• Published 24th May 2018
  • 2,170 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 5: Breakfast

Twilight was once offered a teaching job. Celestial University, one of Canterlot's best—and largest—schools. Home to some of the most prestigious and influential professors to ever grace the land of Equestria. Founded by Princess Celestia herself and boasting the most diverse collection of students in Equestria. Ponies came from all over the world just to study at this modern marvel of a school. If Twilight had accepted the position, she would have been trotting the same path taken by many of her heroes. As the youngest pony to ever teach at Celestial University, she would have earned herself a chapter in the history books. The position was everything Twilight could have wanted.

Shining Armor's death changed everything. Suddenly the allure of academia dimmed, as did her enthusiasm for passing on knowledge. If there had ever been a joy to be found in such a life, it chose to leave her at a time when she was in desperate need of it. So she turned her back on it, realizing that the thrill of professorship had passed her by in a single blaze of tragedy. But then again, Twilight wasn't sure if Shining Armor's death was the catalyst or simply a wake-up call. Twilight had considered herself destined to become a professor. She had always had a narrow view of her future, but she abruptly found herself exploring that neglected corner of her mind. It was there—in a forbidden nook of her own brain—that the idea of becoming a cop timidly emerged.

So Twilight couldn't say she knew what she was meant to do. Maybe she was meant to be a professor, but she'd deviated from a series of events the universe itself had set up. She liked to think she'd beaten fate itself in some grand card game she didn't even know she was playing. Despite everything that had pointed her away, Twilight had become a cop and she was damn proud of herself for it.

Zecora wanted to meet Twilight in a public place. This was a breach of protocol that Twilight normally wouldn't have allowed, but screw it. She wanted a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. Seeing as the station had neither, it was either take a trip to Sunbean or just ignore her burning need for breakfast. Seeing as Zecora was apparently a fan of good coffee and great food, Twilight decided to bend the rules a little by agreeing to this meeting.

Twilight ordered herself a mocha, while Zecora opted for a dirty chai latte.

Truth be told, Twilight was intrigued by Zecora right off the bat. She'd met griffins, dragons, and even yaks, but this was her first zebra. She was quite well-versed in zebra culture, having studied it extensively along with hundreds of other subjects. She still retained most of the knowledge.

Zecora spoke first, her tone casual. She certainly didn't act like she was being interviewed due to possible involvement in a murder. From the way she was acting, this could have been a conversation between old friends. She'd even smiled at Twilight when she came in, like they were already pals. In Twilight's experience, suspects who acted like this fell into one of two categories: Guilty as sin or a completely spotless record. Twilight had sources. If Zecora had so much as thrown a pebble in the general vicinity of another pony, Twilight would have known about it. But she'd turned up nothing of note, except for a single arrest on charges that were later found to be false. Either Zecora was a criminal mastermind or she really was an innocent citizen who'd just gotten dragged into a murder case.

“I am glad we finally get to meet face-to-face,” said Zecora. “I too am very interested in this case.”

Twilight sighed. Sweet Celestia, had the newspapers gotten their claws into this already? Oh, who was she kidding? Of course those vultures over at the Ponyville Chronicle—or whatever in Tartarus the local rag was called—had already pounced and were picking the carcass clean. Even scandal-a-day Canterlot had its fair share of greedy journalists itching to write about the latest “grisly murder spree” or “daring jewel theft”. Those bored journalists at the local paper must have been salivating over the chance to tackle some real news. Twilight wondered how badly the official story had been distorted.

But Zecora answered Twilight's unspoken question.

“You have nothing to fear, for my knowledge is my own,” she said. “But unlike you, I have chosen to work alone.”

Twilight raised her eyebrow, skeptical.

“You're investigating?” she said.

The last thing any case needed was some amateur sleuth sticking their muzzle into official police business. This wasn't really a constant problem in the city, but Twilight had dealt with it more than once. Having been through it during both a murder investigation and a kidnapping case, she could safely say that she wasn't a fan. Sure, sometimes having somepony on the inside was a blessing. The average citizen could get their hooves on information the force could never hope to gain without some hefty paperwork and empty threats of arrest. But information was one thing and a knife-wielding serial killer was another. When it came down to it, Twilight would rather one of the ponies in uniform end up with a knife in their throat than see some foolhardy citizen get stabbed. Police work wasn't a game.

However, Zecora didn't sound or act like a bright-eyed schoolpony or a pompous egghead who hadn't quite come down from the high of all those solved word puzzles. She sounded like she was actually taking the case seriously, keeping as much distance as she needed to stay safe. Although it was her duty to dissuade Zecora from playing detective, Twilight was held back by the fact that Zecora clearly wasn't just playing.

“You want to know about dragon's weed,” said Zecora. “But you would be better off following a different lead.”

Twilight ignored the advice. Arguably there were other pieces of the puzzle that demanded higher priority, but she was intentionally neglecting those. That was just how she investigated. She liked to draw a series of spirals in her head. She'd start off small, then work her way towards the center. By the time she ended up in the middle, she—hopefully—had everything she needed to throw somepony behind bars.

“I understand you sell herbal remedies and cures,” said Twilight.

That was how Fluttershy had described her. “The nice zebra who comes into town sometimes to sell herbal remedies and cures”. Whether anypony actually bought anything was up for debate. Twilight got the impression that the townsponies didn't exactly trust the mysterious zebra who lived in the Everfree Forest.

“I enjoy helping ponies who are in need,” said Zecora. “I have had cause to work with this “dragon's weed”.”

Twilight had seen a lot of ponies on the force—even her superiors—declare the case closed after following just one lead to a logical conclusion. For some of her colleagues, time was of the utmost importance. If they could pin it all on the victim's spouse with a reasonable amount of evidence, they wouldn't bother investigating that mysterious carriage seen outside said victim's house. It was all about shutting it all down and letting justice—or what they wrongly perceived as such—take its course. Sometimes they got away with it, others times Twilight reveled in seeing them get reamed for their incompetence after they bragged about nabbing a culprit in less than four hours. Twilight was a lot more careful. If it took her two hours to solve a murder, great. If it took her seven months, so be it. Her superiors might have started nipping at her sides, but Twilight wasn't about to toss some innocent soul behind bars if they'd just been passing by at the wrong time.

With what Zecora had just said, Twilight could have jumped to the worst conclusion. She wanted to solve this case. She needed it to be over so she could take pleasure in bringing down the full force of the law. But despite how hasty she wanted to be, Twilight was never going to be that type of detective. Even if she knew the townsponies might back her up if she tried to arrest the mysterious zebra who had somehow managed to settle in the Everfree Forest, she wasn't going to take the bait.

“So you've sold it to ponies?” said Twilight.

Zecora took a generous sip of her coffee. She was studying Twilight with candid interest. Sitting right in front of her was a pony who'd been torn away from her fame and plopped down in some nowhere town. Tragic, but ultimately fascinating.

“I sell remedies at a reasonable rate,” she said. “I would not give a pony dragon's weed in its natural state.”

So Zecora wasn't giving actual poison to ponies, or at least she claimed not to be. Then again, why would any healer worth their herbs jeopardize their reputation in a small town by handing a malicious spouse an easy way to get rid of their cheating partner? Being an outsider both physically and mentally, Zecora was already facing some unique challenges. Why add to the pile by selling literal murder supplies to townsponies? But if she hadn't sold somepony the dragon's weed, it meant the culprit in question must have ventured into the Everfree Forest and gotten it themselves. Twilight wasn't ready to accept that ludicrous possibility just yet.

“I'll need to search your house,” said Twilight. “Standard procedure.”

Zecora patted the rucksack she'd brought with her. It was a beautiful hoof-sewn affair covered with a series of patterns Twilight didn't recognize. It had caught her eye as soon as Zecora trotted in, but she hadn't paid it much attention once the conversation started.

“You'll find everything I'd made with dragon's weed in here,” she said. “Your reputation makes you somepony wrongdoers should fear.”

Twilight stared at the rucksack. She had a reputation? As in Zecora had more than a vague notion of who she was? To the average townspony, Twilight was just “that city pony who used to solve murders and what-not” or something equally condescending. It floored her to realize that somepony in this one-coffee-place town actually gave a damn about her old life and all she'd done to make the streets of Canterlot safer. She was no Shining Armor, but she thought she deserved at least some passing recognition for all the criminals she'd put behind bars, especially in a town that lacked figures of interest.

“As for my house, you are welcome to send your dragon friend,” she said. “He needs a break while there is still a killer to apprehend.”

Slipping back into her professional persona, Twilight took the rucksack. It jangled as it moved, indicating that it was filled with bottles. Going through all of them was going to be a pain in the flank. But it was all in the name of being thorough. Every lead had to be followed.

“Thank you for your time,” said Twilight.

She paid for her coffee, then left with the rucksack. It was going to be a busy few hours.

Revenge. A need for vengeance—be it due to an imagined slight or genuine betrayal—was one of the world's most powerful motivators. It turned the docile into murderers, the weak into fighters, and the law-abiding into criminal masterminds. Once it got its hooks into somepony, it was almost impossible not to lust after that sweet nectar. Even the least imaginative ponies could draw up a decent revenge scheme if they felt the injustice all the way down to their core. It was like some form of energy. Twilight's all-nighters were nothing compared to the effort some ponies would expend just to see a rival squirming.

Twilight's career was speckled with revenge stories. Most of the criminals she'd arrested had been acquainted with a cold cell, but sometimes a quirk in the system toppled Twilight's entire case. Even without those who'd escaped the grasping hoof of justice by the skin of their teeth, there were still family members, lovers, friends, even misguided sympathizers. There was always somepony eager to exact their own type of demented justice upon the pony who'd put somepony they cared about behind bars. Twilight was no stranger to close shaves. She'd escaped all of those scrapes, usually with an additional arrest.

So when Twilight asked herself for a specific name or incident, she came up blank. There were at least twenty ponies—and that was just off the top of her head—who'd love to see her head on a platter. But how many of those ponies would have been capable of this? How many of them had intimate knowledge of her life, enough to fake her brother's hoofwriting and plant that scarecrow just to scare her? When Twilight tried to narrow it down, she just hit more roadblocks. She wished she'd kept all those threatening letters she'd been sent over the years. Maybe those threats weren't as empty as Twilight thought they were.

Spike was sitting on Twilight's desk, a folder open on his lap. He jumped when she came in, a look of guilt springing to his face. He knew Twilight hated when he sat on her desk. Behind it was fine, but on it was discouraged. But it was something Spike sometimes just did without realizing it, particularly if Twilight was away.

But Twilight was pissed off at Spike for a reason completely unrelated to the desk, although that definitely added to it.

“Didn't you call me ten minutes ago to say you were taking the rest of the day off?” she said.

She'd been disappointed and on the verge of protest when she'd first heard those words. What in Tartarus was she supposed to do without Spike? Half the stuff she was doing might have been considered a distraction if it hadn't been at least slightly related to the case. While Twilight pored over the contents of the rucksack, she needed somepony out there asking questions and filling up notebooks. But as much she wanted that someone to be Spike, she also wanted him to stop teasing the line. Once she got over her initial reaction, Twilight had thanked Spike for considering his own health and assured him that she'd be fine.

“I was, but I found something,” said Spike.

She started to tell him that she didn't give a shit what he'd found and that his health was more important than the investigation, but Spike raised a claw. The benefit of living with Twilight was that he'd gotten to know her even better. He knew exactly what she was going to say, how she was going to say it, and even when she was going to say it. Twilight could be woefully predictable, especially when she expressed concern for him. That was one trait they shared: an unabashed concern for each other. Spike tried to cure Twilight of her late night coffee habit and she in turn discouraged him from drowning all of his problems in cider.

“I promise I'll take the rest of the day off,” said Spike. “But right now, you need to listen.”

He hoped off the desk and closed the folder. A second before he snapped it shut, Twilight recognized it as all the information—not that there was a lot—they'd gathered about the Dinky case.

“I talked to Dinky,” he said. “I know you wanted to interview her at the station, but I don't think that's necessary. I got enough information out of her just by talking to her. She's actually a really talkative filly.”

Twilight waved her hoof, her protests vanishing. She didn't like that he'd lied to her, but she appreciated Spike's initiative. Talking to fillies and colts was always frustrating, especially in regards to an investigation. They never seemed to want to tell her anything, even if she assured them that they weren't in trouble. Celestia knows why.

“What did she say?” she said.

Spike opened the folder again. Twilight was always better at note-taking, but he did his best. The biggest challenge was trying to write as fast as Dinky talked. Once he broached the main subject, the leisurely stroll of the conversation turned into a sprint. But as Dinky rattled off increasingly relevant bits of information, Spike had managed to write down most of the important parts while disregarding her brief unrelated tangents. Even so, his notes were a bit disorganized and more resembled the ramblings of a lunatic. But he was able to sort everything out in his head and communicate what Dinky had told him. When it all came together, it took a very interesting form.

“She said she was abducted by a pony in a mask,” said Spike. “She was held for a little while, but the masked pony let her go without hurting her.”

Twilight's first reaction—before the information settled—was to press her hoof to her forehead.

“And she didn't think it was important to share this information after she was found?” she said.

This was assuming that Dinky wasn't just telling stories. The whole thing sounded a bit far-fetched. If she'd been in Dinky's hooves, she would have shouted for the police at the very sight of a masked pony. But this was Ponyville. The combination of a ludicrously low crime rate and a collection of rather judgment-impaired—and that was Twilight being polite—citizens was just enough to make this bizarre scenario plausible. She could even buy Dinky choosing to keep this to herself. Even if she had spoken up about it, how many ponies would have believed something so far outside of the town's norm?

“Did she remember anything important about this masked pony?” said Twilight. “Cutie Mark, mane, body type?”

Spike glanced through his notes.

“No,” he said. “She mostly only remembers the mask. It was a fox mask or something like that.”

Twilight sighed. Naturally it wouldn’t be that easy. No, she always needed to dig. But she was getting tired of feeling the soil on her hooves.

“Did this pony say anything to her?” said Twilight.

Spike checked his notes again, searching the somewhat unintelligible screed for an answer. He found it near the end of the page, written with even more haste and less structure as he struggled to keep up with an increasingly excited Dinky. The words were practically falling off the page. Good thing this wasn’t lined paper.

“They mostly talked about you,” said Spike. “Dinky didn’t remember all of it, but the pony kept saying this one thing over and over again.”

Twilight cocked an eyebrow.

“Which was?” she said.

Spike hesitated at the prompt, his gaze intensifying as they traveled the page. He looked at Twilight, but hurriedly dropped his eyes back to his notes. He knew Twilight was more experienced than him. She’d seen more messed up shit than he ever would and he was very thankful for that. But sometimes he wondered what—if anything—would rattle her. This case certainly had, but she seemed to have regained her footing with ease. Spike wanted to know what would throw Twilight utterly off balance. He had a few ideas, but he didn’t dare think about them too much.

“They said, um, that you need to confess your sins,” he said.

Twilight stared at him, her face utterly blank. Spike wanted to take it back, but of course that was absurd. He’d already said it out loud and it was—most likely—pertinent information related to the case. Still, it always unnerved him when Twilight just stared without saying anything. He didn’t like when she went into mannequin mode, even if it was only for a minute.

“I need you...,” Twilight started.

She stopped herself. Oh right. Spike was taking the rest of the day off.

“Have Rarity ask around,” said Twilight. “I want to know if anypony saw a strange pony with a mask at any point during the past few months. If they have any information at all, Rarity has my permission to bring them in and question them further.”

Duress” was what the second note had said. A seldom-used word that Twilight recognized from her fillyhood fascination with crime fiction. It was basically a fancier word for “threat”. Those books had been filled with justice-battered criminals who'd confessed “under duress”. At the pivotal moment, one was expected to release their sins for judgment. It used to be common practice for ponies who’d committed some heinous act to seek out Princess Celestia and beg for forgiveness. Sometimes they got it, sometimes they didn’t. But regardless of the outcome, it became a tradition. A long-past tradition from a long-past civilization. As the saying went, “Let your sins burn in the morning sun”.

But Twilight wasn't the confessing type. She preferred to keep her sins to herself.