Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 16: Sorting

"Well, here we have it: This is my Hopeless Case."

"That pun is... wow. I'm stunned. Did Pinkie Pie replace you when I wasn't looking?"

Rarity scoffed as she popped open the case and began spreading its compartments (smaller individual boxes resting in the case, as it turns out) around the table.
"Quite droll, truly. But to be serious, this is where I keep the pieces that intrigue me, but simply aren't... workable. I was thinking that if your new eyes are as good as you say, you'd be able to tell me why, hmm? That 'Observe' function you mentioned should be able to reveal things that neither of us know, and that would be ample proof to me."

It wasn't a bad plan, and he'd never pass up a chance to improve a skill. Of course, proving and impressing weren't too far apart, so this might be a neat chance to just push himself.
"It's a pretty quick skill, and I can remember everything I see thanks to Dragon's Mind, so... Could you get other things for me to use it on? Just, really haul out anything: Clothes, decorations, food, whatever as long as they're individual objects. I even had a dumb plan I wanted to test if you're OK with it."

"Tit for tat, I suppose: What's the plan?"

Spike started firing off Observe as quickly as possible into the pile, but only for a moment. He stopped and looked towards Rarity again.
"Um, I don't have to keep this all organized like it is, right? I can shuffle it around based on what I see?"

"Of course! I only had it sorted by when I found each piece. The useful items get sorted more functionally, but that's after I separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak."

"Gotcha. With that covered..."
He returned to spamming his skill, taking only a moment after each text box popped up to confirm that he could remember the contents before clicking it shut.
"Um, the plan was to see if I could Observe a dress or something you made, and then have you... unmake it? Take it apart and make a new dress from all the same pieces. Then see if Observe actually considered it a different item. Because it doesn't get any experience from looking at the same thing over and over, but that made me wonder what 'the same' means in context."

Rarity's eyes lit up and she clapped her hooves together happily.
"That's a fantastic idea, darling! I've often wondered what it takes in the eyes of fashion for something to be considered new, and to have that experiment validated would be delightful. I'll fetch the materials right away while you continue, um, Observing, I suppose."

She didn't have to tell him twice. There may have been hundreds of pieces (Observing the pile as a whole said 247 plus thirteen dividers and the original case) taken individually, but he could get off several Observes a second if he was casting it subvocally. Reading each box took ten more seconds at most, and then he could clearly remember it without effort. Adjust piles based on what he learned, repeat. Twilight hadn't needed to teach him about minerals and the like, that came naturally. He studied it in his own time, in order to find out what was the most delicious or nutritious out of each type.

After half an hour of constant rapidfire skill usage, he was grateful that Observe had no MP cost, and the entire pile was sorted based on rudimentary categories. Across the room, Rarity was working on putting together a simple outfit for his experiment, while he just had his head in his claws at the table trying to sort things further. He could probably do it given time, but the sum of the patterns... was a mess. Some samples fit in as many as five or even six different categories: This was an orange¹ igneous¹¹ gemstone¹¹¹ with high cleavage¹¹¹¹ the size of a pony's hoof¹¹¹¹¹, for example. Dragon's Mind let him grasp the details even if he didn’t understand them, and also helped him remember what Observe told him. Despite that, the skill didn't make it easier for him to do the physical job of sorting... That would require raising INT or WIS, probably?

It would be a lot easier if he had some way to see the patterns, but without any stat buffs or a level up, that seemed unlikely. If only he could get a buff... Wait. Could he? He hadn't experimented with deliberate skill creation yet, but the messages that came up when he did get skills suggested it would be possible. 'A skill has been created through a special action', it said. Did that mean he could strive towards it on purpose? And what kind of action would even count as a buff anyways?

Exercise was more about long-term improvement, studying was the same. Mages in games usually just waved their horns around or used artifacts. Clerics did the same but with prayers to whatever higher power existed in the setting. Alchemists had potions, and Bards... Bards. Singing. He could sing, and pretty well if you asked him (nopony ever did). It was natural in Equestria to lose yourself in the flow of communal songs, especially when there was some event going on. Hearth's Warming Eve, Winter Wrap Up... Ponies just had a tendency to break into song at the drop of a hat. And the important thing was that it worked. Phrases like "whistle while you work" and "a song in your heart" were very literal things to pony culture, and the very concept of the magically-empowered Bards in games like O+O came from that.

Maybe if there was some deeper inherent truth to that magic, he could make it work for him. All he needed was to figure out the song and the method, and it was worth a shot. Even if it failed, he'd just embarrass himself, alone... Although Rarity would notice. And he'd hate to interrupt the song Rarity was... humming...
"Excuse me, Rarity? What's that tune?"

"Oh, I apologize! It's just a little ditty I slip into when I'm concentrating sometimes. Was it bothering you?"

He shook his head vigorously, although he was careful not to mess up the sorting he had done.
"No, more like the opposite! Could you start it again from the top? I want to see if I can follow."


Hmm hmm hmm, dadada da dum daaa... Spike listened carefully, paying less attention to the notes and pitch and more to the pattern. His whole problem right now was about patterns, and the tune that Rarity was humming had a strong one. It reminded him a bit of the internal thrum and buzz of power he saw when he was meditating earlier. A few passes in his head and he was putting together a shorter loop, something iconic. There was the core thread of eight and then the slow trailing ninth: A section where it rose strongly, plateaued, and then dropped again back to the start. It was like raising water out of a jar, taking a deep sip, and then lowering the dipper again... Or like the pattern of his breathing during Omphaloskepsis. It felt right. Which meant this was it: Either he had figured it out, or he would just abandon the idea for now.

He continued humming as he dropped down into meditation, letting the notes ride his breathing. This made it easier to feel the flow of MP inside of him, and by feeling it, he could handle it. It made it so he could try to direct it, letting the flow hook into his new musical pattern instead of going into the rest of his body like it normally would. The sensation was extremely strange, yet energizing... and difficult to grasp. It slipped from his control periodically, and sometimes those slips hurt, as if he was burning inside. Other times it felt right, as if his body was trying to tell him something. Eventually he let the pattern bleed out in those directions on purpose, flowing into his muscles and his head, gently looping back into his song pattern with a soft ding, then another.

No, that ding wasn't the MP, he realized. That was the sweet sound of success! Some eyelids flicked open while the others remained closed, practicing the skill even as he learned of its existence for the first time. He was so thrilled that he'd be jumping for joy if he wasn't occupied.

A skill has been created through a special action! Through the merger of Heartsong and mana control, a skill to bring forth blessings of song, [Cantus], has been created!

By using [Internal Alchemy] without the skill, your Mastery increases by 1%

...One percent? That must be some truly far-off power. But now he had a vague idea of how to strive towards it, and a new trick up his... sleeve? He didn't actually have sleeves at the moment, but maybe Rarity could fix that. Worth considering, maybe even pick up a sewing skill. First things first, however... Skills, Cantus.

[Cantus] (Active, Heartsong) Lv 1 EXP: 0.00% MP: Special
The nature of Equestrian magic gives music a special position as the strengthener of all things. Every task made easier, every burden made lighter, every hurdle made shorter, and it is all done through cooperation and song. This skill allows the user to trigger this effect at will, first for themselves, and with practice, for others as well.

The user gains a bonus to MP recovery as if they were using their strongest meditation skill.
This MP may be redirected, based on their song, into bolstering different traits or attributes.
Can be used while taking other actions, so long as the user does not stop the song.
At higher levels this can apply to others, up to all allies within hearing range.
Mutually exclusive with using meditation skills or other Heartsong skills.

Current best meditation skill: Omphaloskepsis
Current song: "Art of the Dress" (+WIS, +INT, +DEX)