The two foals could hear ponies shouting after only a few minutes of rest, drawing their attention to the inner walls of the Manor. Obscenely Rich was assisting a guard in moving one of the few remaining ponies from the battlefield, careful to not cause any more wounds with their movements.
Bone Marrow sighed before turning to Scenic. "Well, It looks like some ponies survived after all. I should go down and see if I can help them, at least."
Scenic was a bit hesitant, eyeing the hatch to the starecase. "Bone? Can you..."
The young colt placed a comforting hoof on his friend's shoulder, "Do you want to keep her ashes?"
Her ears folded downward and she pulled away, "No, I mean... I meant that we should go down together. Maybe find a place to... bury my mom?"
Bone took a breath before replying, "We don't know if there will be time for that before the Bright Moon come back. I don't want us caught out in the open for more crystal ponies or mages to catch us off guard."
Scenic's spirits dampened at that with a deepening frown. "I never imagined I'd have to bury my mother, you know? I thought I'd eventually be making cookies for her, when she got old."
She looked up, her ears raising a bit. "Do you know anypony I could stay with? Rich might take me in, but..."
Bone bit his lower lip. Scenic could travel with him, seeing as the both of them survived an entire siege together. He could protect her if he kept the army he had raised from the Bright Moon; maybe build a house somewhere far away?
"What if you went with me?" Bone suggested, "I can keep you safe."
The filly hummed in thought for a moment before nodding. "I probably should stay with you; You don't do too well on your own, judging from how my mom found you in the forest with a bolt in your heart."
Bone smiled at that, "Hey, if I hadn't been killed twice that day, I would never have met you."
The two young ponies shared a hug, partly to comfort the other with the loss of Scenic's mother and for the reassurance that they would remain together.
There was a voice shouting from below, calling for any other survivors of the battle.
The young necromancer took a deep breath. "Do you want me to go down the steps first? I could still cremate her, in a way."
Scenic grimaced at that, "Are you sure you should, though? What about that void inside of you?"
Bone paused for a moment of introspection, doing his best to determine the extent of his hunger.
He shook his head, "I think I can manage it."
The two made their way past the scattered bolts atop the tower and slowly advanced down the staircase to the waiting body of Scenic's mother. Bone was quick to consume her, though he did look away. He wanted to imagine that her body had simply vanished and gone to a better place as the horrible sound of crunching and snapping bone came to his ears.
Looking back to a waiting pile of ash the necromancer sighed. "Rest well."
Scenic walked next to Bone, witnessing the ashes of her mother. "Goodbye, mom."
Bone gestured to the ashes. "What should we do with them?"
The filly looked outside through a slit in the stonework. "She always loved to fly; might as well help her fly forever, right?"
The colt was feeling pangs of regret now, realizing that he had never done anything for the ashes of his own parents. He then also remembered that so many ponies had been reduced to a similar state that it would be impossible for him to distinguish one pony's remains from another.
"Do you want to place the ashes in an urn?" Bone suggested.
Scenic nodded. "We can see if Rich is still alive. Maybe he could help with that."
The sound of plate armor clanking nearby made Bone jolt in surprise, moving quickly out of the tower and onto the ramparts. Looking outward, he saw nothing but the birds flitting from tree to tree, singing peacefully.
"Necromancer," The Captain of the Sun grumbled, "You have been summoned by the noble."
Turning around with a slow anger, Bone was caught off guard by the Captain's wounds. His chest-plate had a deep gash in the center of it, his shoulders had been burnt by magical fires, blood coated his hooves and his helmet was nowhere to be seen. Pure Intent looked worn ragged, battered, bruised and barely stood upright from the looks of him.
"Whoa," Bone blurted in surprise, "What happened to you?"
"Combat," He snipped in reply, "and though I am loathe to admit it, my life was saved by one of your horrible skeletons."
The necromancer made a few grumbling noises of his own, "Maybe I should've waited a bit longer, then..."
Pure Intent pointed a freshly wounded hoof at Bone Marrow. "Necromancer, what you've done today is both a blessing and a curse. You've saved the lives of my fellow knights and myself, the few ponies that were able to survive both their town being burned and this battle, and one of the noble houses of Canterlot."
He paused for a moment, waging some internal conflict with himself as Bone observed.
With teeth clamped shut in anger, Pure hissed, "As you have saved my life, I am obligated to spare yours. I will return to Canterlot with word of what has happened here today, of your efforts to save innocent ponies despite being an abomination to Equestria."
Bone's head tilted to one side in confusion. "I'm not sure if that's an insult, or a 'thank you'."
Pure's eye twitched. "Take what you can get, necromancer." Pointing down to the gathering group of ponies he added, "There are wounded that could be aided by your unnatural magics."
The young necromancer smirked from under his hood, "Think they'll go to Canterlot with you and tell everypony to stop hunting me?"
The captain chose to ignore that comment, instead turning on his hooves and stepping slowly down the stairs with pained breathing as his wounds reminded him of his own mortality. Gathering his Knights, all of which happened to have survived the combat, he quickly left the manor in the direction of Canterlot by winding directly through the Everfree rather than taking the roads again.
Bone Marrow and Scenic walked together towards the group of surviving ponies. Nine guards, five ponies from the town, Rich and Bright Idea.
"Well, at least nopony has died from when I checked last," Bone mused. "Rich, are you there?"
The golden pony's head turned, not a single scratch or dent on his armor. "Bone Marrow! I'm especially glad to see that you're still alive."
Bone pointed a hoof to Rich. "I'm guessing nopony had the bits to harm you?"
The noble guffawed, "On a rebel's pay?"
A few weary ponies looked up from their bandaged wounds, a tired smile across their face. "The necromancer!"
The hooded colt gave a slightly awkward wave, "Hi..."
"You saved us!"
"I would be dead without your skeletons!"
"You're a life saver!"
For some reason all of the praise was making Bone Marrow uncomfortable. He had wanted to be a hero, but ever since the town of Galloping Glades had been attacked he felt that he wouldn't deserve the right to be named one. He had murdered ponies; devoured them, even. Killed others for the threat they presented his friends and just hours ago he caused the deaths of hundreds of ponies.
He chose to remain silent on that subject, not wanted to dampen the spirits of the few survivors remaining.
"Does anypony need help with their wounds? I still have more than enough magic left over," Bone offered, his eyes glowing brightly to add credit to his claim.
"Over here!" A green pony mare shouted, "Those darned Bright Moon sliced my hip!"
Looking up, he noticed the pony in question and moved to assist. There was a nasty gash along her flank, just above her cutie mark: an Apple Pie.
"You're sure about this," Bone voiced as a disclaimer, "I've never healed anypony else before."
The mare insisted, pointing to her injury. "You might have some mighty strange magics there, kiddo, but my hip ain't gonna let me walk the rest of my life if ya leave it like this."
The pony's accent was interesting to Bone and prompted a question as he focused on the wound, "Where are you from?"
"Oh, we Smiths travel around from place to place; lookin' to settle down and make a farm... Oh my, that feels wonderful!" The green pony remarked, staring at her wounded hip that mended itself in front of her eyes. "I feel better already!"
She looked away from her wound for a moment and extended a hoof. "Ponies call me Granny Smith, on account of me actin' older than my age. You'd be... that Bone fella, right?"
Bone nodded with a smile at the pony's interesting mannerisms. "Bone Marrow, ma'am."
Smith batted a hoof, "Oh, don't go callin' me ma'am just yet. You gotta wait till I'm older!"
"Hey, could I get some help over here?"
Bone looked away from the mare he was tending to find Bright Idea nursing his head. Bandages were wrapped all around his eyes and horn, and Bone winced in sympathy.
"You run along now, dearie. I can see you've got other ponies to help."
The young necromancer nodded and gave a final smile to Granny Smith before heading off to his nearby injured friend.
"How bad is it," Bright Idea asked while lowering onto his backside, "I think I felt something hit my eye, but my body's too numb to tell what happened."
Bone used his magic to unravel the bandages with precise care, realizing in horror that his friend's horn had been sliced off by a blade and sparked whenever Bright's head moved. His right eye had been mashed into a pulp, most likely from a pony's armored hoof colliding with his face.
"Eh..." Bone paused with worry, "It looks bad."
"Can you fix it?"
"Might as well try," Bone conceded, focusing his magic on Bright's wounds.
Bright's eyes shut closed as a sigh of relief escaped him. "Ooh, that feels nice."
His horn emitted a florescent light as a strand of bone grew from the center of it, soon expanding outward into what had been his original horn. Bright's eyes closed, the bruises faded and the wounds mended. When he opened his eyes once again, he blinked a few times in wonder.
Pony after pony called for aid after that display. Fixing a broken horn was mostly unheard of, even for the best healers in Canterlot. Any reservation about seeking the Necromancer's aid was drowned out by the implied promise of being fully healed and freed of their pain in a matter of moments.
Each pony that Bone helped, however, only made him feel worse. What about all the ponies he didn't save; Scenic's mother prime among them? The young necromancer decided to focus on his work, doing his best to bring the few living ponies closer to the life they had known without the injuries suffered during the battle.
Scenic had asked Rich for an urn in the meantime, using the noble's assistance to collect the ashes of her mother under the guard of Bone's skeletons that were now stationed along all of the walls and assembled next to the breach in the manor in a tightly packed formation. She had soared high into the sky above the Everfree before opening the urn's lid, spreading her mother's ashes with a helpful nudge from the weather.
When the filly returned, she set the urn down next to Rich and stuck close to her friend for the remainder of the passing hours.
The surviving ponies along with Bone Marrow's skeletal army waited for night to fall once more, the living among them now feeling empowered and invigorated by the necromancer's magic. A few of the older ones had appeared younger a few hours after their treatment as well, providing and unexpected side effect of the magic that Bone commanded. The ponies had the idea in their minds that with Bone's help, they would live forever so long as they avoided a fatal blow.
Bone wasn't too eager to challenge those ideas and instead remained silent, hoping that nopony else would die tonight.
The skeletons along the walls swiveled their heads in all directions while ones with crossbows scanned the skies for anything out of the ordinary and vaguely pony shaped. Like a sea of glowing blue dots, the manor's walls were lit with a silent menace that promised doom to any who approached.
Occasionally looking through the eyes of his servants, he paused when one of them noticed movement in the treeline. The Bright Moon were using the same approach they had last time, though something seemed odd.
Bone's vision returned to his own body as his head went back with surprise. "They only sent one pony?"
He rushed to the walls for a look of his own, standing on his hind legs to see past the ramparts due to his height. Sure enough, a single pony made a cautious advance towards the manor, a single hoof held high.
"I call for parley!" The voice of Anvil shouted once again.
"Get bent!" A voice shouted back.
"Parley!" Anvil demanded once again.
"Where is your army, Anvil?" Bone yelled in his coltish voice, "Are you planning some kind of trick?"
The armored bat pony stopped in his tracks. "Come out and speak with me, Bone Marrow!"
Rich was surprised by this. "You two know each other?"
Bone nodded, "He was the pony that wanted me to be a monster for them."
The noble scoffed at that. "Typical. He most likely wanted to use you as a recruitment tool for his little rebellion against Princess Celestia."
A few skeletons broke from their formation and marched slowly through the watery moat before arriving on the other side, water running down their armor and weapons.
"Stay where you are, Anvil. You're coming inside!" Bone shouted out, gaining some surprised voices asking what he was planning on doing.
The armored pony looked with horror at the advancing skeletons, doing his best to hold his composure as four of them lifted the pony into the air and stared at him with silent menace.
The servants carried Anvil to the edge of the moat, some readying themselves before launching the bat across the water into the hooves of waiting skeletons. Anvil was capable of flying, of course, but Bone made a point of having every nearby skeleton with a crossbow trained on him at all times. The intention was clear: any sudden moves and he would become a very large pin-cushion.
When Anvil had arrived and brushed himself off as well as he was able, he was confronted by Obscenely Rich and Bone Marrow.
"So," Rich began, "A second parley?"
The enemy commander nodded a bit sheepishly, "More... like a declaration of retreat. My forces refuse to assault your manor again after the last battle. I didn't believe them when they talked of an army of the dead but looking around... I can understand their sentiment."
Bone had a skeleton of his give a reassuring pat on Anvil's back, only causing him to panic and back away from the undead minion. The necromancer had a small laugh in response.
"Why come here yourself, then?" Rich asked, suspicion laced in his voice. "Bone Marrow didn't kill all of your forces, did he?"
Anvil shook his head quickly, still keeping an eye on the surrounding skeletons. "No, they simply refuse to advance in this particular direction. They would rather cut down trees and build a fortress than attempt to take this one again."
"Come on, Anvil," Bone chided playfully, enjoying this moment all too much, "I thought you were going to be a hero, fight the monsters and save Equestria?"
A skeleton leaned in close to the commander, its jaw opening and closing with the clattering of teeth.
"Monsters are scarier up c-close." Anvil stuttered in reply.
Bone paused for a moment of thought. Anvil was the leader of the Bright Moon, at least as far as he knew. He could end their rebellion against Celestia here and now. A part of him gave some restraint, however.
"Anvil?" Bone asked suddenly. "Why should you leave this manor alive? Why did you think it would be a good idea to come here, alone, and try to talk with us?"
Bone's skeletons moved closer, a few placing hooves on Anvil's armor from each direction.
"Why would you think it was a good idea to confront any of us, expecting that we would just let you walk away after all the ponies you killed? My friend's mother, rest her soul, hasn't been dead for more than a day and you have the nerve to walk all the way out here, by yourself, and tell us that your army won't fight?"
Anvil gulped in reply, his mouth suddenly very dry as beads of sweat came from his forehead.
"You forced me to kill hundreds of ponies when you could've just walked away," Bone continued, "Hundreds! I don't want to kill anypony, but you and your army of bat ponies and rebels want to overthrow Celestia so badly that you'd all die for it. Why?"
"S-she's a tyrant!" Anvil blurted in reply, shielding his face as more skeletons loomed over him. "She banished her own sister to the moon for who knows how long, all because she couldn't see eye to eye with her!"
Rich burst out into laughter, excusing himself for a moment by turning his helmet head away from the commander.
"Celestia, a tyrant?" Bone questioned. "That's the best you've got? Does that work on other ponies you find; ones that don't have anything to lose and decide to throw their life away? I'll bet it's pretty easy to recruit hopeless ponies when you burn their town to the ground."
Anvil pointed to the young necromancer, "B-but look at all she's done to you! The Knights will hunt you relentlessly until they throw you in a volcano!"
Bone stepped back, his head turning away from the bat pony.
"They do the same to other ponies, to other nations that threaten Equestria!" Anvil continued, now emitting a rambling babble for his life. "Think of the griffons, of the Minotaur, the Diamond dogs! Why don't they leave Equestria alone, why don't they go to their own nations and improve it? They can't! We've spent decades going from country to country and raising it to the ground, all to ensure that Equestria would never be threatened. Why do you think all the other nations aside from us live in poverty, in shacks and huts!"
"That's more than enough out of you, traitor." Rich hissed, his temper rising as Anvil spoke.
Bone raised a hoof, and his own skeletons held the noble back. "I want to hear what he has to say, Rich."
Anvil took an unsteady breath and continued. "That's what Princess Luna was so upset about. The fact that Celestia was seeing monsters in the corners of the world when there were none! Even necromancers like yourself were peaceful before they went mad, hunted for centuries before they couldn't take it anymore and went on a suicidal march to the capitol!"
"How would you explain Nightmare Moon then, traitor?" Rich countered with an air of superiority to the frightened commander.
"S-she..." Anvil stammered, his shoulders slumping. "I don't know. I can't even imagine what would have caused her to do such a thing, but she doesn't deserve to be banished for all time because of it!"
Bone was curious now. "What makes you think she'll be gone forever?"
The pony's eyes went wide, "She used the Elements of Harmony on her own sister! Nopony comes back from that, not in all of history!"
The noble wasn't convinced in the slightest. "You think you actually have a chance, confronting Princess Celestia of all ponies with that army of yours? What do you think you'd gain, even if you won? Only she can use the Elements; it would be a pointless gesture and end only in tragedy."
"Celestia would have to open her eyes to the misery she is causing!" Anvil explained, his fear being drowned by his own zeal. "Princess Luna couldn't get through to her, but maybe if we joined forces she would see that--"
A skeleton placed a hoof on Anvil's mouth, causing him to mumble before sputtering in disgust.
"I've heard enough," Bone angrily replied. "Leave now, and I won't kill you. Seek me out again, and I'll kill every single member of your army until you're the only one left, and then have them tear you apart."
The skeletons released their hold on the commander, allowing him to rise to his hooves.
"B-but without your help, so many ponies will die!"
Bone's eyes burned brightly with an inner flame of blue against the skulls within. "Leave."
Anvil's ears immediately shot down as he backed away in fright. He understood the message clearly, taking to the skies to fly as far and fast away as he could.
The necromancer sighed, his anger dying down. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm the monster, or if everypony is in some way or another their own monster."
The rest of the night passed peacefully after their encounter with Anvil, the sun slowly rose as it had every morning, and the yawning of waking ponies sounded through the courtyard. Bone hadn't slept as he was now used to his body not requiring sleep or rest, even if his hooves hurt occasionally from walking. He shrugged, realizing that he could just heal himself if he ever hurt too much to continue on.
What Anvil had said still troubled his mind, however. He claimed that Celestia was an uncaring tyrant, but nothing he had ever heard of her before had mentioned anything like that. From the books and stories he had read and been told, Princess Celestia was a kind and benevolent ruler that didn't age, didn't get sick, and cared for her ponies more than anything else.
How would she neglect her sister, then? Why did Anvil say that Celestia had sent her sister to destroy other nations into rubble? It didn't seem right. It felt like there was something missing in the bat pony's story.
An idea crossed Bone's mind. He could always see what the Princess was up to at the moment, couldn't he? He knew her name after all.
Would that be a good idea, or a terrible one?
Bone looked to the ground in thought. He would be announcing his existence to Celestia if he looked through her eyes. It would give her all the more reason to hunt him, and possibly send Pure Intent back to find him once again. What would he even gain from it? A glimpse at a palace, maybe a map at best...
A part of Bone goaded him on, asking what the downside would be if he was already being hunted. It's not like the posters with his face would be taken down anytime soon. Anvil said that necromancers were chased for centuries before they just gave up.
Looking at the distant sunrise, the young necromancer shrugged.
His vision swam into a blacked abyss that shifted with a murky blue tinge before he found himself staring at a mirror. He was tall now, and began looking at his hooves in shock. The eyes of Celestia moved to the standing mirror as she pulled on her eyelid, staring closely at the blue skulls that rested within.