• 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.

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Chapter 8: Fear

Twilight was no stranger to fear. Like most ponies in Canterlot, she'd been taught to fear dark corners and empty streets. Very few ponies were foolish enough to be out past their bedtime. Those who took the risk were usually drunk on either alcohol or stupidity.

It wasn't just felons. If it was simply a matter of some unsavory individuals haunting the streets after dark, that would have been one thing. However, Canterlot's dangers extended far past some pony with a knife and an addiction. The place was crawling with all kinds of stuff. It was no Everfree Forest, but there were plenty of reasons for any sane pony to stay indoors after Luna raised the moon.

But as an officer of Canterlot's elite police force, Twilight learned to just turn herself off. No fear, no cowardice, just business. At first she only needed to cull her fear long enough to finish the case, but eventually she was taking on so much work that it just became something she could do. Of course after a while, Twilight simply lost that initial apprehension. It became routine and hardly anything shocked her anymore. Twilight wasn't sure where her fear of the dark had scurried off to, but she didn't want to go after it.

Twilight plopped a bag of food and two boxes onto the kitchen table. After all she'd done for the past two days or so, this was probably the most exhausted she'd felt. Who knew just picking up food could be so draining? Well, it probably would have been less time-consuming if Spike hadn't wanted the most complicated nachos in existence. She was definitely going to get some dark looks the next time she went into Hayburger.

“Food's here!” she called.

Silence. Where in the world was Spike? Had he really sent her the most intricate dinner order in history and then just left before she even got home? Now that she thought about it, it was weird that he hadn't rushed to greet her as soon as she came in. Twilight didn't even hear snoring from the direction of his bedroom. No shower either.

Twilight shot a poisonous look at the bag of food. Great. What in Tartarus was she supposed to do with all this food? Obviously eating it was her first option, but she'd been looking forward to grabbing a quick bite and then jumping into bed. Not sleeping , but jumping into bed with a notebook so she could start connecting dots. Twilight needed to clear her head and refocus herself, otherwise this case might slip right through her hooves. Whatever was happening to her, Twilight needed to turn herself off.

But fear—actual fear—didn't work like that. Twilight thought she'd been scared all those years ago, listening to stories of all the awful things that could happen to her if she went out after dark. She thought she'd been terrified the first time she saw a mutilated corpse stuffed into a box. She thought she'd been unsettled when she started having nightmares, nightmares about thousands of hooves—ponies she couldn't save, ponies who'd died horrifically because Twilight was a day late—reaching out from the ground and trying to drag her under. They'd wanted to take her where they were, just to show her how bad it was. But that wasn't fear. She couldn't just put herself out with some sleeping potion or filter out certain emotions. This was something brand new, something Twilight wasn't equipped to deal with.

Of course when she needed Spike more than ever, he wasn't there. He'd unintentionally abandoned her, leaving her alone in an empty house. If he had been by her side, Spike would have said something about how she was being ridiculous. He would have made her something to drink—some of her favorite tea—and tucked her into bed like she was a foal. His rational unpacking of everything that was bothering Twilight might have cured her. But as much as she tried to conjure the magic words, Twilight couldn't see into Spike's head. She didn't know what to say to herself that would make the whole thing better.

She made herself a cup of tea. They were all out of her favorite, but Twilight settled for second best. At the very least, the familiar task took her mind off the emptiness of the house. Spike would be back soon, she kept reminding herself. He must have popped out to get a drink or something. Or maybe he was hanging out with some friends and would be back—roaring drunk and giddy—in a few hours. Well, regardless of when he came back, Twilight was eating half of his nachos.

While she waited for her tea to cool, Twilight went into her bedroom. Maybe the key to beating this wasn't complete immersion. That's what she'd been doing this entire time and it hadn't done her any favors. So what was the alternative? A distraction. Twilight needed to force her mind to migrate away from the case, at least for an hour or so. She needed to be somewhere else—at least mentally—so she could approach the case from a fresh perspective. For the time being, she wasn't Detective Twilight Sparkle. She was just Twilight Sparkle, a humble citizen of Ponyville living her life as best she could.

She grabbed a book from the shelf in her bedroom. High Stakes. The gripping tale of a young Earth pony who discovered a coven of vampires living in her remote equine village. Normally Twilight wouldn't have read something so outlandish—the book was a birthday present from Spike—but it seemed like a good choice. Once she got sucked into the story, her deluge of criticism would overwhelm the feeling of dread that had taken over her chest.

Twilight headed back to the kitchen, listening to her own pounding heart. Where was all of this coming from? She'd never felt this unnerved about being alone before. She'd spent many a night by herself, listening to the silence in her Canterlot apartment. But now the silence was like drums pounding inside her skull.

She hesitated in the kitchen doorway. She'd turned on all the lights in the house—also something she'd never done before—but she found her eyes darting from corner to corner, wary of that one spot where the light couldn't reach. As Twilight stood in the doorway, she could feel a shiver skittering up her back like a spider. There was something wrong. She could sense it, her eyes sweeping the kitchen like a searchlight. Whatever was amiss, it was enough to root her to the spot. She sensed it before she saw it, her fur prickling with an eerie, unfamiliar sensation that forced her to pause in her tracks.

Twilight hadn't thought to call Spike. She hadn't searched for a note, hadn't gone out looking for him. She'd never considered the possibility that something was wrong. This wasn't something Twilight had ever considered during the time they'd known each other. She'd always looked past the claws and the scales, but she'd never forgotten what Spike was capable of. She'd seen it a few times when things got particularly bad and they had to fight their way out. Twilight had never worried about him, even when she thought about him walking through the deserted streets of Canterlot in the middle of the night. Who or what would be dumb enough to pick a fight with a dragon?

But as she entered the kitchen, she realized that she should have called. In fact, she should have called him a long time ago. She suddenly wanted to hear his voice. She'd realized that he was vulnerable. They were both vulnerable. They were vulnerable because they were up against a threat neither of them could track.

The tea cup. Twilight focused on it, her brain lagging behind her actions. There was no longer steam rising from it. That wasn't extraordinary. She'd been in her bedroom for quite a while. But that wasn't what Twilight had noticed. It wasn't why she was frozen in the doorway, little shivers of fear darting up and down her fur. The entire house seemed to be shrinking around her as she became aware of every sound. Was that the creak of the house settling or a hoofstep? Was that the wind outside or a muffled whisper?

She'd sensed it before she saw it, the same way she would have sensed a trinket out of place in her bedroom. Everything had a place, a singular spot in the house it could call its own. To move it from its place was to introduce chaos into Twilight's personal order. So far, her belongings had always followed this unwritten rule. But not this time. Her teacup was a full three inches further to the left than it had been before Twilight left the kitchen. There was no physical sign that it had moved, but Twilight was sure she'd placed it closer to stove.

Twilight clamped a hoof over her mouth, worried she might start hyperventilating. She knew there was nopony in the house. This fact should have brought her relief, but she was instead scared beyond measure by the realization. If given the choice, Twilight would have chosen finding an ax-wielding maniac in the kitchen. That wouldn't have been an agreeable situation in any way, but at least that was something Twilight could fight, something physical.

She staggered backwards out of the kitchen doorway. No. They couldn't. They wouldn't. How hadn't she heard them? The door of her bedroom had been wide open. Yet this pony had somehow invaded her home, unheard and unseen. They'd entered the house like a phantom, but without the intent of violence. No, they'd done it as a warning. They'd done it to send a message, to show Twilight what they were capable of. Show her in the most subtle way possible, something nopony but her would have even noticed. They didn't need aggression to get their message across. They just needed to exist, peering over Twilight's shoulder and breathing down the back of her neck.

They were in control. Twilight had denied it all along, but now she saw that she'd been kidding herself. After all, what was she supposed to do? Everything close to her—her thoughts, her memories, her emotions, her very state of being—were being twisted around this unseen pony's hoof. Twilight had faced a lot of adversaries in her life, but now she had to ask herself an impossible question: how could she fight a ghost?

Houses are never empty. They're always filled with secrets.” Her favorite saying, courtesy of Star-Swirl the Bearded. She was sure he hadn't quite intended his quote to be taken so literally—especially by law enforcement officers—but the work spoke for itself. Going into an empty house had always been more or less an excavation. Hidden doors, secret compartments, dressers with false bottoms, fake closets, etc. The classic scene of the hero or heroine pulling a book from the shelf and discovering a secret passage was more accurate than intended.

Twilight's mind had become an empty house. Standard at first, but there was always a loose floorboard or a hidden staircase. Her head was never empty. It was always filled with secrets. There were always ghosts wandering the hallways of Twilight's head. But it seemed one of them had broken through the barrier and made it into the real world.

All the doors were securely locked, as were all the windows. If somepony had come in—and Twilight was certain they had—they must have performed quite the magic trick to get in and out without making a noise or leaving a trace. There was no evidence to suggest the lock had been tampered with, nor was there so much as a single shard of broken glass near the windows. But on the other hoof, the lock on the door was old. It hadn't been replaced or repaired in decades. The same probably went for all the locks around the house. But there was a chance—slim, but existent—that somepony could have just jammed a lock pick in there and gone to town, quite possibly without making a sound. How they'd re-locked the door after they finished was still a mystery.

Twilight's hooves shook as she poured her tea into the sink. She definitely needed something warm and soothing, but there was no way she was drinking any of that tea. In fact, she wondered if she should just throw all of it away. But what about the coffee? Surely the masked pony must know how much she loved some brewed beans at any time of the day. So she'd have to throw that away as well, just to be safe. Or maybe she should just throw everything away. Toss all the food—the coffee, the oats, the eggs, the milk—to make sure her and Spike didn't eat or drink anything tainted.

Spike. Twilight had been so busy thinking about the tea that she hadn't called him. He still wasn't back, despite the clock nearing midnight. Spike could have been hanging out with Big Macintosh or any of his other numerous Ponyville friends. He could have been perfectly safe, maybe locked in some mind-numbing conversation with Pinkie Pie or helping Rarity with something. There were at least fifty reasons why Spike would be out this late. But of the fifty, only one made sense to Twilight's rattled brain.

She fumbled with her phone, her hooves trembling and clumsy. She assured herself that this was just another of her signature freak-outs. What proof did Twilight have that anything had happened to Spike? But then again, she also technically had no proof that somepony had broken into her house, yet she knew they had. Rationality and evidence seemed to be on hiatus. Twilight was running on pure instinct and fear, two things that had never ruled her to this extent.

This was how other cops behaved, the ones who weren't used to this. The ones who vomited at the sight of blood-soaked rags or quit altogether when a missing pony case turned into a body recovery mission. Twilight was an established professional, a wise older mare who was supposed to be above that beginners' impulse to bolt at the first sign of foul play. But here she was, acting like she'd never investigated a murder before. Even as a beginner, Twilight hadn't been this jumpy. Shining Armor had told her more than enough grisly stories before his untimely death.

She waited for Spike to pick up, every ring going straight to her heart. Where the fuck was he? Was he not picking up because he was away from his phone or because he couldn't? Was Twilight about to hear his voice, sympathetic and reassuring?

Twilight held the phone away from her ear, frowning. What in Tartarus was that noise? It sounded like a muffled whirring, so faint she hadn't even registered it at first. Now that she wasn't focused on the phone, she realized it was definitely not in her head. It sounded like it was coming from somewhere in the house, somewhere relatively nearby. That seemed like a given. It was a small house.

The phone still ringing as she waited for Spike to pick up, Twilight followed the noise. She tracked it across the small house, the noise becoming no less recognizable the closer she got to it. She tracked it all the way into Spike's bedroom.

Twilight's heart sank as she crossed the threshold. She'd turned on the light beforehand, but it had been in the heat of her panic. During her mad dash to light up the house, Twilight had simply popped into Spike's bedroom and flipped on the ceiling light. She hadn't paid any attention to the actual state of the room. But now that she was inside, Twilight realized that she should have taken note of every detail.

The first thing she noticed was the bed. Perfectly made, not a single square of comforter out of place. In other words, it hadn't been slept in. Despite his promise, Spike hadn't fallen into a peaceful slumber while Twilight was at work. Had he even gone home? Maybe briefly, but he certainly hadn't stayed very long. When he'd called that first time, Twilight hadn't bothered asking him if he was actually in the house. It had seemed superfluous, given that Spike had seemingly resigned himself to his day off. Yet as she stood in his bedroom, Twilight realized that she should have been a lot less trusting.

Spike's phone lay in the middle of his bed. It was vibrating, the muffled whirring noise coinciding with the continued ringing from Twilight's own phone. So that was why he wasn't picking up. Wherever Spike had gone, he'd left his phone behind.

Twilight grabbed Spike's phone and turned it off. She felt oddly calm, despite the distinct impression that the world around her was burning down. She had no idea where Spike was and no way to contact him. The masked pony had broken into her house. She'd reached another gap in her investigation and she wasn't sure how to dig herself out of it.

It was like a hole. Twilight could feel her hooves scrabbling against the sides of it, digging into the walls of her filthy prison and scattering clumps of dirt. The hole was filling, her actions becoming even more frantic as dust and dirt rained down upon her. But the hole was filling too fast. She was being buried alive, the filth steadily filling her lungs and choking out her last few breaths. Tears were running down her filth-streaked cheeks, her cries for help clogged by the mud in her throat. But still she was scrabbling at the collapsing walls like a trapped rodent, trying to climb to safety before whatever was left of her cage fell inward.

But that was how it started, right? That was how her victory began. Not when everything was swinging in her favor, not when the evidence was tightening around her prey's neck like a noose. It was when the murderer was seconds from escaping, when the shards of her investigation were melting in the fireplace, when her lungs were filling with smoke and the staircase was collapsing behind her. When she had nothing to lose and the gloves finally came off. That was when Twilight Sparkle knew she was winning.

Twilight had given up on calling Spike, but he still needed to be found. What were the chances he was with this masked pony? About the usual chances of some pony catching a dragon unawares and dragging them off to some undisclosed location. This masked pony was good, but did they happen to carry about one hundred multi-purpose tranquilizers with them at all times? Twilight doubted it. Dragons were notoriously difficult to put down. Maybe some sleeping potion would have done the trick, but Spike wasn't dumb enough to take a drink from just anypony. Even if he was drunk out of his mind, he wouldn't have simply accepted booze from some random pony at the bar. Spike was too alert for that, even when he was intoxicated. But he would have accepted a drink from somepony he knew. Unfortunately, a lot of ponies in town fell under that umbrella. Spike really liked talking.

Twilight played through this plausible scenario in her head: masked pony puts sleeping potion in drink, masked pony convinces gullible townspony to offer drink to Spike, Spike takes drink, Spike falls asleep, and then.... Then what? This masked pony drags Spike's sleeping body out of the bar without anypony noticing? Given how dense the average Ponyvillian could be, Twilight didn't completely write off that possibility. The bar wasn't exactly packed on any given night. If the masked pony really was just an average Ponyville citizen, they could have pulled this off easily enough. But to actually drag Spike anywhere, they had to be significantly strong.

What ponies did Twilight know who could lift a significantly-sized dragon? Well, any member of the Apple family for starters. Even Granny Smith had been quite the work-mare in her day, so who knew what she was capable of despite her seemingly fragile frame. But then again, Twilight was getting just a little carried away. She hadn't proved that any of this had even happened.

She shuddered. What she had proved—to herself anyway—was that somepony had broken into her house. Maybe nopony else would believe her, but Twilight was one hundred percent sure and that was more than good enough. She was no longer safe in her own home. The masked pony could come back at any moment to mess with her.

Twilight hated to abandon what she had once considered her sanctuary, but she had no choice. But where could she go? If her own house had been breached, where in Ponyville was she safe? The station? No, the masked pony would definitely look there. Twilight wasn't necessarily afraid of a violent altercation, but this masked pony didn't seem the type to just lunge at her with a knife. No, they were a lot more unpredictable. She had to be somewhere she could think, somewhere she knew she wouldn't be found.

Twilight frowned. She couldn't believe she was going to do this, but it was an emergency. She was going to break another one of her rules.