Not a single dream pestered the Necromancer. No nightmares, no dreams of pleasant hopefulness, nothing.
Bone Marrow awoke with a feeling that all of his body demanded that he go back to sleep. An aching of the bones that he wasn't familiar with. His head was foggy and his vision blurry; his limbs moved like they were made of lead. It took a monumental effort to even lift his eyelids, and when he did, he was greeted with a pillow that had a drool spot on it.
"Eugh..." He shoved the pillow away and rested his face on the carpet beneath him. "First I have to eat food again, now this?"
He took a long breath that ended with a sigh. "Living sucks."
When the colt had finally collected himself enough to be presentable to the outside world, scruffy dark-blue mane and all, he found that there had been a plate of pancakes laid out on the reading room's table. He was late to breakfast by the looks of it, and judging from a note that had been left underneath his platter.
To Bone Marrow
Went out to get more supplies. Made breakfast but didn't want to wake you up.
Be back in a few hours.
"Huh." Bone looked over to the plate of food. "This is going to take some getting used to..."
After what was far too long of a time spent eating, Bone Marrow headed out of the castle and into Ponyville proper. He was used to never sleeping; used to not eating. It took up so much time that he felt he was late for something, but for what?
The necromancer racked his mind for what he had been planning to do before he fell asleep. Skeletons? No, he didn't need any of them just yet. He didn't feel threatened in the town, though he was uneasy that each of the passing ponies didn't give him even a second glance.
He felt the pocket watch around his neck, the subtle weight of his friend's soul. "Oh!" He had been planning on bringing her back from the dead, but he wasn't entirely sure how to go about doing that.
The books he had read, written by the few necromancers before him, had stated that he simply needed to keep his friend's soul contained in a soul jar and then to speak their name aloud. His powers would supposedly bring her back from the dead, though it didn't say how that would be accomplished.
The enchanted pocket watch served as his friend's soul jar, but he needed to be absolutely certain that nothing would go wrong. If the spell didn't go as planned, he was afraid of losing his friend to the afterlife altogether.
Bone Marrow found a bench to sit on to ponder his situation. What could he experiment on that wouldn't get him in trouble with Twilight or the ponies around him? However welcoming they might be, he didn't think his chances of living would be very high if he was seen to be experimenting on the dead in public.
Something that nopony would notice or miss; probably small, like an animal...
Bone Marrow had rushed his way to the town's cemetery. Every town had to have one, considering that ponies don't live forever unless they're an alicorn. He was surprised to find that the town didn't have nearly as many graves as he had hoped. Perhaps there were a few hundred in total, but the dates on the gravestones clustered near the town's beginning. As time went on, and the graves became newer, he realized that less and less ponies had fallen ill of something, or less had died from non-natural causes.
He shook his head. As curious as all this was, it wasn't the reason he was at the cemetery. There had to be a section for pets, didn't there? The final resting places of animal companions that were special to the families they lived with. Bone Marrow used to have a pet cat in his old hometown of Scoria, though he doubted the place existed anymore. It had been burned to the ground long ago and was along Equestria's borders near a large desert.
Grave after grave, gate after wrought-iron gate, Bone Marrow was getting impatient. Where were the pet graves? Had ponies changed in the last thousand years? Did they not care about---
He blinked. Of course! They would be near Fluttershy's cottage, the pony that took care of everypony's pets in the whole town! Bone placed a hoof onto his face and shook his head. At least he knew where the dead things were.
It was midday now, the sun bearing down overhead on Bone Marrow's unhooded head. His ears flicked in annoyance. If he had any bits, he would've sought out somepony to buy a cloak from. For now, however, he was on a mission. Find a bird skeleton, preferably a raven's, and see if he could bring back the first minion he ever had.
The pink pony had waved at Bone Marrow as he passed through the town, but Bone didn't pay her any attention. Something about her unsettled him. He also saw Applejack and Applebloom selling their wares in the town center while speaking with Twilight, but he didn't feel up for a chat about what he was going to do.
No, he needed to be certain that he had all of his abilities in full swing. It might have been paranoia, but if Celestia caught wind of him being so close to Canterlot, it was only a matter of time before she confronted him. She would probably put on all of her enchanted armor as well as that cursed battle axe of hers. Swing it around a few times, maybe lop off his head again.
Bone Marrow chuckled. Maybe he would get more powerful if he died again? Or, the necromancer thought, maybe the void would come back...
He shook his head. These were thoughts for later. For now, he was going to see how difficult it was to bring back an old friend.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, Bone Marrow arrived at Fluttershy's cottage once again. She didn't appear to be home as his knocks on her front door proved pointless. Maybe he could have a look around? It was a large area after all with many empty fields. Besides, the animals couldn't stay around here without Fluttershy being nearby, could they?
His search first went around the perimeter of the cottage. It was common for ponies to bury their pets either in the cemetery or behind their house if they were poor. He knew that his family had fit the bill, despite his father being a baker and his mother a news crier.
"Come one come all," Bone Marrow muttered to himself, "Get your undead skeletal birds here. Corpses are half-off! Get 'em before they rot!"
The stallion-sized colt giggled to himself. To imagine how his parents would've taken to him being a necromancer. Would they still have called him Bonehead, or would they have been scared of him? He shook his head, it didn't matter now. He didn't have their souls to bring them back. They were both as dead as they could be.
He raised his head in surprise. There hadn't been any graves. Was Fluttershy simply that good at taking care of animals, or did she bury their bodies further away?
Bone then blinked. Was she that good, or did Fluttershy feed the ones that died to the other animals? She had to get the meat from somewhere, didn't she? He tapped his hoof on the ground. Maybe there would be corpses in her cooler? No, not from a raven, surely. How much would that even feed? Barely a morsel; not worth the effort of plucking and cleaning.
Moving around the side of the house, he found the cellar once again. He was confronted with an iron lock that had slightly rusted over. He noticed that the cellar had an overhang as well, which probably contributed to the fact that the lock wasn't entirely sealed shut with corrosion.
Should he break into the cellar? He couldn't find much reason to, aside from morbid curiosity. The iron lock would be simple enough to get through if his abilities had been as they had in the past. Consume would work against the metal, but give him nothing in return for the spell. If he broke in and didn't take any of the meat, it would be a net loss to him.
He shook his head, maybe another time. When and if he was able to get bits, he could ask for more meat. Or he could trade his ability to heal in exchange again... but there were only so many injured critters at a time.
The colt paused to think about his next move. The forest was nearby, but the last time he had gone wandering through one he ended up with a crossbow bolt through the heart. He had been told time and again that no bandits roamed around, but in the jungle he had encountered a beast more monstrous than any he had seen previously.
Did all forests contain monsters like that? Would be even be able to kill them? Bone had no idea, but he did feel more powerful now than when he had first confronted the hydra. It couldn't hurt to look, could it?
"Great," Bone grumbled. "Why don't I just walk into the woods? That's a wonderful idea!" He kicked a rock that bounced off a cluster of tree roots in the distance. "A perfect plan, Bone Marrow. You're an absolute genius."
He had been lost for hours at this point. Animals in the forest scurried away in his presence, the wild critters not used to seeing ponies in their habitat. Birds flew away before Bone could get a chance to kill them as well. What to do, what to do...
Bone paused. Maybe if he pretended to be dead, birds would try to pick at him? No, that's dumb. A wolf or some other monster would come by to gnaw his legs off. Sure, Bone would get the last laugh as he was brought back to life, but that didn't mean he enjoyed pain.
The colt's ear twitched. He heard humming in the distance. Was it some other kind of creature, or was it another pony? He followed the source of the sound. The noise grew louder and louder, and eventually he spotted a different kind of pony.
A pony with black and white stripes on their body, a lot of golden rings, and a very strange cutie mark on their flank. His faintly glowing eyes narrowed. What kind of pony was this? They looked like an earth pony, but maybe they were from some other part of the world? Their tail, neck, hooves and practically everywhere Bone looked pointed to the pony having been from someplace else.
"It is not kind to stare, whoever is hiding over there." The curious pony announced to the trees.
Bone Marrow cursed. Had he been spotted that easily, or was she bluffing?
"Glowing eyes are quite the surprise," The pony continued, "A traveler of time, I surmise."
He accepted defeat and revealed himself from his hiding spot. "You wouldn't happen to know where a raven's corpse is, would you?" Bone then internally flinched. That wasn't the best thing to say to somepony right off the cuff, was it?
Her eyebrow raised. "The dead you seek? Why continue a journey so bleak?"
Did this pony always rhyme? "If you don't know, then could you point me to the way out of here? I didn't know this place was so weird. I tried following the way I came into this forest and the whole place seems like it shifted itself around."
She nodded sagely, "This forest is the Everfree, a place that does not like you or me."
"Then how do you get around? You seem pretty at home for a pony that... well, looks so out of place with everything." He gestured to the various jewelry that decorated the pony's body. "I don't think I've ever seen anypony like you."
"I am Zecora, and my purpose is one of flora." She winked.
Bone Marrow was getting a headache from this pony. "Do you always have to rhyme like that?"
His eyes narrowed. "I'm just going to try and find my own way out of here, then. It was... interesting to talk with you."
The striped pony gave a short wave and picked up a basket of flowers and other ingredients in her mouth before continuing on with her business.
"Weird." Bone Marrow muttered. His ear flicked and he turned to continue on with his journey through the forest.
When Bone had left, Zecora breathed a sigh of relief. "He returns from the dead, yet he has kept his head. No insanity plagues his mind, though maybe in time..."
"This is dumb." Bone Marrow sat against a tree's trunk. "It's almost dusk now and I still haven't found a dead bird!" He looked around, "And I haven't found a way out of this place, either."
He rubbed his eyes with the side of his leg, not wanting to get the dirt on his hoof on him. "I know ponies have said that times are more peaceful than they used to be, but this is just ridiculous! How am I supposed to do anything if almost nothing ever dies here!"
In the distance, bushes rustled. Something was drawing near.
"First, Fluttershy doesn't have any skeletons laying around. Then, I get lost in some super-forest that seems like it wants to mess with me, and then I run into some strange striped pony that talks in rhyme!"
The creature moved closer while Bone Marrow was distracted.
He rested his head against the tree trunk. "This place is like a miniature Tartarus. Keeps me trapped here even though I just want to leave it all behind."
Bone Marrow looked down at the creature that had rustled it's way through the bushes. It was some kind of cross between a bird and a... well, he wasn't entirely sure. It had wings, that was certain, but it had the head of a snake and a bird, and its torso looked like a porcupine's back. The creature's legs were misshapen, maybe broken, and looked to be fuzzy like a bunny's.
The necromancer grimaced. "What are you?"
The creature's beak opened wide, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth. Bone Marrow leaped up from the tree trunk and his horn glowed brightly.
"Oh no, I'm not gonna get killed by some freak of nature!" His eyes glowed brightly just as the creature flapped its wings at him.
"Die!" Bone shouted. His magic went out like a pulse and slammed into the creature. It fell to the ground and coughed. The necromancer raised an eyebrow, and soon the creature began coughing up spurts of blood.
"Oh, thank my lucky stars. It worked!" He breathed a sigh of relief as the creature hacked its last. "Now we can get to the fun part."
Bone focused his magic on the creature's corpse before pausing. "Wait a minute, If I just use consume on this thing, it's going to eat all the bones too." He growled in annoyance, "Well, now that I think about it, that wasn't much of a problem in Canterlot, was it?"
"Maybe if I just focus on the flesh, the bones will be untouched?" His eyes continued to glow brightly as his horn came to life with icy blue magic. Consume.
The body began shifting as bits of flesh burned away into smokeless ash. The bones fell apart, detaching from the body as sinew and tendon dissolved. After a short time, Bone was left with only a cleaned pile of... bones.
He focused his magic on the skeleton and sent out a pulse of magic. The bones began to reform, connecting with one another into... several separate skeletons?
"What in Tartarus?" The colt was now thoroughly confused. "Wait a minute, you're not a normal bird, are you?"
The bit of skeleton with a bird's head tilted with curiosity at the question.
"Oh, don't give me that look! You're all supposed to be one critter, aren't you?"
The skeletal bunny legs tapped on the ground, suspended as if there were more of its body to be placed correctly.
"This place just gets more and more strange..." Bone closed his eyes and let the skeletons fall to pieces. "Who runs around a place like this and stitches bodies together?" His eyes widened, "Wait, who would even make a creature like this? Who could?"
He briefly considered that it might be Zecora, that strange pony he had met before. She didn't seem to be the crazy type, aside from the rhyming, but... something felt off. She had said she was there for the flowers and Zecora didn't seem like the type to lie.
Bone smirked, "If she has to think of a rhyme every time she has to speak, how hard would that make it to lie on a regular basis? Does she just come up with things to say ahead of time, or is she just really smart?"
He looked down to the piles of various bones in front of him. "Well, you're no Toothpick, but..." The necromancer shook his head, "No, If you're all different animals, I'm not going to mash your corpses together. It looked weird when you were alive and it looks even stranger when you're nothing but bones."
Several hours later, Bone Marrow eventually found himself free from the Everfree. He didn't know where he was, exactly, but he knew that it wasn't the place he had been before. No signs of weird mutated critters, no monsters, nopony.
He groaned aloud. "I'm gonna get yelled at, aren't I?"
"Out for a walk?" A matronly voice asked from behind him.
Bone nearly leaped out of his skin from being so startled. He whipped around and his face met with another pony's chest. It was deep purple and had the crest of the moon in front of it.
"Wait..." He backed up and realized he was face to face with Princess Luna. His eyes went wide. "Princess Luna!?"
She seemed cautious, but let a smirk slip. "From Princess Twilight's letters, I'm surprised that you would honor me with a title."
Bone quickly shook his head. "I-I might have problems with the other alicorns, but you? You're my favorite!" He closed his eyes and tried to get a hold of himself.
"It is alright, Bone Marrow. You are safe." Princess Luna gestured to the forest at her back. "I was curious as to the type of pony you were."
His eyes narrowed. "Wait, what? You mean you were watching me this whole time?"
The lunar princess gave a warm smile. "You've been dreaming, Bone Marrow. The day has yet to begin."
"No..." He sat down on his flank. "You're telling me that all of that was just a dream!? Come on!"
"I've sent you a gift with one of my letters. I can imagine that Princess Twilight will be eager to speak with you as soon as she wakes, considering the contents." She rested a hoof on Bone's head and ruffled his mane. "Perhaps you might visit us in Canterlot? I'm sure that a pony like you has a few things to say to my sister."
He shook his head, "No way in Tartarus am I going anywhere near Canterlot. As soon as I get my friend-- eh, nevermind. I'm not going to be in Equestria for much longer. No matter how nice it is here, at least I keep my end of a promise."
She raised her brow. "Your end?"
"I defend Canterlot from the Bright Moon, and in exchange, I go free and never return to Equestria ever again. That was the deal I made with Celestia before she betrayed me-- the backstabbing witch."
Princess Luna was troubled by this. "My sister made no mention of that deal..." She scratched her chin, "I will have to speak with her in the morning."
There was a lot of things that Bone Marrow wanted to say to Princess Luna. From all the stories he had heard of her, she had quickly become her favorite of the two sisters, especially after Celestia betrayed him.
"For now, however, I should let you sleep. No more monsters to encounter or strange zebra that rhyme." She smirked, "Though as for you, Bone Marrow, maybe you should find somepony to trust? I know what it means to be alone, and from how long both of us have lived, there are very few that can relate to what we have been through."
Bone nodded. He couldn't agree more. "I just need to figure myself out first. Then, I'll... I'll see what I can do."
He didn't want to bring up talk of resurrecting a pony from the dead in front of Princess Luna. Even though she certainly knew that he was a necromancer, the thought of saying so much to what was ultimately a stranger didn't sit well with him. Besides, even though he liked Princess Luna more than the other two alicorns didn't mean that he needed to become an open book.
There was a time to let all his hopes and ambitions pour out, but to a pony that could probably drop the moon on his face, it wasn't the best of ideas.
Princess Luna waved to Bone Marrow. "Have a good rest, necromancer. I will be watching along with my sister."
Bone's white fur paled a bit. Of course Celestia would already know that he was in Ponyville. Why was she waiting, then?
Bone Marrow awoke once again, his dream troubling him. The same spot of drool was on his pillow and just as before, he shoved it away with disgust.
"Why can't things be simple for once?"