Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 32: Crusading


"What's wrong, Spike?"

He stared for a moment longer, but the title over Cheerilee's head didn't change: Rather, it didn't change anymore than it already had. Chalk up another thing for his notes.
"Nothing. Sorry, it has been... a bit of a crazy day."

The trip to the clubhouse was... uniquely exhausting. Spike didn't have any real problem with the distance, and he'd never begrudge his closest friends for being themselves. But for the entire walk, the Crusaders bombarded him with questions about his new height and why he was being so quiet. They knew they were not going to get answers, all three of them knew, but there were formalities to be upheld. So they asked questions (increasingly arbitrary and silly ones as time went on), Spike filtered out the noise, and they walked together. There was something peaceful about it, in a very weird and uniquely 'them' sort of way.

"Are yah gettin' wings next?"

"Oooh, what about a horn!"

"Are you gonna sprout another-"


"Tongue! I was going to say tongue."

Spike rolled his eyes.
"Suuure you were. It's not like I need a third one of... those."


He frantically gestured to the Clubhouse, just ahead.
"Nothing oh hey look we're here!"

Over the years the Clubhouse had grown up and out itself. Apart from acquiring the materials it was all work they had done themselves, and at this point they had something you could call a legitimate 'base'. Two stories and the start of a small basement, an open second-floor deck to 'launch' their various rope and vine swinging crusades from, even a little offset shed for storage and working on interesting things that Zecora or Pinkie happened to pass on. The windows were still free of glass but had picked up bug netting pretty early, and the various entrances and doors had a nice mixture of beaded curtains inside and plain screened doors on the exterior.

They made their way inside, up the ramp and through the doors. Spike had spent a lot of his time in Ponyville here, with these ponies. Spending time with the Crusaders was comfortable in a way that spending time with his older friends (arguably Twilight's friends, but he had gotten closer to them over the years himself) wasn't... It felt more like he was with ponies who had the same perspectives as him, or who had similar problems. Not just friends but allies in the game of life. Which meant this next bit was going to be particularly interesting.

"Sorry for the short notice, but: I hereby proclaim a Crusader Council!"

They had come up with the idea quite some time ago, in response to the arguments and bickering that occasionally derailed efforts at Crusading. There was a mixture of seriousness and comedy behind the entire thing, pomp and circumstance deliberately blown out of proportion: As soon as he said the words, the Crusaders bolted to various corners and began assembling their council folderol. A gavel, a wig (nopony wore it, it was just important that it be present), some robes (enough for all of them, courtesy Rarity), things like that. By the time they were done all four of them had settled into formation, with Spike in the center as the declarator, and had even grabbed drinks out of their icebox (a hand-me-down from the Apple family farm).

"All hooves present?"

Twelve appendages were pointed his way for a moment and then pulled back into their respective robes.

"You know what I meant."

"Present!" "Ah'm here!" "Occupied!"

"That's ALSO not what-"

"I know! I just... I like the joke."

"Fair enough!"

And with that, their meeting was called to order, for a very very tenuous definition of order. For the others, he had settled with summarizing what all had happened: The Gamer, his new abilities, the sheer density of things that had changed in just a fraction of one day. But with the Crusaders, he explained everything. As he went along with his story he also put things into practice, showing off each of his skills in turn. A gem from his Inventory, Observe'd, cut with his claws and Earthshaper. Dragon's Heart enhanced his efforts, Omphaloskepsis restored his MP afterwards. A puff of his Breath held still as a crystal in mid-air with Stagnet, crushed in his palm despite the brief flare of pain to show his Physical Endurance... and of course, his already evident height, explained as the effects of the Dragon's Hoard.

The Crusaders watched silently, never once interrupting. It was part of the rules: Once one of them called a Council, that member got to say their part before anything further was discussed. What was unusual was that after Spike stopped, they were still silent. They looked at him expectantly and he looked back, eventually just shrugging his shoulders and falling back onto his tail.
"So yeah... That's a thing that happened."

Sweetie turned to look at Scootaloo.
Scootaloo turned to look at Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom turned to look at Sweetie.
The three of them all turned as one to look at Spike.
"OK yeah we're gonna have to take a break." "Agreed." "Motion thirdeded!"

They quickly bolted away and scampered up the stairs, leaving Spike to sit there in his robes and question his life. He knew they weren't going to react badly but it was very possible they would still overreact. Although come to think of it, how bad could that be, all told? He’d survived all of their unsuccessful attempts at Cutie Mark hunting in the past, even the really rough ones. This time he had the added protection and power of this new ability: Hay, maybe the Crusaders were the first real way he could test his limits. The only thing that worried him was just how long the three of them were spending upstairs...

Almost in synch with his musings the Crusaders came barreling back down the stairs, their hooves loaded with stuff. They had shed their robes and used them to bundle up all sorts of things: Looking from where he sat, Spike clearly saw rope, wood, nails, a hammer, a knife, a saw, glue, books, a deck of cards, a jar full of marbles, the Treasury (their name for the perpetually near-empty bag of bits hidden under a loose floorboard), masks... He lost track despite staring, and staring meant he almost didn't have time to react when Sweetie Belle tripped and started to tumble. He leapt and... Didn't have a chance to do anything, as Sweetie caught herself on the bottom step with a pirouette and a smile.

"Oh my gosh sorry we just got so excited about testing everything out and seeing all the new stuff you can do that we got caught up collecting stuff to test it out with!"

"So you all..."

"Spike cmon, how could we NOT think this is the best thing ever? Our super-cool dragon friend just got even super-cooler, and we're some of the first ponies to find out!"

"Ah'm really interested in seeing what yer up to, Spike! Ah mean... You know what Ah mean."

He smiled and felt his chest loosen up, worries blown away by sheer enthusiasm.
"Awesome. It means a lot for me to hear that, and-"

Three hooves shot up in front of him before he could finish.
"But!" "But!" "But!"

"...Rehearsed that?"

Three totally innocent grins behind the outstretched hooves.
"Maybe!" "Maybe!" "Maybe!"

They all burst out laughing for a moment before continuing on.
"OK, so... what's the but?"

"You need to look at us!"


"What? He does! Unless it's just like, proxi... what's that word?"


"That! Proximity based."

"What we're tryin' ta say, Spike, is that we want ya ta Observe us."

He scratched the spines at the back of his head nervously.
"I sort of... Already did. Didn't pay much attention though, just a grinding reflex. Why?"

"Duh! We wanna know what our stats are!"

"Spike, we just found out that we have character sheets. Imagine trying to play in Shining's game without being able to see your own stats, except you still know that the stats exist."

"Plus ya said ya didn't look at 'em yet! So we're all curious... Right?"

He hadn't considered this issue before. Telling somepony all of their statistics, details, history... Everything that Observe showed to him? He couldn't really think of a good reason not to, but it emphasized for him just how much he was prying into the privacy of other ponies when he used his abilities. The discomfort was brief however, and only gave him a moment of pause before he nodded.

"Alright. Gimme one of the easels and I'll write it all down. Maybe I can get a calligraphy skill!"

The Crusaders cheered as he pulled the ink and quill out of his Inventory (not bothering with his belt pouch charade) to start charting. Before he really got down to it, he turned around to look at them.
"No peeking! If you want to show each other that's cool, but I'm going to hand them over privately."

"OK." "Alright!" "Sure thang."

It only took him a minute before he finished, handing over sheets one after the other. He didn't bother copying over their personal histories, averted his eyes as well: No sense prying more than he absolutely had to. Predictably they showed each other their details right away: He hadn't expected anything else, but it felt proper to have given them the choice. His eidetic memory kept the sheets in his head as clearly as when they were written, so he basically followed along as they read.