity and Lyra. For once, Pinkie wasn't grinning like she was the happiest pony in the world. She looked serious, even grim. Somehow that shocked Twilight more than Rainbow actually taking her job seriously. It was like getting a glimpse into some bizarrely ideal alternate universe.

Lyra spoke up. She looked as shaken as the others, but she kept her voice steady and professional.

“You should see this,” she said.

She gestured at something behind her.

Twilight hadn't been paying much attention to anything other than the massive crowd and her fellow officers. She finally turned to look at what everypony else was staring at. At the sight of it, her mouth dropped open. Nothing could have prepared her. Not her years of training, not the books she'd read, not even her nightmares. What she saw made Twilight's entire world quake.

When she'd been in Canterlot, Twilight had seen her fair share of dead bodies. Thousands, if she had to estimate. At first she'd been repulsed by every single one, horrified and unable to look for longer than she had to. But eventually she'd just shut off that part of her brain. Twilight had become detached, a skill that had helped her rise in the ranks. Bodies were no big deal to her. The ponies that created them—either by accident or on purpose—were her concern.

It wasn't the body itself that made Twilight lightheaded. No, she'd seen much worse. Murderers could get really creative when it came to carving up their victims. It was where and how the body had been placed that gave Twilight pause. Some killers went out all out with presentation, but Twilight had never seen anything like this before.

The pony had been nailed—or rather staked—to the front door like some kind of macabre art display. Or rather their parts had been staked to the door. The corpse had been turned into a once-living jigsaw puzzle. The head and limbs had been neatly detached from the torso. The layout reminded Twilight of those anatomy sketches from her medical books, the ones where each part was detached from the whole and labeled for convenience. Except there was no helpful labeling to explain anything Twilight was seeing.

The surgical precision almost made Twilight believe she could just put the pony back together and they'd be okay. But even if she'd nurtured that naive belief due to the neatly severed limbs, the head was another story. The ears had been torn off. Not carefully sliced off by a surgical tool, but torn, leaving a jagged wound where each should have been. The eyes and muzzle had been removed with slightly more precision.

Once Twilight stopped gawking like a rookie, she realized that Rainbow Dash was waiting for her to say something. She quickly slipped into her professional demeanor. After her time in Ponyville, she'd nearly forgotten that she was supposed to be in charge. She wasn't allowed to stand around and stare like one of the locals.

“Who are they?” she said.

Rainbow apparently had no qualms about standing around and staring. Twilight felt kind of sorry for her. Rainbow Dash talked like she was a seasoned professional, but she really was just a small town officer who'd joined the force less than two years ago. She probably didn't even have all the credentials—being a weather pony was hardly “experience”--but she'd gone for it anyway because it seemed like an easy job. How bitterly ironic.

Twilight waited patiently for Rainbow's answer. She was relieved when she finally got a reply.

“I...we don't know,” said Rainbow Dash. “Nopony here seems to recognize them.”

Twilight sighed. There it was again. That always-present always-waiting wish to be back in Canterlot, with her big desk and her underlings who actually knew what the fuck they were doing. Her colleagues would have gotten everything cleared up before they even called her. That was just how fast things moved in the city.

“Of course they don't,” she said. “Cosmetic surgery tends to do that.”

Rainbow cringed at Twilight's laid-back tone. Didn't she understand that—once upon a time—Twilight had seen stuff like this almost everyday? Maybe not exactly like this, but in roughly the same vein. No, of course Rainbow didn't get it. Nopony had ever asked Twilight about her past. In their minds, Ponyville was the beginning and end of every story.

Twilight continued on, trying to sound as effected as she felt for the sake of saving face.

“Have the body taken to the morgue,” she said. “A postmortem will need to be performed. Once the cause of death is determined, we can decide how to proceed.”

Rainbow Dash glanced from the body—she couldn't look at it too long—to Twilight. She appeared skeptical.

“Um, all of it?” she said.

Twilight heaved another sigh. How she missed Canterlot.

“Yes, all of it,” she said.

As the other officers—and Spike—moved forward to detach the body, Twilight turned back to the gaping crowd. She wanted to yell at them to disperse, but she knew they wouldn't. And truth be told, she wasn't in the mood to threaten arrests for a made-up charge just to get them scattering. She kind of wished she was one of them. Twilight had never before appreciated the perks of being a civilian.

Her mind flashed back to the message. Twilight had thought it was so silly. A joke, a prank, some idiotic attempt at getting her attention. Maybe it was. Maybe it was just a silly coincidence.

The problem was that Twilight didn't believe in coincidences. In the grand scheme of things, she thought random chance was always a possibility. But on a smaller scale, there always seemed to be connections. If two robberies were committed on the same day within hours of each other, a line could be drawn between them. Soon Twilight would be connecting witnesses, weapons, and the exact quantity of goods stolen. The note and the murder struck her as a coincidence she just couldn't believe in.

But if it wasn't a coincidence, what in Tartarus did it mean?