Silence reigned supreme. Unnatural, unnerving silence, almost deafening in its intensity assaulted her ears as Celestia surveyed her surroundings. She flicked her ears back and forth in all directions, even casting a spell to sharpen hear hearing, but there was nothing she could hear. At least nothing apart from silent voices and cautious hoofsteps of the Royal Guard as the soldiers scoured the nearby area for any clues. So far, there were no results.
Celestia removed the spell and opened her eyes, sighing heavily when her eyes took in the sight of a small and completely empty village. She was standing in the middle of the crossroads that served as the center of the settlement where five roads came together in a single point, taking the appearance of a five point star when viewed from above. In fact, that's there the village's name, Five Points came from. Located in the Southern part of Equestria, the frontier settlement would have spent most of its existence completely unnoticed and unheard of, except for the fact that the entire population had gone missing without a trace.
The princess picked one road at random and slowly walked down the street, looking at the empty buildings, hoping that inside one of them there would be at least a single pony who had managed to survive whatever had happened here and would be able to provide some answers. No such luck. Only empty windows and open doors that were staring at her, silently following her movements and keeping all the secrets to themselves.
“Your Majesty!” The sudden voice of a Guardspony, coming somewhere from above, almost made Celestia jump. She looked up and saw a pegasus pony come in for a landing next to her. The stallion landed and, after a quick bow, gave her the report. “We have searched the area. So far we have found nothing. No survivors, no clues as to what happened here. Apart from a few overturned tables or small things like that, it looks like everypony just stood up and left. Judging from the hoofmarks on the ground, they all headed in the same direction before disappearing some sixty meters past the outermost buildings. We are trying to pick up the tracks, but just like before, there is nothing. It's as if they vanished in thin air.”
Celestia listened to the report and dismissed him with a nod. “Thank you. Please tell others to make one more sweep through the settlement. Make sure to document every possible clue, regardless how insignificant or strange it might seem. All possibilities must be considered. This is the third time already and we still have no idea what is going on.” The pegasus nodded in acknowledgment and took off, leaving Celestia alone again. She watched him leave and, once she was sure the stallion was out of earshot, let out a heavy sigh and cast around a gaze filled with a mixture of frustration and desperation.
Three settlements over the course of the month. All of them small settlements, located far away from the major population centers, allowing the ones responsible for it to work with little chances of being noticed. News traveled slowly. It had taken more than two weeks after the first village had disappeared for the news to reach Celestia. Though she had taken immediate action and responded at once, she was no closer to solving the mystery as she was two weeks ago.
Celestia heaved another sigh and shook her head in order to clear her thoughts. She cast around a quick look, this time taking in the landscape rather than the buildings. There wasn't much to see. The terrain was rather rocky, covered with small ridges and dried out riverbeds. Small trees and spare shrubs represented the local vegetation, while a thick orchard of plums and cherry trees, near the village, represented the attempts of the ponies who once lived here, to tame the land. As far as Celestia could see, they had been successful. The orchards had brought the town an additional source of food and income in addition to hotels and supply stores that took care of the traders passing through the town. At least, that had been the case until...
The princess once again shook her head, banishing the unwelcome thoughts. It was time for her to meet up with the senior members of the Royal Guard, so that they could better organize the last sweep of the town. She spread her massive wings and was about to take off when a strange sensation crawled up the back of her neck, forcing her to freeze for a moment. She was being watched. Somepony, was observing her with such intensity, Celestia could almost physically feel it. It was like a pressure on every part of her body. Cold, firm pressure that drowned out all the other sensations.
The white alicorn folded her wings and turned around, her eyes moving from one spot to another, searching for the source of the unpleasant feeling. She scanned the windows, alleys, corners, rooftops, everything in her vicinity, but found nothing. There was nopony in the immediate proximity. She then cast her gaze on more distant locations. The skies above her were empty. There wasn't a single cloud, much less a pony, in sight. Her eyes then focused on the horizon as well as the various terrain features she could see. Large rocks, hills, ridges... There! The thought flashed through her mind when she finally noticed it.
Standing on top of the tallest ridge was a pony. At least Celestia assumed the silhouette was a pony. It was difficult to make it out at this range. With her eyes locked onto the observer, Celestia cast a Farsight spell on her eyes. She blinked a few times and suddenly found her vision so powerful she felt like she was standing right next to the strange pony. So close it felt like she could touch the pony just by reaching out.
The figure was clearly a pony. A unicorn mare to be precise. Her body shape and size allowed Celestia to quickly identify the most obvious details. However, once she took a closer look, Celestia had to take a short gasp. The mare's coat was black, unnaturally black. It was so dark, it looked like it was absorbing the nearby light. A pony shaped tear in the fabric of reality, revealing the darkness behind it. Her eyes were also black, the slitted pale pink pupils were the only way to determine the direction the unicorn was looking in. The same pink color was faintly noticeable in her mane and tail, which made them just a little bit lighter than the rest of her fur coat.
However, the unicorn's appearance was not the cause of Celestia's discomfort. It was the gaze. The intense, focused gaze that was burrowing into Celestia's eyes as if nothing else existed in the world. It wasn't a hostile gaze, but neither was it a friendly one. It was just a stare, a blank, piercing stare that felt like it was going past her eyes and looking directly into her soul. At the same time, Celestia noticed that the unicorn's mouth was moving as of she was saying or rather chanting something.
All of it changed, however, the moment Celestia decided to approach the unicorn. The mare's mouth stopped moving and her eyes narrowed a fraction. A moment later, a sudden gust of wind, rushing through the town, sent Celestia's ethereal mane billowing. Celestia shook her head to clear her eyes and focused her sight on the unicorn again. The black mare was still there. However, the moment the gust hit her, Celestia had to blink her eyes more than once to make sure she wasn't seeing things.
Small bits and pieces flew off the unicorn, as the pony dissolved into air like a statue made of fine powder. The pitch black dust swirled in the air in complex patterns before the wind scattered them without a trace. Just five seconds later, Celestia found herself staring at an empty space. The princess canceled the spell and blinked her eyes as her vision returned to normal. She cast a glance at the ridge, but didn't see anything. The pony was gone without a trace. She was, once again alone. Alone to figure out what exactly was gong on and why.