A heavy knock came to Bone's door, rousing both the necromancer and his friend from their slumber. His skeletons rose from their stasis and groggily inspected who had decided to intrude on their master's sleep.
"Bone Marrow! You're needed urgently!"
The skeleton swung the door open, revealing the golden armored Obscenely Rich. "Bone Marrow! Thank Celestia you're still with us."
"The manor has fallen! Come quickly, I will explain everything in the throne room."
Obsenely Rich then wasted no time turning from the doorway to clank his way down the hall, shouting to all that would listen and waking up the palace.
Bone rubbed his eyes, "What's he doing in Canterlot?"
When Bone and Scenic arrived with his escort of disguised skeletons, an assembly of nobles in night-time silken pajamas was arranged at the base of the throne. Celestia was at the center of a large circle of babbling ponies attempting to calm them down in order for Rich to speak.
"Fellows and mares, quiet yourselves, please!" Rich insisted, "There is great danger to Canterlot, and I must be heard!"
Bone chose to sit on the outskirts of the group within earshot but not close enough to cause a panic if a noble spotted him lingering around.
"As you know, my manor has been under assault by the Bright Moon for the past several days. Bone Marrow's skeletal army has been providing the entirety of the defense, but his minions have fallen over numerous times, leaving the manor defenseless."
The young necromancer shut his eyes and rested a hoof on his forehead. He had been sleeping, and he still had most of his skeletons in the manor as defense. When he fell asleep, the skeletons fell asleep as well, leaving Rich helpless against an assault.
"Rather than await our doom at the hooves of the Bright Moon, we retreated from the manor in the morning to avoid the nightly assaults of the rebels. Myself, along with a dozen or so survivors, have only recently arrived at Canterlot. It won't be long before the Bright Moon makes an attempt on the capitol itself!"
A noble scoffed, "What has you so worried, Rich? It's not like these rebels could actually succeed against Princess Celestia's power. They would all be incinerated on the spot!"
Rich shook his head, "No, that's what I've been meaning to tell you all! They've uncovered some kind of fiendish artifact known as the Loathsome Heart; stolen from the Knight's reliquary!"
The nobility seemed confused as to what the golden pony was even talking about, so Princess Celestia explained.
"It is an artifact from the second necromancer to ever live." The room quieted with dread as a few finally noticed the glowing eyes of Bone Marrow in the corner of the room and pulled closer to each other. "In the Necromancer's final moments, they attempted to protect their soul in a soul jar; In this case, a small heart shaped locket of silver."
"This process did not end well for anypony nearby," Celestia continued, "The necromancer's spell had failed when their body was immersed in lava. Their soul split into pieces, each fighting for control of the locket and shredding the ponies nearby in their battle. Each dead pony added their own soul to the locket, causing the necromancer's soul to swarm around the soul jar like a blizzard of death."
The Princess looked to Rich. "The artifact has lain dormant for centuries, Obscenely Rich. How do you know this is the same relic?"
"There was a great screaming that echoed through the forest two nights ago," Rich explained. "Crystal Ponies wore the Loathing Heart around their neck, and Bone Marrow's Skeletons were obliterated into splinters when they approached. I think they were testing the artifact to ensure it fully worked before invading the manor proper."
"That sounds terrifying," A noble interjected, "But why would this be cause for concern? Certainly Princess Celestia will be able to obliterate the vile thing before it ever nears Canterlot."
Celestia shook her head, her expression serious. "I've already tried to do that, but the magics holding the artifact together are not known to me. I've attempted to study the Necromancer's work, but the words were gibberish, ranting or complete insanity."
She looked over to Bone Marrow. "There might be one Necromancer willing to help us, however."
Bone was now the center of attention and he crossed his hooves in front of his chest. "And after I somehow figure out how to defeat this locket of doom, you'll just throw me in a volcano, is that right?" He pointed to Celestia, "I know why the books are rambling insanity, Princess. You're not meant to read them!"
The side of Celestia's mouth curled in a grin, "I see you've been reading the book I set out, then?"
Bone blinked. I just admitted to reading a stolen book, didn't I?
"I knew your friend Scenic would grab it for you; I wanted to see what you would do with it." Celestia explained, "Despite reading whatever was in that book, you haven't gone insane and begun a murderous rampage through Canterlot. In fact, from what I hear, you've been making friends."
A mustachioed noble coughed loudly into his hoof, "Ahem, Princess Celestia? Perhaps this is not the time for this conversation."
The sunny Princess stared blankly ahead before nodding. "You're right; there's an army approaching."
"The book didn't say anything about this 'Loathing Heart', by the way." Bone interjected, "I have no idea how to get rid of it."
"We'll have to deal with the problem when we come to it, then," Rich suggested, "In the meantime, What can everypony do to shore up the defenses of Canterlot?"
"Well," A proud noble tutted with a hoof on their puffed out chest, "My personal guard should be more than enough to deal with these rebels."
"How many?" Bone called out to the noble.
The young necromancer broke out into a fit of giggling that bordered on disturbing cackles. "Twenty- twenty five!"
Nopony in the room had ever seen a laughing necromancer before, and took several steps away from the glowing colt.
"They're going to send twenty thousand ponies to Canterlot and you think twenty five are going to solve the problem!?"
Each noble raised a hoof of their own, bidding their personal guard and levies to the Princess. In total, and after Bone Marrow could stop laughing for a moment, the nobles added a total of little under a thousand to the defense of the city.
Bone shook his head, still grinning under his hood. "You're going to need a lot more ponies than that."
"Princess Celestia," Rich posed cautiously, "What of the graveyards?"
"Don't you dare suggest-" A noble interjected.
"What of them, Obscenely Rich?"
The golden pony simply gestured in the direction of Bone Marrow. "Well..."
Bone could feel the void inside of him madly cackling on its own. Oh now you need the help of a Necromancer; just days ago you were all planning to kill me!
"You want me to raise the dead of Canterlot to help you?" Bone suggested, "You're definitely going to have me killed after all of this, aren't you?"
Celestia shook her head with a huff of annoyance. "Bone Marrow, I am not going to have you killed."
"Then what about your Knights of the Sun?" The necromancer countered, "Their entire purpose is to hunt me down to kill me, and ponies like me, until the end of days. If you think I'm going to put myself on the line while they're still around, you can kiss Canterlot goodbye."
At this moment, Celestia was reminded of Bone Marrow's reaction to the Element of Kindness.
"I don't want ponies to die, sure. I don't think anypony does," Bone continued, "But I'm not going to help for nothing."
The nobility held their breath at the exchange between Necromancer and Princess, parting ways so any magic that might be thrown around wouldn't hit them in the crossfire.
Celestia clenched her jaw in thought. Her eyes narrowed.
"Very well," she replied with forced politeness. "You will no longer be hunted, and I will disband the Knights of the Sun in exchange for your assistance in defending Canterlot and dealing with the Loathing Heart."
The ponies of the room were shocked. "B-but Princess Celestia! Surely you could call upon the power of the sun to eradicate these fools! What challenge do they pose to you?"
"The duties of raising both Sun and Moon have left me drained," the solar princess explained, "My magic is not what it used to be since Nightmare Moon. If I am to defend Canterlot, then the Sun and Moon must remain in their place. I would be subjecting entire nations to an icy winter or baking summer for as long as the battle went on. It could be months that we are under siege, and I cannot risk adding more armies from other nations into the mix."
"For this reason," Celestia continued, "The defense of Equestria falls to the ponies that inhabit it..." she then pointed to Bone Marrow, "No matter who they might be."
A morbid question rose from Bone Marrow, "Could you have killed me all these days I was worrying, or was that just a show?"
She smiled, "No, I could have still killed you; though I'm becoming thankful that I didn't."
"But-" a noble interrupted, "But what of the dead? The citizenry will riot if they see the graves of their loved ones being violated by this witchery!"
Bone could practically feel the scorn the nobility still had for him, save for Obscenely Rich. He decided that he wouldn't go out of his way to make sure they stayed safe, as he held equal distaste for the nobles as well.
"I will have to make an announcement," Celestia replied. "All of Canterlot must be informed about what we have discussed and what is soon to happen."
"Bone Marrow," Rich voiced, "When you were in the manor you used your abilities to heal other ponies, some with grievous injuries. Could you pay a visit to the infirmaries and hospitals of the city? We could use all the help we can get and it would also ingratiate the public to your presence. Perhaps if they see you in a kinder light, ponies might not be so averse to your raising of the dead in defense of the city."
Bone smiled, "So long as I don't have to worry about ponies screaming and running away at the sight of me, I'll do what I can."
"Then it's decided?" A noble questioned, "We are to allow a Necromancer to throw his magic around and raise an army inside our very walls? Who is to say that he won't betray us and side with the Bright Moon?"
"I say," Bone countered. "I already agreed to help, and I've fought the Bright Moon before. I want nothing to do with them."
The sun rose as Celestia commanded each day leading into morning. Bone hadn't slept since the conversation last night as he had been planning a route through Canterlot with a helpfully provided map from Obscenely Rich. The map detailed apothecaries, infirmaries, hospitals and veteran's homes.
His magic had healed broken bone before, and had reversed the aging of ponies as well. If he could heal these ponies, then they would be able to fight. Even more, they would be thanking him and spreading good word of his assistance.
"Do you think you should wear a sign?" Scenic asked. "Necromancer: Free Healing of Any Wound or Disease."
Bone raised an eyebrow to that. "Do you think ponies would even give it a chance before they ran?"
She shrugged, "Who knows. Maybe after Celestia's announcement they'll be lining up for the chance. Judging by the guards you've met, maybe they'll want to shake hooves too."
Bone's ears perked at that, "Hey, that's a good idea! If we get Phalanx, Tower Shield and Shy Sprint to accompany me, then ponies are less likely to flee from the sight of me."
"And," Scenic added, "You can walk around without a hood covering your eyes all the time."
Celestia's announcement had caused a small riot among the ponies of Canterlot. They feared that without the Knights of the Sun, evil would raise its head almost immediately to claim Equestria. The Knights themselves were none too pleased with the development, but the Princess eased their fears by stating that they would be integrated into the Royal Guard rather than discharged from service.
She also stated that Bone Marrow would be pardoned, and that he would soon be visiting the graveyards of Canterlot to raise an army in defense of the capitol. That didn't go well, as even Royal Guards turned from managing the crowds to joining them in outrage. Celestia explained that she would be able to contain Bone Marrow, as she had with the other three necromancers without issue. She told them that Bone Marrow made a deal with her for the pardon. The defense of Canterlot for the continuation of his life, lived in peace and seclusion.
The ponies grumbled and complained, but eventually they agreed with their leader. She often knew best, as the sayings went. Even if nopony really knew what she was doing, they trusted her judgement.
Bone Marrow and Scenic were wandering through the cobblestone streets of the gold and marble city, the necromancer wearing a sign that promised a cure to all maladies, ailments and injury.
"Think anypony will take up the offer?"
The foals were joined by their Royal Guard friends; Shy Sprint, Phalanx and Shield Wall.
"We could always start in the poorer districts. Nopony travels down there much and they could use all the help they can get." Phalanx explained.
Shy nodded, "They have the most sickly ponies as well. There isn't a whole lot that we can do for them with the Bright Moon fighting us all the time. We need our healing ponies to help on the front lines... I just never imagined Canterlot would be one of them."
"We'll push them back," Shield Wall replied. "They're not backed by the Princess, are they? Let alone Bone Marrow here." The stallion ruffled the colt's mane, as his hood was lowered for a good look at the city now that he was pardoned. "We've got the Sun and a Necromancer on our side."
Bone smiled at that, happy to finally be able to see the city without a layer of cloth separating him from the world. Ponies would still stiffen with fright when they gave him a second look, but the Royal Guards accompanying him reduced terror to cautious worry.
After an hour of walking, a pony finally called out to the group.
"Help me, please!"
The mare was covered in sores and boils, looking sickly as their muscles had atrophied.
"I'll take any help," The pony added before coughing wetly, a glob of slime smacking onto the cobblestone where they sat. "Any help you can offer, necromancer or not!"
Bone Marrow's eyes were wide with shock at what he was witnessing. Each movement pained the poor mare, her breaths rasped and bubbled, and the necromancer could barely feel her beating heart.
His eyes glowed brightly for a moment before the mare shimmered with a deep blue glow. It started from her chest and spread like a wave throughout her body, boils receding and blisters disappearing. Her breathing eased, her muscles returned to a chiseled perfection and she examined herself, an incredulous look on her face.
She was wide eyed, as impressed as the gathering crowd of ponies that had just witnessed her recovery. It had taken less than a minute to complete and already the mare looked as happy and healthy as anypony that had never been afflicted a day in their life.
The mare rushed forward, taking up the young necromancer in her hooves with a smile from ear to ear. "Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Bone had to defend himself from a smothering of kisses, his hooves deflecting or intercepting the recently diseased pony's muzzle of gratitude.
"It's not a problem, Please-" Bone replied, "Please put me down!"
The mare caught herself, a blush of embarassment blooming as she set the colt onto the cobblestone. "Thank you, necromancer." She then lightly coughed as if by habit, suprised that nothing was coming up. "If there's anything I can do to repay you-"
"Actually," Bone interjected, "To everypony listening and gathered, If you wish to repay me, then join in the defense of Canterlot! There is an approaching army of the Bright Moon on the horizon, a day's march from here. I will heal any affliction or injury you suffer, so long as you defend the capitol!"
The mob of injured and sick ponies grumbled, "What has Canterlot ever done for us?"
"Yeah, they let us sit here in the slums, rotting away while they ate cakes and sundaes!"
The Royal Guards were becoming worried now as the mob grew angry at them.
"It's not our fault!" Shield Wall shouted over the sickly coughing of the crowd, "We've been fighting the Bright Moon to keep you all safe!"
"Look at us!" A crippled pony replied, their legs shattered and misshapen. "You've done a poor job of that!"
The area was becoming frigid quickly, Bone's patience wearing thin. "Everypony!" The necromancer shouted, "If you're not going to help Canterlot, then help me!"
The mob was bundling themselves together, their rags and tattered blankets doing their best to fight the icy frost of Bone's temper.
"I will heal each and every one of you, so long as you find more ponies for me. Gather them here, bring them to me, and I will cure their wounds! If Canterlot has abandoned you, then let me take its place!"
Bone focused his thoughts on the nearby beating hearts of the sickly and injured, the void's incessant tally of all the living in Canterlot being sharpened to a fine point.
Sickness gave way to eased breathing; crutches were dropped to the side as ponies tested their limbs. Rags were thrown to the ground with disgust, now that the mob was freed from their pestilence. One after another, the group of ponies turned from bitterness to tears of joy.
Just as the first mare had done, now others were scrambling to give praise to Bone Marrow. The air grew colder as each attempted to hold the small colt, to ruffle his mane and pat him on the head. Stone was covered with ice, patches of sickness became slick and caused ponies to slip.
"Get away from me!" Bone shouted, startling the mob. "Bring the injured and sick, but don't touch me."
The mob backed away at the outburst, each choosing to count their blessings and to do as the young necromancer instructed. They scattered throughout the alleyways in search of others, careful not to slip on the icy ground.
Scenic was worried, placing a hoof on her friend's shoulder causing him to flinch. "Bone, are you okay?"
His eyes were frosted and his expression blank. "I can feel it, Scenic." He pressed a hoof against his chest, "The void."
"But, you were helping ponies; how can that be making things worse?"
The colt tapped a hoof against his muzzle. "The clambering, the excitement, the beating hearts getting faster as I healed them... It was a rush, Scenic. Healthy flesh to consume instead of diseased."
Scenic pulled Bone close to her, wrapping her hooves around him in a hug. "Bone, you're helping ponies, not hurting them. That makes you a good pony, okay? You're not going to lose yourself to that void if I have anything to say about it."
The arctic air warmed at that; Bone slumping into the embrace of his friend and returning her hug.
"You've just saved the lives of dozens, Bone." Shy Sprint reminded him, "Without you, nopony would've even known they existed. Now they get a second chance at life, free from disease or injury. You're the best healer I've ever seen."
The young necromancer looked from the shoulder of Scenic to the three Royal Guard that stood nearby. Each was smiling in the moment, and he could hear their hearts being a little easier.
The healed ponies stayed true to their word, gathering the sickly and the injured. They directed Bone Marrow to nearby hospitals and apothecaries that had gone unnoticed on Bone's map and he paid a visit to each of them, instructing them with the same goals of helping him find the injured and sickly to heal.
Word spread quickly of his deeds as ponies ventured out of the slums and pits of Canterlot into the wealthier districts towards the palace. They spoke of Bone Marrow healing them of their wounds, and old friends re-united once again now that they could speak freely without risk of infecting each other.
Each group that Bone healed, however, made the void within him deepen. The renewed vitality of the ponies around him added to his own hunger, to the void's call of death and destruction no matter how much he resisted it. He decided then, that if he had to kill ponies to keep himself from falling into insanity, that the Bright Moon would lament the day they decided to assault Canterlot.
He ventured to the graveyards of the large city, his passing causing the dead to rise from their graves and force rusted gates open from the crypts. Shaking Royal Guards gave weapons and armor to the passing skeletons, each of them nodding politely as they received tools of death. Somehow, the courteousness of the undead made the living ponies all that much more frightened.
The skeletons lined the walls of Canterlot, they patrolled the streets. Each clattering and chattering their teeth as ponies walked by in restrained terror. The servants of Bone Marrow were not attacking them, they realized. They may have been the long dead relatives and ancestors of those in Canterlot, but some argued that they served a better purpose in defending the city than laying uselessly in their graves, rotting away as their descendants perished.
Though frightened by the chilly passing of Bone Marrow, ponies began to see him in a different light. They were still terrified of him, of course, but they now nodded in return to his skeleton's passing. They thought that at any moment the necromancer might be looking through the eyes of his minions and it was a small inconvenience to greet a grisly representation of their future death in exchange for the good graces of a pony so capable of destruction.
As the setting sun lowered in the distance, Bone couldn't help but feel a slow doom approaching him. The beating hearts of the Bright Moon grew as he noticed them gathering in the dusk, and the void within demanded their deaths.