Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 21: Arcana


His brain could parse the words. He knew them. He was just having a hard time believing it.
"All day?"

Rarity nodded as she stepped forward, holding one door open in her magic's grasp.
"Indeed! Morning and night, barring holidays I do believe. The new owner is... well, you'll see."

Spike walked in at a slow and solemn pace, almost joking but not quite. He had really loved the old space as plain as it was. In truth? It had been little more than a field with six or seven cabinets and a food cart on busy days, a few trees and umbrellas for shade on the older machines. It had been cozy in a way open spaces usually weren't. Given all that, being here... Somewhere new that was built on that base? It felt right that he should enter like this, eyes wide and head clear.

Putting his remembrance aside, he had to stop and gawk once he got past the entrance. The carpet beneath his claws was dense and riotously colored, the wall to his left stark black, then to his right were... Dozens. Maybe a hundred, even? Arcade cabinets, game machines, engines, exposed engines even, in sizes and shapes he had never seen before. There were tables for not-so-video games he recognized (pool and poker and that one with the little rubber hoofball players on rods), there were tables for sitting and relaxing and eating, there was so much space...

Really, 'space' was the operative word. Just like the outside the interior was decorated in cool dim shades that resembled the night sky. Outside the sun beat down, and yet inside there was no hint of day. Instead there was a pale and pleasant artificial glow, all coming from saucer-shaped lamps and wall-mounted crystal rods.

And that light shone on ponies. A lot of ponies. Even before he saw any of the high outliers in terms of Level, he knew not all of them were from Ponyville. Whether it was the dialects, the clothes, the way they carried themselves... Or the fact that there were too many wings, many leathered rather than feathered.


Rarity hummed happily as she stepped ahead of him, gesturing out into the crowd.
"For a... variety of reasons, it seems this has become a popular spot for both Luna's Night Guard and the weather-ponies coming to and from Cloudsdale. They used to call Ponyville flyover country in a dismissive way, you know! But now that they have a spot in the middle of their paths to stop for food and drinks, coffee and a break at any time? Their tone has certainly changed. I daresay I've considered opening the Boutique on some sleepless nights just to take advantage of the traffic!"

Spike took a deep breath and just... soaked it in for a minute. Noises, lights, the scent of cooking food and the feeling of the carpet. Brick walls, open vaulted ceiling, no windows. Ponies of every breed and age. He had never, not once in his life, been in any building quite like this one. Even the exhibition arcades in Canterlot didn't have this kind of complex density. But it felt right in a way he couldn't put a claw on, like this was what an arcade should be. He suppressed a small shiver at the scope of it all and then stood straight, turning to Rarity with a smile.

"Alright, since you're so familiar with the place: Gimme the grand tour?"

"Oh nonono, that simply won't do. After all, there's somepony far more qualified than I! One mo, please."

She trotted forward quickly, tail whipping happily as she rounded the corner off into an area that Spike couldn't see from where he stood. He took the opportunity to step down into the lower floor (only a step down from the entrance, but enough of a difference to make headroom for the taller cabinets) and start looking at the place. It's not like he'd be hard to pick out of a crowd, and he'd stick close to the entrance... It was all just so new. Mmmh, not all of it: He recognized the original arcade's cabinets from where he stood. Gillie had probably kept thirty-odd engines in storage even though he only owned ten cabinets, but now it looked like they were all on the floor and then some.

There was Power Ponies: Mares in Space, the one with the power-levelling. There was Martial Mares and Bandit and the latest JewelSmith. There was Haven (with multiplayer!), Treasure Tomb, Sun Seekers and Moondust Wanderer... Spike just marveled at it all for a bit until he heard the distinct quadruple-beat of two ponies approaching: Rarity must have found that guide she was talking about: Maybe an employee, or one of Rainbow's friends from the weather team? He turned to look over his shoulder and... Well, he doubled down on how much he had been staring at things lately.

It was just one shock after another. That was a fitting phrase, really: The mare had a shock of dusty yellow mane over shockingly bright orange eyes, all in the frame of a shockingly fit unicorn mare... Which was made more shocking because she had the grey coat, tufted ears, and bat-like seeming of a Night Guard. Rather than the leathered wings of a normal pegasus affected by Luna's glamour? This mare had a tracery of black thorns running from the tip of her horn down onto her shoulders like a tattooed mantle. Topping off the entire situation was one last, slightly more literal shock: Lightning bolts on her flank, her Cutie Mark showing six of them arranged in a hex pattern.

No, wait. That wasn't quite right.

Really topping it off and really shocking? That was above her, and only Spike could see it:

[A Shot In The Dark]
Arcane Ammunition
LV 39

Thirty. Freaking. Nine. That's nearly forty. Twilight was level twenty-seven. This was somepony who was absolutely not to be trifled with, and he felt nervous just flicking his eyes between her title and her calm smile once. Looking suspicious seemed like a very bad idea right about now. So instead he popped a big bright smile and looked to Rarity as if begging an introduction (easy enough, since he was). She hesitated, reasonably so: He had told her about the whole shebang of The Gamer, including the names and titles. But when he continued to smile, a bit more strained, she relented.

"Ah, Spike... Well, this is Spike-"

The older mare interrupted her with a light cough.
"I do recognize him, although it's only from reports. Pleased to meet you, Mr. The Dragon."

His mood lightened when he realized that level or not, she might be a pony willing to crack a joke.
"Please: Just 'The', or Spike should you prefer."

She dropped into a short and graceful bow, her eyes glinting with a repressed smile.
"An honor! Well met, Spike."

"And you as well, Ms..."

Rarity coughed, apparently at least a little embarrassed about the situation.
"Mrs., as it were. Mrs. Arcane Ammunition, although she prefers to be addressed by 'Ammo'."

Spike continued lightening the mood, breaking into an oversized toothy grin.
"Well then, that seems like an introduction if I've ever heard one!"

"And a long mile better than the ones we get at court, eh?"

Rarity seemed even more scandalized at that, yet Spike himself couldn't help but laugh.
"Trumpeter. Reader. Other trumpeter. And it's so much worse when there's some big shindig."

"If you think it's bad, try writing up the requisition forms for all those extra ponies."

"If you think that's bad, try belching up all those forms!"

Ammo put a mock-offended hoof up to the fluff of her chest.
"So you're the mysterious beast that's always eating paperwork right before it's due!"

"Does that make you the second half of 'Praise the Sun and pass the ammunition?'"

He was 100% sure that Rarity was going to yell at him for that gag, but he couldn't stop himself: The sense of relief from realizing that this over-levelled monster was a nice pony (visual indications aside) had him giddy. It helped when Ammo herself burst out laughing and fell back against a nearby cabinet to wipe at one teary eye. She raised a hoof and Rarity (begrudgingly) helped her up.
"You've got good friends, Rari. I'm so glad we decided to move out here: This is such a great town."

Spike was putting two and two together in his head, although it was honestly nearly as easy as actually getting 4 from 2+2: Rarity knew about the arcade before him. New owner from out of town who doesn't know a ton about video games. The new arcade is open overnight, all day. The structure blocks the sun completely. And now this pony, who speaks to Rarity casually and is apparently either a Night Guard or something very much like it.

"So you're Rarity's..."

"Aunt! Auntie Ammo, isn't that right Rara?"

"Rrrghhhyes to my eternal chagrin, Mrs. Ammo is my father's sister."

"Your father's named after my grandfather, you know! Good ol' Magnum Ammo."

"Since you remind me at nearly every family gathering: yes I do know."

Spike looked askance at Rarity.
"'Auntie Ammo', huh?. Which makes you..."

"Rarity Belle, thank you. I like to hope that I inherited the more gentle side of the family line."

"Pfft, sure. Keep tellin' yourself that Rares. But back on topic... Spike! The Dragon of Canterlot Mountain himself, aide to Twilight Sparkle. What brings you to my establishment today?"