There was something at the window. Some kind of tink-scratch sound, somewhere between a rock and a tree branch. It wasn’t very loud, but it was annoying in the grating sort of way that was just loud enough that it couldn’t be ignored and would drive a pony crazy if nothing was done to shut it up. Unfortunately, it was also loud enough to wake a lightly sleeping pony, even in the dead of night.
Throwing off her covers, Apple Bloom climbed down from her bed and made her way to the window, blearily rubbing her eyes as she walked. Swinging open the glass panes, they creaked on poorly oiled hinges and she cast her half-lidded gaze into the moonlit yard in an attempt to locate the source of the noise. With ease born of familiarity, her eyes quickly swept across the entirety of what was visible of the Acres from her window. When nothing was immediately apparent, she pulled her head back inside to close and latch the window, only to stop half-way as she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.
Opening it even wider, Apple Bloom leaned out of the window, placing her fore-hooves on the sill for better support. Squinting to focus her still sleep blurred vision, she gazed fixedly at the trunk of a particular tree, only to find noth– no, wait, there it was again! A small flash of white against black quickly disappearing behind the tree just as she saw it.
Growing curious, Apple Bloom closed the window and grabbed her bow from her bed-side table, tying her mane up and heading downstairs and out the door. She shivered slightly as the chill of the midnight air brushed against her coat after having become used to the comfortable warmth of her bed. Treading lightly on the wet grass, Apple Bloom hurried to the edge of the orchard, eager to find whatever it was she had seen and then return to her bed and sleep again, this time uninterrupted by strange noises.
Looking around, she saw not much of anything. There was wood, leaves, and apples, just as there always was, but not much more. Despite this, she kept looking anyway, her curiosity having been piqued. Turning around one of the trees she caught sight of it once more, dashing silently through the rows of apple trees on all fours. Darting off after it, she found herself heading deeper and deeper into the Acres.
She didn’t quite notice it at first, but everything was silent, almost unnaturally so. Even the ever present nocturnal sounds of crickets and toads and owls had stopped, the only sound to be heard was her own breathing and the beating of her hooves against the earth. Piling on a little extra speed, she pushed forward, turning around a bend in the trees quickly enough to catch better sight of what she was following. It looked almost like a tall pony, wearing a suit and moving quickly on long legs.
“Hey! Hey, wait up!” she called, only to receive silence in response. Furrowing her brow, she began running ever faster in an attempt to catch up with her query, only for it to remain just out of her reach and always just around the bend. Had she been paying attention to her surroundings instead of focusing single-mindedly on her chase, Apple Bloom would have noticed that she was getting closer and closer to the edge of the Everfree Forest.
As such, when she finally did make to the border between her farm and the dreaded woods, she was rather surprised and halted abruptly, falling down from the sudden stop. Picking herself up and facing the shaded copse of trees that marked the edge of the Everfree, she saw the pony she had been chasing, standing just far away enough to be obscured by shadow, leaving only his white hooves and black suit visible.
“Hello? Mister? Are ya’ll alright? What are ya’ll doin’ ‘round here, don’t ya know it’s dangerous ta be near the Everfree forest? And what were ya doin’ on mah farm anyway?” she questioned, only for him to stand stoically just beyond her sight. Angry at being ignored and frustrated from the chase, Apple Bloom huffed and opened her mouth scold him for his silence when being questioned, but stopped when she heard something. Her ears flicking towards the forest, she could just barely make out faint whispers carried on the wind.
They lingered on the edge of her hearing, just loud enough to be heard at all but still too quiet to make out what was being said. Turning her head towards the noise, she unconsciously took a step closer to the forest in an attempt to hear it better. It was still just barely audible, and she walked ever closer, eventually stopping half-way between the trees of the apple orchard and those of the Everfree. Slowly the whispers gained a vague semblance of clarity, and she could barely make out a single word, uttered in a voice as intangible and ethereal as the wind,
As soon as she heard the single word Apple Bloom froze dead in her track, eyes flying wide and a cold tremor of fear crawling its way along her spine. She turned her head to face the forest with deliberate slowness, afraid of what she might see.
The strange pony she had been following had stepped out of the shadows, and was stalking towards her as silently as a midnight owl. His pure white coat shone palely in the moonlight, even as his jet black suit and blood red tie clashed with it in a stark contrast. The impossible silent grace with which he moved on his overly long limbs was frightening… but that wasn’t the worst of it, not by a long shot. There was one thing in particular about him, one thing just so incredibly wrong about him that it froze her to the spot in abject terror.
He had no face.
Apple Bloom’s cry of confusion, pain and terror was cut short before it could even begin.
Sweetie Belle was awoken by a scratching at her door. She rolled over in her bed, hoping that it would just go away. Instead the scratching only louder. Grabbing one of her pillows, she pressed it against her ears in an attempt to block out the noise. Much to her annoyance however, it only seemed to get even louder, until it grated on her ear-drums and drove any hope of falling back to sleep away.
Grumbling, she tossed aside her bedding and clambered down onto the cold wooden floor, irritably making her way to the door. She opened it with a huff, expecting to find Opalescence sharpening her claws on the door frame or some such, but was instead met with only the empty darkness of the second story hallway of Carousel Boutique. She peered down either side of the hallway, only to find nothing, and was retreating back to her room, shutting the door behind her, when she heard the same scratching noise again, this time coming from the hallway.
With a curious frown, she stepped out of her room, walking through the darkness, looking for the noise’s source. After several minutes of fruitless searching however in which the noise did not repeat itself, she was about to retire back to bed when she noticed something near the wall. Stooping low to look closely, she saw that it was a thin scratch in the otherwise immaculate varnish of the Boutique’s floor. It started against the molding where the wall met the floor, and trailed off into the darkness somewhere near the stairs leading to the first floor.
Such a marring mark was abnormal in the Boutique. Rarity was meticulous, almost to the point of obsession, about keeping everything under her roof as clean and presentable as possible. She would have been driven up the wall had she seen ugly blemish on her beautiful floors. Curiosity piqued, Sweetie Belle decided to follow the mark and perhaps find out what caused it and be of whatever use she could to her beloved older sister.
Treading lightly to minimize the clip-clop of her hooves, she followed the offending mark down the hallway and to the stairs, where it continued onto the first floor, never once letting up from its single unbroken line. Noting the strange and unwavering constancy of the mark, Sweetie Belle never the less followed down the stairs. Her head close to the ground in a manner the a passer-by could have easily mistaken for an imitation of a blood-hound on a scent trail, she followed the winding and curving path of the mark all through-out the Boutique’s first floor. She was so focused on it in fact, that she did not notice that she had walked all the way to the front door until she bumped into it with her head.
Falling back onto her haunches and rubbing the newly formed bump on her head, she ineffectually glared daggers at the offending wooden portal. In a bid to save face, she crossly opened the door to step outside and quickly closed it with perhaps a little more force than necessary. Bending down to continue following the strange mark, she realized that for some reason it had stopped at the doorway.
Irritated that her searching and the bump on her head had been for naught, she huffily turned to return inside when she heard a soft voice. Stopping, she turned around and gazed down the street, looking for whoever might have spoken. Strangely enough though, the streets were completely empty, save for her. Shrugging, she turned again to go back inside when she heard the whisper-quiet voice yet again, this time a little more clearly. Pricking her ears, she could just barely make out some subtle noises issuing from the alleyway between the Boutique and the building next door.
Curious as to why anypony would be wondering an alley so late at night, she made her way to the small space between buildings. The height of the two buildings was enough to block the light of the full moon, casting the entire space into deep shadow. Despite this, Sweetie Belle could easily make out the shape of a tall white stallion in a black suit hunched over something else that was blocked from her vision.
“Hello? Mister? What are you doing here? Are you lost?” she asked him, sincerely concerned. The strange stallion stopped moving as soon as she spoke, and for a moment held perfectly and unnaturally still. Then, ever so slowly, he rose to his hooves and turned his faceless head towards Sweetie Belle.
She disappeared into the darkness of the night without a trace.
Scootaloo was awake in an instant. She knew that sound only all too well. Wasting no time, she bolted out of bed, rushing as quickly and quietly as she could to her closet. Pulling it open, she cringed slightly as it creaked on old hinges, and grasped her trusty wooden baseball bat.
Gripping the bat tightly in her teeth, she carefully tip-hoofed her way to her bedroom door, opening it as silently as she could so as not to alert whoever was there that she was awake. Moving as stealthily as she could, she made her way to the front of her house and the source of the noise.
She gritted her teeth against the cloth wrappings of the wooden bat in an effort to control her anger. It wouldn’t help to do anything rash now. Raising her impromptu weapon high above her head, she quickly turned the corner to her living room to face whatever burglar was foolish enough to think her home was an easy mark just because it was on the outskirts of town.
The sound suddenly stopped the moment she turned the corner and the room fell into her sight. Without lowering her guard, Scootaloo looked around the room for the intruder, only to find no trace of them. In fact, not a single thing was out place. Not even the thick piles of dust were disturbed. Carefully and thoroughly checking that everything was accounted for, she let out a relieved sigh.
Simply happy that she had not been robbed instead of being irritated that she had been woken up and put on guard by a figment of her imagination, she made her way back to her room, set her bat by the side of her door, and closed it behind her with a soft click. “I guess I’m just imagining things again,” she muttered aloud, turning to walk back to her bed. Only to walk face-first into the legs of a black suit.
She never even had a chance to scream.