Tall looming trees, whipping branches, crunching leaves and rustling bushes. Owls hooting in the distance and the constant feeling of being watched with every step.
"I hate forests." Bone Marrow whined, his head tucked close to the ground from the fear of a branch knocking it off or something swiping its nasty claws at him from the treetops. "Why'd I think this was a good idea again?"
Bone Marrow had succeeded in his escape from the Bright Moon's camp. Moving as far away from the bat ponies as he possibly could before tiring, the foal now found himself alone in a forest he had no concept of. Bright plants glowed and swayed as he passed, as if they were begging to be touched or smelled. The trees themselves moved erratically; shifting and twisting like monsters waiting for the perfect moment to drag him screaming into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
The young necromancer couldn't help but shiver at the thought of waking up from such a fate, only for the very likely possibility that it would happen again and again as he went on through this horrible expanse of shrubs and terror. He felt all too small and vulnerable now that he was alone once more. His experiences in the mines of Scoria paid his mind a visit, reminding him of how long he had been lost before.
"Shouldn't have run off..." Bone whispered to himself. "Stupid to run off into the forest..."
Yet another rustling of bushes from behind cause the foal to whip is body around to face the unseen foe. Shaking leaves from a gust of wind. He was almost becoming used to it now, though the creepy feeling of being followed never left Bone Marrow alone for long.
The foal turned around again to face the path ahead once more, grumbling to himself. "I hate forests, I hate forests, I hate forests!"
Pulling his hood tightly over his head, Bone Marrow decided that if he didn't see what came out of nowhere to eat him, maybe it would be less painful or frightening. Besides, If he died he would just come back, right? He had done it before without any real effort on his part. It just happened. With a morbid smile, he realized that even if something in the forest did eat him, he would have the last laugh every time. He would come back, the thing that ate him would be turned to ash, and he could carry on until the next thing ate him.
He then also realized that teeth are sharp and not very pleasant to look at when they come from something that eats meat. Imagining the pain of being slowly devoured bite by bite put the sense of fear straight back into the lonely foal. He pulled his hood away to better hear the creepy sounds around him, his glowing eyes searching for any sign of movement so that he could bolt in the opposite direction.
"I'm not chewy, I'm small and bony," Bone Marrow said loudly to the nothingness that surrounded him. "I don't have any meat on me, so I'm not worth the effort to chew, alright? You hear me out there, forest monsters?"
The foal's timid journey through the seemingly endless forest continued, all in search of any sign of civilization at this point. Even if the only road Bone found lead him straight back into Anvil's camp, he would be happy to follow it. Just to be certain that nothing would leap out at him, screech suddenly above his head or growl in the distance menacingly. No bears, no crocodiles, no Timber Wolves, not a single thing.
He remembered the tales of heroes he had been read, how they were fearless, brave and without equal. Looking at his own situation, Bone Marrow soon came to the quick realization that the stories he heard were probably not factual. Then again, if he was telling a story about how he saved Equestria, he wouldn't want anypony to think he was scared of being alone in the forest. Bone also decided he would be immensely powerful and brave, and nothing could defeat him.
The bushes behind Bone Marrow seemed to have a different idea, however. The foal turned just in time with the sound of rustling to witness a bolt of steel scrape across the side of his neck, embedding itself in a nearby tree trunk.
Bone Marrow held a dirt-stained hoof to the wound, his eyes wide with surprise and shock. A figure had been following him this entire time; the feeling of being watched had been this pony all along! A crossbow was held in the newcomer's hooves, loaded with a new bolt aimed directly towards his chest.
"Next one goes in your heart," the graveled voice of the crossbow wielding pony flatly stated.
Bone Marrow's mind screamed with panic. What was he supposed to do? Should he run?
"Lay on the ground, foal."
Bone Marrow did as he was told, lowering himself to the ground and flopping over on his side. Perhaps if he did everything the pony wanted, he wouldn't get hurt?
The armed pony moved closer, crossbow leveled at his chest in a field of magic. He was a unicorn, Bone realized. Dark clothing, a few pouches for holding even more bolts, a hood that concealed his face... This wasn't going to end well. This unicorn looked like the bandits he had seen fighting over Scoria. Maybe he survived the battle there?
"Idiot." The unicorn grumbled, shaking his head. "I told you the next one was going in your heart."
When the bandit had moved close enough, Bone Marrow saw the small lever underneath the crossbow clamp upwards into the stock. The bolt was on its way; he couldn't move in time. There would be no way he could move fast enough to dodge the bolt. It was already too close for comfort; Bone grimaced as the cold tip of steel sliced its way into his chest, cracking a rib as it pierced through and slammed into his heart. The wind was knocked clear from his lungs and the wound on his neck was forgotten entirely as he was flipped onto his other side by the force of the impact. Bone Marrow tried to scream for help, to yell for the bandit to stop but it was already too late. His heart was shredded, he could feel blood pooling inside of him and his gasps for air soon brought only blood gushing from his mouth.
The bandit loomed over the young necromancer, his face the very definition of unimpressed. "Not even a coin purse?"
Bone tried to crawl away as his vision began to fade. He knew he was about to die yet again. What had been his mistake this time? Going through the forests? Trusting somepony to not hurt him? He couldn't decide what had been his first mistake, but he knew his last had been trusting a random pony he didn't know. All too late, he recalled his mother warning him about this very thing; not trusting strangers, Not going into the forest at night.
As his body slowly filled with blood in places there shouldn't be blood, he mused about how many times he was going to get himself killed trying to be a hero. He blinked slowly with the realization that he had been killed just wandering through a forest, doing no wrong. The last time he had been killed was because of his eyes, now it was because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Should he really be getting so worked up about his death like this? He was a necromancer after all. Death was supposed to be his talent!
With his consciousness fading into nothing and the bandit overturning every part of Bone for some hidden treasure, he decided that if he was going to keep coming back to life every time he died there was little point in getting hysterical. It was becoming less of a threat and more of a painful inconvenience for him, and that brightened his mood about the whole dying thing. He was very likely going to die. A lot.
And he indeed did die. His body went limp, his eyes glowed an obscenely bright blue and the screaming of the Bandit nearby was cut short by a blast of energy that turned the surrounding forest into an ashen sludge.
He had apparently been dead longer this time than previous, as the sun now shined brightly overhead. Bone's weary and tired eyes opened to the piercing beams of the sun and his first breath reminded him of an intense pain inside of his chest.
Oh no, thought Bone Marrow, the Bolt was still lodged inside of him. He hadn't pulled it out.
Looking around the clearing, Bone Marrow noticed that not only had the bandit been turned to ash, but every single blade of grass and tree in the clearing had been withered into a black sludge as well. His body was covered in blood once more and the only things to survive the devastation around him had been the cloak stolen from Anvil and the bolt that stuck proudly in his chest. Pushing himself from the ground and steadying himself against the pain to come, Bone Marrow recollected the things that had killed him previously to distract from what he was doing to himself now.
"Well-" Bone Marrow attempted to say to himself before the sharp pain of a crossbow bolt embedded in his chest caused his insides to be sliced apart. Flexing his chest in an attempt to clamp down on the pain, Bone Marrow decided to stubbornly finish his statement. "At least I can say that I've been stabbed-" He grunted, grabbing onto the bolt awkwardly with his mouth, "I've had my guts sliced out of me-" He added with a muffled scream of pain from yanking on the wooden shaft of the bolt with his teeth, "I've had a sword cut my head in two, and I've been shot through the heart with a crossbow bolt!"
A final tug caused the bolt to slide further out of the foal's chest, a gush of blood making its escape from the fresh wounds that were being created in Bone Marrow's recently resurrected body. "Aagh, why does this have to be so painful!?" Bone shouted as he lost his grip on the bolt hanging from his chest. "I mean, I know I've been shot with a crossbow and that it's painful," The foal added, "Shouldn't I have some kind of pain dampening thing I can do!?"
He re-applied his grip on the crossbow bolt once more, moving his mouth as close to his own body as possible while trying to avoid getting any more blood on his muzzle. "I've been alive for all of a few minutes, and now i'm about to get myself killed again just pulling this bolt out of my chest!"
The rustling of leaves drew Bone Marrow's attention, pulling his mouth away from the bloody mess that was the remains of his chest to look over his shoulder at what had caused the noise. To his surprise, a pony was standing in plain view of the now lifeless clearing staring with wide horror at what they were witnessing. Bone noticed the pony was wearing a pretty sun dress and seemed to be a Pegasus from what his weary eyes could make out. The pain was making it difficult for his eyes to focus and he was worried that he might die a bit too soon.
"By the Princesses, what happened here!?" The pony loudly gasped; a mare by the sound of their voice. "You're covered in blood! Is... Is that an arrow in your chest!?"
Bone's mouth was now gummed up with the thick clot of blood from his attempted tugging, and instead of answering the poor mare he decided that the best thing he could do at the moment would be to finish pulling the bolt from his chest. He really hoped that the mare would run away. He didn't want her to be turned into a black smudge like the bandit probably had been.
Gripping the bolt with his teeth, Bone Marrow made a final desperate tug at the thing stuck in his chest. A terrible ripping sound came from his body along with peeling skin and the tearing of muscle. Blood gushed freely from his wound and Bone Marrow could swear he heard the hurried gallop of hooves moving away.
Another muffled sentence before he fell into unconsciousness was interrupted by the well of blood in the young unicorns mouth, spraying it with a cough onto the blackened forest floor, and Bone Marrow died for a second time that day.
Bone Marrow could barely drag his eyes open now. Sliding apart like large granite doors, Bone Marrow found himself laying on his back and covered in bandages from hoof to muzzle. Attempting to ask what was going on was halted by the fact that his mouth was bandaged shut and that his voice was little more than a rasp.
"He's awake!" A shrill voice announced, soon followed by the galloping of hooves and the scratchy noise of sliding across a tile floor. "Mo-om, the bloody foal is awake!"
The young necromancer took the time to test his lungs, and was overjoyed at the fact that the deep breath he took was not interrupted by the sharp pain of steel cutting through flesh.
New rule, Bone Marrow thought, never ever trust strangers. Strangers are bad.
A very worried and matronly looking Pegasus poked her head around the corner to look at Bone Marrow. Her head darted away, and a moment later she returned with a plate of various foods that she soon set down on a counter top next to the bed. Bone took a deep breath and he could smell cookies.
Actually, addition to the rule, Bone thought, Only trust strangers if they have cookies. No, wait, mom warned me about that too. He groaned aloud at that fact. Why can't ponies just be trustworthy? She has cookies!
"Are you alright?" The Pegasus asked, resting her hoof on the bandaged foal's head. "I saw you with something sticking out of your chest, covered in blood in the middle of the most horrible part of the forest I've ever seen! Sticky sludge, ash and what was probably pitch was everywhere. How did you even find yourself in a place like that? Do your parent's know where you are?"
Bone Marrow would have replied, though he once again was made aware that his mouth was bandaged shut, much like the rest of his body that had been practically mummified with the amount of gauze the Pegasus had used.
"Oh dear, let me get that for you." The Pegasus tutted, unraveling the bandages that acted like tape to Bone's mouth.
Bone opened his mouth, testing his jaw hinges with a powerful yawn. "That sucked." He stated bluntly.
The motherly Pegasus' eyes went a bit wide. "You shouldn't say such naughty things like that, young pony."
Bone decided to clarify. "I was shot in the chest with a crossbow bolt."
The Pegasus froze. She had been tending to the rest of Bone's bandages when her brain registered what the foal had just said. "You're... you're joking, right?"
Bone Marrow then debated how smart this lady actually was, considering his eyes were fairly difficult to hide and the fact that practically every pony he had encountered since getting his cutie-mark knew what a necromancer was and how to spot them. Maybe it was a special education they all had? No, that didn't work. There were bounties posted everywhere from what he had been told.
"I'm going to assume you have a very dark sense of humor." The Pegasus decided based on Bone's lack of reply. She carried on with her task of unraveling the young unicorn and threw the bloodied gauze into a pile on the wooden floor next to the hoof of the bed. "We're going to get you all washed up, get you a meal, and you can tell us all about what happened in the forest, alright?"
Now a possibly awkward remembrance came to mind. Bone Marrow needed meat, and until yesterday he had been on the side of every pony else in believing that eating meat was a horrible and unnecessary thing to do. Should he tell the Pegasus that he preferred meat, or that he needed it? Maybe ask if they had... chicken eggs? Would that work as a meat substitute, or did it specifically have to be red and bloody meat?
"You don't talk much, do you?"
A small Pegasus filly was poking her head around the corner leading into the room Bone Marrow occupied. A brightly colored mane and a coat with light blue fur, her eyes a brilliant magenta. She seemed more interested than worried about the amount of blood soaked bandages piling up than anything else. "You get in a fight with a bear or something?"
Bone rasped out a reply, "I think if I was fighting a bear, the bear won."
She shrugged, entering the room. "Well, if you're alive still, i'd say you won."
Remembering how excruciating it was to wrench a crossbow bolt from his chest, Bone Marrow considered the level of pain compared between being eaten by a bear and being shot again with a crossbow. He would probably pick the bear if he had the option to choose.
"Can you walk?" The filly asked, her head turned with curiosity.
Bone grunted out a noise that approached the realm of, "Meh."
The mother pegasus tutted once again, finishing with the last of the bandages and looking Bone Marrow over for any other injuries. "In that case, i'll just have to carry you. In the mean time, maybe some applesauce will get you on your hooves?" Continuing her search, she found a few scars running along Bone's belly and face. "What happened to you, poor thing?"
Bone huffed an amused smile. "A bear."