• Published 18th Jan 2012
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Fallout Equestria: The Ditzy Doo Chronicles - Ten Mihara



200 Years is a long time. It's time to tell my side of the story.

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Chapter 5: Legacies

Chapter 5: Legacies

“And his father before him, and his father before him...”

Farming.

Before Equestria's industrial revolution, farming was one of the most time consuming, yet necessary, components of everyday life. When spring came around, entire communities had to put everything else on hold to wrap up winter and set up their local farmlands for the coming year. Not only did they have to grow enough food for their community for the coming year, but they also had to make sure they had sufficient stores to last through the following winter.

That all changed when the technological age began. Revolutions in both arcane science and earth pony technology allowed much smaller groups to provide much larger yields, and improved processes made farming much less time consuming. However, there were still farmers. Now, in the wake of the apocalypse, there are no more farmers. Fresh crops are all but unheard of, and most of the food available dates back to before the holocaust. Ponies even took to eating meat, which would have been unthinkable under less desperate circumstances.

However, the shadow of the farms of old still lingers. Ponies herded cattle to produce milk, sheep for wool, and pigs for the finding of rare plants, such as truffles. While I hadn't seen a sheep or pig in years, May and I finally happened across a herd of cattle outside of Ponyville, which we had not been in the vicinity of in decades. However, these were not the cows that either of us had known from before the war.

These creatures were the descendants of the cows of old, twisted over several generations by magical radiation in their food and water. Their hides, formerly mottled white, brown and black fur, were now red and leathery, toughened and thickened against the harsh environment of the Equestrian Wasteland. As well, their udders were massively engrossed, nearly dragging against the ground. And that was just their outsides.

May had approached the herd of mutated cattle with the intention of studying the effects that radiation had on them in detail. We were both rather surprised to learn that these cattle, despite their mutations, remained sentient. They were quite polite, but before they were willing to give May some samples to study, they wanted our help. We were talking with them while they were holed up in an old barn.

“It's nice to see some decent pony folk,” said the lead cow, who went by the name of Mooriel. “Too often when ponies come by, all they want is to pop off a few of us for meat or hide.”

“We've had our fair share of hardship from other ponies as well,” I replied. Ghouls were not very well received in most parts of the Wasteland. It was hard to blame them; May and I had encountered plenty of mad, cannibalistic zombie ponies, and they far outnumbered the ghouls that were still sane.

“That's too bad deary,” chimed in an elderly cow named Agatha. “You seem like such nice girls. You just had the bad luck of being twisted up by those nasty Zebra magics. I remember when I was a calf, my ma thought I was sickly because of the way we look now.”

“That changed when more and more of us were born like this,” added Mooriel. “Now there's none of the old cows left.”

“That's part of why I'm interested in you,” noted May. “Many animals didn't survive even a single generation of radiation exposure. You not only survived, but adapted marvellously to the harshness of the post-war environment, and are, relatively speaking, thriving. I hope to find out the ways in which the magical fallout has affected the living creatures, how they've adapted, and possibly how to reverse some of the more permanent malignant effects.”

When she mentioned 'permanent malignant effects', I knew full well that May was referring to ourselves. The existence of ghouls was still one of the greatest mysteries of the Wasteland, and she meant to solve it. She never mentioned it aloud, but she feared that we might some day suffer the same fate as the zombie ponies who lost their minds and became flesh eating monsters. Seeing the cattle gave her hope, since their mutations were entirely beneficial, at least from a survival perspective.

“Well, maybe we can help each other then,” intoned Mooriel. “You girls have been out there in the wild and seem to know a thing or two.”

“I guess you could say that.” True that May and I had been travelling through the Wasteland for forty years now, but we had spent most of that time running from a variety of threats. Still, I wasn't about to mention that if it could help May's research.

“What is it you need?” asked May. She would probably want to help them even if there was nothing to be gained from it.

“Well, you no doubt saw our... 'friends', out front when you came by.” Mooriel was referring to the three cattle corpses that lay in the grazing pen outside the barn. They had been gored savagely, their bodies torn apart. One of them had been a calf.

“Poor dears,” moaned Agatha. “Nasty beasties charged right through the fence and tore them up something fierce.”

“Beasties?” asked May. She looked at me, but I shrugged. There were plenty of things we had met that could be considered 'beasties'.

“These really nasty, bloated things,” elaborated Mooriel. “Kinda look like pigs, but bigger. Huge, nasty tusks.”

May nodded, then her horn lit up. She floated out a journal and a pencil, opening the book to a fresh page. She jotted down the description, then looked back to Mooriel. “Anything else you can tell us?”

“We never used to have problems with them.” Mooriel pointed a cloven hoof out a nearby window, the glass shattered long ago. “They usually kept to themselves over in that field east of here, only attackin' things what strayed into their turf. This is the first time they've ever lashed out. We really don't want there to be a second.”

May continued to scribble in her journal. She had been keeping a few different ones for her notes on ghoul ponies, wildlife and plants respectively. I glanced over her shoulder, although I gained little from attempting to read her notes. Her penmanship was nearly illegible, almost looking like code. If I ever took up writing, I would make sure to print more clearly. The only thing I could really make out was a diagram she had drawn, predicting what the mutated pig things looked like.

***

May's depiction of the mutated swine, while not a bad estimation, failed to truly capture the ugliness of the creatures. The radiation had been far more cruel to them than to the cattle. They were bloated and grotesque, with odd growths forming occasionally out of their flesh. Their tusks were horribly elongated, and looked strong enough to punch through steel. Their hides were a sickly off-pink colour that reminded me a little of our own decrepit flesh.

May and I lay crouched on a hill overlooking the field where the 'radhogs' (May was intelligent, but not the most creative pony I'd ever met) were located. She was levitating a pair of binoculars in front of her eyes, and her journal lay open on her left. She periodically set the binoculars down to scribble something, then resumed her observation. At present, the radhogs were butting heads with each other fiercely, the clashing of their tusks audible from this far away.

I waited quietly as May made her observations. After a few minutes, she levitated the journal and pencil beck into her saddlebags. “How are we gonna deal with them?” I asked.

“Well, they haven't noticed us yet,” mused May. She glanced to her shoulder where Gizmo's gun was holstered. Between its modifications and the targeting spell of her Pipbuck, she had become an excellent shot over the years.

I, on the other hoof, had neither a weapon nor a Pipbuck. I had tried using both mouth held weapons and battle saddles in the past, both to a rather futile effect. My lazy eye made aiming damn near impossible, and I wasn't about to fire wildly on the off chance I'd hit May or anypony else I wasn't intending to. For the most part, I had fallen back into my old role of carrying stuff from place to place. Being a pack pony wasn't much different from being a courier.

“Unfortunately,” she added, giving a stomp of her Pipbuck hoof, “they're too far away for S.A.T.S. To lock on properly. I'm rubbish without it.”

“Is there anything else we could do?” I wasn't sure I wanted to start a fight. May and I were down to our last two healing potions, and we hadn't been anywhere friendly to resupply in some time.

“Maybe, if we could figure out what has them riled up in the first place.” May looked over the field, this time glancing beyond the edges of the pasture where the radhogs were. She gave a soft stomp of her Pipbuck equipped hoof, focusing intently on something I couldn't see.

Thankfully, I knew what she was doing, as she had explained it to me shortly after the incident in the Manehattan General Hospital. The Eyes-Forward-Sparkle feature of her Pipbuck allowed her to see other creatures (or, as we had encountered a few times, robots) that might not be in her normal field of vision. It could also determine whether or not the creatures it detected were hostile. How it did all that I have no idea, but I trusted May on it. The only thing it had trouble with was other ghouls, as it seemed to have a hard time recognizing them as 'living' creatures.

According to May, all of the radhogs were registering as hostile, even though they weren't actively attacking us. I watched May as she began to stare intently at a point beyond the field on the opposite side from us. She proclaimed that two non-hostile marks had appeared, and were slowly approaching the radhogs. They had come from the direction of Ponyville.

May was about to pick up her binoculars for a better look when a gunshot rang out, followed closely by another. Remembering all the times we had been shot at before, I swiftly grabbed May and pulled her below the crest of the hill. Mercifully, I neither heard nor felt the impact of a bullet. Whoever had fired had not been aiming at us. As I slowly began to get back on my hooves, I felt the ground begin to rumble beneath them.

“They're coming right for us!” shouted May, springing to her hooves. I didn't bother asking who 'they' meant.

I gave a hard flap of my wings, thrusting myself into the air. I slipped my fore hooves beneath May's shoulders and lifted her up. I had gotten used to hoisting things with my featherless wings, but it still required a great deal of effort. I missed the luxury of hauling wagons that were magically lightened with spark engines. I managed to pull May up just as a small stampede of the pig creatures raced underneath us. The smell drifting up from them was awful.

I held May aloft as the radhogs charged beneath us. From the higher altitude, I could make out the field they had previously occupied more clearly. Two ponies were approaching the carcass of a dead radhog, the apparent target of the shots fired earlier. At least one of them was a unicorn, as there was a rifle floating along side the pair. Odds were that these same ponies were responsible for riling up the beasts before, resulting in their attack on the cattle.

My attention was torn from the pair of ponies as my grasp on May's shoulders slipped. I caught her quickly, but dipped lower in the attempt. May's hind hooves brushed the back of one of the radhogs, eliciting a panicked squeal from the creature. It broke away from the stampede and began swerving back towards us. It was promptly followed by two more that turned back towards us, snarling fiercely.

The strain of holding May up was becoming unbearable, and I had to set her back down on the ground. I immediately dropped down next to her, intending to start running. The radhogs weren't all that fast. May had her own ideas, telekinetically drawing That Gun out of its holster. Perhaps she wanted to autopsy one of the creatures for her research.

As the radhogs bore down on us, May slipped into her Pipbuck's targeting spell. It was always fascinating to watch as she seemed to zone out, every ounce of her perception taken in by the spell. The gun floating in front of her moved ever so slightly, adjusting its angle in keeping with the spell's intense precision. The small gem on the back glowed dimly. Two cracks came from the gun as May fired a pair of shots at the first pig creature. It went down hard, rolling to a stop a few feet from where it dropped.

The other two radhogs continued, blinded to the danger by either anger or confusion. May sent three more shots into the next pig, the rapid sequence of shots causing its head to practically explode. The gun was now empty, but May had learned from her previous misfires. She dropped the targeting spell, quickly pulling another ammo cylinder out of the bandoleer, ejecting the old bullet cases as she brought the new ones up to the gun. Even after forty years, Gizmo's modifications made reloading quick and easy.

The pig was nearly on top of us as May brought the gun forward again. At this range she would be hard pressed to miss, even with her targeting spell down. She pointed the gun right at the beast's snarling maw and then... nothing. There was a pained sounding twang and a hollow click as May pulled the trigger. The gun had jammed!

May had no time to make another move as the radhog smashed into her. One of its tusks carved a brutal gash along her side as the impact sent her reeling. Dark, viscous blood oozed out of the wound, staining the beast's tusk.

The beast tossed May aside like a rag doll, landing roughly a few feet away. It turned towards me, snarling viciously. I was not about to be killed by a pig; I'd survived worse encounters. I turned away from the creature, as though I was going to run, but then reared up on my front legs, driving both of my hind hooves into the snout of the radhog. I was rewarded with a sickening crack and the creature's nose broke under my blow. Despite the apparent ferocity of the mutated pigs, they were rather squishy on the inside.

The blow knocked the radhog back, blood flowing from its broken snout. With the opening provided, I took to the air, flying directly above the creature. Hurt and confused, it staggered around and began to thrash blindly. I dove straight down towards it, holding my forelegs straight on in front of me. I threw my full weight into the creature, which when coupled with the force of the dive, was enough to crush the skull of the pig. It collapsed beneath me, blood spurting from its mangled head and staining the flesh around my hooves.

Ignoring the splattered radhog, I flew over to May as quickly as I could. She was still oozing blood from the sickening gash, and her breathing was shallow. I threw open her saddlebags and retrieved our last healing potions. I nudged May with my muzzle until she was laying on her back, then proceeded to pour the healing potions down her throat. May gagged, causing some of the precious healing fluid to spill, but she swallowed most of it.

The gash was bad enough that the healing potions were not enough to fully close it. Thankfully, it was enough for May to regain consciousness, at which point she began to treat herself. She cleaned the wound with some irradiated water. On a normal pony she would never have done such a thing, but our radiation immunity allowed us to conserve purified water for others. She wrapped her midsection with bandages, tying them tightly around the wound.

“Thanks,” said May, addressing me as she retrieved That Gun, tossed aside when the pig flung her. The revolver didn't suffer any additional damage, but it had never failed her before.

“What happened?” I asked, looking at the gun held in May's telekinetic grasp. It didn't look broken.

“I'm not sure,” muttered May, opening the chamber and expecting it. “I don't know too much about guns beyond how to shoot one. Gizmo could probably tell us if he were still around.”

I sighed. That wasn't going to do us any good. However, there was still another option. The ponies that had attacked the radhogs had evidently come from Ponyville, which meant that the town was still inhabited. If we were lucky, somepony there might remember or even recognize us, and be able to offer some assistance. At the very least, we had to talk to them about the plight of the cattle.

***

“Oh dear,” said Mooriel, looking at the bandages wrapped around May's middle. “Are you holding up alright?”

May and I had returned to the cattle's barn to tell them what we had seen. The stampede of radhogs had trampled what remained of the fence around the outside, but they had avoided the barn, sparing the rest of the mutated cows within. Most of them seemed surprised that we were even alive after the stampede. Mooriel admitted that she felt bad for asking us to put ourselves in harms way on their account, and had agreed to allow May the chance to perform her study of them.

“I've had worse,” stated May, shrugging off the remark. “Besides, how many times have we been shot now Ditzy?”

“Lost count,” I replied. More than half the time May and I encountered other survivors, we had been shot at, some occurrences more accurate than others. The ones that didn't shoot were usually other ghouls, and most of them tried to eat us instead.

“Well, the important thing is that you're alive,” stated Mooriel. “We appreciate you looking into the matter for us, but what will you do now?”

“We're heading to Ponyville,” stated May firmly. “Ditzy and I need to resupply. Plus, they're the ones responsible for riling up the radhogs, and we need to ask them to stop.”

“Oh dear,” cut in Agatha, “you can't seriously be thinking of going to Ponyville.” Her tone was frantic; worried.

“Why not?” I asked incredulously. The way Agatha spoke of the town, it was as though it was hazardous. Granted, many places where normal ponies resided were hazardous for ghouls anyways.

“The ponies down there ain't a friendly lot,” warned Agatha. “That there's a raider town now.”

My ears perked up. Raider? I looked over to May, who seemed to have noticed the same as I had. It had been nearly forty years since we had seen Raider, and we didn't even know if he was still alive. If he was, then going to Ponyville wouldn't be a problem at all. He had a reputation of defending the town fiercely, but May and I shouldn't have any difficulties, not being bandits or the like.

“We know Raider,” I claimed, smiling at the cows. They looked dubious. “He may be rough on the outside, but he really is just looking out for the best interest of the ponies in his care. Frankly, I'm surprised he's still alive after all this time. He'd be almost as old as I am.”

The cows still looked sceptical. “Can't say I agree with you,” muttered Mooriel, “but I can't really stop you either. Just make sure you take care of yourselves.”

May and I promised to be careful, although the thought of seeing Raider again gave me a fair bit of confidence. With Blinkie Pie dead and Gizmo gone, the number of ponies that I knew was rapidly diminishing. Even worse, I knew that I was doomed to outlive anypony who wasn't a ghoul, unless I got killed by something in the wasteland. I did not relish either possibility. In the end, May would probably be my last and only friend.

Shaking away the morbid thoughts, I watched curiously as May waved her horn over the mutated cattle. She frequently stopped to jot things down in her journal, then resumed her analysis just as quickly. I smiled as I watched her, and she smiled as she worked. Learning about the way radiation had twisted the land might normally have been a grim subject, but to May it was a chance to discover. She held on to the hope that a cure for ghouls could eventually be found, and I admittedly hoped she was right.

***

“It's actually pretty amazing,” stated May as the pair of us walked towards Ponyville. She was filling me in on what she had discovered about the mutated cattle. “Their insides have effectively been doubled in order to resist the more malignant effects of radiation. Eight stomachs to better digest irradiated food, four kidneys and two livers to break down the extra toxins, and an extra heart to keep blood flowing to the other additional organs.”

I chuckled, “If only we were so lucky.”

“Maybe not,” muttered May. “From what I could tell, the mitosis of their mutated cells was still ongoing. In another couple generations they might end up with multiples of their exterior appendages. They might even sprout another head!”

I grimaced. I knew I certainly wouldn't want to have two heads. “Nothing like that is gonna happen to us... right?”

May shook her head, providing me with a bit of relief. “Our cells absorbed a huge dose of radiation all at once, and only huge concentrations of radiation have any additional impact. The cattle's exposure was gradual, which is why the effects are still ongoing.”

I nodded. My attention was pulled away from out conversation as the sound of water reached my ears. They perked up, as the sound was not what it should have been. May and I had reached the river that ran adjacent to Ponyville, but it could hardly be called that anymore. Instead of flowing water, the river was filled with thick, sludgy muck. It made the sound of a slobbering dog as it sloughed past the supports of a nearby bridge.

I felt like I wanted to be sick. May's concern about the river's source turning foul had been grotesquely accurate. I really hoped nopony was drinking from it anymore. May pushed me to ignore it, and began moving towards the bridge. I followed, holding my breath against the smell coming off the stream. As we crossed the bridge, Ponyville came into view. It had not weathered the past four decades well, and I couldn't see anypony around.

From where we were, the town looked like it was falling apart. Apparently there hadn't been a skilled repairpony in the town since Gizmo's departure. Many of the buildings looked in danger of collapse, and I could see one that already had. I recognized it as a flower shop that had been the former home of a pony named Daisy. I found myself wondering if she had made it into Stable Two. If she had, was she still around? She would be as old as me if she were.

My musings came to an abrupt end as May and I reached the far side of a bridge. Although I didn't see where it came from, I saw the glint of metal as something flew towards us. It was shaped like an apple, and landed inches away from us. I had done enough deliveries for the Ministry of Technology to know it was a grenade. The stem had been pulled.

Without hesitation, I tackled May to the ground, shielding her from the explosive. I then kicked blindly at it with my hind legs, trying to send it away from us. I felt a hoof connect with the grenade, which skidded away along the ground for about half a second before detonating. The boom was close enough to be nearly deafening. I screamed as bits of jagged metal embedded themselves in my legs, flanks and back. By some small miracle my wings were spared. I collapsed limply on top of May, who had covered her head with her forehooves, in which I could see a few more bits of charred shrapnel.

My ears were ringing from the sound of the blast. It was a small mercy that I had managed to kick the grenade away, otherwise I might not be attached to my ears to hear it. As it was, I couldn't get up. Between the disorientation and the shrapnel tearing up the rear half of my body, I felt like I was going to pass out. If I did though, it would leave May pinned and helpless against whoever had attacked us in the first place. Sadly, I could not even summon the strength to move.

I felt May squirm beneath my limp body, trying to get out from under me. I could no longer feel my hind legs, and May was not strong enough to shift my dead weight. I felt an odd tingling sensation as May wrapped me in a field of magical levitation. I was hoisted up a few inches, allowing her to drag herself free. I was set back down gently, and I suspected May was moving to inspect my injuries. I couldn't turn my head well enough to see.

Instead, I found my lazy eye rolling about on its own again. It came to a stop when it was met with a pair of barrels pointed directly at my head. “Hurry up and blast it,” I heard somepony shout over the droning noise in my ears. “I ain't fixin' to be snacked on today.”

“Wait!” shrieked May from somewhere out of sight. The pony holding the gun did not wait, and I closed my eyes against the incoming shot.

Ka-blam!

I completely lost my hearing as the shot was fired. I was surprised however, to find that I had not lost my head along with it. Opening my eyes and forcing them both to focus together, I saw that the gun had been jerked up and away from my head, the barrels still smoking. The rosy light of May's magic was just fading away from it, though it was still clenched firmly in the mouth of the pony holding it. He looked more than a little confused.

I turned my head ever so slightly, which still managed to hurt a lot, to try and see what was happening, since I couldn't rely on my hearing right now. My lazy eye was at least willing to accommodate this, as it rolled over to land on May. She was apparently yelling at the ponies who had attacked us. There were three of them in all, two earth ponies and a unicorn. The earth pony with the double barrelled shotgun was reloading, while the other two had weapons pointed at May. They seemed to be snapping back at her.

May gestured at me with a hoof, then with herself. She then began flailing her hooves about a bit more wildly, and looked as though she was extremely pissed. Probably trying to explain that we weren't zombie ponies. The way the other two were keeping their weapons trained on her, I wasn't sure they cared. I was worried that they might start shooting; at that range, May wouldn't stand a chance.

I watched as the unicorn pony barked something at her, then gestured menacingly with the gun he was levitating. May lowered her head in what appeared to be a sigh. She levitated her saddlebags off of her back and set them down in front of the unicorn. She also removed That Gun along with its holster and bandolier. She plucked a roll of magic laced bandages from one of the bags, then walked over to me as the unicorn began sifting through the contents.

May passed out of my line of sight, but I soon figured out where she went. I felt twinges of pain as she plucked bits of shrapnel out of my legs, flanks and back, wrapping each wound with bandages as she went. Since I couldn't watch her work, I glared at the unicorn who had turned her saddlebags over, dumping the contents onto the ground in front of them. He seemed to be sorting what he dubbed valuable or not.

“Anything good Skeeter?” I heard the earth pony ask, having slung his gun over his back. I glanced sideways, glimpsing May's horn next to my ear, glowing softly. She moved around to restore hearing to the other one.

“The gun is nice,” replied the unicorn, “but I think its busted. She doesn't really have much else. Oh, scratch that, looks like she's got some dash. Sweet, half a dozen tubes.” Upon hearing this mention, the other earth pony perked up. He looked like he was almost salivating.

My mended ear perked; dash? I know I had heard that somewhere before, but my befuddled brain wasn't able to draw on anything coherently right now. I glanced at May, but she was focusing on fixing my ear. I would have to ask her about it later.

Glancing up from the pilfered loot, the unicorn named Skeeter glowered at May. “You're lucky we didn't blow your brains out. Take that thing and get lost before I change my mind.”

May however, simply glared back. “I told you, we came here to see Raider, and we're not leaving until we do.”

I was tempted to object; we weren't really in a position to be making demands like that. As much as I had wanted to see Raider, I was beginning to doubt that he had any influence anymore. May had originally asked him to keep charge of the town, but these ponies were definitely not being subjected to any discipline.

“Raider don't know no zombies,” chortled the earth pony. “Case you din' notice, we blast you zombies soon as we see ya.”

Skeeter's horn glowed as he drew his gun out, cocking it menacingly. “Last chance zombies...”

However, this time he was interrupted by the other earth pony, the one who had nearly blown my head off with the double barrel shotgun. “I say we let 'em see the boss,” he proclaimed.

“The hell are you talking about Booster?” demanded Skeeter.

“Think about it,” he continued, undaunted. “Boss is gonna be steamed we were makin' such a ruckus without letting him in on the fun. Better we have them to let him take it out on than us.”

Skeeter lowered his weapon, placing a contemplative hoof on his chin. He glanced at us, smirking cruelly. “Alright then, follow us. If you get shredded into meat, don't come crying to me.”

I let out a sigh of relief. Despite the warnings of these brutish ponies, I knew that Raider would recognize us. Hopefully after that, May and I could do what we originally came here to do. My hind legs weren't cooperating, so I took to the air, flapping my wings just enough to keep them from dragging behind me.

***

Skeeter, Booster and the other earth pony, apparently named Tweeker, led May and I through Ponyville. Although I knew the town like the back of my hoof, travelling with them would at least ensure that we weren't attacked again. The three of them seemed painfully certain that their 'boss' was going to shoot us full of holes, but I knew better. Once Raider saw us and recognized who we were, he'd be more than willing to help. He might even convince those ruffians to apologize for attacking us in the first place.

Ponyville felt more like a ghost town than ever before, empty shutters rattling in the fierce wind that was now blowing through the village. The sky was also beginning to darken. Rain was coming, a downpour of huge proportions if I figured right. Thankfully we would be sheltered inside when it hit, although May and I didn't really need to worry much about catching a cold. Oops, spoke too soon; the rain started to fall before we reached our destination. The five of us raced to get out of the brewing storm.

May and I were led to the giant tree near the middle of town that was Ponyville library. I had been here before, although not as frequently as somepony like May might have been. I wasn't about to say anything to that effect though; now wasn't really a good time. Skeeter threw the door open magically and we all dashed inside. Once inside, I was hit immediately by a few things that had no place in a library.

Near the middle of the main room was a collection of large steel drums. There were fires burning inside to provide warmth to the library. I seriously hoped they weren't using books for fuel. On the opposite side of the room was a stockpile of various... stuff. It looked mostly random, although I could see a few potentially valuable items mixed in. When Skeeter took the saddlebags he had taken from May and I over to the pile, it became apparent that the stash was unsorted loot. I grimaced at the idea that these ponies had been stealing from other innocent ponies and passers by. Surely Raider didn't condone banditry.

One wall of bookshelves had been completely emptied of books. A number of them lay on the floor in front of the shelf, which had been restocked with weapons. Several guns were stacked on the shelves along with a couple of ammo containers. There were also a number of melee weapons; a sledgehammer, a shovel that had been sharpened into a spear, a baton. Something was very wrong here, and I let out an audible gulp. I didn't like the look of this at all.

Then I saw him. As my lazy eye rolled upwards, I caught sight of a very familiar looking green coated earth pony. He was standing on a ledge one storey up on the interior, next to a branching balcony. His coat looked oddly glossy for a buck his age, if a little dirty. He wore the same light assault battle saddle I had seen him wearing on the day I met him, along with his protective barding. Why he wore those inside I had no idea.

Wait... something wasn't right. I forced both of my eyes to focus on Raider, trying to gauge him better. It was not easy to put my hoof on it, as the stallion I was staring at was the spitting image of the former warrant officer. However, there were a few differences that made themself evident now that I looked more closely. His mane has a different colour, that of ripe melon, whereas Raider's had been a rusty brown. He also lacked the scar that Raider had on his face, although I could see a few others on his legs. His eyes were cold and fierce, quite unlike Raider's soft determined stare.

Those eyes were glaring right at May and I. He rounded on Booster and Tweeker, almost growling. “What the hell do you think you're doing?” he demanded. “Why the fuck did you bring a pair of zombies in here?! Do you have any idea how much this place is gonna stink now?!”

He punctuated his declaration with a burst of fire from the battle saddle, biting down hard on the bit in front of his mouth. The series of shots tore up the walls near the two earth ponies, both of whom fell to their haunches, terrified. I really hoped he hadn't actually been trying to shoot them. If he had been, then his aim was as lousy as mine. My indignation was interrupted by the odd question of why, when he was obviously mad about the presence of May and I, that he hadn't shot at us first.

Booster and Tweeker seemed too frightened to offer a response, but Skeeter, having not been shot at, was a little more coherent. “We thought you might want the fun of butchering them yourself,” he offered. The Raider look-alike glared at him, nonplussed. Skeeter changed verbal tactics quickly, obviously not wanting to incur his boss's wrath. “They said they know you!”

The green pony cocked an eyebrow. He then looked at us, probably taking in for the first time that we weren't trying to eat anypony, and were minding our manners. He still managed to look cross. “I'm not on speaking terms with any zombies. Can't stand the smell.”

The pony who was clearly not Raider leapt down from the ledge deftly, landing right in front of May and I. I heard his battle saddle reload as he gave it a kick. May however, was not intimidated. “And we're not on speaking terms with a pack of brutes. Now where is Raider?”

The green buck snickered cruelly. “You may not be crazed, but you're not too bright, are you?” He gestured at himself with a hoof. “I AM Raider, and this is my town.”

“Horseshit,” challenged May. She glared at Raider, and he glared back. I was afraid that if I didn't do something soon, he would shoot her full of holes.

I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “Where are Stronghoof and Honeydew?” My question surprised even me, with both May and the green buck looking at me. May knew the names I had mentioned; Stronghoof was Raider's real name, as opposed to his military title. Honeydew was the mare he had fallen for not long after May and I had returned from Manehattan forty years prior.

I was shocked by the look I was now receiving from the buck who claimed to be Raider. He wore a mix of anger and confusion, and looked like he was torn between the two right down the middle. He spoke slowly, dangerously. “How do you know those names?” His mouth moved, ever so slightly, away from the trigger bit.

I continued, hoping to keep him from taking that bit in his mouth again. “We came here with Raider, Gizmo and a few others forty years ago. I think Honeydew came to the town while May and I were in Manehattan, but we met her when we came back.”

As I stared at the green earth pony, my eye slid away from his gaze, settling on his mane. I only now realized that it was the same melon colour that Honeydew's had been. Raider's eyes widened with realization. “The wall-eyed pegasus...” he muttered, looking at me. He then turned to glance at May; “...and the medical unicorn?”

May and I nodded slowly. It seemed we were not forgotten here after all. However, any hope that this realization would benefit us greatly was dashed when his expression hardened again. “My old man told me about you two. It was your idea to come to this little shithole in the first place.”

For a moment, it looked like he was about to grab the bit of his battle saddle again, but he turned his head to face Tweeker. “Give them their shit back; they're leaving now.”

“But boss,” muttered the earth pony, who seemed to be twitching nervously, “that dash...”

Raider didn't hesitated to round on the shaking pony and bit down on the trigger of his battle saddle. He sent a short burst of fire into Tweeker's leg, yielding a ferocious yelp of pain from him. He fell to the floor, bawling and wailing as Raider turned to face the other two; “I told you to give them their shit back. Anypony else got a problem with that?”

Booster and Skeeter shook their heads furiously before running over to the pile of loot and gathering up our belongings. Raider looked at us sternly; “Don't go thinking this is charity or kindness or any of that horseshit. If it weren't for the two of you, I probably wouldn't be here, and neither would any of the rest of us. This is me paying off a debt my old man left me. Don't think it'll happen again if you come back.”

***

Raider led us through the rest of the town himself, towards the far side from where we had come in. As we walked through the town, I saw a number of places that I had been to the last time May and I had been here. The Ironshod Emporium had been thoroughly looted, probably the source of the weapons I saw in the library and more. The Stable-Tec outlet had been vandalized, apparently the ponies here feeling they had no use for the remaining scraps of arcano-technology. Lastly, Redheart's clinic seemed to be intact. I could see a number of ponies sleeping on the cots contained within.

The ponies, even more than the town itself, were vastly different from what I remembered. Instead of the colourful, lively population of the town before the war, this town was filled with drab, pained looking ponies. Some looked crazy, others looked sick, while the vast majority simply seemed depressed. Not many of them gave us a second look as we were escorted by Raider to the edge of town.

As we passed by the old Carousel Boutique, we were joined by a mare who seemed a little less than sober. She wobbled as trotted over to Raider, and was followed by a small pack of cats. Her coat was a dirty purple colour and her mane was almost radioactively green. Her cutie mark looked like a dead rat. Wait... what?

As the inebriated mare spoke slurred words to Raider, I glanced around at some of the other ponies I could see. In particular, I looked at their cutie marks. One unicorn buck was fiddling with an orange disk with a pulsing light on top, his cutie mark depicting an explosion. A mare further down the street with her mane done up in spikes, and had a pony skull on her flank. I felt sick; what sort of special talents did these ponies have to merit such gruesome cutie marks? More than anything else I had seen in the town, this was just disturbing.

The drunken mare cantered away from Raider, who turned away, though not in disgust, and continued to lead May and I through the town. He came to a stop at the far edge of the village, and turned to face us. “If you want to see my old man, he's at the war memorial. He tends to get shooty around anypony who isn't me, so don't get bitchy if you get shot again.”

With that, Raider turned away from us and went back into the town. My lazy eye followed him as he met back up with the drunken mare, who attempted to pull him into the old boutique with her. I felt sick, and wanted to leave the town as soon as possible. This was no longer the village that had been my home. The strains of time and the aftereffects of the megaspell holocaust had warped it, just like everything else in Equestria.

However, I found myself wondering how it had gotten so bad. While forty years was not a short amount of time, it still seemed like the town should have held together longer than it had, especially with Raider... no, Stronghoof leading them. I looked to May, and she seemed to be thinking the same thing. We both turned to face the Macintosh War Memorial, a short trot from the edge of the town, and made our way over to it.

The Macintosh War Memorial was built in honour of Big Macintosh; Ponyville native, war hero and elder brother of Applejack, mare of the Ministry of Technology. All of this was common knowledge though. Much like the ministry mares themselves, I only knew Big Macintosh in passing, and had never been colloquial with him. Oddly enough, I had been at his funeral after he died taking a bullet meant for Princess Celestia. I had been working for the company that catered the proceedings.

I filled May in on these things while we approached the gazebo that contained the memorial. We stopped short as, once again, a gunshot was fired at us. This time however, it was not aimed right at us. It was a bit of a welcome change frankly; getting shot was never any fun. The shot impacted the dirt a few feet in front of us. Raider had warned us that Stronghoof shot at anypony that came near. I could see him seated inside the gazebo, a rifle mounted to the railing in front of him.

“Haven't you punks got anything better to do than bother a crippled old buck like me?” The voice came from the memorial gazebo. It was rough and aged, but still held a trace of familiarity.

“Rai... Stronghoof,” I said, catching myself before I called him a name that might cause offence. “It's Ditzy Doo and May Cure.”

May and I watched as Stronghoof shifted from his position. With his head moved away from the rifle, I could make out an eye patch over his left eye. He seemed to be straining his good eye to get a look at us. I tilted my head towards the gazebo, then began walking forwards again. May followed along quietly. She actually hadn't said a word since we left Ponyville, even while I had been reminiscing.

As we approached the memorial, the statue of Big Macintosh came into clearer view. He was posed rearing up, sword held in his mouth, dressed in military combat barding. Stronghoof watched us approach with his good eye. He still seemed tense, but eased a bit once he could see us clearly. He moved away from rifle, opening a gate on the gazebo and coming out to join us. He walked with a limp, and when he passed the fence I could see that one of his rear legs was entirely missing, replaced by a large wooden peg, crudely attached. May, ever the medical pony, shuddered at the sight.

Stronghoof hobbled up to us, then sat down. I couldn't blame him; walking with a crude prosthetic like that must be painful. “It's been a while,” he said simply. “Frankly, I'm surprised to see you here. I wasn't sure you were even alive after all this time.”

“I suppose we could say the same,” I admitted. Looking like he did, it was no small miracle that he hadn't keeled over. However, now I could find out the truth. “What happened here?”

***

Before answering my question, Stronghoof stood up and walked around to the far side of the war memorial. He gestured for the two of us to follow him. On the opposite side was a cover for a large underground cistern, but that wasn't where we were headed. Stronghoof led us past them, his peg leg making him wince from the distance he was walking. He stopped in front of a pair of what looked like grave markers.

The markers were made of wood, and planted in the shadow of a long dead tree. Each was engraved with what looked like a cutie mark and a name. The one on the left bore Honeydew's name and the image of a half melon and several slices. The other was marked with a shield. The named engraved above it was 'Aegis'. Stronghoof seated himself in front of the graves, letting out a sigh.

“In the beginning, we tried to do right by you,” started Stronghoof, turning his glace towards May. “We offered food, shelter and what peace of mind we could to anypony who came looking for it. Honeydew and I tried to make this town a haven in the wastes.”

I nodded solemnly, not having anything to say. May was equally silent. Stronghoof continued; “In the years after you left, she bore me two sons. The first was Aegis.” He paused a moment, glancing at the grave on the right. “Raider Junior was the other, three years later. I loved all of them, and for a while I really thought we might be able to leave the horror of the war and wastes behind us.”

“Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.” Stronghoof glowered. “About twenty years ago, a massive group of bandits came through this area. Not only were there a lot of them, they were well armed; probably raided an Ironshod depot. Honeydew tried to talk to them, but their leader was crazed and he killed her without even attempting parlay. After that, the whole town was consumed in the ensuing battle. I lost my leg to a grenade, and my eye to a brawler with spiked ponyshoes. Aegis and the bastard that took Honeydew from us died at each others' hooves.”

“Raider always looked up to his brother, and love Honeydew more than I did,” concluded Stronghoof. “After they died, he wasn't the same pony. He got his cutie mark that day. It appeared when he killed one of the bandits. A gun, simple and clear.” I could see tears forming in Stronghoof's eye. Once again I felt my experience with family painfully inadequate. All I could do was place a hoof around his neck in an awkward hug.

Stronghoof simply hung his head, allowing the tears to fall onto the graves of his wife and son. “I tried to steer him right after that, but in truth I lost both my sons that day. Raider was never the same, and eventually he couldn't stand the sight of me, evicting me from his town. I was just a reminder of everything I'd failed to protect.”

After that, Stronghoof didn't say any more. He lay down in front of the graves and cried silently. May and I were both crying as well, me for the loss of my old home, she for the loss of her haven of hope. We all lay there together under that dead tree, crying as we were drenched by the ceaseless downpour.

***

Eventually our crying stopped, and Stronghoof offered us shelter. He led us back to the cistern by the memorial, wherein he had set up a small living area for himself. May and I needed rest, more for our strains and injuries than for any real need of sleep. Our ghoulish bodies didn't actually require it anymore. He let us sleep on a bunk bed he had set up, resting with just a blanket and pillow on the floor himself.

When I awoke, I saw Stronghoof at a small work station. May didn't seem to be around. I got up, my legs better thanks to a healing potion provided from a small stash Stronghoof had squirreled away. I wandered over to the workbench and looked over Stronghoof's shoulder. He was examining Gizmo's gun, tinkering with it with a few tools.

“Can you fix it?” I asked tentatively. “It's never jammed before yesterday.”

Stronghoof grunted in response. “If it were a standard military firearm, I could probably strip it down and rebuild it in seconds. Unfortunately, That Gun is not standard by any definition. Gizmo's modifications are extensive, and I wouldn't be able to do any work on it without damaging some of them. You'll need somepony better with arcano-tech if you want to fix it.”

I nodded as Stronghoof handed the gun back to me, then slipped it into my saddlebags. “Where's May?” I asked. Gizmo had given the gun to her, and I was useless with it anyways. Besides; I had no idea what we were going to do next.

“She only woke up a little while ago,” replied Stronghoof. “She stepped out after giving me the gun to work on.”

I nodded, then moved to leave the cistern. Before I could make it out, Stronghoof walked up to me, another gun held in his teeth. It was a rifle, old and worn, but still sturdy looking. He had been taking good care of it, that was for sure. It had a bolt action and had been fitted with a scope. It was the same rifle he had fired the warning shot with the day before.

“If you're going to keep travelling out there, you'll need this more than I will,” stated Stronghoof after handing the gun off to me. I nodded mutely, the gun keeping me from speaking. I slipped it into the strap of my saddlebags to take to May as well.

Before leaving, I had one more question for the crippled ex-warden. “What will you do now?” I had considered asking him to come with us, but he was in no condition to travel. May and I might have looked like rotting corpses, but at least we were healthy inside.

Stronghoof locked me with his remaining eye. Awkwardly, my lazy eye rolled up at the same time. “Raider spared you two yesterday, and I haven't known him to have any compassion for a long time. There might just be a touch of his mother left in him, and I'm going to see if there's still a chance to turn Ponyville around. The last thing I want is for my legacy to be a town full of bandits.” He smirked coldly; “They'd probably start calling them 'raiders' just to spite me.”

I patted Stronghoof on the shoulder in a last attempt to comfort him. “There's always hope,” I said. It wasn't always easy to believe that, but I truly felt it was the case. I knew that May did too, otherwise she wouldn't be driven like she was to find the cure for ghouls. He gave me a small smile, then walked over to a fridge to grab food for himself.

I turned away from Stronghoof and climbed the ladder out of the cistern. I left the ponyhole cover askew so that he could get out more easily later. The rain hadn't stopped, but had at least slowed to a slow trickle. I found May out by the tree, laying next to the graves of Honeydew and Aegis. An inhaler lay discarded to her side, and she had a spacey look about her. Her pupils were dilated, and she wore an awkward smile.

The first time I had seen May like this was after we had emerged from the Manehattan General Hospital. That was not the only time either; I had seen her like this a number of times before. She would always excuse herself, but I almost always happened across her anyways. She had done this a few times after we had been assaulted by other survivor ponies, after our first encounter with a herd of feral ghouls, and most recently after we had buried Blinkie Pie.

The word that Tweeker had used came back to me; 'dash'. Now that I was rested and not blown halfway to hell, I finally remembered where I had heard it before. It all flooded back to me in a rush. Back during the war, shortly after the induction of the Ministries, Princess Luna had enacted new contraband laws. All couriers and delivery companies had been required to attend a briefing on them. The briefing had been hosted by the Ministry of Morale, although Pinkie Pie had been strangely absent.

One of the substance mentioned in the briefing had been a zebra drug called dash. It was an inhaled hallucinogenic that was highly addictive. I sat looking at May, stunned momentarily. How could a pony working as a spell researcher and medic for the Ministry of Peace even think of putting such a substance into her body? I had half a mind to buck her out of her daze right now and give her a stern talking to.

As I was about to do so, I stopped, looking down at May. Despite the awkward nature of her smile, it had been some time since I had seen her this serene. Still, it wasn't real... was it? I had never done, dealed in or even seen an illicit substance before the war. In truth, I had no idea what she was experiencing right now, only the implications made at that old MoM seminar. What she was doing was illegal though. No wait, that wasn't right either. Legality wasn't the issue here, especially considering the MoM hadn't existed in forty years.

What was the issue then? May was using this 'dash' stuff, but was it really affecting her all that much? I had seen her using it maybe a dozen times (and maybe a dozen more that I hadn't seen) in the past forty years. Every time she used it seemed to follow a great unfortunate event or tragedy, yet she always got back up and moved forward afterwards. But what if it got worse? I couldn't just let her keep doing it; I wouldn't be a very good friend if I did. Still, I would wait until she came down to talk to her about it.

For now, I laid down next to May and tapped at her Pipbuck with a hoof. I brought up the radio and turned on DJ P0N-3's station. I caught the tail end of a song by Vinyl Scratch, briefly amused that Turntable had added something by his aunt to the selection. When Turntable came on, he sounded a little rough, since he was getting on in years.

“Special thanks goes out to the little courier who brought in some new music for us just a few days ago. You have no idea how much it means to me, and to all of Equestria. You know who you are. Now, on to the news.”

“Get ready for a shocker children, 'cuz this is is gonna be one doozy of a doozy. I've been supplying the Equestrian Wasteland with news, tunes and tips for the past forty years. After this long, I'm starting to think I'm getting a little old for this. You hear me right fillies and gentlecolts, it's time for Turntable to retire.”

“Now, before you get all upset, please note that I said its time for Turntable to retire, not DJ P0N-3. The wasteland needs a DJ, and there will always be a DJ P0N-3. So, if you please, lets have a round of applause for my lovey daughter, and your new DJ. Give it up for: Remix!”

I could hear the stomping of single pony's hooves and a few shuffling noises as Turntable moved away from the mic. After a brief pause, his voice was replaced by that of a much younger sounding mare. In spite of being younger and softer sounding, she was not lacking in charisma.

“Good morning everypony and welcome to the first broadcast of the brand spankin' new DJ P0N-3. For my first broadcast, I've decided to bring all of you some good news. I figure this'll make it easier to swallow that my old man's too old to be doin' this anymore. I know its been rough on all of you living out there since the megaspells fell, but things might just be lookin' up. An errant transmission from a remote Stable-Tec facility has reported that a number of the Stables that were sealed all those years ago are opening their doors!”

“Now, how exactly is this good news you might ask? Surely its just more mouths to feed on what little we got left up here. That's where you're wrong. These underground shelters are equipped with food, water, technology and all sorts of other goodies. Once the inhabitants come out and see that we, their fellow ponies, are in need, I'm certain they'd be willin' to lend a hoof.”

“However, don't be expectin' charity or nothin', we ain't that lucky. These ponies comin' out of the Stables might not be ready for the wasteland. They have no idea what to expect, so, it's our duty to do the right thing, and make sure they know what they're getting into when they come up here. If you happen to meet anypony coming out of a Stable, show them the lay of the land, and they might see fit to return the favour. Its like my old man always told ya, we're all in this together.”

“But wait, there's more! In addition to some of the Stables opening, it looks like there's life in other parts of Equestria as well. Although I don't have eyes and ears inside either city, there seems to be a rise in activity in the outskirts of both Filldelphia and Trottingham. Both cities, so far as I know, are still highly irradiated, so it might just be ghouls, but ya never know. If it is ghouls, remember that they're ponies too. This is the new DJ P0N-3, and I'm gonna leave you with Sweetie Belle's 'The Dark Days are Over'.”

Footnote: Status update!

Current Status: Non-Feral Ghoul
Lucidity: Moderately-High

Ghoul Tip: Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Enjoying the little things and holding onto your hope might just be the difference between you and a zombie.

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