From Gravel's explanation, there were twenty injured kobolds. Some had crushed legs, broken bones or shredded limbs from rocks caving in after an unexpected earthquake. Much like mine's walls, Bone Marrow took this opportunity to experiment.
What if he focused on only the wounded part of a kobold's body? Well, that came with complications of its own. He learned that he needed to use his magic to 'feel' the body of what he was healing, in this case a kobold, and to figure out what was wrong. For that, he needed a reference point.
Gravel was none too pleased at being used as the example in this case, but he obediently shivered in place while Bone Marrow compared and contrasted the various injuries with Gravel's wellbeing. Before this time, the young necromancer never had the time or the clarity of mind to sit down and be this thorough. In the assault on Obscenely Rich's manor, the attack on Galloping Glades and the siege of Canterlot, he had simply focused his magic to heal every aspect of a person. Perhaps that was why Granny Smith was still alive?
All in all, his experiments resulted in twenty healthy but confused and scared kobolds. Old injuries had been repaired, scars had healed and each little bipedal 'lowercase dragon' was able to move of their own accord. Muscle degredation from being bedridden was a thing of the past, though some kobolds stumbled around as they attempted to become accustomed to their restored bodies.
Standing at the entrance to the Mines of Scoria, which a thousand years later had become a den of kobolds, Bone Marrow looked into the smelly darkness one more time. He would return when he was ready. Once he had figured himself out, once he was certain of his abilities and as soon as he could hold his head high. The last time he had seen his parents was when Diamond Dogs had made his village into slave labor. He decided that should he discover how to bring back his village that such a thing would never happen again as long as he could help it.
Beyond the forests of Equestria was an expansive desert that stretched far beyond the horizon. The sun was setting in the distance and causing a golden glow from the sands that covered the land ahead of him.
"Well." Bone Marrow took a deep breath and vented out the cold fog of stress. "Time to see what the rest of the world is like."
Toothpick landed on the necromancer's hooded head, hopping once to adjust his talons. "Do you think there will be scorpions? Perhaps massive snakes?"
The adult-sized colt lifted his head, though his hood prevented him from looking directly at his skeletal companion. "Why are you asking for trouble?"
"We didn't encounter anything in our trip through the supposedly 'horrible and dangerous' Everfree Forest, did we?" Toothpick countered. "Not one monster, manticore or beastie tried to eat you."
"So you're hoping we do run into something that wants to eat me?" Bone grumbled.
"Would you rather run into people?" The skeleton's head tilted to the side. "At least with a beast you have a higher chance of just killing it and being done with the problem. Perhaps you could even turn the beast into a skeleton to do the walking for you?"
Bone shook his head. "At what point are conversations like these going to become normal?"
Toothpick seemed to laugh. "Isn't this already normal for us?"
Unrelenting heat, savage winds with each grain of sand flying in high enough density to make breathing a nigh impossible hurdle and no food or water for days. This would be enough to kill most anyone else. Toothpick took refuge in Bone Marrow's cloak, finding a comfortable pocket for himself that slowly filled with sand.
A storm had shredded the necromancer's plan. From a high place he had plotted a course through the desert to reach another mountain, but now, he couldn't open his eyes for the risk presented by the sandstorm. His eyes caked shut from tears and sand, his hood blown back by the wind and having given up on breathing, there was little else that the young colt could do other than walk on and endure the winds that peeled away at his fur and skin.
It was a good thing that Bone Marrow was accustomed to pain or he would've been buried by the sands that confronted his progress. Each step threatened to fling him into the dunes behind him, erasing minutes of progress should he be careless. He had no idea how long this storm would last, but it had already felt like years. With his eyes shut and Toothpick hidden, neither could tell time. It was a miracle in and of itself that Bone's cloak hadn't been ripped from his neck to be launched into the desert behind him.
Banishment. He understood now why other ponies would think that this would be a punishment. Any other pony would've died if they had been sent into this kind of environment. He imagined someone like Bright Idea or even Scenic in this kind of place and how they would do. Bright Idea, with his armor and weapons, would have fallen in the first few hours. There was no shelter nearby, no refuge or shield against the sand. Let alone the risk of suffocation, the heat would have baked him in his golden armor. His weapons would've been discarded almost immediately from the fatigue and without water, he would fall to the ground and become buried.
Scenic, though he thought highly of her, would have done no better. Though she was a pegasus and could fly, the wall of sand that had confronted Bone Marrow before the storm struck was high enough to challenge the clouds above. Did it go further than the clouds? Was there some kind of barrier to prevent Equestria from being swallowed up by this madness? Knowing Celestia there probably was. With Twilight Sparkle also being in the picture along with Princess Luna, there were three Alicorns to fight back against this kind of calamity.
Bone Marrow was brought back to reality by a sharp pain in his right leg. He grimaced and stepped away as he couldn't open his eyes. Toothpick was doing all he could by being huddled up in the necromancer's cloak pocket. They were both blind, the roar of the sand made hearing pointless, and smell was a joke to even mention. The colt didn't dare to breathe or sand would fill his lungs. The only reason he hadn't been ripped to shreds was due to his magic constantly healing and repairing his body. The focused effort kept his mind off of the constant pain of his body being ripped apart granule by granule, and he hoped that this misery would end sooner rather than later.
The colt's eyes were so caked with sand by the time his hearing returned that he felt like a wall of mud had adhered to his face. Pushing his hoof against the sand brought pain as it tugged on his fur. Like his healing, this was as good a time as any to focus once again on his abilities. If he could 'consume' the hairs on his face, then the sand would fall free. That was the theory, at least. After several tens of minutes of effort, he grumbled in annoyance. His control was improving, that much was certain, but his impatience was getting the better of him. He wanted to see! The colt instead focused on consuming the sand itself rather than his hair, and soon enough, he was free.
His once dark vision slowly gained specks of reddish-white light through his eyelids. As more and more sand was carefully dissolved into nothing, his eyelashes tugged at the sand that held his eyes shut. Deciding he'd rather see than have eyelashes, he dissolved those fine hairs as well. When he finally took stock of his surroundings, he was blinded by the light of the rising sun.
Bone Marrow raised his hoof to shield his eyes as Toothpick poked his skeletal head from the sandy pocket that had become his mobile tomb. The bird then used his talons to pick at the holes where his eyes would be to claw sand from his skull.
The two had sand just about everywhere a person could imagine, and none of it was pleasant. Through select use of his magic, Bone Marrow did his best to clean himself and Toothpick. Once they had taken a breather, meaning that Bone Marrow was actually able to take a breath for the first time in days, he coughed up yet more sand in a wet and dirty mucus with the color of clay.
"Eugh!" Bone managed to blurt out before hacking out more disgusting mud.
"Hmm..." Toothpick hopped out of his pocket and landed on the sand in front of Bone Marrow. "Well, that is strange. I think you've had a makeover, Bone Marrow."
The young necromancer was still coughing and sputtering so it took him a while to reply. "What are you talking about?"
"I think I remember someone in town talking about this once." Toothpick pointed the bones if his wing at Bone Marrow. "Your hair has streaks of white and blonde in it, and your fur is a yellow-ish white."
"My what?" Bone spat more sand from his mouth before having a closer look at his foreleg. Indeed, his previously marshmallow-white fur had become a sandy tan. "What happened?"
"My guess is that this is 'sun bleaching'. We must have been out in the desert for so long that the sun and sand, with all of the damage it dealt, caused your fur and hair to change colors." Toothpick's head tilted to the side as he looked closer. "I can still see that the roots of your hair are the same blue as they've always been, however. Very interesting."
"Yeah? Well your bones look a little tan, too." The colt gestured to his skeletal friend. "They used to be pearly white but now you look a little tan. Kind of like a skull that's sat in the sun for ages?"
"How long have we been walking in the desert?" Toothpick's voice had a hint of worry to it.
"Probably not more than a month? A little more than that?" Bone risked taking a deeper breath and immediately regretted it. He spent a few more minutes coughing up sand and gunk.
"And in that time, it's entirely possible that we've wandered in circles..." Toothpick flew up to sit on Bone Marrow's back to get a look around the area while the colt coughed his lungs out. "Ah! Look what I've seen!"
In the distance was what seemed like buildings that came from the dunes. There was a large windmill as well, accompanied by multi-story structures with smaller ones that surrounded them. Smoke was rising from the buildings, and only now did Toothpick realise that these structures seemed to be barely held together. Some looked like they were at risk of collapsing at any moment while others were leaning against one another for support.
"It seems like ruins..." Toothpick gave a ghostly sigh. "Though the rising smoke means that other people are living there. Any chance that the citizens might be ponies?"
Bone scoffed and looked at the scene with his own eyes. "I'd be happy to see anypony that isn't Celestia or the ones from Ponyville, excluding Granny Smith."
"If we remember correctly, didn't the Diamond Dogs, the Griffons and those bandits originate from the deserts around Scoria?"
"That was a thousand years ago, Toothpick. There could be anything out in that town over there." Bone Marrow lifted his hood over his head, only to find that his cloak had become a white tattered mess. The dyes had been bleached out of his cloak and it had become shredded by the sandstorm that the two had walked through.
"Hah, hey, Toothpick." He turned his head and looked to the friend on his back with a smile. "I look like a mummy without all the bandages. Sandy-white hair and fur, a white cloak that's all ragged and..." His smile faded. "Right... erm, I think you'll need to hide, Toothpick."
"In what pocket?" The bird countered. "I think it would be better for you to retake the energy you've spent on me, Bone Marrow. Though it isn't like you can shield the skulls in your eyes, you can at least claim that you're not actively controlling an army of the dead if I'm not perched on your head."
"You're sure? I'd be all alone then."
"Bone Marrow, you've been talking to yourself for months." His minion tilted his head. "I'm your subconcious, remember?"
The necromancer grimaced. That was a fair point. Did he remember how to speak to people? It couldn't be more different than the mental conversations he'd had with Toothpick while walking in the sandstorm. Without those, Bone was certain that he would've lost his mind.
"I'll see about getting you another body as soon as I can, Toothpick." Bone promised.
The skeleton nodded. "Do try to get me something other than a bird, would you? I'm not limited to just being the size of a raven, you know. Maybe a minotaur for example?"
As Bone Marrow moved closer to the town, accompanied by nothing but the tattered remains of his cloak and the cold metal of Scenic's soul jar around his neck, he noted the howling winds through the alleyways of the buildings. There was no one to be seen. Doors were locked tight, barred and sealed against the sand. No building had a window that wasn't boarded up and covered with cloth. Wooden pillars that were once storefronts were half buried in the sand and signs that noted businesses had the lettering worn off. The smoke that had been rising in the distance was due to wood burning from the intensity of the sun. A kind of slow smouldering that could last ages if it went unnoticed.
"Well, um, that's not good."
Bone was answered by silence.
The young unicorn grumbled and pulled his tattered cloak closer to his body. Moving deeper into the town resulted in more of the same. Boarded up houses, destroyed storefronts, wisps of sunbleached cloth that were once territorial flags and sand-covered remnants of what used to be signs of life.
"Really?" Bone looked around at the desolation that surrounded him. "That's all?" He kicked sand with his hoof, sending a spray of dust and disappointment into the air. "Come on! Come out here!"
Nothing but the howling wind and the echo of his voice replied.
The necromancer closed his eyes and tried to gain control of his breath. Come on. Think. Don't freak out now that I'm alone. What can I do?
He was in the middle of a desolate town. After double checking, there were no heartbeats. Everything here was dead or gone. That... was a good starting point. If things were dead, he could use that to his advantage. Dead things meant he could have skeletons. He could use his magic to eat away at the barricaded doors to raise the skeletons, but what then? What was his plan?
He could use the dead citizens of the town for... what purpose? To rebuild the town, certainly, but for who? He had no reason to live here. If he thought about it, nobody else had a reason to live here either. If they did, they wouldn't have left. Did he need to find out the reason people had left this place, or did it not matter?
"Couldn't hurt." Bone Marrow sighed to himself before closing his eyes. "I could use some help, though."
He sent out nine pulses of energy from the center of the town outwards. In rapid succession, nine waves of blue light emitted outward like a massive hemisphere of energy and the once silent town began to make noise. Skeletons began clawing at the boarded up windows of the town, planks were broken and tossed to the side and doors were busted clear of their hinges.
The necromancer jumped from a door that had nearly slammed into him, and the offending skeleton covered their mouth in apology. Bone's face twisted in confusion at the figure he was looking at. Was it a minotaur? Well, there were no horns, so that wasn't correct. Perhaps it was some kind of thing that he hadn't seen before? He didn't recognise it from the many species that had attacked Canterlot long ago, either.
The skeleton had holes in the sides of it's skull and a long tail. The teeth had fangs, the fingers on its hands had claws, and the bones themselves seemed slim and light. After a while, he likened the skeleton to that of a cat and a minotaur combined. As if the two legs of a minotaur along with the hands had somehow been combined with that of a cat. There wasn't really a word for this kind of thing, but he wasn't a scientist either. He decided to call it a 'Cat person skeleton' and moved on with his life.
As more and more skeletons came from their houses, he noted with a pang of sympathy that not every skeleton had been an adult when the owner died. There were children, elderly, ones with busted bones or broken hips and ribs, some with missing teeth and others that looked like they'd rotted from the inside out.
Air hissed through his teeth in sympathy and he used his magic to restore the skeletons to their full potential. He knew that the owners of these bodies had probably long since passed on and that they probably didn't care a single bit what happened to their bones, but he felt it was the least he could offer.
The young necromancer cleared his mind by shaking his head. "Alright, everyone." He raised his head to look up at the skeletons that stood tall over him. They were twice his height in some cases, while for most his eyes came up to their sternums. "I need you all to figure out what happened to this town. Why did the people here leave? Why are all the windows boarded up? Where did they all go?"
The skeletons nodded in unison and paused for a moment, each of them looking to one another before they all dispersed.
"Hold on, you." Bone pointed to the cat-person skeleton. "Come on over here."
The skeleton did as asked, and Bone emitted ten directed pulses at the skeleton.
"Ooh..." The skeleton looked at its hands and turned his head. "This is quite the upgrade!"
"Hey again, Toothpick."
"Hello, Bone Marrow." The skeleton opened his fanged mouth when he spoke each word and his tail moved from side to side. "This is certainly strange. I'm happy for the new body, though. I'll miss flying..."
"Do you have any ideas about this place?" Bone gestured to the town around them.
"I have little more ideas than you do, of course. For now, let's wait and see what the others come up with in their search."
Hours had passed since Bone dispersed the 'surviving' members of the town to figure out what happened. With the energy he'd put into the skeletons of the town, Bone Marrow learned that they had about the same level of intelligence that he did though they didn't share his ability to speak or any piece of his mind. He understood them more on an instinctual, unspoken level than he did on a verbal one.
The skeletons had recovered various journals, each of which had been worn away by heat and sand, and in some cases turned to dust from the ravages of time. That gave the necromancer an idea. Could he 'heal' a book?
In short, the answer was no. No he could not heal a book. This disappointed him, but it wasn't entirely unexpected either. In any case, the attempt was made. It wasn't that it didn't work, it was more that he couldn't restore the ink to its original shape. He didn't have a reference point. Much like Gravel, if he didn't know what the contents of the book was, he couldn't rearrange everything to become that. He supposed that his healing efforts had worked in the past because he had only healed other ponies. Yes, others had been Bat ponies, earth ponies and pegasus, but they were ponies in one way or another. He'd never encountered a Kobold before he'd met Gravel, and once he had the hang of it, healing the other kobolds was as simple as healing ponies.
With these books, part of the 'healing' in this case would be where each dot of ink or each stroke of the quill would have been made. With his magic, the only thing he had was a blank yet pristine book in his hooves. Staring at the pages for a long while, an idea came to mind. There was a book he'd read about Necromancy when he was in Canterlot, but the pages were assembled by those who had no time to actually study their magic. Perhaps with this, he could write his own tome. He certainly had enough dessicated pages laying around for him to write with. The only problems that faced him was the lack of writing materials and the ability to carry all of this with him.
Looking out of a freshly unbarred window to the dusty streets outside, Bone bit his lip. He could take the skeletons of this town with him, but once he reached a civilized place they would only cause others to be frightened and scared. He thought longer about his circumstances. He had a cloak on his back, didn't he? He knew what it had looked like before, so in theory...
Bone Marrow attempted to 'heal' his cloak, and much to his surprise, it flowed back into repair and color. It was a faded purple now, but still, it was able to be used. With this... couldn't he have his army of skeletons that wore cloaks? Hmm, that would still freak others out. But, if he made clothing out of the cloak....
He tore off a square of his cloak and decided to test his theory. If he healed this square, would it form another cloak? In short, the answer was a negative. The square itself was perfectly restored but it couldn't clone itself. He supposed that it wouldn't make sense if he could create an army of skeletons out of a finger bone, much like he couldn't create infinite clothing out of a single thread.
Well, in either case, he was learning more about his powers. It could repair or bring something to life, but it couldn't fully restore things that were parts to a greater whole. He supposed it made sense, seeing as dead things don't grow skeletons. Only living people could grow a skeleton, so it stood to reason that a... wait a minute, what?
Bone Marrow sat down and scratched his sandy head. "Alright, so if I'm sitting here and I can bring a skeleton to life with my magic, why can't I bring a book or some cloth to life? I mean there's nothing left of it to be 'alive', right? The skeleton can't grow anymore than it could before it died, so being alive isn't some kind of, erm," He rubbed his face. "I mean if the thing's already dead, can't I just make it undead?"
The necromancer's cold eyes looked to the book on the table in front of him, and he released two pulses of magic towards the book. It appeared to have done nothing, but when he thought about opening the book to the middle, the book opened itself to the page that Bone Marrow had thought about.
He hopped out of his seat with joy. "Yes! I did it! Hah!" Bone considered briefly that he was unreasonably happy, but he let the doubt slide. He had discovered something else that he hadn't read in the previous books. First had come healing, then had come the revelation about different amounts of power for his minions, and now, he'd discovered that he could make inanimate objects into animate objects. The possibilities were endless!
Well, not entirely endless. In all of his uses of large pulses of magic, he hadn't turned each individual grain of sand in the desert into a minion. Was it for lack of trying? Experimentation on the matter determined that no, it wasn't due to a lack of trying. No matter what he tried, all that seemed to happen was that the sand would vibrate and shuffle around. After more experimentation, he learned that if a skeleton was standing in the shaking sand, it would very quickly be buried up to its shoulders. In effect, 'Quicker Sand'.
There was a smile on the Necromancer's face. He may be in the desert with nothing but skeletons and the husks of forgotten buldings as his company, but here, he could figure out his magic. He could have a safe haven away from everyone and everything that might want to harm him. He didn't feel a limit to his power after his mistake with the Hydras in Equestria. He had someone to talk to since Toothpick was here, and for now, there was no concern other than food and sleep.
Then again, food was more of a comfort to him than a requirement. Looking at his body, he noticed that he was already skin and bones. Healing himself with a bit more effort restored his body to what he remembered it being, but he kept the sunbleached hair and fur. It was nice to have a change, and with his fur being lighter, the oppressive sun overhead made him just slightly less overheated. This was a place he could rest. If he found ink, he could write down his findings. If someone came by... well, he certainly had an army to defend himself with.
Maybe banishment would be better than he was expecting?