Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 20: Arcadia

To make his situation that extra bit nicer, right now he had a very novel view from where he stood. That is to say he was looking Rarity straight in the eyes. He’d never been able to look an adult pony straight-on like this without him craning his neck or them stooping down. It made it easier to see the details of her features: The subtle lines of makeup, the way her mane framed everything... It was exciting in an all-new way, this unfamiliar angle. This would put him at a proper face-to-face conversation height with just about everypony in town, save for lanky stallions like Mr. Cake, anomalies like Big Mac, and foals like...

"The Crusaders!"

Rarity blinked owlishly, trying to trace back and figure out what he was talking about.
"I'm sorry?"

"I got so caught up in all of this that I forgot I'm still on a deadline. I've gotta get lunch before the school day is over. And I've still gotta hit the arcade, there's fines to collect between here and the schoolhouse, and-"

Rarity put a hoof up to him, pushing his jaw shut.
"Spike, calm down! Just take a moment and relax. It's not so late that you're going to have any problems. Now, go over that again, please?"

It was instinctive to follow her advice and take a deep breath, and it did help.
"OK... I had sketched up this order for my quests, to try and do them... efficiently, I guess? I was going to leave here, get lunch, research different kinds of games at the arcade, collect some fines for the library... Then if I’m ahead of schedule, kill time until school let out so I could talk to Cheerilee and the Crusaders. And I'm worried that I already killed too much time to do all of that."

"Hmm... Normally I would agree with you. However, have you been to the arcade since they closed down for the winter?"

"No, I haven't been out that way since they did that Nightmare Night party last year. Why?"

She shot him a brilliant smile before whirling around to grab a saddlebag and a sun hat.
"I do believe you can solve several of your problems in one go. Shall we?"

Spike's attempts to thank her were cut off by the sudden appearance of another measuring tape in his face, just like the one from earlier.
"Although before we head out, I really should take down your new measurements-"

He rattled the numbers off from memory (thanks to some self-applied Observe), leaving Rarity dumbstruck and a bit annoyed.
"Hmph. You are no fun!"

Everypony knew how much she liked tying ponies up in all of that tape and all of the other things related to making clothes, but that didn't stop him from being on a deadline. He grinned helplessly as he swung the front door open and gestured out into the sunny road.
"I do what I can."

Leaving Carousel Boutique sent them back up and into the hustle and bustle of a Ponyville afternoon. Spike rarely came out onto this side of town when he wasn't visiting Rarity, so a lot of things here were unfamiliar sights. Add in his long and extremely busy winter, and he basically hadn't been out this way in months. Already he saw new homes, businesses, a little apartment set, a few places under construction... The small town he and Twilight had merely 'visited' on the Summer Sun Celebration all those years ago was always changing and growing. All of that change and growth were a big part of why Spike felt so much better here than in Canterlot.

Sure the capital of Equestria was tens of times bigger, brighter, and more glamorous. Yes, more ponies could find it on a map. And yeah, it had more... more, just generally more of everything. But for all of those perks it was a stagnant place, despite seeming crisp and clean and refined. Canterlot was like pure white sugar, stripped of everything excess. The problem was that those changes, irregularities and impurities had their own flavor and value: They gave things a different texture. Ponyville (by comparison) was more like blackstrap molasses, full of body and flavor, a riot of ever-changing smells and sights. It was a village town growing upwards and outwards with the kind of potential that is unique to small things. Yes it lacked in some of the finer aspects, and it would never have Canterlot's wealth... But it had character.

Of course if Pinkie were here she'd be chastising him for not counterpointing all of the benefits of using refined white sugar in baking and lighter dishes and food that needs to have a very particular appearance, but he was trying to have an internal monologue here and that wasn't helping! Or was it? Imagined interruptions probably still counted as being 'mono'...

Spike shook his head, getting his thoughts back on track as they passed more unfamiliar places. His analogy was proven true now that he focused on taking in the scents as much as the sights. A faint whiff of jasmine near a seasonal flower stall, a musky scent near an unmarked black door, the crisp oily crackle of hay bacon and hash at a roadside diner. He could hear ponies murmur and talk and shout, conversations private and public as they moved their way across Ponyville.

In the distance he saw a huge building around where the arcade's fence would normally be, give or take. Kept going for quite some way, actually... Far past where the open-air arcade he remembered used to be. It had been months since he was last here. And the owner was a pony from the Roama, so it would make sense if he packed up and left to be with his family in the spring... Paranoia crept up on Spike, and he slowly turned to look at Rarity for confirmation.

"Rarity, the arcade... is still around, right? This isn't some cruel joke where it turns out that Mr. Gillie shut it down and moved away, right?"

"Aheh, well, not... Not exactly!"

Spike felt awful for having had the idea, worse for having voiced it, and downright terrible when he heard that.

"No, no! Spike, I should be more clear. He is moving away, but the arcade is still... Look, it will take some explaining. Do you want to keep going, or should we talk about this first? I know you had gotten to be good friends with the staff there, and I probably phrased that quite poorly."

He sighed and took a moment to lean on a nearby bench, taking a breath to clear his head.
"OK, yeah, I just... I know I was really focused on helping Twilight this winter. And she needed the help! But if it turned out that I let a friend down because I was too preoccupied with work? I'd feel pretty bad about that."

"Well there's no need to feel bad before you even know what's going on, hmm?"

He knew she was right, on an intellectual level, but some snark still came to mind.
"Rarity, are you lecturing me about overreacting?"

"...Touché. I do suppose that a little panic attack isn't the... worst possible thing."

They shared a laugh, and Spike pulled away from the bench so they could keep walking. The building in the distance, the more he looked at it, definitely did cover the entirety of the arcade's old territory.
"So let me guess based on what I'm seeing. He... got a building set up so he can stay open more, even in winter or when there's bad weather scheduled?"

"Very close! He cut a deal with a new owner, and they put the building up. His family's coming back into Ponyville soon and he decided to spend more time with them. Apparently they're making some headway out in the frontier, near Appleoosa? Regardless, he has sold the arcade, although I’ve been told he's staying on the books as a 'consultant' since the new owner isn't too well-versed in game engines and cabinets."

That made much more sense than his fears. Plus, if Gillie Horse had decided to leave the arcade in the grasp of a new owner while he was gone? The new owner was a good pony, period. Spike had always been impressed by Gillie’s size and strength despite his age, like an elder Big Macintosh in a way... Complete with the soft-spoken voice, used minimally. He was a fierce judge of character, able to pick apart anypony who came in to mess with his games or customers in an instant. The only thing Spike didn't quite get about Rarity's explanation was that last bit.

"So if they aren't big into arcade stuff... why buy an arcade?"

Rarity just smiled at that and picked up the pace, forcing Spike to run to keep up. He supposed that was her way of saying 'follow me, and you'll find out'. They rushed past many different tents and smaller buildings, close as they were to the outskirts of town again. A strong smell of cloves, ginger, and cinnamon near a little tea house... Sparks of light and a very faint pressure in the air as they passed a unicorn-for-hire's small shop... A handful of ponies he didn't properly recognize were milling about with apple fritters and referencing maps, probably tourists... And then the massive building where there was once an open field full of tarps and arcade cabinets.

The new structure stood almost loomingly large from his perspective, done up in blues and blacks and faint dots of white scattered across it all. It looked like a piece of the night sky had fallen down and perched in the field, if he was being hyperbolic. More honestly put? Sure, it was still a new paint job and a new building, but...

It felt nice in the way things do when somepony puts effort into making their craft fit with their tastes. More impressive by far than the aesthetics (at least where Spike was concerned) was the sign hanging over the double-doors. It was a subtle and dimly-lit glass or crystal, something he had not seen done before... But what impressed him far more than the technical aspect was the actual words.