• Published 13th Oct 2019
  • 3,435 Views, 736 Comments

Spike of All Trades - Ariamaki



"Wouldn't it be great if life were like a game?", some people ask. Spike can definitively answer... "Maybe."

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Chapter 14: Navel-gazing

Of course, saying he could practice using his mail-sending breath "now" was a stretch. As exciting as these skills were he still had a full quest chain to mow through in the next nine-and-change hours. Next in that process was taking care of more fines... Thankfully the W/hooves family lived just down the road, which kept his route simple and clean.

Spike pulled himself up from the base of the tree with a quick "Hup!" and started jogging his way there. On the way, he passed a few notables as far as titles and levels were concerned: [Sister of the Flowers] seemed to apply equally to Lily, Roseluck, and Daisy, despite all three of them being below average level, while Davenport (who had no title despite a level in the teens, Spike’s first double-digit sighting since Twilight... Pinkie weirdness aside) seemed to be happily returning home with a newly-repaired bit of upholstery. Apart from them and a small cafe, the streets were quite calm for this time of day, making his trip easy going. And when he arrived at his target, an unassuming cottage despite the crazy things Spike had heard about the inside...

[The Nth Doctor]
Doctor Whooves
LV 19

[A Perfect Companion]
Derpy Hooves
LV 19

Well, there was... a big spike up from the average. Heh, spike.
"Good afternoon, D&D!"

Doctor Whooves looked up from the messy tangle of schematics on his patio table. Until Spike's arrival he had apparently been lost in thought, occasionally taking a bit of food or a drink proffered to him by his wife. His mane was just about as much of a mess as the plans, and Derpy seemed a little tired, although her ever-present smile hadn't faded an inch. If there was ever a scene to make Spike glad that Twilight was at least a little self-sufficient during a studying binge, this was it.

"Oh hello there young Spike, how nice to see you! Can I hope this is just a surprise house call as opposed to anything else?"

"Naw, you know me Doctor: It's business or nothing."

They laughed at his usual joke, politely, until Derpy nudged her husband with one hoof.
"Ah, right! I assume this is actually about, how to say, my late return?"

"Returns plural, actually. Twilight has you both down for one."

Derpy blinked a few times, eventually sighing in defeat as she remembered... whatever it was she had forgotten.
"I knew I kept meaning to wear those saddlebags to work for a reason. Sorry Mr. Spike: I'll go get the book."

Spike lifted his claws defensively, not wanting to cause any problems.
"Oh no, no apologies needed! Once we're all settled up you can still hold onto the books for the full checkout period starting from today. Standard Golden Oaks policy."

"No, that wasn't the problem. See, I finished the book the day after I took it out, but once I put it in my bags I sort of forgot about it. I just don't know... Well, you know."

The Doctor hoofed over his own book briefly, from underneath the pile of blueprints, before withdrawing it again a moment later.
"I might still need mine for reference purposes. Should I go get the bits, darling?"

"I've got mine covered, they'll be in my other bag. Just two shakes and I'll be right back out. Want me to rifle through your wallet to cover yours?"

"If you'd be ever-so-kind."

It was only a moment later that Derpy returned and hoofed over two small pouches. Spike dutifully took the money, threw it in his Inventory, wrote a note about the Doctor keeping his book for now, and then stowed that as well. It was only when he looked up to see two surprised ponies that he realized using his new power in such a blatant way might be problematic.
"Ah, heh..."

"Wonderful trick, young fellow! I must say I haven't seen any pony do something quite like that before. Well, outside of some rather risky experiments. How exactly did you manage it?"

"It's... related to my dragon fire, actually. The stuff I use to send letters to Celestia?"
Not technically false, especially now that he had the skill for his Breath set up.

"Fair play! Shame: I'd love to study it, but that's not terribly practical."

"Well hay, we can talk about it another time alright? For now I've got other fines on my plate, and you've apparently got an actual sandwich on yours."

Derpy shoved the plate further across the table into Doctor's field of vision.
"Brought it along with the bits. Custard and fish sticks!"

"Fantastic! I'll get right to that: Have yourself a good day!"

"You two too!"

There was probably a better way to phrase that, but he really did want to hurry, schedule aside, because next he was going to be visiting Rarity. Rarity... He'd matured over the last few years, and while he had grown out of some things (sleeping all day, object hoarding, a fair bit of general immaturity, etc.), his affection for the fashionista of Ponyville had never gone away. It had evolved here and there, picked up nuance, especially as he hit hallmarks of age (none of which included gaining much height), but it was running strong. It was just running tandem with other concerns.

These days his general sense of emotional attachment, to all sorts of ponies, often had to struggle against physical attraction for space in his thoughts. Growing up around ponies his whole life had shown him just how many of them were cute, beautiful, handsome, hot, or otherwise appealing. Other dragons, for contrast, just didn't factor into his mental images.

There was probably some word Twilight could dredge out of a developmental psychology book to describe how he felt, but the result of it all was that Spike’s (currently hypothetical) love life was just a little weird. Hopefully the Gamer's Mind would make it a bit easier to deal with? But that wasn't likely given how he had felt lying down with Pinkie earlier.

Maybe lust and love weren't "psychological effects" as far as his game engine was concerned... Wouldn't be surprising. Every hero needs a weakness, after all, and one of his weaknesses was currently hanging fabric outside her house as he absent-mindedly approached.

Rarity was just as stunning today as always: mane perfectly coiled, tail equally bright, humming a faint tune he couldn't place under her breath. A dozen individual clouds of magic floated from basket to line, from clothespin to line, from line to table... She was working at a capacity most unicorns would never even be able to dream of, and that was even more beautiful, in Spike's eyes.

"Eyes..."

Without really thinking, he whispered "Dragon's Mind" and knew how to use the active side of the skill. His "MP", as the game called it, began flowing through his body in a different pattern, coming together behind his eyeballs and quickening, drifting into the nerves and structures back there as if it were the most natural thing. It only took a split-second, but once it settled he could see Rarity's magic in an entirely new way. Streams of equations and tiny rune-laced circles danced in the air, the natural current of Equestria's magic being drawn into the pony's body with each breath, culminating in her horn before flowing out in patterns to enact change in the world.

Spike had seen diagrams of the invisible parts of magic before, had even seen Celestia and Twilight making simulacrums and illusions to demonstrate during lessons. Even the unicorn using a spell couldn’t see this aspect and didn't think of it: To them magic was instinct and memorized formula. Seeing the process with his own eyes was... pardon the obvious joke, but it was magical.

He couldn't understand the details at first, but as he watched? More concepts filtered into his head. This equation represented the application of physical force while this other string of symbols, repeated throughout, was Rarity's mental short-form for opening and clasping the clothespins... Whether it was Dragon's Mind, Gamer's Mind, or some interaction of the two? He was getting it.

Not a soul in Ponyville would have been surprised to see Spike stopping and staring at Rarity, that much was for sure. And he certainly didn’t care about being caught in the act. But today he quit watching after a mere few minutes: Not out of embarrassment, being caught, nor being interrupted.

No, he stopped because he physically could not continue. The spirit was willing but the MP bar was weak, and his paltry 50-odd mana just wasn't going to cut it in the long run, even for just watching. He deactivated the skill before he bottomed out completely, watching his Status screen with interest as it slowly began to bounce back.

Dragon’s Mind had levelled several times in the process of watching Rarity work, and since he was still a fair bit away from the Boutique he decided to rest and test his new meditation skill before actually greeting her. This would double as a good opportunity to figure out how to tell her about all of, well, this.

A mute recitation of "Omphaloskepsis" turned the skill on (despite the word looking like a tongue twister, it felt totally natural in his head, and he was certain he was 'saying' it correctly), although it wasn't that simple on another level. Sure, it seemed like his skills just worked when he said their names, but he felt the process taking place on top of that. It was just smoother, more certain, and definitely faster than when he had done it by accident at Pinkie’s place. And even that had been easier than when Twilight had drilled the concept into him as part of their lab safety procedures.

He wasn't surprised by the soft ping of a system message once he settled in. Reading it through his eyelids (a nice bonus of being a dragon) confirmed that he had entered what the game called a 'Meditative State', jacking his HP and MP regen up like mad and slowly granting experience to all of his Dragon's skills (not to mention the newly-born miniature experience meters attached to his HP and MP).

From a less direct perspective Spike felt the flow of Equestria's natural energy through his body, refining itself with each breath. It passed from lung to vessel to bone to meat, to scale and tooth and eye and brain. Even the parts where he was fairly sure oxygen didn't go directly from his blood (Twilight's tutelage aside his biology scores were kinda dismal) were flooded with greenish-purple light, rimed with silver.

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