Fallout: Equestria Side Story: Gardener

Everyday, dozens of ponies fall in the wasteland. For one pony, each death is the start of a new life. This is the tale of Gardener and his efforts to rebuild the wasteland, one tree at a time.

Art courtesy of Jetwave

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/259/fallout-equestria-side-story-gardener

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6. Chapter 5: To All Things A Loss

Another nine months had come and gone.

Charm’s powers had given us more clean water than we could distribute ourselves, and soon we were forced to recruit strong young ponies to haul water wherever it was needed. Raiders became a problem again, and I was obligated to hire guards for the shipments of water. Each expense took away from what I was able to give to others. Every cap I paid to guards was a cap that could have been used to put food into the mouth of a foal. I found myself going over numbers and figures, acting like a business pony to maximize every last cap. I found myself spending less time in the lot with the deceased, and more time acting like a tycoon.

I hated it.

How I longed for the simple days of burying the dead, and giving praise to our goddess. Every Sunday brought a new flock: more ponies to feed, and more bottles to fill. And every Sunday, I gave all I had, but it was never enough. Our lot had become a victim of its own success. Families had come to depend on the four of us. We were a charity, yes, but the returns on our donations to the ponies had gone unreciprocated. Every Sunday, ten new parishioners flocked to the gates of the lot, and not one brought anything to help others. I felt my messages falling on deaf ears, and for the first time since I buried my friend, I felt lost. Not only was my faith wavering, but I found myself falling for Charm.

We had been working side by side for nearly a year now. No longer the awkward young filly I had rescued from a drunken step father, she had blossomed into a beautiful mare. She had taken my message of generosity to heart, and gave as much of herself as I did. Together, our generosity had blanketed the wastes around our lot, and filled the ponies with hope. I had found myself trying to keep away from her, worried that I might succumb to the desires of the flesh, and ask of her that which she need not give.

Sunday had come around again, and again I donned my robes to lead another sermon on generosity. I looked through the gates at the gathered crowd of a hundred ponies. Each one carried their own skins, pails, and jugs. I looked out at the crowd as they clamored around the gates, just waiting for the opportunity to fill their containers with the clean water we provided. There was no respite from demand. I found myself selfishly wanting to send them all away, to slap away their pails and skins and demand of them “What have you done for your neighbor today?” But I was not here to pass judgment. I was here to provide and give of myself until Celestia was done with me. And follow this task I shall until my last breath.

My sermon that day was heavier than normal. It was a grim reminder to those who took without giving faced the hardest times of all when the horn of plenty ran dry. I announced at the end of my sermon that there would be no service the next week due to the coming of the storm season. I reminded every pony to filter their rain water, and that the dead still deserved their respect. I had found that my messages of generosity had been so frequent lately, I had been forgetting to remind people of their duties to the fallen. The crowd dispersed, lugging their pails and skins back to their homes.

I threw my robes into a corner after the mass. I was disgusted that my sermon had reached a hundred pairs of ears, yet not a single pony would take my message with them. The ponies left the gates of the lot, some grumbling and moaning about how little I had given. Their complete lack of gratitude made me want to tear out my mane in frustration. Where had I gone wrong? Before Charm, we had only what we could make and the faithful assisted us however they could. Now that we had plenty, strangers showed up from miles around to ignore me for forty five minutes so they could fill their jugs. Was there no better way to spread my message?

Charm had begged me to teach her how to preach, and spent countless hours by my side as I wrote my sermons. Despite her meek voice, she too found the gift of oration, and could preach to the crowd at length about the lessons we chose to expound upon here. She had become more than a meek pony, bowing and cringing at my every word. She had become a valued member of our family, and a contributing member of the message we were trying to bring to the wastes. It had made me fall for her even more. I found myself leaving the compound on a Sunday to seek the deceased in the ruins of Manehatten just to get away from her.

I had cantered in silence deep into the ruins of Manehatten. I knew for a fact that another fallout shelter was in the basement of a ruined post office. Hopefully, I would find more deceased there, as well as supplies to distribute to my parishioners. It would be a nice change from book keeping to find and bury those gone before. It reminded me of the simpler times when I had only to give that which the dead had donated, before Charm.

Damn that mare, I couldn’t stop thinking of her. She had become my successor in every way. She could preach and heal as well as I, and her power allowed her to give more than any pony in the wastes. She had become that which Celestia demanded: a true paragon of virtue in the wastes. She asked for nothing, and gave of herself freely. Perhaps it was time for me to give her my final gift. I would give her the lot, and move on to a new city to spread my message of generosity. That would solve all my problems in one fell swoop. The branching of the church would allow Charm to continue her giving as we expanded, and it would keep me away from temptation.

I heard the crunch of breaking glass behind me in the ruins. The swirling problems of success had lessened my awareness of the surroundings. I cursed myself for losing focus. Now some pony was going to die by my hammer because I had not been careful enough to avoid him. I wondered again how much good I was doing by slaughtering ponies from one end of the wastes to the other. A cornflower fetlock emerged from behind the rubble, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was only Charm.

“You do realize how dangerous the wastes are?” I asked her. “You know how much of a target you are.”

“No one but our family knows, sir,” she said.

“My name is Gardener.”

“You’re sir to me,” she insisted. “My mother always told me to treat your betters with respect.” It sometimes amazed me at the naivety of this young mare. For a year she had been my shadow: digging in the dirt as I had, burying the dead, ministering to the sick and down trodden. Yet for some reason, she still saw me as her master despite my instance that she was a free mare. I decided to get the bottom of it once and for all.

“Why do you think I am your better?” I asked. “Because I have lived more? Because I have a following of devotees who listen to my sermons week after week? Because I am physically powerful? Do these things make me your better?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, avoiding my gaze.

“They do not,” I said. “Celestia asks me to be the Gardener but not because I am these things. They are what I have to be for her. I have lived long because there is work to be done. I preach because others must know. I am strong because I must open the concrete to bury the dead. The demands of generosity know no respite, and I must be the best I can to meet those demands. You are these things too, Charm. You have surpassed me in all ways with your honest generosity, and your giving spirit. It is I who should call you master.” She only hung her head in silence, daring not to speak. I looked at the unicorn with a weary sigh. “Charm, what is it that you want in life?”

“To see Equestria restored, and glory given to our Goddess,” she said. Her tone was that of a parrot, and I could tell that she didn’t care to reveal the truth.

“What are you not telling me?” I asked. “Charm, we are a family, and families don’t keep secrets from one another.”

“I don’t want to be your family,” she said. I was both stunned and heartbroken at her confession. Here, I thought that she would bring the world peace. Perhaps the days of labor in the sun had simply been too much for her, and she wished a much easier life in Ten Pony Tower. I could hardly blame her.

“You’re... free to go at any time,” I stammered, “and I will happily take you anywhere you want. I had hoped to give you the lot so that I could start anew...”

“I don’t want the lot,” she said quietly.

“I understand your life here hasn’t been easy, but...” She threw her arms around me, and pulled me to the ground in a passionate kiss. It surprised me so much I couldn’t resist. I didn’t want to. Yet I found myself pushing her away. Her violet eyes filled with tears as she stared at me.

“What is wrong with me?” she asked. “Am I not good enough for you? Have I not given enough of myself to earn your love?”

“I do love you, Charm.” My mind struggled for words to describe how I felt. “I love you as a daughter.”

“I don’t want to be your damned daughter!” she screamed. “ I want to be with you! Why won’t you have me?”

“Because I cannot ask that of you,” I said. “I cannot ask for your love while so many others suffer. I cannot take until I have given everything else away.” Her violet eyes glared. Pure anger flowed from her. I had never seen such passion in those beautiful eyes, and it frightened me.

“So you have to give everything away before you can take?” she demanded.

“You know my lessons of generosity,” I answered.

“If I asked for your lot?” she asked.

“It is yours if you wish it.”

“All your trees? Your cart? Your apples and greenhouses?”

“It would be yours in a heartbeat,” I replied.

“Everything you owned?” she asked. “The moon and sun? The stars above and the land below? Would you give it to me?”

“That which is mine to give, and that which I may earn belongs to others,” I said. “I would give it all to you, if you but asked for it.”

“I don’t want any of those things,” she said. “I want you. You’re not asking for anything, and I’m not offering myself to you. I’m asking you to give yourself to me.” I looked into her wonderful violet eyes, and saw a world of happiness reflected back at me. Was this a test of my dedication? Was this a temptation sent by the false goddess to corrupt the virtue I hung my life on? I could think of no way to refuse her request, yet to accept something that would bring me so much joy was beyond comprehension. Giving had made me happy, and giving myself to her would bring me elation beyond my wildest dreams. A voice in the back of my mind reminded me why I had stayed away from her, and why I had avoided the temptations of this mare.

“I cannot,” I said at last. “You are the daughter I never had. You came into my care a broken teenager, and here you stand, a mare ready to face the world. I have given you everything I have to offer. My home, my food, my wisdom is all yours. I want nothing more than to take you into my arms, but to do that means that others in the wastes would suffer. I cannot give you the love you want. To give myself to you would mean that there would be less of me to give to the rest of the wastes. I’m sorry Charm, but the needs of the many outweigh your own wants.”

“Then I can’t stay with you any longer,” she said. “I have to leave the lot.”

“I will take you to the ends of the Equestria if I have to,” I replied.

“Take me to Ten Pony Tower,” she said. “If I can’t have you, I can at least have everything else in this fucked up world.” I nodded, and escorted her in silence back to the lot. Casa was sleeping, her belly heavy with child. Gaucho was busy tending to his chores. It would be easier to tell them of her departure if there were no goodbyes.

Charm didn’t have much. A suit of barding, her revolver, a rifle, and a tattered copy of the Book of Celestia were all she had in this world. Where she was going, she’d be hailed as a queen and given every finery they could shower her with. She would live a life of luxury there, and I was happy for her. Perhaps there she would find someone her own age who would give themselves to her in heart and body.

I looked out on the endless rows of Greenhouses. The loss of her powers around the lot would mean a devastating blow for our church. Ponies would leave forever, and the congregation would wither like an unattended garden. Perhaps it was time now to give the lot to Gaucho and Casa. They would give what they could, but with a foal only days away, I expected they would provide for their family first.

I realized with some sadness that the pony whom I had intended to grant the lot to was in the middle of leaving it forever. I would have to find a new protégée, and teach them the value of generosity. Perhaps this new hero of the waste I had heard of on the radio would grace me with her presence, and I could teach her generosity instead. Maybe I was just kidding myself.

I had no need of the cart for this journey. I would take only the supplies I needed for the day’s walk there, and make note of those fallen along the road to retrieve later. Much as I was loathe to leave the dead lie, getting Charm into the safety of the tower was a much higher priority. The dead could wait another day to return home.

It was late in the afternoon when we passed a small group of ponies headed away from Ten Pony Tower. They had been unable to buy the Rad-away they had needed for their colt, and begged us for any we had. Charm looked to me for guidance. I only shook my head, and told her that she made her own choices now. Charm said that she could remove the colt’s radiation poisoning, but the procedure was long and painful. The father of the child asked if Charm would perform the spell on him so that he could tell exactly how much it would hurt the child.

Apparently, Charm had been working on her technique. The stallion only winced a few times as the green glow took the radiation away from him. It took longer this way, but it caused far less pain. I kicked the marbles into the wastes. I felt guilty at littering the waste with such harmful byproducts, but I had no way of transporting them safely. The father agreed to let the child be cleansed, and presented the colt to Charm. The child had been badly poisoned by dirty water, and was showing the signs of prolonged exposure. Charm pulled the particles from his body and expanded her cleansing envelope to the parent’s possessions as well. The child would still suffer some of the physical effects of poisoning, but he would no longer be subjected to the horrors of radiation trapped within his marrow. The ponies groveled at our feet and offered us everything they had in return for our help. Charm refused any payment, and instead asked them to remember the generosity she had shown them when it came time to help some pony else.

We gave the ponies what we could spare and left again for Ten Pony Tower. The road rose to meet us as we trotted in silence along the cracked highway. Signs of life were everywhere along the path, each one a village or settlement in the distance where we could have stopped to offer a lifetime of service. We passed again the village where Charm and I had met. They had taken my message of burial to heart. The graves of dozens littered the outside of their town, and from each one grew plants or a tree. I smiled, knowing my message had not gone completely unheard in the wastes.

Night fell as we arrived at Ten Pony Tower. We were permitted inside, and I rented a room for the evening. It was expensive, but it was a final gift to the mare who had enabled me to provide so much to the wastes. I gave her what caps I had saved, as well as some valuables I hadn’t traded yet. She asked me to stay the evening. I refused, knowing that if I stayed here with her, I would never return to the lot.

The long walk home passed like a nap on a dull winter’s day. I barely registered the signs of our lot, running instead on the memories of a thousand journeys through the doors. Rather than focus on what the lot had lost, I decided to concentrate on finalizing my plans to leave. I shuffled through my papers when a photograph fell from the stack.

I had once found a picture a of a mare long since past. She bore three diamonds on her flank, and hair as violet as the setting sky. I thought her beautiful not because of her stunning looks, but because she had giving eyes. In those blue eyes were reflected the spirit of generosity. In the picture, she was surrounded by friends who supped at her table. She sought to give more of herself by bringing plates of food to an already overflowing table. I would have like to met that mare, but like so many others, she was lost to the ravages of time. I had kept that picture safe to remind me of the virtue that I had pledged myself too, and to always give more no matter how much others had.

For years, I had assumed that generosity had made me happy. What it had done was assuage the guilt of my success. I had so much, and others so little that giving seemed the only thing to do. Standing here in the Orchard, I looked back on that picture. Leaving the lot to Casa and Gaucho seemed the only thing left to do with it. The ground was full of the departed, and the greenhouses filled the lot with trees.

Because I was blessed, I would prosper elsewhere in the wastes. I would start a new lot, and I would preach my message elsewhere. There were ponies still who needed me still, and I would give to them everything the goddess would bless me with.

   
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