"Die, huh?" Bone Marrow shook his head. "You have a way with words, you know that?"
Toothpick didn't seem to care about Bone's witticism and started etching another word in the dirt next to the first, and then another.
Die For Scenic.
Bone Marrow looked over his shoulder before pondering the message. Toothpick's glowing blue eyes narrowed at the young necromancer in a glare.
"The last time I died, I nearly lost Scenic for good. I mean you weren't technically alive to know that but... er, you know." Bone gestured at Toothpick's skeletal nature. "You weren't you at the time, you were a pile of ash."
More writing, this time under the first group of words.
Stash Pocket Watch. Die. Return.
Bone Marrow put his tongue in his cheek. "You know, I probably would've stayed out of a lot of trouble if you were around more often."
Toothpick nodded his bony head in reply.
The conversation between necromancer and minion continued on until the two had come up with a somewhat workable plan. A method of death was secured, at the least. What remained, however, was a place to store the pocket watch; the soul jar for Scenic Sights.
"Hey, mister!" A curious voice called out to Bone Marrow. The stallion-sized-colt had been walking along one of the many dirt roads that lead to Ponyville when he heard the voice of a mare with a peculiar accent accompanied by trotting hooves coming closer.
He turned to see an orange mare with three red apples on her flank, her mane tied into a ponytail complete with a red ribbon, and a strange hat on her head. He tilted his head in curiosity and turned to face the newcomer.
The mare skidded to a halt with an appropriately sized dust cloud following her while she caught her breath. "Is your name Bone Marrow?"
Never Trust Strangers was a rule that had kept him more or less safe on his own, and this was no time to make an exception. Yes, the ponies of Ponyville had been far kinder to him than the ponies he remembered, but he wasn't about to break a habit that didn't need breaking.
"Who is asking?" Bone replied to the mare.
She briefly dipped her head as a sign of courtesy. "Sorry, my name's Applejack. I've been real busy with the farm lately and it only just struck me now that your name sounded kinda familiar. Same cutie mark, too."
'Applejack?' Bone Marrow thought, and he saw the mare shiver. 'Well, at least she's being honest about her name.'
"You wouldn't happen to know a pony by the name of Granny Smith, would you?" Applejack politely asked. She'd blamed the sudden cold on the wind.
This caught the necromancer's interest. Could she be the same one she'd met a few weeks ago? Well, no, that would be impossible. What was a few weeks ago to Bone Marrow was over a thousand years ago. Being frozen in a statue had a way of messing up a pony's perception of time.
Bone shook his head. "I knew a mare by that name, but she's probably long dead by now. Sorry."
Applejack's eyes sparkled as bright as her smile. "It is you!" She then quickly wrapped a hoof across Bone's withers and pulled him into a hug. "I never thought I'd get to meet you in all my days!"
Toothpick's glowing blue eyes blinked in confusion at the situation, as he was as bewildered as his master.
When Bone was finally able to free himself from Applejack's absurdly strong grip, he distanced himself a few steps from the blonde mare.
"Do you wanna meet her? She's been talkin' about you non-stop since she heard you were in Ponyville!" Applejack gestured with her head towards the opposite direction that the necromancer had been travelling.
Bone Marrow and Toothpick shared a look that amounted to a non-committal shrug.
"I don't think it's the same mare," the young necromancer cautioned, "but I'll see her."
Rolling fields of trees were all that the stallion-sized colt could see for what seemed like forever. Having been raised in a desert town on the edge of Equestria, seeing this many trees all neatly arranged row-by-row was a sight in and of itself. Toothpick had gotten bored, however, and had taken up a new hobby of pestering living birds by chasing them through the air.
When Bone Marrow finally reached Sweet Apple Acres, his eyes widened. Standing just outside of a barn looked to be twenty, no, thirty ponies. Forty? Fifty? It was difficult to count how many there were, but it made him nervous. When he stole a glance at Applejack, she just seemed more and more excited.
Bone Marrow was very glad for the hood that covered his head at the moment.
"Well I'll be!" The vaguely familiar voice of a mare called out. "It really is you! You really should write a letter 'er something more often, Bone Marrow!"
He looked up to see a face that had been warped by time, wrinkled and brittle. She had an orange scarf around her neck with little red apples, and a bit of lace for decoration. Her mane was combed backwards with a few silver stragglers escaping the hair-tie in the back, and she had the same orange eyes that Bone was familiar with.
"Hi, Bone Marrow!" The small army of ponies next to Granny Smith shouted in greeting.
The necromancer was at a loss for words, his mouth slightly open.
Granny Smith walked up to Bone, calm and confident, and closed his mouth. "You're gonna let the flies in, keepin' your mouth open like that. Come on inside and let old Granny tell you a tale."
Dumbfounded, he had little other choice but to oblige.
Granny Smith had been alive and well for over a thousand years, Bone Marrow had learned, and she still showed little signs of 'giving up the ghost' as she put it.
What had begun as a simple yet miraculous healing of a hip injury had spiraled into a continent spanning family. From Granny Smith's first husband all the way down to present, each of her offspring had inherited some of Bone Marrow's healing magic, granting them longer lives than they would've normally had.
She might've outlived every other pony that Bone Marrow had healed with his magic, but Granny Smith attributed that accomplishment to her own stubbornness. From her first four foals, the Apple Family had become one of the leading producers of apples and apple related products in all of Equestria and in the nations abroad.
Bone Marrow knew his healing was powerful, but he had no way of knowing just how powerful it had been! He'd really need to get a hold of his magic in the future... assuming everything went well.
As he was sharing dinner with the Apple Family, a question popped up.
"Granny Smith?" Applebloom asked, "How did you end up meeting Bone Marrow all those years ago? Are you really that old?"
A few of the other Apples chuckled at her innocent question.
"Well, let me see now." Granny Smith was rocking in her chair more out of habit than need. "It was about a thousand years ago, but it really just feels like yesterday to me now." She gestured casually to Bone Marrow as the colt sank into his chair from being the center of attention.
"We were all holed up in Obscenely Rich's manor, you know, the great-great-whatever of Filthy Rich's?" She nodded as if everypony understood what she was talking about. "Anyway, the walls were gettin' attacked by the Bright Moon. They were the ponies and others that wanted to overthrow Celestia when she and Luna had a fight. Well, your old granny caught a sword or a bolt or somethin' to the hip." She pointed to the hip in question for emphasis.
"I could'a sworn I was gonna be gone after that. Lots of ponies weren't doing too great either. I remember one of 'em had their horn busted off in the middle of the fight. Poor thing wouldn't stop sparking and making that stallion's head hurt." She paused to swallow some cider before continuing. "Little Bone Marrow comes up and sees all of us bein' wounded. My hip bleeding, that stallion's horn turned to dust, a few others just layin' there, bleeding out into the dirt. What's he do?"
Granny Smith smiled at Bone Marrow, and the necromancer had long since covered his face with his hood.
"He went up to me and says, 'You're sure about this? I've never healed anypony before'!" She then laughed and rocked back further than usual in her chair. "Oh, the look on everypony's face when my hip came back together again! The bone and the blood n' flesh all just weaved itself up right as I was lookin' at it and Bone here was already gone, healin' up more ponies."
Applebloom was looking a little sick from the graphic detail. Well, graphic for her at least.
"I owe you a lot, Bone Marrow." Granny Smith still had a smile on her face when her chair slowed down. "Anythin' I can do for you?"
'Never Trust Strangers... but she wasn't technically a stranger. Besides, I already know her name so It's not like she can betray me very well.' Bone huffed as he reached a difficult decision in his mind. 'She's really the only pony that isn't a princess that I know. Who else would I rely on? Twilight?' He mentally scoffed at the idea. Never again would he trust a princess after what Celestia did to him.
Taking a deep breath, his horn was alight with blue magic. The pocket watch floated off from his neck and was placed down on the table in front of him. "Granny Smith?"
"Yes, dear?" The patient mare asked.
"I need to... do something. Can you hold onto my pocket watch for me?" He paused for a moment and took off his cloak. "This as well, if it's not too much."
Granny Smith shook her head and chuckled. "Too much? You silly colt, you made me nearly gosh-darned immortal with all the magic you used to heal me and you think that me holdin' onto a few of your things is gonna be a burden?"
Bone smiled nervously. In hindsight it did seem to be a silly request. He only hoped that he wouldn't come back from his new 'goal' to find that the pocket watch or his cloak was missing. Nopony was going to stop him from bringing Scenic back.
"What are you gonna do?" Applebloom asked.
Applejack was about to tell her sister not to pry into a pony's private business before Bone Marrow answered.
"I need to go into the Everfree and get killed, and I don't want my pocket watch or cloak to get lost."
Applebloom and Applejack blinked in confusion as they looked at Bone Marrow.
Applejack smirked, thinking that this was some kind of dark humor. "Heh, yeah. You're just gonna get yourself killed really quick and be back for dinner. Perfectly normal!"
"He ain't kiddin'." Granny Smith replied, causing Applejack and Applebloom to pale. "You gonna be safe?"
Bone nodded. "I'll be alright, ma'am."
"I told ye before, I'm not old enough to be called Ma'am yet!" Granny laughed and the other Apples in the room joined in. "I don't hear anypony callin' Celestia a 'ma'am', so that means I'm still young."
The colt sighed. 'Am I going to become like Granny Smith if I don't get frozen in stone again?'
A branched snapped under the weight of Bone Marrow's hoof as he walked through the grassy underbrush of the Everfree. He'd been through here once before, though with considerably more speed. It wasn't even that long ago, all things considered. The colt had nearly been eaten by a Hydra, after all. What better way to get yourself killed than by taunting one and getting gobbled up?
Bone Marrow couldn't help but shake his head as he walked. 'This is going to be a new level of suck that has never before been experienced and survived. Getting eaten by a Hydra, suffocating, waking up in the thing's belly after being dissolved by stomach acid, getting suffocated and melted again, all while the thing keeps regenerating.'
He hopped over a bothersome rock that was in his way and landed in yet more grass and bushes.
'Oh, how did your day go, Bone Marrow? You got eaten by a Hydra? What did you taste like? I'll bet it was marshmallow!' He shuddered and tried to keep his mind on his surroundings.
The sun had already begun to set by the time he'd sprinted out here. He was near the tomb, or temple, where he had been sealed away in stone for the last thousand years. The frost and snow had long since melted away since he'd left and animals were still nowhere to be seen. The colt was tempted to start shouting out for the Hydra to come and eat him, but that would probably attract other predators.
Besides, by getting himself killed by the hydra, he'd be knocking out two problems with one necromancer. 'I get to die, and the Hydra gets to die as well. I come back, I've technically consumed an entire hydra and all of its regenerations, and then I'll probably be powerful enough to bring back Scenic. Probably. That's a lot of meat, right?'
A distant roar brought Bone Marrow out of his thoughts as it echoed through the forest. Birds scattered to the sky in terror, for once not from Toothpick, and the young colt now had a direction to travel in.
After clearing a way through the Everfree via a great deal of magic making his galloping hooves freeze the ground beneath him, Bone Marrow found his target. Well, he found three of his targets, though he really only needed one.
The necromancer bit his lip. 'Three hydras? Really?' He took a deep breath. 'Time to embrace the suck.'
"Hey!" Bone Marrow shouted. "Come and get me!"
The hydras, unfortunately, seemed more occupied with fighting one another than hearing the shouts of a colt doing his best to be noticed.
'Three hydras, nine heads, all of them very hungry and very mad.' Bone looked over to Toothpick. "Can you get their attention?"
Toothpick's blue fiery eyes winked in and out of existence as if he were blinking in disbelief at his master.
"What? Don't give me that look!" The necromancer gestured with his hoof at the Hydras before realizing his error. "Oh, uh... Right. One tiny bird against three giant fire-breathing lizard-monsters."
He didn't have enough power or bodies to raise an army of skeletons with his magic, so he'd have to do this the old fashioned way. By being a nuisance to things that were taller than he was.
The colt took a breath and sprinted down towards the hydras as they fought in swampy waters. A few trees had been set alight by the conflict and the roars of the beasts were accented by ripples in the water as their many heads clashed and snapped at each other. Clawed feet slammed into the soggy ground and splashed fetid water everywhere, thick with the stench of death and rot.
Bone Marrow was very much not liking his state of living at the moment, as the smell made him nearly lose his... what had he eaten for lunch again? Oh right, he'd forgotten. Being alive was such a pain in the first place. So much to remember!
The colt was knocked from his hooves as a Hydra slammed into its foe, causing the ground to shake and for his hoof to catch a rotten root. He fell forward and faceplanted into a cluster of moss and alligator carcass.
The hydra continued fighting on despite the coughing and hacking from below them. One hydra swept its tail with such force that a gust of wind followed in its wake. Bone's dark blue mane flowed in the breeze as the tail brushed over his head and crashed into the armored scales of its opponent. Another roar was joined by the wet chomping and gnashing of teeth from the hydras as they tried to tear each other's throats out.
'Okay, this isn't working' Bone Marrow thought as he wiped alligator intestines from his muzzle. 'Time to be more annoying.'
Bone Marrow's spell sent a lance of dark blue energy up and into the faces of the nearby hydra, causing them to sputter and cough. They regenerated so quickly that rather than their hearts rupturing or their organs melting, the hydras seemed annoyed.
'Well, um, mission accomplished?'
The hydras then started fighting one another once again, this time presumably over who would get to eat the annoying pony beneath them.
"Are you serious?" Bone rhetorically asked the hydras, not expecting a response. "Just eat me already!"
Then, the last thing Bone remembered feeling was a sharp pain on his jaw and the top of his head as a hydra snapped him up into its mouth.
Burning. Fur melting off of flesh, eyes boiling in a thick goopy sludge that stuck to everything it touched. His screams were cut short as vocal cords broke apart into meaty chunks and as he desperately tried to hold himself together. His limbs would snap off and fall into the sludge, dissolving in his blurred and pained vision before he would again succumb to his wounds.
Again and again, if suffocation or acid didn't kill Bone Marrow, then the sudden impacts to the still fighting hydras would knock him unconscious.
This continued for what seemed like eternity, and Bone Marrow didn't know how many times he had come back only to die once again.
When he awoke a final time, he was surrounded by black sludge and ash. The water of the swamp had turned into a tar-like substance that stuck to everything and bubbled with menace.
The colt pressed a hoof to his head and noticed that everywhere he looked, there was yet more swamp and more ash. Trees had fallen, rotted out to their core and splintered into shavings. Bone Marrow stood in the desolate wasteland that surrounded him. Had he killed the hydras or did they vomit him out? Either way, it wasn't an experience he wanted to have again anytime soon.
"Alright." The young necromancer said to himself. It was like the area around him couldn't carry sound, and the noise of his voice was lost as soon as it was heard. "So, time to see if this all worked."
He poured his magic into his horn and it pulsed outward in a colossal wave of blue energy. He couldn't help but have his eyes widen in awe at all the skeletons he sensed. The heartbeats of the living that had once driven him mad came back to his ears. With the heartbeats came a hunger he was all too familiar with.
He gulped and his ears folded down. He had his magic back, but the Void had come along with it.
If it meant getting his only friend back, then so be it.