• Published 19th Sep 2013
  • 5,314 Views, 214 Comments

Of Kingdoms and Cutie-Marks - GreyGuardPony



The threat of The Collector has been vanquished. However, the nations beyond Equestria's borders stare at the land of the dual monarchs in suspicion. Meanwhile Skitch-Sketch struggles to find purpose in her new home. Sequel to A Skitch in Time.

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The Eighth World Congress of Canterlot (And Some Movies in Ponyville)

“Captain Armor, have you brought the guard up to speed on the security procedures for the night?”

Celestia, Luna, and Shining Armor quickly trotted down one of the many elegant white stone hallways of Canterlot. A haggard looking unicorn stallion with a light blue coat, dark gray mane and scroll and quill cutie-mark rushed along behind the three. His attention was focused on a three foot long scroll that was crammed full of preparations and other instructions.

“Yes princess. I've informed the guards of the particulars on each of the delegates, their new patrol schedules, as well as which guest rooms will require extra security. We're as ready as we'll ever be.”

“Very good.” Celestia said, glancing back at the unicorn. “Herald, what of the other preparations?”

“The kitchens are prepared and the menus assembled. Hors d'oeuvres will be in the grand hall for the initial mingling session at five, then the main meal in the grand banquet hall at seven. Though a few of the chefs wanted to walk out over the meat dishes for a few of the delegates.”

Celestia gave a wry smile. “Yes...I do not blame them. But it would be horribly rude to not meet the dietary needs of the Raj delegates. See that the chefs are given some time off after tonight in compensation.”

“As you wish your highness.” Royal Herald said. “I do have to once again ask if you are quite sure about leaving the element bearers out of this...”

Luna interrupted, flicking a wing out in annoyance. “We believe that our sister made her position quite clear.”

“But your highness! The delegates are here because of their concerns over the actions of The Collector. Having the element bearers here...”

“...Would help prove that they haven't been “tainted” in some way by the time the Collector had them under his control?” Celestia finished for him, her voice measured.

“Well...yes! That creature put most of Equestria under a powerful enchantment spell. There are some serious concerns about lingering effects...”

“Concerns that I have looked into and determined to be unfounded.” Celestia said simply.

“The Court still has its doubts. As do many of our neighbors.” Royal Herald responded.

Luna snorted, annoyance clear in her voice. “Our neighbors always have “concerns”. That has not changed in the thousand years we've been in the moon. They were also quite eager to come begging to Equestria when great evils rose in their backyards. Now they lack trust.”

“Not everyone remembers those dark days sister.” Celestia responded. “It has been a very long time.”

She paused for a moment before flicking her eyes over to Shining Armor, who had been fixing her with a very steady gaze while she had been speaking. “You have something you wish to bring up as well?”

“Well...there is the issue of the Tapir ambassador. It's the emperor himself and...”

Celestia held up a wing. “I know Placido the Magnanimous well. If he has decided to attend this conference in person, nothing we can do will convince him otherwise. Just make sure that the guard are as prepared as they can be.”

Royal Herald coughed, trying to get his monarch's attention. “So my suggestions regarding the element bearers...”

“Have been noted, but are not needed.” Celestia said simply. “Their presence is not needed for this affair and I have no intention on interrupting their movie night.”

Herald blinked. “Movie night?”

“Yes. According to Twilight, Skitch-Sketch brought back some manner of media center when she returned to Equestria. She's having Twilight and the others over tonight to show them movies from her home world.”

Herald looked like Celestia had just invited Discord over for tea. “And this is more important than the conference?”

“They are not needed for the conference. Luna and I can handle these affairs of state while Cadance deals with those nations who couldn't come in person. Now, have the lodgings for the Ivory Coast representative been completed?”

Herald sighed. “Yes. Of course some of the nobles have complained that a large shed is now taking up part of the royal gardens...”

Celestia frowned ever so slightly, finding herself wishing that she could go to movie night as well.

- - - -

Skitch ran through the streets of Ponyville as fast as her legs could carry her, hooves pounding hard against the ground. Both of her firearms were suspended before her, wrapped in her magic field, ready to deliver fiery bolts of power upon her foes. Death and devastation greeted her wherever she looked.

Bon Bon's was on fire, her and Lyra's bodies crumpled outside the front door, fore-arms still wrapped around each other in death. Derpy's body was draped over the form of her daughter. Vinyl had been sliced to pieces, her body flayed open by knives. Scootaloo was hung from the rafter of a building by bloody chains. She slid around a corner, her hooves kicking up dust and small stones as she spied her end destination.

A battle raged in the town square. The Mane Six, Celestia and Luna clashing with twisted doppelgangers of themselves. Shouts and screams punctuated the roaring sounds of magical exchanges, the impact of hooves on flesh, and the explosions of Pinkie's party cannon. She raised her plasma cannon, trying to line up a shot, but the battle was far too chaotic to pick out a target.

“I'm coming girls!” She yelled taking off at top speed again.

She ran and she ran as fast as she could, but the battle never got any closer. Her legs burned from exhaustion as she pushed herself beyond her breaking point, and she still never got any closer.

And one by one, she watched her friends fall. Each body hit the ground, echoing like an explosion in her ears.

“No! No! NO!” Skitch screamed, as she watched her version of Celestia crash to the ground, the last to fall.

The distance distortion suddenly ended and Skitch was at the edge of the town square. The dark replacements to the ponies she knew standing over the remains of her friends.

The evil Twilight laughed, her glowing red and green eyes boring into Skitch, her fangs clearly visible, her horn a dagger looking red spike; a victim of King Sombra's corruption.

“Ooo. Far too late. I'm afraid.” She cackled. “Your Twilight so was hoping that you'd arrive in time.”

“SHUT UP!” Skitch yelled, as she aimed her plasma cannon right at the smug monster that dared to call herself Twilight Sparkle. She wrapped her magic around the trigger and fired.

The plasma cannon just fell apart, it's pieces hitting the ground to the sound of more raucous laughter from the evil Mane Six. Swearing, she aimed her Tesla gun next and hit it's trigger. It exploded in a flash of light, crumbling to pieces as well.

“Performance anxiety?” Twilight giggled, as she idly waved a hoof towards Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow Dash. Kill her.”

Skitch didn't even see Rainbow Dash move. One moment she was standing over the body of her good self, the next Skitch felt two long knives sink themselves into her chest, up to their handles.

“Any last words, you miserable worthless whore of a mare?” Rainbow whispered, her eyes wide and wild.

Skitch just collapsed to the ground, choking on her own blood as Pinkie Pie approached.

“Save some for me Dashie! I've never made cupcakes out of an ex human before...”

“WHAA!”

Skitch jerked awake with a shocked shout, toppling backwards off her desk chair and hitting the floor; a cloud of papers flying into the air before floating down on her. She laid on her back for a few minutes, breathing hard as the remains of the nightmare fled from her mind.

“Nightmare...just a nightmare.” She moaned as she sat up, beginning to gather up the spilled papers with her magic.

Once she had them all gathered up, she put them back in their associated file folders, before sliding those into the lower right hand drawer of the desk.

“Never eat spicy carrot soup before you start writing about evil alternate universe versions of your friends.” She muttered.

Placing her fore-hooves on the floor in front of her and arching her back she stretched out; her bones cracking and popping as she worked the kinks out. Sleeping slumped over a desk was not good for one's back.

Sighing happily at the sensation of stiffness fleeing from her body, she looked over at her crowning achievement since arriving. The Chart. The chart was a massive roll of paper that she had pinned against the far wall of her room. A collection of facts and points of divergence between the canon MLP universe and most of the fan created universes she was aware of.

A single line had been drawn through universes where the Mane Six were different ponies than the canonical cast, such as “The Lunaverse”. Much more violent squiggles had been drawn through universes that she considered to be “grimdark” in nature, such as “Cupcakes” and “The Rainbow Factory”.

From there it had descended more into the nitty gritty, adding either check or x marks next to the relevant info points. Things had hadn't been determined one way or another yet were left blank for now.

Pinned to the same wall along the left side of the chart was a collection of maps she had gotten from Twilight and the school teacher Cheerilee. They showed a much more complex view of the world than the officially released Hasbro map ever did, with many, many more nations outside the borders of Equestria, bearing names both foreign and familiar at the same time.

All of this together was reinforcing some of the thoughts that she had started to develop since her arrival. Namely, A.) That the view of Equestria that was shown back home was wrong or incomplete somehow. Or B.) that The Collector had just picked the first version of Equestria he had found and she was now in some alternate version of the universe. Either way though, it meant one glorious, glorious thing to Skitch-Sketch.

She had no idea what was going to happen next.

It was so relaxing in its own way. No need to stay up late every night wondering and worrying if she should tell the girls about what was going to happen. No doubts in the back of her mind about playing god. She was in the same boat as them and would have to deal with each change and challenge as they presented themselves. And she had made plans for some of those eventualities.

Turning her mind away from those matters for now, she headed downstairs and into her little kitchen. Grabbing a pot with her magic she filled it with cool water and placed it on the stove, letting the fire begin to bring it to a boil; as she rummaged in the fridge for breakfast.

Going with a pair of apples, she placed them on the table before grabbing a mug and placing it on the counter next to the stove. Once the pot was boiling, she pulled a brown paper bag from a cupboard shelf, adding three scoops of grinds before letting the whole mixture steep.

While she waited, her eyes drifted to the calendar that was pinned to the wall, where a red check-mark had been drawn in on the last day of the week. Today was the seventh day since her return. One whole week in her new home.

Grabbing a filter to catch the grinds, Skitch poured herself a nice and full cup of coffee as she sat at her table, taking the time to get a full whiff of the rich smell.

“Thank Celestia this stuff exists in Equestria.”

She took a long drink of of the mixture, letting the slightly bitter taste wash over her tongue before she tore into the apples.

I really need to learn to cook. Maybe Applejack can teach me some tricks?

Either way, she really wanted to add some food options other than raw fruit and vegetables to her diet. She had to counter-act the complete loss of meat in her diet with something other than coffee.

There would be time for that later though. She had plans for the day. Levitating some paper and pencils into her saddlebags of holding, Skitch slid them onto her back and trotted downstairs. It was time for some cartography! ...And shopping.

- - - -

She trotted out into the streets the warm sun of a spring afternoon washing over her flanks and back. A few of the ponies she passed in the streets nodded to her in greeting, her appearance in Ponyville becoming a more normal occurrence in the town over the last week.

Skitch sketched as she walked, marking in both streets and buildings as she worked her way towards Ponyville's shops and markets. She noticed that lines were coming out a little squiggly, but she paid it no mind. Drawing in mid-air didn't give her much support after all.

Wrapped up in her mapping, she wasn't paying attention to where she was going until she bumped right into another pony.

“...Really need to stop doing that.” She thought to herself as she looked at who she bumped into.

She seemed to have run into a tan earth pony with a gray mane as she was coming out of the town bar. Skitch's brain clicked in recognition a moment later.

“Oh! I'm sorry Mayor. I was kind of wrapped up in what I was doing...”

Mayor Mare's cheeks had a slight flush to them, but she was still standing straight and seemed to be focused. She waved a hoof in a dismissive manner.

“It's all right.” Her eyes focused on Skitch's map. “What are you working on?”

“Oh.” Skitch said, smiling slightly. “I'm just finally mapping out my new home. I figure that I should get used to it.”

The mayor blinked, before laughing slightly. “Really? You don't need to do that. Follow me.”

Skitch blinked, but decided not to argue as she followed Mayor Mare to town hall. She watched as the Mayor poked around in some drawers of her desk, before pulling out what looked like a map of Ponyville.

“I should have given this too you at Pinkie's party. We had a bunch of them printed up for new arrivals to Ponyville, but we've not had too many. Just you and Twilight, really.” She explained.

“Thanks Mayor.” Skitch said as she floated it into her and opened it up. “This will really come in handy.”

“Think nothing of it.” She replied as she dug out some more papers. “Though, so long as you're here...” Sliding the papers across the desk, she continued to talk. “I'd like to make your immigration to Ponyville official. For the records and everything.”

“Sure thing, mayor.”

Most of the form looked rather standard for this kind of thing. Name, gender, current address, that sort of thing. That was all easy to fill out. The more difficult question came from the previous residence section. She glanced at Mayor Mare when she came to that section.

“How honest do you want me to be here?”

She shrugged. “I don't see much point in being coy here. You're somewhat well known, in Ponyville at least, for what happened in Canterlot.”

“Fair point, that.” Skitch nodded as she filled in that section, before sliding the paperwork back over to the mayor.

She scanned the document, nodding to herself as she did before coming to the line about “next of kin”. “Ahh. Still have living family, I see.” She paused for a moment. “If I'm not prying, can I ask how they took...” She waved a hoof at Skitch, letting that question finish asking itself.

“As well as they could have, all things considered.” Skitch answered.

“Well, if they ever decide to come and visit you here, can you let me know ahead of time?”

“I don't think that it'll come up, but if it does, you'll be the third to know. Right after the princesses.”

Mayor Mare nodded as she slid the form back into the drawer. “Well, that's all I needed. Enjoy the rest of your day Skitch-Sketch.”

Skitch thanked the mayor for her time and trotted out of the town hall and headed across town towards the markets and shops, floating a list out of her saddlebags as she went. She had a decent amount of supplies to bring in before the others arrived tonight. First stop on the list was Bon Bon's Confectionery.

- - - -

Waves of different scents washed over Skitch as she stepped into the candy shop. Sweet and tangy fruit smells mixed with the more bitter tones of chocolate and caramel, all blended together with the smell of raw sugar.

Bon Bon was re-arranging a few trays of candy and glanced up when Skitch entered. The barest of frowns crossed her face for a moment before her salespony smile returned and she nodded to the unicorn.

“Afternoon Skitch-Sketch. What can I do for you?”

“I need some sweets for a little party I'm throwing tonight.” Skitch replied as she scanned the trays and dishes of candy. “I was thinking some fruit flavored stuff just for eating and then some chocolate and caramel squares to melt down and dip apple slices in.”

Bon Bon couldn't help but smirk at that as she began to round up the requested candy. “Trying to give Pinkie a run for her money?”

“Pfft. I'm no where near that insane. There just might be up to nine ponies there.”

“Nine?” Bon Bon asked, eyebrow raised.

“Well,” Skitch said. “I had wanted to extend the invitation to you and and Lyra, if you wanted to come.”

Bon Bon looked surprised at the offer, almost dropping the bag of chocolate squares she had just grabbed. “Us? Why?”

“You two were technically the first ponies I sold a painting to when I first came here. So..uhh...it seemed like the right offer to make, really.”

Bon Bon looked at Skitch oddly for a moment before nodding slowly and sliding the bags of candy over to her.

“All right. I'll run it past Lyra. I'm sure she'll probably want to show up for the chance of seeing something new.”

Skitch grinned back as she floated some bits over and then tucked the candy into her saddlebags. “I'll see you around five-ish then.”

- - - -

The rest of the shopping had gone simply enough. The ingredients to make dough had been acquired first, followed by some fresh ripe tomatoes and other spices. Then it was onto other produce, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. She was also glad to see that cheese was something that ponies still ate, as that was added to the bags. All of that would be part of the main course. After that it was a quick trot over to Applejack's stand.

The orange mare was busy selling the first harvest of the spring to passing ponies. While Skitch was quite glad that she had wound up as a unicorn, she couldn't help but be amazed how the innate magical talent of earth ponies could make crops grow in record time compared to human farmers.

“Afternoon AJ! Got some apples for me?”

The earth pony smiled back. “Sure do sugarcube! Ya look excited for tanight.”

“Sure am!” Skitch nodded. “Looking forward to sharing a bit of my home with you girls.”

“We appreciate it. Ah'm gonna be interested to see what movies look like from yer world.” She motioned a hoof towards a bag of apples. “That one's yours.”

Skitch nodded and just floated the whole thing into her own bag, Applejack's eyes going a little wide as the lip actually stretched to accommodate the full bag of apples.

“What in Equestria are those bags?” She asked.

“Oh! Remember that staff we found in the remains of the fake pony?”

Applejack nodded.

“I actually managed to find the wizard it belonged to during my whole attempt to return all the things The Collector stole. He repaid me by making me these beauties, Saddlebags of Holding! Each one can hold up to fifteen hundred pounds and two hundred and fifty cubic feet of stuff.” Skitch grinned as she twisted slightly to show them off.

“Well...that's right convenient. Don't suppose I could maybe borrow them at some point?”

“Fine by me. You'd just have to give me a heads up on when you'd want it. See you tonight then?”

“Sure thing!”

Humming to herself she trotted back to her shop, a distinct spring in her steps as she planned out the night. With any luck tonight would be a strong step towards moving her friendship with the mane six past a fangirl infatuation. Building bonds in her new home.

Unloading the groceries in the kitchen and dropping her saddlebags on the kitchen table, Skitch-Sketch hummed to herself as she checked the time. Three hours to go. Plenty of time to get everything put together. Trotting up to her room, she stopped in front of what she considered to be her crowning acquisition from her time bouncing between different realities.

To someone from earth, it would have had a superficial resemblance to a futuristic plasma screen TV made out of gray aluminium. Closer inspection would have revealed the disk slot on its base, and the detachable tablet that slotted neatly into its side. A toy from the twenty fourth century, crammed with an archive of human media that most videophiles would kill to have.

“Computer.” Skitch spoke calmly, the system coming to life at the sound of her voice. “Transfer recipes for pizza dough and marinara sauce to the tablet please.”

Once the confirmation chirp reached her ears Skitch picked the whole affair up and floated it downstairs, placing it in the main room before pulling the tablet out and heading back into the kitchen.

She read and re-read the instructions about three times before beginning. The extent of her cooking skills back on earth had tended towards using the microwave. In Equestira, or at least Ponyville, that wasn't an option.

Yeast and sugar were mixed together in warm water, before she began to add in the flour. Slowly mixing the concoction she watched as it grew thicker and thicker.

“Well, that looks like dough to me.” She muttered after a bit of mixing sprinkling some flour on the counter to kneed it out. Unicorn telekinesis was coming naturally to her these days so it didn't take her long to get the dough ready before draping a cool cloth over it to let it rise.

“Right! Marinara sauce now.” She said as she glanced at the clock. Two and a half hours to go.

Following the directions she gave the tomatoes a quick blanch to make the skins easier to peel and then began working the skins off of them as she continued to read the directions.

“Squeeze peeled tomatoes to make sauce base. Should be doable.”

Wrapping her magic field around the mass of peeled tomatoes, she gave them a firm telekinetic squeeze to pulp them down.

...And was promptly hit in the face by a squirt of tomato juice. Sputtering more in shock than anything else, she dropped the assorted mess into a bowl and grabbed a towel to clean off.

“Back stabbing tomatoes.” She half grumbled, half chuckled as she turned back to her preparations.

Picking out the tomato seeds the best she could, spices and garlic were added to the mix next before she stirred it up. The rest of the produce was then sliced up for toppings. She glanced at the clock again. Still over two hours before her friends would be showing up.

Time to get the downstairs ready.

- - - -

The easels had all been folded up and tucked next to the artists rack and a long table (borrowed from the Cakes) had been set up near the left wall. Her future entertainment center had been moved to the right wall and she had scattered no less than ten pillows around it in a semi-circle for ponies to lay on.

With five minutes to go before her friends were to arrive, Skitch began to carry the fruits of her labor out to the refreshment table, a cheerful look on her face and a tune on her lips.

I gotta feeling, that tonight's gonna be a good night.
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night!

She levitated her two handmade pizzas into place on wide plates, before dropping two bowls of sliced apples down next to them.

Tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night!

She floated the bowls of candy, both melted and solid out next, arranging them in front of the apples. They were soon joined by a plate of carrots, and a small cask of root beer but plenty of room was left for any snacks, food or drink that her friends would bring.

I know that we'll have a ball
If we kick back and stay in and just watch it all
I feel stressed out, I wanna let it go
Let's chill out, kick back and lose all control!

Trotting back across the room towards the pile of pillows she stood up on her hind legs, fore-arms raised into the air, letting the last few lines of her song play out.

Tonight's gonna be a good, good night
Wooohoooooo!

Letting herself fall backwards onto her pillow, she stared at the ceiling for a few moments before the sound of a knock on her front door called her back to her hooves. Throwing the door open she was greeted by the sight of eight ponies and one baby dragon.

“Hey girls, and Spike.” Skitch beamed. “Come on in, I got snacks, food and drinks inside. Lyra, Bon Bon, glad you two could make it as well.”

“Are you kidding?” Lyra said as the group trotted inside. “There's no way I'm going to miss the chance to see the kinds of movies humans made!”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes. “That's my marefriend. Attracted to the weird.”

“I'll have you know that human cinema is some of the best on my planet.” Skitch-Sketch said a smirk on her face.

“Aren't humans the only species that makes movies on your planet?” Twilight asked.

“Exactly. Really cuts down on the competition.”

An appreciative chuckle swept the room as Applejack added a small cask of cider to the table, and Pinkie Pie slid a plate of cookies next to the other sweets.

“So,” Applejack asked as she took a seat on a pillow. “What kinda movies are ya gonna show us tonight? They got westerns on earth?”

“Ooo! Ooo!” Pinkie bounced in place. “How about something funny?! With jokes and laughter and zaniness!”

“I'd like to see something historical.” Twilight interjected as she laid down. “I'd like to put some images to all those books of notes in the library. And I thin...”

“Action!” Rainbow Dash cut across Twilight's sentence as she took her seat. “Something with a lot of fights! Ooo! Or how about something scary?”

“Umm...” Fluttershy squeaked out. “If you have any movies with animals in them I'd like to see those. If it's not too much trouble.”

“Anything more slice of life, dear?” Rarity asked as she nestled down on her pillow. She glanced over at Lyra and Bon Bon, who were snuggling together. “Or something romantic?”

“Well,” Skitch responded. “I kind of pictured this clash of tastes. And there's so many different kinds from over fifty plus years of cinema, that I didn't want to just pick for you. Soo...” Her horn glowed as she floated a large bowl into view from behind the entertainment center.

“I wrote as many different films as I could remember. We can probably fit in a pair of films tonight. You'll make some picks, if the same genre of film gets picked twice one goes back into the pot and draw again. Sound fair?”

There was a general nod of agreement from the assembled crowd. Skitch nodded, giving the bowl a nice little shake before floating it over to Lyra. “First pick's all yours.”

A beaming grin on her face, Lyra's own horn lit up as she felt around in the bowl before pulling out a strip of paper and reading it. “Looks like I got something called “Star Wars: A New Hope”. And then you have sci-fi in parentheses next to that.”

“Ahh! One of my favorites.” Skitch grinned. “Looks like science fiction is off the list for the night.” She floated the bowl in front of the group again. “Who wants to pick next?”

“I will!” Twilight spoke up as her horn glowed.

Twilight likewise drew from the bowl. Her eyes went wide and a grin crossed her face as she read the result. “Ooo! I got something historical! “The Ghost and The Darkness.” Historical and...horror?”

“Ahh.” Skitch said, laughing slightly. “Yeah. I think we'll save that one for last. I'll have to give some context on that one....Still! Grab some grub while I get this flick started.”

As drinks and food began to be passed out, Skitch couldn't help but smile to herself. This was going to be a good night.

- - - -

Canterlot's great hall was bustling. Half of the nobles in the city were here for the presentation of the delegates and the pre-meeting mingle. Celestia was in her full royal regalia, as was Luna. Both the sisters were sitting in their thrones at the end of the hall, the assembled nobles gathered up along either side of the long red carpet that the delegates would enter via.

Luna looked stoic, but Celestia could sense her sibling's aggravation. She never did have much patience for the affairs of state that were of a more preening nature. Still for the first world congress in forty years, Celestia had decided to do things by the book. All the world's eyes were on Canterlot and Equestria these days.

Shining Armor was in his position to Luna's left, his eyes scanning the room for any last minute holes in his security. To her right, Royal Herald's horn glowed as he wove a voice amplification spell upon him and unrolled his scroll.

“Mares and gentlestallions, lords and ladies!” He spoke, his voice echoing through the room with magically augmented crystal clarity. “The rulers of sun and moon hereby call the Eighth World Congress of Canterlot, so that the nations of the world may discuss the issues of the day clearly and openly.”

A round of polite applause rippled through the crowd as the nobles gently stomped their hooves on the floor.

“We now welcome the delegates with Equestrian hospitality, Equestrian warmth and Equestrian friendship.”

The great double doors to the great hall creaked open at this point as Royal Herald began to introduce the delegates.

“Representing the Duchy of Hollstein, Countess Hendrika Lifeflower!”

The cow delegate slowly and calmly walked down the red carpet, bowing her head every so often to the assembled ponies. Her red dress was embroidered with a simple gold trim and her expression was one of warmth. After coming to the end of the carpet she bowed to Celestia and Luna before turning left and moving into the crowd.

“Representing Brayton, Count Amando the Great!

The young donkey entered the room with a great deal of swagger to his steps. He was dressed simply, no more than a red sash to indicate his badge of office, and his mane cropped neatly and short between his ears. That didn't stop him from flashing wide smiles and winks towards a few of the more pretty looking mares in attendance.

Celestia kept her mask of state clearly on her face, but internally she wanted to roll her eyes. Everything she had heard about Amando was that he was an absolutely shameless flirt towards anything beautiful and female. And in a pinch, the former could slide. Hitting the edge of the carpet he gave a very over dramatic bow before turning to the right and moving into the crowd.

“Representing the North Griffon Confederation, General Ironfeather!”

General Ironfeather was the first to enter with an honor guard as he was flanked by two very no-nonsense looking griffons. The general also wore a sash, this one gleaming with medals from successful military campaigns, the red contrasting greatly with his iron gray features. While his guard looked straight ahead, his eyes scanned and darted about the room, probing for weakness. Upon reaching the end of the carpet he gave a slight bow and marched off to the left.

“Representing the Kingdom of Elkienhiem, Count Axal Winterbite, Lord High Chancellor of Elkienhiem!”

The elk delegate was as tall as Celestia looming over the assembled ponies as he strode down the aisle with purpose, his eyes locked directly on Luna. He wore a deep blue sash, and a simple white collar that clung tightly to his neck. The most striking feature, however, were the engraved silver caps he had attached to the points of his antlers. Upon reaching the end of his march, he bowed once to Celestia and then purposefully snubbed Luna as he turned to the right and marched into the crowd.

“Representing the Buffalo Tribes, Little Strongheart!”

Celestia raised an eyebrow ever so slightly as the young buffalo marched down the carpet, wearing an elaborate headdress. She was surprised that the chiefs had sent a young warrior such as this to the congress. Were they not taking it seriously? She reached the end of the carpet, bowed, and marched to the left.

“Representing the Republic of Dromedus, Lord Hei!”

The camel delegate walked down the aisle in a slow, dignified manner, a fez perched neatly on his head. He bowed his head graciously to each pony as he passed, radiating the kind of calm smile from someone in control of his situation. Celestia was quite sure that he was already working the angles in his head. Dromedian merchants were some of the cleverest and most patient she had met. His bow was long and deep before he broke off to the right.

“Representing the allied kingdoms of Zebrica, the Ivory Coast, and Regula, Duchess Zelenia, Consular Cornelius, and General Firetail. “

A slight gasp echoed through the room as the allied delegates entered, partially due to their exotic nature, and partially due to the figure at the lead. The group consisted of a zebra, an elephant and...a lioness.

General Firetail, so named because of the bright shock of red fur at the end of her tail, wore a green sash and nodded gracefully to the assembled ponies as she passed. The smile on her face was very warm and regal, which may have made her presence a little more unnerving to some of the nobles. Griffons were a somewhat known factor to Equestrian nobility, but now another predator delegate was here and from a part of the world most of them had never been too.

Zelenia's face was an impassive mask, as she played up the whole “mystic” angle that swirled around zebras since the arrival of Zecora to the Everfree. She wore an elegant looking green cloak and not much else.

Consular Cornelius was probably fighting with General Firetail the most for attention. The gray skinned giant loomed over even Celestia, his long tusks making him look more fearsome than he really was. He wore a dark gray coat with a red collar, and had a pair of glasses perched precariously before his eyes. The trio bowed as one before heading to the left.

Celestia's smile grew a little wider. If the nobles of Canterlot had been shocked by that grouping, they hadn't seen anything yet.

“Representing The Free Hive of Venexia, Princess Rosewater.”

A much more pronounced gasp filled the room this time as a Changeling stepped into view her black carapace glinting in the light. Her eyes were a rich pink color and had full pupils, unlike the solid color that drones sported. That and the crooked horn that rose from her head signified that she would be a future hive queen. She didn't wear much, just a simple badge that looked like it had been hooked into her carapace. It showed a twisted red ribbon on a green background. She bowed quickly before walking to the right.

“Representing the Empire of Taperia, Emperor Placido II the Magnanimous!”

The elder tapir walked down the aisle looking rather unconcerned about much of anything. He wore a pale green jacket, and sported a full white beard that added to his dignified appearance. He gave a simple bow to Celestia before stepping to the left.

“Representing the Raj of Inj, Lord Ananth and his wife Amrita!”

Another wave of uncomfortable shifting rippled through the crowd of noble ponies as the pair of tigers strode down the carpet. Their sleek, muscled forms were bedecked in silk sashes, and glittery golden jewelry that was studded with gems.

And then there was their body language. Where General Ironfeather was focused and disciplined, and General Firetail was calm and comforting, Ananth and Amrita were smug and intimidating. With each step they let their claws naturally extend their eyes scanning the crowd, smug smiles on their faces. There was a brief bow at the end of the carpet before turning right.

“And our final delegate for these proceedings, representing the Kingdom of Boda, Lama Choejor!”

Choejor strode in, the shaggy looking yak's horns adorned with charms and symbols of good fortune. He was the most clothed of the delegates, wearing full flowing orange robes over his silvery-gray fur. He bowed deeply, the charms ringing slightly at the dip of his shaggy head. He broke to the left, bringing the procession to an end as the crowd began to break up and engage in general milling about and chatter.

Celestia and Luna climbed down from their thrones, moving to the crowd to begin the necessary duties of state, Celestia running over the list of countries that had opted to not send delegates. Saddle Arabia, Neighpon, the middle kingdoms of Wei, Wu and Shu, and the city states of Minos, to name a few, all had opted to not send anycreature. She hoped that Cadance would have more luck on her end.

Keeping her expression locked in her usual serene mask, Celestia turned her mind towards the business of politics. Now just to make it to dinner.

- - - -

As the final scene of A New Hope faded away Skitch stretched slightly and turned her head to look at the reactions on the faces of her fellow viewers.

“So...what did you all think?” She asked with a nervous grin.

“That...was...awesome!” Rainbow shouted, her wings beating with enthusiasm. “Han Solo is so cool! How fast do you think that ship really goes compared to my Sonic Rainboom? And those glowing swords! So, awesome!”

“Ah don't know. Isn't the Empire still around and everythin? They did only destroy one thing. Seems like a heck thing to forget.”

“Well, there are two more films in the trilogy AJ. That gets addressed then.”

“Ahh. Well, that makes sense then. Ah'd say I liked it then.”

“The Force kind of reminded me of unicorn magic.” Twilight said as she tilted her head to the side in thought. “But humans don't have a special talent...” She trailed off as she pulled out a notebook and began to scribble a few notes down.

“...Twilight, are you taking notes on Star Wars?” Skitch blinked and incredulous look crossing her face.

“Of course! Fiction says a great deal about a culture.”

“You can't turn it off, can you?”

“Total. Egghead.” Dash snickered.

“I have to admit.” Bon Bon commented from her own seat. “I enjoyed that more than I thought I would. Not what I was expecting.”

Skitch raised an eyebrow as she thought that one over. “What were you expecting?”

Bon Bon shrugged. “I dunno. Something...alien, I guess? I don't really know.”

Skitch sighed slightly as she shifted on her pillow, her doubt on showing the other movie beginning to grow in her mind. She was just about to suggest that they pick something else when Pinkie spoke up.

“So, Skitch, going to start the other one?” Pinkie asked.

“Right...okay. So, this next one is actually somewhat based on actual events. ...Not a period of earth history that I'm all that proud of I will admit. And it is about a pair of lions that hunted and killed people...sooo, anypony that would want to call it quits for the night now, I wouldn't blame...”

“Skitch.” Fluttershy interjected, her soft voice cutting through the unicorns rambling surprisingly well. “It's just a movie. I think that we'll be able to handle it. And...well, I would like to see one of the ways your people viewed lions. If that's okay with you.”

Skitch's mouth hung open for a moment before she nodded. “Okay, Flutters. Computer, play The Ghost and the Darkness.”

- - - -

An oppressive silence hung over the royal dining hall of Canterlot castle. The first course had been served- a rich onion soup for everyone, and a spicy chicken affair for General Ironfeather, Ananth, and his wife - and the delegates were mostly eating over occasional glances at each other. The intent was to discuss matters of state over dinner. Celestia found that the relaxed atmosphere was more conducive to talking, but everyone was on edge tonight.

Celestia could almost taste the underlying current of fear that filled the room. Not that she could really blame them. When she thought back to how The Collector had managed to take control of her and Luna, it was hard to not shudder. She was grateful that his plans were specific enough that he hadn't just started ordering her to bring the sun down on the world.

The delegates had been joined by Prince Blueblood, who was here to represent the concerns of the Equestrian noble houses. His presence combined with that of Advisor Cornelius lead to a very crowded table.

“Thank you all for coming.” Celestia began, keeping her expression warm and friendly. “I am hoping that we can discuss some plans of action in light of the defeat of The Collector. I am concerned that his attempt to drain the power of the world may have damaged the wards and defences that we have used to lock away some of the threats from the Era of Nightmares. We would ask for your cooperation in making sure that none of these threats that were locked away in the ancient days escape again.”

Countess Hendrika spoke first. “While I do agree that this is important, I am unsure what you expect the Dutchy to do. None of your ancient evils were locked beneath our lands, and we are not a warlike or magically inclined people.”

“Yes.” Lord Hei chimed in. “Dromedus is likewise ill equipped for such engagements. We are traders. The best we could offer would be material support. However, if certain cultural artifacts were returned to us...”

“Oh, Lord Hei,” Celestia smiled back, “it is still the policy of Equestria that any historical artifacts lost during the Era of Nightmares if found on our soil, are to be returned to their rightful owners as soon as possible.”

The implied subtext hung in the air for a moment as the camel frowned slightly before nodding and returning to his soup. Celestia flicked her eyes around the table again. Cards were still being played close at the moment, though Emperor Placido seemed to have become infatuated with his soup spoon. Of more immediate concern to the monarch was the look of loathing that Lord Ananth was shooting General Firetail.

“How does it feel to deny your natural birthright and eat like a grazer?”

For her part General Firetail just fixed the tiger with a calm look. “It's called diplomacy and stewardship. Perhaps your people should try it. The non predators of your lands might stop cowering in fear.”

“The ponies and cows of our lands live perfectly well, without having to shackle ourselves with ritual magic to weaker nations.”

“Weaker?” Cornelious rumbled. “Foolish to assume that we are weak, just because we are slow to violence. Our unity improves us. Makes us unbreakable.”

“And being able to eat plants is such an important part of that, I'm sure.”

“Please, my friends.” Celestia said. “Let us discuss the matters before us instead of snipe at each other. The after effects of The Collector's actions and the possible fallout it might have on the world need to be addressed.”

That statement focused their attention again, General Ironfeather coughing before he spoke.

“Yes. We would ask for some greater clarity on the events that occurred. This...Collector creature is dead, yes? And his pawn has left?”

“The Collector has been banished.” Celestia said simply. “As far as Skitch-Sketch is concerned...”

Prince Blueblood spoke up. “The creature known as Skitch-Sketch has since returned to Ponyville. The Element of Laughter threw one of her famous “parties” for her.”

The moods of several delegates immediately dropped, looks of horror crossing their faces. Celestia glanced at Blueblood for the quickest of moments, registering the smug look on his face at his sudden revelation.

“So...not only is the monster that almost destroyed the world is still possibly alive out there, but that the other abomination is now living in the same town as the bearers of your Elements of Harmony?” General Ironfeather hissed.

“Abomination? Come now general. Skitch-Sketch fought against The Collector and almost died in the attempt. If she meant this world harm, she's had plenty of opportunity to so do.”

“Isn't your assumption based on the idea that her goals are the same as The Collector?” Count Amando proposed. “She is a creature from beyond our time and space. It would be foolish to assume that her motives are the same as ours.”

“I spoke to her. She seemed quite normal to me.” Celestia countered.

“Yes, but we have no reason to trust you on that.” Count Axal said simply as he took another bite of his soup.

Celestia was taken aback by the elk's bluntness. “Pardon?”

“Celestia, your decisions have been suspect for some time now. Ever since you supported the efforts of that bug colony.”

Rosewater's wings buzzed with an angry thrum at the slur, her lips pulling back and baring her fangs. “We are a free hive! We do not steal love and life like those still enslaved to the likes of Queen Chrysalis.”

“Words, like gems,” Amrita purred. “Are quite capable of being fake. And Changelings spread deception like a farmer spreads seeds.”

“Yes. I spread deception while sitting here, in my actual form, having onion soup. Surely the wickedness of we changelings knows no bounds! And now I shall double my evil plans by asking for extra croutons!” She turned to one of the servers her voice loosing it's sarcastic edge. “If it's not to much trouble.”

Celestia had to suppress her desire to giggle at the look of sheer confusion on the server's face as he nodded and trotted for the kitchens. Amirta looked more annoyed that her attempt to dig at Rosewater had failed to truly get under her carapace. Sometimes it seemed like sarcasm was just another weapon for the changeling.

Axal frowned as he spoke again, trying to regain control of the situation. “I still question your judgment. You let this creature just wander about the same town as the wielders of the most powerful weapons of defence this world has. They could be getting corrupted as we speak.”

“I do not believe Skitch-Sketch is capable of “corrupting” anyone.”

“Then you are either a liar or a fool.”

Luna slammed her fore-hooves on the table, her ears flicked back in anger, her face twisted in a snarl.

“Thou dare call our sister a liar? Thou slander her by calling her a fool?”

“Yes I do, Nightmare Moon.”

“We are no longer Nightmare Moon! Thou double thy insults and slander!”

“Luna...be calm.” Celestia said as she gently put a hoof on her side.

“Elkenhiem has never forgotten the first reign of Nightmare Moon, brief though it was.” The delegates voice was even, but full of hidden menace. “Your family connections may have given you reprieve for your actions in Equestria, but our people will never forget the fact that we have a scant two month growing season for our crops thanks to you!”

Luna and Axal stared each other down; the elk haughty and nose turned up, the disdain quite evident on his face, Luna's wings spread wide, her face still locked in a snarl as she glared right back.

The sound of General Ironfeather drumming his claws on the table punctuated the scene a slightly smug smile playing across his beak.

“To be frank, Celestia, even the issues of your sister aside, you were under the control of one of these human creatures. There is no way to know if he left any kind of lingering control that this other human could exploit. And your bleeding heart blinds you on this matter.”

Pushing himself away from the table, he ruffled his feathers before looking to Celestia. “Tell the servers that I will have the rest of my meal in my room. The North Griffon Confederation considers these discussions closed.”

As he strode towards the doors, Ananth and his wife likewise left. The tiger looked back at Celestia, his expression one of mocking pity. “My wife and I will be taking our leave. My apologies to your kitchen staff for the extra work, but the Raj is quite capable of handling it's own internal affairs.”

Count Axal shot one last glance towards Luna before stalking to the door and turning his head to look at Celestia. “While you are a kind ruler Celestia, Elkenhiem has no desire to engage in diplomatic relations so long as Nightmare Moon is part of your court and you are so foolish.”

As the elk left, Celestia sighed to herself. Things were off to a great start so far.

- - - -

“I'm going...to sort it out.”

The ponies winced as the sound of gunshots rung out from the screen as Val Kilmer walked into the final confrontation of the movie. Skitch winced herself. Less from the scene in the movie- she had seen it before after all- but more from the death grip that Fluttershy had around her midsection while she buried her face into Skitch's side.

“Flutters...you're hurting me.”

“I'm sorry! It's just scary! I was wrong!”

“Just...let go...please.”

Fluttershy shifted her hooves but kept her position cowering behind Skitch as Val Kilmer managed to kill the second of the man eating lions of Tsavo. The mood was much more subdued as the credits ran this time, the sound of Twilight scribbling the main thing that came to her ears.

“So...I'm guessing this one didn't go over as well as Star Wars did.”

“I dunno. I liked it!” Rainbow said. “It was a horror movie. Horror movies are supposed to be scary.”

“Those poor lions...” Fluttershy whimpered. “if only they could talk. Maybe they could have worked something out...”

“Humans in that movie seemed more like a buncha bullies for the most part.”

“Well...that was the British Empire for you. Kind of had a tendency to throw their weight around.” Skitch finished lamely.

“Well,” Twlight said as she got to her hooves and stretched. “it is pretty late. Thanks for the evening Skitch, but I think we all should be getting back home.”

“Yeah. I got plenty of chores to do at the farm tomorrow. Thanks for havin us Skitch.”

“Any time AJ. Do we wanna try for doing this again next week?” She asked, hope clear in her voice.

The assembled ponies exchanged looks, before looking at Skitch again.

“Ah don't think so Skitch. Weekly is a bit much for a party night like this. How about we get together again in another two weeks though?”

Skitch smiled back. “I'd like that.”

“Then let's make it a date, darling.” Rarity added.

As her friends filed out for the night, Skitch smiled to herself as she began to clean up. Tonight had been a good night.

- - - -

Luna paced through the corridors of Canterlot, her wings still twitching in anger and frustration over how the dinner had gone. She hadn't made it to the end, excusing herself while Celestia finished the negotiations. Axal's words still rung in her ears and itched under her fur.

Nightmare Moon...

“We are not!” She hissed stomping the floor as she continued to pace, tears threatening to escape her eyes. “The Elements fixed us. Why won't they see it?!”

She paused outside an old set of double wooden doors deep in the maze of chambers beneath Canterlot. An image of a golden ring was emblazoned on the door, slightly tarnished from age.

Pushing the doors open with a hoof Luna stepped into the empty chamber. It was half library half meeting hall in nature, dominated by a massive circular oak table in the middle of the room and shelves full of books along the walls. A fine layer of dust covered every surface of the room, it's long disuse quite evident.

Walking across the room- her hoof falls muffled by the plush red carpet- she cast her eyes towards the series of paintings that overlooked the table. The first one was the largest, painted immediately after Discord's defeat, showing Celestia and Luna at the head of a massive marble table that was surrounded with representatives from the other races; so much so that it was almost overflowing. Even through her anger she couldn't help but smirk at the togas everypony was wearing. Hard to believe that was the fashion fifteen hundred years ago.

She scanned down the successive paintings watching the number of delegates at each world congress dwindle away as the ages marched on, bonds forged during the fear of Discord's reign crumbling as the era of nightmares continued.

Her eyes fell on the last painting on the wall, her heart almost breaking. The date on it's small golden plaque came from a year after she had been banished away to the moon. Celestia sat stoicly at the head of the table, Luna's seat empty, a scant handful of delegates filling the rest of the seats of the now wooden table.

Sighing to herself she began to channel, a soft glow settling over the surfaces of the room as she began to whisk the dust away. After a few minutes of work she had the room back to a more presentable state.

“Lulu?” Came the soft voice of her sister from the doorway.

Celestia observed the room as she walked inside looking pleased. “It seems that you beat me to getting this room ready again. It's been quite a bit since I came here.”

“We could tell.” Luna responded. “Did the negotiations go better once we left?”

“I'm afraid not. Hollstien and Brayton both promised their support, but I have my doubts.”

Luna snorted as she looked back at the paintings. “We feel helpless sister. We are so deeply sorry for the fate we inflicted upon Elkienhiem while Nightmare Moon. But we can't fix it! We can't even walk through dreams without additional magic aid anymore. We are too weak.”

Celestia nuzzled her sister.

“Oh, Luna. Your magic will return to you and I'm sure that with enough effort we'll be able to convince the elk to allow us to help.”

Luna sighed, leaning her head against her sister's side as the pair looked up at the paintings on the wall.

“We have been gone for so long...are any of the old alliances still intact? Or is Equestria truly alone in the world now?”

Celestia smiled as she motioned her head towards the doors. “See for yourself sister.”

Luna looked towards the doors blinking at the sight of some of the delegates that walked into the ballroom. General Firetail, Duchess Zelenia, and Consular Cornelius lead the way, flanked by Princess Rosewater and Emperor Placido.

“Some still stand with us.” Celestia said simply as she walked over to them.

The first thing that Luna noticed was that the tapir emperor was acting far more lucid than she had seen him acting at any point during the night so far. Gone was the airy, wandering quality, and now he stood straight and at attention. Facing Luna, he bowed to her.

“A pleasure to finally meet you face to face, Princess Luna. Please forgive my earlier displays. Just the games of state.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “By playing the buffoon?”

The tapir just winked at her as he took his seat at the table. “Other rulers underestimate the fool. I use that to my advantage.”

The other delegates all carried small crystal orbs that they inserted into small grooves in front of each seat. Magical power flowed from each orb as images flowed into being in each of the associated seats as connections were made with their companion orbs scattered across the globe. Luna regarded each image carefully as she put names to faces she had studied since awakening.

King Regulus was an older, but still quite regal looking lion. There was some gray in his mane but his form was still well muscled, presumably from exercise and combat practice. His expression was a calculating one, but one tempered with wisdom as well.

By contrast King Halia was a younger zebra, newly risen to the throne of his part of the tripartite nation. His mane was cut straight, and short and his oddly stylized zebra cutie-mark seemed to resemble a shield.

King Babar was the middle of the three in terms of age, and much like his adviser loomed over everyone else at the table. His expression was kind and inquisitive as he gazed around at the rest of the group.

Queen Magnolia had the typical intimidating look of most changelings, but it was tempered by the orange flowers she kept in her mane at all times. They matched her eyes and helped make her look more approachable.

Celestia smiled as she took her seat, Luna following close behind.

“I am glad to see you all. The world will need our support, strength and guile more now than ever before. And we will face those issues together.”

She looked to Luna, nodding to her sister. “Luna, the oath, if you could?”

Luna was taken aback for a moment. It had been a very long time since she had been asked to lead the oath of Celestia's unity of rulers. Not since before she was Nightmare Moon. Still she bowed her head and began to speak, her fellows likewise bowing their heads.

“Join us, fellow monarchs. Join us as we watch over the fates of our people and guide them towards peace and prosperity. Join us as we fight against the horrors that threaten them. Join us as we rule with strength, honor, wisdom and kindness. For as go our morals, so go we and so do our charges suffer. So say we all.”

“So say we all.” Came the assembled reply.

“Now,” Celestia said. “we need to begin to check some of the possible outbreaks of the things that were locked away during the Age of Nightmares. Regulus...is Daring Do still in your lands?”

“Finishing up a tour over the release of the latest book based on her exploits.” He raised an eyebrow. “You're thinking Dromedus?”

“Someone needs to watch the sands for Akhem the Twice Cursed. And her skill as an archaeologist gives her a ready made cover for operations in that area. More so if she has support from nations other than Equestria.”

Regulus nodded. “We can back your play Celestia. Support her with some of our own archaeologists to make it an international force.”

Celestia looked to Queen Magnolia. “Any movement from Chrysalis?”

“My spies tell me what she's sending out feelers right now, more trying to work out what happened. She will be cautious, most likely. She's never been struck at in this matter before.”

“Hmm. While keeping tabs on Chrysalis is important, I do need some spies for a special assignment. Can you spare any of them?”

She thought for a moment. “Most of my spies are currently occupied. But, two of my more talented retired sets of eyes have been acting as love gatherers in Ponyville. I'm sure they would be willing to do both of us this favor.”

Celestia thought for a moment, before a look of recognition crossed her face.“Ahh. You speak of Roseluck and Cherry Berry, yes? I met them at the Summer Sun Celebration last year. They will do just fine. I need them to relocate to Brayton for now.”

“Grogar?” Magnolia asked.

“It was where he last operated.” Celestia frowned. “And we were never able to find him after that last battle...”

“What about Discipline, up in the griffon lands?” Placido asked. “What agents do we have in play there?”

“There are some griffons that still remember the old ties and that have worked closely with ponies in the past. I'll send a message to her via the usual channels.”

“Then it seems that we have our initial plans into place.” Regulus commented. “We shall put them into motion and assist each other along the way.”

Celestia nodded. “To work then.”

- - - -

Blueblood sighed as he closed the door to his home and walked into the sitting room, where some of his follow conspirators were also waiting.

Jet Set and Upper Crust sat together, near the fireplace. Jet Set was reading a paper, his dark blue eyes going over the same report on the events of The Collector's attack yet again, looking for any other details he could extract. Upper Crust just cradled a glass of wine in one hoof, looking thoroughly annoyed.

A new arrival to their little conspiracy, Nouveau Riche sat on his own, tapping a hoof against the armrest as he overlooked a mess of bank documents. His light brown coat was a contrast to his light gray mane and tail, a neatly trimmed beard and moustache around his mouth. His cutie-mark was a large and shiny new gold bit.

“Well.” Blueblood said. “The bomb has been dropped. The delegates acted about as well expected. Three whole groups stormed out.”

Upper Crust smiled as she took a drink of wine. “Excellent. Celestia's cage needed to be rattled. She's playing far too fast and loose with the security of our kingdom. Now to drive the human away.”

“I believe I have a way to begin that.” Nouveau Riche interjected holding up a sheet of paper. “I discovered something.”

“Do tell.” Blueblood said as he sat down.

“Well, up until now, we've assumed that the building she's living in was created wholesale by The Collector. But that never entirely sat right with me. It's easier to transform something, than to create something from thin air, after all.”

“Since her return, I've been going over the records of every house lot in Ponyville. And imagine my surprise when I discovered a deed for another house in the spot where her's is now.”

Jet Set raised an eyebrow. “And you're sure?”

“The records are quite clear of what was there. Yes, the house looks different now, but it is still property that we own and that has never been paid for. Legally, the human is squatting on bank property.”

“And?” Blueblood asked. “For one, you are quite aware of the grace laws Celestia put in place. If she makes a good faith payment by the end of the month, she'll be legally allowed to sign on to an actual mortgage. Plus, she is friends with the element bearers. I'm sure they'll be able to help her if she is short the bits.”

“The point is, to begin rattling her cage. If we can destabilize her and prove that she's dangerous, we can break her hold on Celestia. Besides, I intend to go to Ponyville myself. Some direct application of...leverage, might be able to circumvent those issues.”

“And if she does have some magical control over the princess?”

“Then this will help prove it and we can rally support from the rest of the court.”

Blueblood thought for a moment before nodding.

“Send your hatchet-pony.”

- - - -

Skitch woke up the next morning, with a slight spring in her step. Perhaps she'd poke around the town some and see about scaring up some new contracts. The first ever movie night had drained her finances a little bit.

She was about to head the door when there was a sudden sharp knock. Blinking, she pulled it open and found herself staring face to face with a pony she was unfamiliar with.

She was stern looking, her dark brown mane pulled up in a no-nonsense bun, thin glasses perched on the end of her nose. Her cutie-mark was a large bag of golden bits, that almost seemed to be over-flowing. Her saddlebags were neat, no-nonsense affairs that seemed to be full at the moment.

“Skitch-Sketch?” She asked.

“Uhh...yeah. That's me.”

“Can I come in? There's something I need to speak with you about.”

“Sure.”

Skitch closed the door once she was fully inside. The mare was looking around the room a thoroughly unimpressed look on her face, before she turned to face Skitch.

“So, Miss Skitch-Sketch. I am Balloon Payment, and I represent The First Canterlot Bank. We hold the mortgage on this property.”

Skitch was stunned.

“...I have a mortgage?”

A slight frown crossed Payment's face. “I'm sorry, how did you think Equestria handled these things? Sunshine and love?”

“...Yes?” Skitch responded, a nervous smile on her face as she tried to lighten the mood with some humor.

Payment's icy stare made that smile melt away in a moment.

“I will be blunt. You do not own this house. The records we have indicate that this house was owned by the bank before The Collector changed it around with his magic. Legally, you are a squatter and we could evict you now because of that fact.”

She took a step closer to Skitch.

“However, legally, if you were to sign the mortgage papers and make a good faith down payment by the end of the month, you would be allowed to stay.”

Skitch just gulped her eyes flicking to the calendar pinned by the door to the kitchen.

“But...the end of the month is a week away.”

“That is not our problem.”

She floated a stack of documents out of her saddlebags. “These contain the details of your mortgage. Three hundred bits by the end of the month will let you keep your house.”

Skitch took the documents and shakily signed her name. Balloon Payment took the copies and headed for the door. Skitch looked at her as she began to step out.

“I'll have the money ready! Art is my special talent and I can whip up that cash in time.”

Payment paused, looking back at Skitch and smirking.

“I wouldn't be too sure about that.”

“...Why?”

“Your cutie-mark is fading.”

With that she was gone, the door snapping shut behind her. Dropping the papers on the floor Skitch bolted for her bedroom, almost tripping and crashing over her self in her panic. Coming to a sliding stop in front of her mirror, she stared at her flanks.

And, horrifyingly enough, her cutie-mark was faded. Lighter and less solid, the lines edging the brush and pencil broken in places.

Her talent was fading away.

Author's Note:

A lot of this chapter was set up and world building, admittedly. But I think that it'll pay off down the line.

Most of the nations introduced here are loosely based on historical nations. I've covered a few of them on my connected blog in more depth, but here's a lose list.

Duchy of Hollstein- Holland
Brayton- Spain
North Griffon Confederation- North German Confederation
Kingdom of Elkienhiem- Swedish Empire
Buffalo Tribes- Great Plains Native American Tribes
Republic of Dromedus- A Mix of Dynastic Egypt and Morocco
The Allied Kingdoms- Kind of a united sub-Saharan African gestalt nation
Free Hive of Venexia- A blending of Venice and a budding socialist state
Empire of Tapira- Brazil
The Raj of Inj- The Mhugal Empire of India
Kingdom of Boda- Tibet

We're officially off the original timeline everypony. Things will only deviate more from here.