• Published 24th May 2018
  • 2,164 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.

  • ...

Chapter 2: Afternoon and Evening

Consistency. A long time ago, that's what Twilight thought she needed.

Jumping on a new case every week was going to get old eventually. Once the number reached the double digits, all those bodies started to look remarkably similar to one another. Even when some particularly sick-minded killers really used their imagination, at the end of the day it was just another corpse on the pile. When it wasn't a murder, it was theft. When it wasn't theft, it was arson. The list just went on and on, doubling back on itself like some sinful ouroboros.

But as Twilight watched her colleagues pack up the body parts for transport, she thought about those four syllables that had promised her peace of mind.

Ponyville. A town where even a grisly murder couldn't disrupt Mrs. Cake's morning yoga class. A town where ponies just went about their business after witnessing the police taking away a dead body. A town where even the concept of a possible murderer in their midst abruptly became less exciting than a new crop of apples. Consistency. Ponyville lived and breathed its routines.

Twilight couldn't do that. Not after what she'd seen and done. Maybe she was broken. Maybe this was a symptom of an illness she'd contracted after years of dealing with the scum of Equestria. But whatever it was, Twilight clung to it like a lifesaver. It was what kept her sane.

The body was taken to the hospital's morgue. The postmortem was placed in the capable—or so Twilight was told—hooves of Dr. Stable and Nurse Redheart.

Witnesses were in short supply. Rainbow told Twilight this right off the bat. Apparently nopony had seen or heard anything. In a town that went to bed early and woke up even earlier, this was probably the least surprising element of the whole case. That was how Ponyville was able to maintain its monotony. Most citizens just didn't give an ounce of manure what happened outside of their businesses, families, or friendships. The closest they had to an actual witness—and Twilight was using that term loosely—was Carrot Top, the pony who'd discovered the body.

The interview with Carrot Top wasn't particularly enlightening.

“What were you doing out at that time of night?” said Twilight.

Carrot Top took a while to answer. She obviously thought she was in some kind of trouble. She technically wasn't, but Twilight wasn't ruling her out. Everypony was a suspect until Twilight got the details she needed to start crossing out names. Innocent until proven guilty wasn't a big part of Twilight's personal philosophy. Her years in the city had tainted that perfectly reasonable line of thinking.

“I couldn't sleep,” said Carrot Top. “Nightmares. I decided to take a walk to clear my head. I happened to walk past the library and I saw...well...”

She took a moment to gather herself. She was doing her best to put on a brave face for the interview, but Twilight could tell that Carrot Top was traumatized. Under better circumstances, Twilight would have preferred to conduct this interview someplace more hospitable. The cramped interrogation room at the station wasn't ideal. It was basically a closet with a table.

“I thought it was some kind of art display,” said Carrot Top. “But I got closer and realized it looked too real. That's when I started screaming.”

It was Carrot Top's screams that had pretty much roused the entire town, including Rainbow Dash. It only took a few minutes for a crowd to gather, followed hastily by law enforcement once Rainbow herself arrived on the scene. This was an unexpected downside of living on the edge of town. Twilight felt just a little bit humiliated about being the last to know. If she'd been closer to the library—and not such a heavy sleeper—she probably would have been the first one on the scene.

“Was anypony else around?” said Twilight. “Did you see anything suspicious?”

Carrot Top shook her head.

“I wasn't paying attention,” she said.

The answer was altogether unsatisfying for Twilight, as was the remainder of the interview. Carrot Top didn't have anything for her, or at least nothing she could actually use. Twilight had solved cases with even less, but that had been in Canterlot. Back in the city, she'd had a more competent array of underlings to back her up. That had more than made up for a lack of clues or obvious motives.

Dejected, Twilight bid Carrot Top a polite farewell. It was still dark out—about twenty minutes before sunrise—and Twilight really needed another coffee. Or maybe she'd finally give in and drink some of that Ponyville cider Spike was always raving about. The ironic thing was that she was working her Canterlot hours. The city had taught her the importance of all-nighters and early mornings. Some days, sleep had seemed more like a distant memory than a basic bodily function. But Twilight was so out of practice that she actually needed a pick-me-up.

As if in answer to her prayers, the door to the interrogation room opened. Spike came in like the angel he was—there had to be fluffy wings hidden under those scales—smiling and holding a tray that contained exactly what Twilight needed. Two cups of coffee and a paper bag marked Sunbean. Twilight had been pleasantly surprised to learn that her favorite coffee chain had actually bothered to open up shop in Ponyville. It was especially surprising considering so few of the locals seemed to enjoy coffee. Their loss. Sunbean had the best bagels in all of Equestria and Twilight would fight anypony who said otherwise.

She levitated a bagel out of the bag and took a huge bite.

“Good news?” said Twilight hopefully.

Spike sat down in the room's only other chair. With his size, the interrogation room felt even more cramped. Plus all the furniture was pony-sized. Rooms like these made him realize just how dragon-unfriendly small towns like Ponyville were. The city wasn't much better—or at least its citizens weren't—but at least the chairs didn't feel like doll furniture.

“We talked to some of the ponies at the scene,” he said. “The same story. Nopony saw or heard anything. You know how the ponies around here don't really go out at night.”

Twilight sighed. Weren't ponies in small towns supposed to know each others' business all the time? With how everypony—mostly Pinkie—seemed interested in Twilight's life, she'd just assumed that was typical. But it looked as if that wasn't the case. The entire town still saw her as an outsider.

“And the identity of our unlucky friend?” she said.

Spike dug a bagel out of the bag and took a bite. Despite the circumstances, it felt good to be working again. It seemed like forever ago that he'd been Twilight's partner. He'd followed her to Ponyville out of sheer loyalty, even though he knew there was nothing for him there. The city had definitely been harsh, especially towards Spike. But it had been his home. He'd never lived anywhere else and he hadn't been planning to. Spike could have taken Twilight's original position if he'd stayed in Canterlot, but he'd chosen to stay by her side.

“No idea,” he said. “Identification is going to be a pain in the flank. Whoever did this was thorough. Removed the Cutie Mark and everything.”

Twilight raised her eyebrows. That was thorough. Unusually thorough. Most criminals she'd come across seemed to forget how crucial Cutie Marks were when it came to identification. This common oversight had been the backbone of some of her most infamous cases. Whoever they were dealing with, they had some experience with this kind of stuff and no shortage of brains. That also ruled out the possibility of this somehow being an unplanned. She hadn't been leaning much hope on the idea of the whole thing being opportunistic, but Twilight believed in exploring every avenue and alleyway.

“Is there anything we can use?” said Twilight.

Spike shrugged. Identification had never been his field.

“There's a lab in Canterlot,” he said. “We can send them some samples and I'm sure they'll come up with something.”

Twilight groaned and rubbed her forehead. Fucking Canterlot. Even if they sent the samples right away, it was going to take days—maybe weeks—for them to get a result. But there was no way Ponyville had either the capabilities or the horsepower to pull off something like that. The lab in Canterlot was their only option.

“The postmortem?” said Twilight.

Spike slid both cups of coffee over to Twilight's side of the table. He wasn't a coffee drinker himself, but he knew just how she liked it. This had been instrumental in cementing him as her partner back in Canterlot. He knew how she liked her coffee, how much cream cheese she wanted on her bagels, and the exact brand of quills she preferred for filling out paperwork.

Spike wasn't just Twilight's partner in stopping crime. He was her best and possibly only friend. This had been as true in Canterlot as it was in Ponyville. Twilight didn't have much time for hanging out with friends, but she'd always had time to grab a bagel and discuss the latest string of thefts with her enthusiastic partner.

“Dr. Stable wants you at the hospital as soon as possible,” said Spike.

Twilight jumped to her hooves. To her, “as soon as possible” meant “thirty minutes ago”.

Dr. Stable had never performed a postmortem before. That basically went without saying. In a town like Ponyville, most deaths were straightforward: natural causes or farming accident. The in between was nonexistent. At least it was nonexistent, up until the night somepony decided to make a grisly art piece out of a dead body.

Even though Dr. Stable had requested Twilight's presence, it was Nurse Redheart who greeted Twilight at the morgue and led her inside. Redheart had been working at the hospital a lot longer than Stable, so she was slightly less shaken up than the doctor. When most ponies thought of “farming accidents”, their imagination only went so far. Redheart had seen some pretty nightmarish things. Dr. Stable was fortunate in that he hadn't been working at the hospital back when farming accidents had been a lot more common.

“I'm afraid the doctor is a little busy,” said Redheart.

Twilight could hear what sounded like a pony—undoubtedly Dr. Stable—puking their guts out in the other room. She couldn't blame the poor stallion. This wasn't what he'd signed up for. He reminded Twilight of herself as a bright-eyed rookie. Nopony had told her—or Dr. Stable—just how bad their job could get under the right circumstances.

“Cause of death?” said Twilight.

Nurse Redheart gave Twilight the sympathetic little smile she used on patients who were a little slow on the uptake. She gestured towards the body parts on the examination table. They'd each been packed into their own sealed container and labeled. Twilight suspected this was Nurse Redheart's doing.

“Well...,” said Redheart.

Twilight took a very deep breath.

“Yes, I'm aware of that,” she said. “But from what I can see, this was done after the victim was killed. Were you able to figure out how they were killed in the first place?”

Nurse Redheart smiled apologetically. Twilight had to remind herself that Redheart was no more a seasoned professional in these matters than Dr. Stable. In ideal circumstances, Twilight would have just sent the body to Canterlot for a proper postmortem. That would have probably taken a shorter amount of time than the identification process. But a morgue was a morgue and a doctor was a doctor.

“Dr. Stable thinks it was poison,” said Redheart. “He noticed swelling around the eye holes and neck. It's not much to go on, but it seems the most likely.”

Twilight began to pace.

“Stomach contents?” she said.

Nurse Redheart repeated it from memory, not that it was much to remember. She'd seen some interesting stuff in her career, but this postmortem was probably the most exciting thing to ever happen to her.

“Raspberry jam,” she said. “It seems to be the last thing the victim ate before they died.”

Twilight put a hoof under her chin and nodded. A picture was coming together in her head. Not an especially coherent picture, but a picture nonetheless.

“So our killer puts poison in the jam,” she said. “They make sure the victim eats enough for it to be fatal. Victim is then turned into a macabre art piece and put on display for the whole town to see. But why?”

That single question had been nagging at her for hours. But why? It wasn't that Twilight couldn't imagine somepony in this sleepy little town committing murder. She wasn't naive. It was the exact circumstances of the murder that puzzled her. This didn't feel like a Ponyville murder. This felt more like the kind of thing a superior would drop on Twilight's desk back in the grand old city of Canterlot.

A Ponyville murder would probably have involved a brawl at the local market and a poisoned birthday cake. It would have been based on the little annoyances of small town life getting out of hoof or a decades-old dispute over a tractor. This murder seemed motivated by both malice and an inherent need to show off, neither of which were common personality traits in Ponyville.

Dr. Stable finally decided to make an appearance. He looked like an absolute wreck. He was pale and his glasses hung askew at the end of his muzzle. Despite still being on hospital premises, he'd discarded his usual doctor's garb.

“Good morning Twilight,” said Dr. Stable.

The corners of his mouth were upturned in what was obviously intended to be a smile. But with the effort he was putting in, the effect was rather ghoulish. A look at Nurse Redheart only worsened Stable's attempt to look detached and blissful. He tried to mimic the look of indifference on her face, but he only succeeded in looking even more traumatized. Twilight decided not to get on his case about him not using her full and official title.

“Would you mind giving me a copy of your official report?” said Twilight.

Dr. Stable and Nurse Redheart shared a glance.

“Um, I haven't written a report,” said Stable. “It didn't seem necessary.”

Twilight looked from one pony to the other. She thought she'd been pretty tolerant before, but now she was struggling. It didn't seem fair. It hadn't seemed fair in the first place, but now it felt like a cruel joke. She'd been pulled away from Canterlot—her home—and dropped into this speck on the map for no good reason. Now that something had actually happened, Twilight was being continuously reminded of why she would have given anything to be back where she belonged.

“Of course it was necessary,” said Twilight. “A pony has been fucking murdered.”

Her eyes blazing with anger and frustration, she fixed her gaze on Dr. Stable. He seemed to wither under the sheer heat of her stare.

“Write up a report and have it sent to my office,” she said. “I expect it by the end of today.”

She turned and marched out of the morgue. If that report wasn't on her desk by the time Princess Celestia lowered the sun, Twilight was fully prepared to arrest Dr. Stable and Nurse Redheart for refusing to cooperate. Maybe that was harsh, but Twilight wasn't willing to mess around when it came to a murder investigation. She could only hope that her colleagues would be more competent than Dr. Stable.

At the very least, Twilight knew she could count on Spike. When she got back to the station, she found him waiting outside her office. After her experience with Dr. Stable and Nurse Redheart, Twilight was relieved to see the face of someone who'd definitely done their job right.

“Missing Ponies reports?” she said.

Spike followed Twilight into her office. He had a bottle of cider in his claws. Drinking on the job was strictly prohibited, but Twilight wasn't in the mood to reprimand him. Spike wasn't actually “on the job” anyway. He wasn't technically employed at the station, so he decided having a bottle of cider on the premises was a minimal offense. Besides, Spike definitely needed a drink or four after what had happened the previous night. He'd seen worse, but this one was so unexpected that he was sure he'd be seeing that body in his nightmares.

“None,” said Spike. “I combed the archive, but there hasn't been a missing pony in this town for months. The last one was some filly named Dinky and she was found in about twenty-four hours.”

There was a stack of papers waiting for Twilight on her desk. All of the official statements her colleagues had taken from various townsponies.

“What about Manehattan?” she said. “Canterlot? Los Pegasus?”

She started picking up each paper in turn and glancing over it. Most of it wasn't helpful. Not just because Rainbow Dash's hoofwriting was almost illegible, although that was definitely a factor. Twilight was again hit with a familiar roadblock: Nopony knew anything. Nopony had seen anything, nopony had any idea who the victim was, and nopony seemed to have any knowledge of who could have committed such a heinous crime. It was all just a long trail of useless questions leading to a dead end. Twilight was sick of dead ends.

“I didn't bother,” said Spike. “It's useless unless we know the victim's identity.”

Twilight shoved the statements into a drawer. She'd read them in greater detail later, not that she had high hopes.

“What about Rarity?” said Twilight. “Did she find anything at the library?”

She'd entrusted Rarity with the important task of combing the interior of the library for clues. Twilight didn't think Rarity would find anything, but it was worth a shot. Out of everypony on the force, Rarity had the best eye for detail. If there was something to be found, she was the pony to find it.

Spike blushed at the mention of Rarity. He'd been entranced by her since that very first day. Twilight didn't say anything about it—it wasn't her place—but she thought he was barking up the wrong tree. Spike always seemed to fall for mares who had no interest in him outside of friendship. Twilight doubted Rarity would be any different.

“She hasn't reported back,” he said. “Maybe I should...”

Twilight held up a hoof.

“I'm sure she's fine on her own,” she said.

Noting the look of disappointment on Spike's face, Twilight rushed to distract him. The last thing she needed was for him to get hung up on his little crush. In her opinion, he was far too old for that sort of thing. But it wasn't like she had much experience in that department. When it came to that sort of thing, Twilight was decidedly uninterested. Not that she could blame Spike for his feelings. He might have looked scary to the casual outsider, but he had emotions and needs.

“I need you to find out how many potentially toxic plants are growing in Ponyville,” she said.

Based on how the poison had likely been administered and the town they were in, Twilight suspected something natural. With how fragile ponies' digestive systems could be, almost anypony with the know-how could grab a book from the library and figure out how to brew up something nasty. Often the brewing wasn't even necessary. It was simply a matter of finding a toxic plant in a field somewhere, grinding it up, and tossing it into somepony's morning oats. Twilight knew of at least three poisonous flowers growing near the Everfree Forest.

“And what are you going to do?” said Spike.

Twilight headed towards the door. It felt odd to be leaving so soon, but she remembered that she wasn't really a desk pony. She still hadn't developed that supposedly inevitable aversion to paperwork, but she preferred being out on the field. Her colleagues in Canterlot often tied themselves to their desks whenever possible. Twilight considered herself above those limitations. So was Spike. Together they had made an unspoken pact to never become the bleary-eyed desk ponies who spent the entire day going over papers and writing in notebooks.

I'll check up on Rarity,” she said.

She started to leave her office, but stopped in the doorway. She froze in her tracks, one hoof over the threshold. Her face was twisted into a strange expression of wariness and deep thought.

I'm missing something. The thought came bubbling up from somewhere deep inside Twilight's mind. The whole day had seemed kind of off. She'd done her best to ignore the feeling because it didn't have anything to do with the investigation. But was she sure about that? That feeling of wrongness wasn't just because of the case itself. The atmosphere was a little unbalanced and Twilight was sure she was the only one who felt it. But she didn't know why. What was it about this whole thing that was bothering her? It wasn't just the note, although those two words were definitely pounding at the back of Twilight's head.

“Spike, what did we have for dinner yesterday?” she said.

Spike was so used to being asked strange questions that he didn't hesitate.

“Hayburgers and potato sticks,” he said. “Applejack sent us some fritters, so we had those for dessert.”

Twilight rubbed her forehead. Yes, she remembered the hayburgers and potato sticks. One thing Ponyville did better than Canterlot was food. Most of those fancy places in Canterlot stuck to food that looked amazing but tasted like nothing. Ponyville had introduced Twilight to a brand new world where flavor took priority over presentation. But as much as she'd enjoyed her dinner, that wasn't really what she was after. It was how it was worded and how it had lined up in her head, but it wasn't what Twilight was getting at.

“And after that?” she said.

Spike thought for a minute.

“We ate at the station,” he said slowly. “Then I went home. You came home around nine for your usual cup of coffee.”

He shut his eyes as he struggled to remember. He knew Twilight was counting on him. She never asked him a question like that without expecting a good answer.

“Oh, and you found that sample packet of raspberry jam in the mail,” he said. “But I think you stuck it in the fridge.”

Twilight's heart almost skipped a beat. The sample packet of raspberry jam. That was what had been bothering her. A tiny detail she'd neglected to file away because it seemed so innocuous at the time. From a local place, she'd thought to herself as her eyes passed over the innocent little packet. She'd gotten at least a hundred of those things in the mail since moving to Ponyville and most of them had met their end among used napkins and empty toothpaste tubes.

“Change of plans,” said Twilight. “If you need me, I'll be at the house. Please call Rarity and tell her to meet me there.”

She galloped out of the office before Spike could say anything. Not that he would have said anything if he'd gotten the chance. He knew that look. Twilight was onto something and nothing was going to stand in her way.

It was almost exactly as Twilight vaguely remembered. An innocent sample packet bearing the image of a raspberry. So generic that Twilight could have seen a hundred of them at the local market and instantly forgotten.

But there were some things about the packet that Twilight didn't remember. As she held it at eye level and turned it over, she realized why it had snagged on her thoughts in the first place. It wasn't that it was out of the ordinary in any immediately noticeable way. No, the thing was perfectly ignorable. But once one irregularity popped into Twilight's head, it was like an avalanche.

Suddenly everything about the packet she held in her magic was wrong. The texture was wrong, the size was wrong, even the feel of the contents was slightly wrong. It was like somepony had taken the vague idea and just decided to run with it. But there was also something intentional about it, like it was meant to evoke a strong feeling of deceit once the ruse expired. It was just a sample packet, but Twilight felt like every part of it had been designed, crafted with the skilled hooves of somepony who lusted over minuscule details.

At some point in almost all of her previous cases, Twilight had been dragged along by a near-delusional concept of something bigger. She'd been convinced that something outside the scope of the obvious was influencing the case, maybe even something rooted in conspiracy. She always ended up dismissing it in the end, but that was probably the worst part of any case. That feeling of being deceived by forces so far outside of her control wasn't pleasant for Twilight. But she'd always gotten over it, even if she felt humiliated about obsessing over the most innocent details until Spike had to shake her out of it. As Spike always had to remind her, there wasn't always a bigger picture behind the bigger picture.

But as she examined that sample packet, Twilight felt her resolve trembling. She wished Spike was there to lay a claw across her back and tell her to at least have a biscuit before she decided to start drawing up charts and diving into historical records.

Twilight laughed to herself. What was she even thinking? She didn't need Spike to do that stuff. She could do it herself. Twilight had gotten so used to him keeping her grounded that she'd forgotten about a time before she had a Spike in her life.

To prove this to herself, Twilight opened the fridge. There were no biscuits, but there were some leftover oat cakes from breakfast and fresh milk. Good enough for what she now realized was going to be lunch.

She took the milk out of the fridge and poured herself a glass. The milkmare must have come sometime in the morning. Another thing Twilight was never going to get used to was these weekly milk deliveries. What a bizarre and outdated concept. But Ponyville was kind of behind the times in a lot of areas. All the Sunbeans in the world couldn't have made up for the fact that ponies still paid in bits. Non-physical currency was a foreign concept in Ponyville, even though it had become the norm for places like Canterlot and Manehattan. The milk still came in bottles, for Celestia's sake.

Fortunately, the oat cakes and milk helped her calm down. The food helped her steady herself and a few gulps of milk shifted her focus from the packet. That momentary lapse was enough for Twilight to successfully re-position her thoughts.

After she was finished, Twilight placed the empty plate and glass next to the sink. She planned to clean both as soon as she was done. A simple task like that was guaranteed to relax her and help her focus on what was really important about this case. Normally Spike did the dishes—and most of the other housework—but Twilight decided he more than deserved a day off. He was going to be pretty wiped out when he finally got home and she deeply appreciated his efforts.

Twilight held the sample packet at eye level again. That brief break had given her the chance to see it for what it truly was: her first big clue in a murder case. It didn't matter where it came from or why. In that moment, she only cared about what—if anything—it could tell her.

She split the packet open. It almost felt ceremonial, like a ribbon-cutting. Twilight held it up like she was expecting something to pop out of it. But of course nothing that definitive happened. It played its part well. If Twilight hadn't known any better, she would have been fooled.

She held the packet up to her muzzle and sniffed. There was nothing too suspicious about the aroma. It actually smelled quite nice. Twilight was almost tempted to taste it. It was her favorite after all.

Twilight didn't recognize the logo on the back. It looked like a pony's head, except the eyes were buttons and its mouth seemed to be sewn shut. Its fur was light brown and seemed to bear a strange patchwork pattern. There was something about it that suggested a secret order or a cult. But Ponyville didn't seem like the kind of place that would have a cult, especially one that delivered sample packets of jam to random townsponies.

She had heard all sorts of horror stories about cults in small towns, including one about a goat head and a group of fillies. That particularly grim tale had brought on a long string of sleepless nights. But if Ponyville did have some cult shit going on, they were keeping it well-hidden from outsiders. The only cult-like behavior Twilight had experienced was the townsponies' borderline-creepy reliance on parties.

Unfortunately, Twilight's home didn't come equipped with a state-of-the-art crime lab to rival the one in Canterlot. It simply wasn't big enough for something that seemed pointless. But Twilight prided herself on always being prepared. To most ponies, being prepared meant filling a backpack with survival supplies in case of a storm. For Twilight, being prepared meant having a miniature lab stuffed into one corner of her bedroom.

She hurried to her bedroom with the jam packet. She already had the supplies set up. It was far from perfect, but it was the best Twilight could do with what little she already had on hoof. When combined with all the books on various poisons she kept on hoof, her makeshift lab wasn't too shabby.

Twilight pulled out one of her favorites: A Practical Pony's Guide to Poison. The revised edition from two years ago. It was the most up-to-date source Twilight had in her library.

She poured a series of chemicals into one of the glass beakers. Twilight didn't need a guide or anything of the kind. Poison detection was an overlooked school of alchemy that Twilight had studied with religious fervor. She could do it all from memory.

As soon as the liquid turned clear white, she knew she'd nailed it on the first try. Twilight carefully poured a bit of the packet's contents into the beaker. She didn't need much of it. A mere drop was enough to get the result she needed.

After a few seconds, the liquid started to bubble. Aware that this was normal, Twilight simply waited patiently for what came next. Her heartbeat increased as she watched the beaker. There had to be something for her. She couldn't be connecting dots that didn't exist.

Sure enough, the liquid slowly turned purple, then red, and finally settled on bright orange.

Orange. Twilight hurriedly opened her book and started flipping through it. She thought she knew what orange indicated, but she had to be sure. There were so many variables that went into this sort of thing. Accuracy couldn't be guaranteed. However, she was willing to settle for the next best thing.

At the same moment Twilight's hoof landed on the page she needed, she remembered where she'd seen that symbol before. She froze, her eyes lingering over the words. How had she failed to realize it? A patchwork pattern, buttons for eyes, mouth seemingly sewn shut. No, it couldn't be what she was thinking. It was inconceivable. But the more Twilight thought about it, the more she recognized the bizarre and unsettling image. She'd seen it countless times since coming to Ponyville. Perhaps not in this specific form, but she'd encountered something similar.

A scarecrow. The image on the sample packet was meant to be the head of a scarecrow. The button eyes and patchwork pattern were a dead giveaway, but Twilight had dismissed it as some odd symbol with no particular relevance to anything in her life. It wasn't the most out-there assumption. But as her mind wandered to and fro, she realized that this was only the second time in less than two days that she'd seen a scarecrow, or at least part of one. Twilight's mind had absently wandered to yesterday's folder containing the day's various police matters. There was something important living inside that memory.

They never did ask the pony who owned the scarecrow how it had come to be outside the schoolhouse. Twilight had internally dismissed it as some kind of prank. Then once the offending thing was taken away, her thoughts had turned to having to write up a semi-coherent incident report for future reference. She hadn't expected anything she wrote to actually be of use to anypony for any reason, seeing as most of it amounted to disputes that could have easily been worked out between the ponies. She had noted the oddness of it all very briefly to Spike, making some passing comment about farmers and their feuds. But other than that, Twilight's mind had hardly lingered over something as inconsequential as a scarecrow outside of a schoolhouse.

Twilight grabbed her phone from the bed. She hated to cut her experiment short, but she'd already gotten everything she needed. She had the name of the poison, although the idea she'd started to have about its actual origin had been cut off by the rush of realization.

It was nothing. It had to be nothing. The idea that it was more than one of those famed coincidences was inconceivable. But so was the idea of some innocent pony being murdered and put on display in a quiet town like Ponyville.

But maybe Ponyville wasn't so quiet after all. Maybe Twilight was missing something much bigger than a scarecrow.