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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7. Chapter 6: To All Things An End.

Spring had always been a time of renewal.

Through the sporadic rainstorms, and the budding of new life, Spring had always brought me hope that Equestria could one day become restored. It was that early spring morning that I made my plans to leave the lot. Casa and Gaucho were thankful for the gift, and promised to carry on what work they could in Charm’s absence. They asked me to stay, and understood when I explained why I couldn’t.

Before I left, there was business to attend to. There were caravans to cancel and guards to pay. I had been lucky enough to schedule them for a Monday pick up. They were disappointed to hear the church was closing, and offered to spread the word for me. I thanked them, and gave them each some apples to carry back to their homes. The guards were also disappointed to end their contracts. It had been an easy job for them to guard the shipments, and I suspected some were siphoning profits for themselves.

None of that mattered anymore. The lot was Casa and Gaucho’s now. I could no longer give of its tree or fields of wheat, as they were no longer mine to give. Casa’s foal was due any time now, and I agreed to stay long enough to deliver. I was no midwife, but I was skilled enough to bring another life into the wastes. I walked to my room to start packing my things.

My bedroom seemed bleaker now that it had ever been in the past. I looked upon my possession to realize that aside from what I was wearing, I owned a single Book of Celestia, and a wool cloak. I threw on the cloak, and put the book in my saddlebags. There was nothing else to pack; I could leave at any time. I wandered away from my room and to the roof of the showroom where I could watch the wastes. I came up here on occasions to try to glimpse the heavens. Clouds rolled in today, obscuring the view of the sky and filling the wastes with a dull, foreboding light. Something appeared on the horizon. Something... no, some pony, cornflower blue, and galloping at full speed toward the lot. It was Charm.

I dashed down the stairs and to the front door to meet the unicorn. She shot past me and into the walled compound. She began screaming, begging me to take up defenses, to help her. I asked her what she was talking about.

“Him!” she cried. “He found me there! I don’t know how, I don’t know where he came from, but Ender found me at Ten Pony Tower. I managed to get past him and his thugs. Please take me back, Gardener. Please help me.”

“You are my daughter,” I said to Charm. “I will never forsake you, no matter how much trouble you find yourself in. Here, you are safe.”

“They are coming,” she said. Her violet eyes locked with my own. “They know. One of them saw me perform the cleansing. I know they followed.” She tore at her mane, and wept frightened tears. “Oh goddess, I’ve brought the end with me. My greed will be the end of us all. I'm so sorry Gardener. I should go; I should keep running. I can't ask you to protect me. Not here. not with Casa.”

“We are safe here,” I said again. “We are a family, and families protect each other.”

I made ready the compound’s defenses. Gaucho’s turrets whirred to life and swept the no-man's land for any sign of invaders. I took to the roof and looked out upon the horizon to see only a single purple unicorn trotting toward the compound. I made my way outside.

“You are not welcome here,” I told Ender as he approached. “Leave or be returned to the soils of Equestria.”

“Where is your hospitality now, Gardener?” asked the purple unicorn. “Does your message of giving only apply to those you deem worthy? What would Celestia say to that?”

“This is no longer my home,” I replied. “Nothing here is mine to give.”

“Even after you broke my leg, I respected you for your conviction,” said Ender. “Your gift of mercy kept me from leveling your lot; I’m glad to see it's no longer yours. Leave now and you’ll live. Give me the girl, and you’ll be generously rewarded.” He chuckled underneath his barding. “When is the last time your goddess offered you reward for anything?”

“With Celestia as my witness,” I swore, “if you cross that line, you will die here. I will leave your corpse to rot in the wastes so it does not to taint the life that grows within. Step over that line, Ender, and it will be your last mistake.”

“I will cross this line, Gardener,” replied Ender. “And I will take that girl in every way possible as you watch.” Ender trotted away from the line and disappeared into the afternoon. It was a small relief to see him leave. I wanted to chase him down and kill him on the spot, but I knew that others were coming, and I had to make ready our defenses. Thunder rumbled over head; a war was coming to our doorstep.

Over the course of the afternoon, I had reloaded the turrets with the ammunition we had made from the marbles. Whatever army was headed our way was sure to be the best Ender could muster. I readied traps at the entrances, and fortified our windows. Gaucho donned his armor, and strapped into his battle saddle. He powered up his cart, and rolled ready to fight.

The stress of the imminent attack had forced Casa into labor. Charm took the mare into the basement of the showroom to assist with the birth. Gaucho and I had both wanted to be present when their foal was born, but if we failed at the task at hand, the foal wouldn’t be alive long enough to know the love of his parents. I took watch on the rooftop and awaited the onslaught. Gaucho waited in the trees, ready to rain mortars upon whatever came our way. I only hoped he survived to see his child grow up.

It was near evening by the time a cloud of dust began rolling over the horizon. It was far worse than I had expected. There was a herd of ponies headed for the lot, hooves thundering across the wastes. They had come as a plague of judgment, and I felt fear for the first time in many years. Fifty ponies galloped to war, ready to destroy the orchard and all that stood in their way. Two ponies stood ready to defend it against the onslaught of raiders and mercenaries. I pushed away the fear, and felt an amazing calm sweep over me. It was as if the voice of the goddess told me that it was all going to be all right. I was no longer worried about winning this battle.

I had heard the crying of a newborn foal from far below me. I thanked Celestia for her kindness, and made my way to the showroom. Charm came up to tell me that Gaucho had a son. I ordered her to stay with Casa and defend that foal to her dying breath. I was not opposed to the idea of mares fighting. Indeed, I had seen mares more ferocious than Diamond Dogs in my time defending their young, but this was no place for such heroics. This was a time for violence, and it was going to be a bloodbath.

The first missile struck where Charm had repaired the wall nearly a year ago. Great chunks of concrete flew over the lot, and shattered greenhouse windows. The walls otherwise held, and soon the turrets were chattering death upon the invaders. Another missile struck the walls, opening a hole large enough to fire from. Gaucho rolled to the hole and began picking off ponies with a rifle. Mortars rained from between greenhouses, and decimated the lands that once were fields of wheat. It was going to be a hassle picking bits of shrapnel out of the ground for fall’s harvest.

I made my way back to the roof. The compound was now in full siege now; we were surrounded by ponies who wanted us dead. They fired into the walls and lobbed grenades from behind the wagon wheel fence of safety. I cursed myself for not letting Gaucho install a free fire mode. For all my preparations, I had never expected a full scale assault to come to my Orchard.

My. Again with the me. Here I was defending the home of a friend and all I could think of was myself. I focused instead on the task, and began firing back at the ponies that besieged the compound. Bullets glanced from the parapets of the roof, throwing shards of concrete into my armor. One nicked my flank, cutting through the metal plates there. It appeared that Ender had gotten wiser, and spent the money to outfit his troops with better ammunition than our previous encounter. The turret nearest me spun and coughed a dozen more rounds, sending three ponies to the ground in a spray of blood. From what I could see, the army of fifty had been cut down by fifteen already. We were winning the fight, but there was still much more to go.

I saw Ender ordering his troops back from the walls as he stood atop a cart. The pony with the missile launcher took aim at the turret nearest me. The rocket streaked across the twilight sky. It may have been majestic sight to others, and if it hadn’t been our turret he was shooting at, I would have applauded him for a fantastic shot. I dove for the stairwell as the ammunition inside ignited, and blasted both the lot and the no-man’s land with hot shrapnel. I cursed the loss of the turret, but we were still in the fight. Every stretch of the outside wall had been covered by two turrets for just such an occasion. It wasn’t until I heard the second rocket strike that I began to worry.

Gaucho had heard the explosions, and rolled his way to the barricades we erected outside the front gate. With the two front turrets out, there was little place for them to attack but the main gate. I joined Gaucho behind the barricades and waited for the doors to breech. Three explosions popped outside our front door. They had found the land mines. A pit of spikes awaited the first ponies who breached the door. Past that, there was only Gaucho’s battle saddle and my steel hardened resolve.

The explosion at the gate took us both by surprise. When I saw the cart spiral into the air, I realized they had packed explosives into it to make a battering ram. They clearly hadn’t used enough, as it only bent the gate halfway open. Ponies poured into through the breach. The first few fell into the pit of spikes. Their companions used them as a bridge to get past. There was no cover from that direction, and they were sitting ducks for Gaucho’s chattering cannons. I fired back with my own rifle, staying low along the barricade. A half a dozen more ponies had fallen by this time, and the enemy looked to be losing their nerve.

The battle would have continued well if the wall had not exploded in a shower of concrete and steel. They had lured us into a false sense of superiority, and we paid for that mistake in pain. Concrete peppered our armor, and the ponies poured through the new hole in the wall. Twenty five ponies remained standing; there were two of us. Gaucho flipped down helmet, and thanked me for being his friend.

Gaucho’s spun on his cart, and began strafing the crowd of on rushing ponies. They couldn’t keep up with his erratic movements, and found themselves being cut down by a hail of bullets. Shell casings littered the ground as Gaucho whooped and hollered, his battle saddles unloading hot death in defense of his home. Seven more ponies fell underneath his wall of lead. I managed to score two more kills from my position behind the barricades. I popped up again to see the missile launcher pony peeking from behind the breech.

The missile struck the ground between us. The explosion threw Gaucho through the glass portrait of Celestia. I knew his armor would protect him from the glass, but as I tumbled through the air, I wondered how well it would have protected him from the concussion of the missile. I landed in the open, the impact of the ground cracking my armor and several of my ribs. Bullets rained on my position, some tearing through my armor and burying themselves deep in my sides. I rolled away and hid in the spread of greenhouses. I was bleeding from more bullet wounds than I could count, yet I felt no pain. In all my years of battle, I had never felt such elation. I was enjoying myself so much, I had to laugh. Here I was, bleeding to death with another dozen or so ponies to fight and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I saw a pony with a flame thrower emerge from the back of the herd, and I heard Ender ordering him to torch the showroom. I got to my feet, and charged from the safety of the greenhouses toward the remaining ponies. Flamer or no, I would not allow them into the showroom while I still drew breath. The missile pony reloaded. Others gathered between the heavy weapons ponies to maximize their killing power. Shots peppered the concrete around me as I weaved from cover to cover. The bullet wounds were slowing me down, and felt that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to the flamer pony in time.

From above, I head the sharp crack of a rifle. All the ponies who had been standing near the flamer were engulfed in an earth shaking fireball. From atop the showroom, I saw Charm working a lever rifle. She had started picking off the biggest threats, and had gotten a perfect shot on the flamer’s tank. As the wailing pyre of ponies fell to the ground, Charm unloaded another shot at the missile launcher.

She hadn’t been aiming for the pony; she had been aiming for the warhead. Her rifle round punctured the head of the missile and blew to pieces any pony within ten yards. The remaining ten ponies concentrated their fire at the roof tops. I thanked Celestia again for that mare as I drew hammer upon the first of my last ten opponents.

The first pony was blindsided by the swinging hammer that took half his head away. Showered in gore, I stepped into the swing and brought the hammer through the ribs of the next pony. The world seemed to slow around me. My body warned that it was failing, but there was no stopping me now. Like the berserker ponies of ancient Equestria, I plowed through my enemies. Even as they turned their guns on me, I laughed. The third pony fell under a vicious buck that echoed with the familiar crunch of skull, and the fourth lost his hips to the triumphant crush of sledge.

Bullets clattered off my armor, through my armor, through me. I didn’t care. I was a hurricane of destruction, tearing through the ponies in my path. Five, six, and seven evaporated in showers of broken ponies as eight and nine were crushed together by my invincible hooves. Of the fifty ponies who had dared to take the lot, Ender stood alone.

He had been watching me mow through his army, a pony possessed by the righteous fury of Celestia. He had watched and waited, sword drawn. As I cut down the final ponies, he charged and buried his sword in my chest. An infinite world of pain came back to me in that moment. My righteous fury had failed me at the last second, and here I stood, unable to deliver the final blow. The hammer dropped from my teeth more in shock than pain.

I fell to the ground, and the world faded around me. I heard a voice calling my name in a whisper from miles away. I wanted to follow that voice home. I would follow it to the ends of the Equestria, as it was surely the gentle words of my goddess. I was ready to let go when I heard another whisper from much closer.

“I hope you’re alive long enough to hear her scream.”

The world came back to me. My teeth shot forward and grabbed Ender’s horn. In my last act of this world, I jerked my head to the side. The crunch of snapping vertebrae said it all. The look of shock in those malicious yellow eyes as I shattered that bastard’s neck made it all worth it.

I fell free of the unicorn and looked to the heavens as the rain fell into my eyes. My journey ended as it had began. That was the way of things in the wastes.

Rain.

Gardener had told me many times of the miracle of rain. About its ability to wash clean the sins of our failings, and bring the gifts of life from the heavens. He lie there in the rain, surrounded by the bodies of the raiders that sought to destroy our way of life and snuff the spark of generosity we had had tried to ignite. Outnumbered twenty to one, his defense of the lot signaled a clear victory of the way of generosity over the forces of chaos that ruled the wastes. He had given everything he had in our defense. I looked upon the pony’s body as the tears of anguish welled inside.

I had planned a life with him. I had hoped to one day walk through the restored lands of Equestria with him. I had hoped to bear his children and raise them with the miracle of generosity that he had taught me. But he hadn’t want those things; he only wanted to give me the love a father gives a child. In my jealously, I left his embrace for my own selfish aims. Now instead of starting a life anew, he lie on the concrete, defeated at last by the wastes which he had fought so hard to dispel. I closed his yellow eyes, and wept for Equestria’s loss.

Casa came to me, and put a hoof on my shoulder. She begged me to come out of the rain, and told me we would bury him later. I refused. When he could help it, Gardener had never let a pony lie. This lot, this orchard of life, was his legacy. As the rains extinguished the fires around me, I would see to it that he became part of it once more. I picked up his sledge, and pounded the cement with all the force I could muster.

Cracks formed in the concrete under the hammer’s blows. I could see why he wielded it in battle. It struck like a thunderbolt, and in his teeth it would crush all that stood in his way. The rain washed the sweat from my coat as I worked, and cleansed the blood from Gardener’s broken body. I floated away the concrete chunks I would need to repair the walls. Great scoops of soggy earth levitated from the circle and mud sloshed over the sides as I created a grave for the father I never had. I picked up his broken body in my hooves, and removed his helm. He looked serene, as if he were asleep in my arms. I had never gotten to thank him for his sacrifice.

Rain continued to fall on us; the storm showed no signs of abating. It was as if the clouds themselves knew of Gardener’s passing, and hoped that their prayers of tears would bring him back. I looked down at him for the last time, and whispered the rites of burial he had taught me. The mud fell upon him in a waterfall of earth, and Equestria welcomed home his mortal remains. I would return when the rains stopped, and plant our finest sapling on his grave. I knew his tree would grow strong; that it would give shelter and life to everything around it just as he had. I only hoped I had taken in enough of his lessons to continue his dream.

I walked back into the showroom, still dripping with the wet of rain. The radio played quietly, and the dulcet tones of singers long since past filled the home with peace. Gaucho lay unconscious in his cart. I had taken off his armor after he had come crashing through the window. His barding had protected him from the onslaught of the army and he would live to see another day. His wife sat beside him, coddling their newborn foal. She wept for her lost friend.

I picked Gardener’s cloak from the ground, and wrapped myself in the soft wool. It still smelled of him: of earth and sweat; of hope and generosity; of blood and life. I pulled the cloak in tight, and basked in his last warmth. Even death could not stop him from giving the slightest comforts to those who asked. I knew now that Celestia had called to me to save Equestria by giving of myself. I only wished that she would have left him as an example to us all. The loss of Gardener was a clear punishment. In my own selfish arrogance, I had brought about his demise. Tears streamed down my muzzle as I stood and stared back into the rain.

“Are you going to be okay?” asked Casa. I looked to the grave I had given Gardener, then back at Casa. I was no longer the Charm that had come here a lifetime ago, but the heir to a destiny of service that I hadn’t known existed until now.

“I can’t be Charm anymore,” I told her. The thunder rumbled behind me. “The waste needs some pony like him to preach the message of generosity and renewal. Some pony to bring the dead home, and to bury the past. Whatever I may have wanted in this life no longer matters now. I’m the reason he’s gone.” I looked down at my cloak, then back to Casa.

“I will still teach my spell of cleansing to any who can learn,” I told her. “But to the world, Charm is dead. As penance for robbing the world of his generosity, I will take up his mantle and hammer, and I will give of myself till my dying day.”

“Now, I am the Gardener.”

   
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