Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 3: Invention

One beat, two... He waited until she was completely out of sight and then immediately wheeled around and went back into the Library. He had some things to figure out and test that would probably be best done in private, in case he embarrassed himself or broke something. Even in the brief moment he had been outside, however, he had seen dozens of names and levels, as well as a small handful of... Titles, he guessed? So he had to go check himself, and that meant a mirror.

When he finally got to the bathroom, it wasn't as big of a surprise as it could have been. He'd already seen his status window, after all, so it had all been written right there. Still, there was something very... final about seeing it in those stark blue letters floating gently overhead.

[The Gamer]
LV 1

"Well. That answers that. Level One, though. How do I even level up? I didn't... Wait. Status."

There it was, nestled in among the other things: A thin empty bar, unlabelled, that he normally associated with XP in video games. He tapped it thoughtfully with a claw, and was only caught a little bit off guard when a description popped out, a window on a window.

0 / 1,000
This tracks your experience towards levelling up as The Gamer. Experience towards levelling is earned by completing quests, solving conundrums and defeating enemies. The growth of EXP for levels and all skills is modified by WIS and certain WIS-related skills.

"Wait, skills that level up with their own experience? I mean, I guess that one Power Ponies game had something like that, with the superpowers... Right, skills! Um, Skills."

Here was a huge bank of square boxes for displaying icons... Most of them empty. There were, however, three icons shown: A brain overlayed with some kind of futuristic video game controller (six buttons and two joysticks, plus the arcade cabinet wasn't anywhere in sight!), a silhouette of his own body wreathed in what looked like green fire, and an open stylized version of one of his own eyes. He ignored the eye for now, since he had an idea what it must be. So the other two...

[Gamer's Mind] (Passive) Lv Max EXP: N/A
Allows the user to calmly and logically think through any situation with a peaceful state of mind. Grants total immunity to psychological effects.

[Gamer's Body] (Passive) Lv Max EXP: N/A
Grants the user a body which lives through real life as though it were a game. All damage is taken to the user's HP without visible or functional injury. Sleeping in a bed restores all HP, MP, and negative status effects.

"OK. This is totally getting weirder, but not a bad weird. That thing about injury, though..."
Well, it was bound to happen by accident at some point anyways: Spike bit down on the corner of his tongue. There was the usual wince of pain, accompanied by a red bar appearing over his head and ticking down by a tiny fraction... But no taste of blood. Hooking a claw into his lip and pulling it wide, he stuck his tongue out (not out-out, but enough to see) and... No blood, no injury. A few seconds later, even the pain was gone faster than usual, and the bar a moment after that.

That was cool. Some kind of healing factor, although how good of one... He brought up his Status again and tapped at the health meter to see more details, like he had with the Experience bar. Yeah, more details... He apparently recovered 1% of his HP per minute, and he had 100 total health right now, thus 1 HP per minute. Wait, really? Did that mean he could get seriously messed up and be fine in less than two hours? That wasn't quite superhero levels, but it was way more than normal, even for a dragon. Looking at the details of his other bar, called MP... Yup, it was mana points (just like Sweetie's class in O+O) and it was the same deal, 1% per minute.

But his MP was only 50, so not only did he have less of it, the recovery was worse too. That seemed weird, since his VIT (Vitality, he assumed) would logically govern his HP and his... INT, probably? Intelligence made sense as the one for MP. Back on topic: That seemed weird because the two stats were the same, but the bars were different, implying MP was more valuable, or at least harder to come by.

Wait, why even bother wondering what stat did which thing? He could just tap one and... Tap one and... Um. Tap one of his stats and not get any response apparently. Fine, so there were limits to this user interface. Probably something he should have expected sooner. Although maybe it was less a problem of limits, and more that he needed to think of a new solution. He had a feeling that a lot of things might be that way, not just in games or this situation, but as a general rule. And Spike also felt that he was pretty well-equipped to handle lateral thinking by those same games.

It turns out that a lot of the most popular games in town weren't actually very fun, but instead required a lot of pattern recognition, memorization, or outside-the-box thinking. Bit-eating instant death adventure games, hard puzzlers with weird solutions, that kind of thing... Not to say that everypony didn't also like a good fighting game or a cloud-kicking topscroller! But there was something that really drew you in about those sadistic challenges. Spike had beaten one or two of them over the last few months, even the timing-based memorization-heavy Basilisk's Domain, making him and Button the only two with winning scores on that vicious monster of a machine.

And that wasn't even getting into what Shining Armor could do to the party when he ran a game of Oubliettes and Ogres after a hard week training the new recruits. Spike had been introduced into one of Shining Armor's Canterlot groups as a sort of henchman side character only to end up making his own PC by the end of the night, and things just escalated from there. Soon after, it wasn't limited to Spike's trips to Canterlot: After a few months, he and Twilight had convinced her brother to come down to Ponyville every few weeks, take some time off, visit family, and run games. The Elements had been considering trying it out one day, but for now? It was Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and every session was a whole new experience.

And his gaming relationship with Shining wasn't all O+O, oh no! Spike's surrogate-big-brother-sort-of-pony had been a big influence in his life over the last year or two, getting him even further into games, comics, and all of Shining's old hobbies. It had made Spike feel like an even closer part of the family, and it had also made him feel... Smarter. Smart enough, anyway, that this felt more exciting than frustrating. So what was the first rule of solving a puzzle in those games? Look where you aren't supposed to. Get as much information as possible, especially if you're not on a time limit. And, leaving the bathroom to look at the clock, Spike did a little math. If Twilight wasn't getting home until after dinner, he had at least twelve hours to do his chores, go into town, and figure out as much as possible about... this.

Because whatever this whole thing was? It had quickly gone from being a mystery to being a challenge, and he had no intention of backing down.

For starters, since he was looking at the clock anyways...

[Wall Clock]
A round clock manufactured in Ponyville, designed for hanging on walls.

Observe's level has risen by one!

The system message popped between him and the box he had been reading, so he quickly closed it with an irritated tap... But he noticed the text behind it was slightly different than when it had first opened.

[Wall Clock]
A round clock manufactured in Ponyville, designed for hanging on walls. It currently reads 7:23

"Three good pieces of news there. I can read clocks without looking at the face now, skills level up just from being used, even a little, and if I use a skill it updates... automatically? Wow, sure is a step up from the buffs in O-and-O. Oooh, that reminds me, I should be writing this all down."

Spike quickly made his way back up into the bedroom he and Twilight shared, finding what he was looking for a minute later. For his recent birthday, he had gotten a journal from Twilight, along with a sappy hoof-written card about how it was like giving him a book, but one that he could write himself and decide how things turned out... Sap or not, he had carefully glued the card into the front cover so he'd never lose it. That, plus a good sturdy travel quill and a bottle of ink and boy his claws were full now. So now he'd need somewhere to... put it...


Looking over the screen again reminded him that there were other tabs: SKILLS, he'd already checked. MAP, that would be good to investigate later. QUEST LOG, currently dark and probably unusable. But INVENTORY, that was definitely an attractive idea. Clicking it (after setting down the journal to free up a claw) revealed a few dozen empty boxes, like the ones from his skill window. There was no prompt or other message, so he took the quill (easily replaceable if something went wrong) and gently pushed it towards one of the boxes. There was a faint vworp of motion across the vision as the quill vanished, quickly replaced by an image of itself.


[Travel Quill]
A feather writing quill made by Davenport, reinforced for carrying without splitting the tip.
Currently stored inside of your Inventory.

Not only did he have an inventory, he could see the things inside. And he didn't feel the quill anywhere on himself, didn't have any pockets... Was it just a sort of storage space? There was a word Twilight would use here, nebu... something, but he understood the gist on his own. Honestly, this might be the biggest thing he'd discovered yet. And a few minutes later, that became very literal: He went on a spree of Observe'ing everything he could think of that wouldn't be noticed if he put it away for a while and then stashed it. Spare snacks, a few more quills and inkwells (the quills even stacked into one space!), the journal, his backup blanket, a few comics, and so forth.

By the time he was finished with his little rampage, Observe had gained a handful of levels and he had a dozen filled inventory slots. He went back to the clock and gave it another look with his newly-levelled skill.

[Wall Clock]
A plain black and white round-framed clock manufactured in Ponyville at Time Twister's Chrono-Emporium, designed for hanging on walls. It currently reads 7:28, even though the current local time is 7:26.

"...that's going to bug me."