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Royal Reasoning Regular Meeting (closed - invite only)

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Celestia had sent the notifications out a week in advance to allow ample time for all parties to make arrangements to be free for that day. She notified the public that official court was cancelled for that day, as well as posted extra guards to allow for the princesses to be more able to concentrate on matters at hoof rather than ponies walking up to them with business that was not so pressing. It was not that Celestia did not love her ponies, in fact she adored each and every one of them. But there were times where she needed a day to settle more private matters with her fellow princesses. Matters of state, planning of events and specific meetings, gathering and analyzing information, assessing threats more deeply, the list went on. 

 

Celestia had the private study furnished for such gatherings. Today had a semi-full list of affairs, as each princess would bring a short list of their own. Celestia looked down her own list, bandit groups at the boarders, redecorating the palace, and the planning of the annual gala event. As she walked to the study, she had her head on these matters, but also tried to sort out how to broach them with her fellow princesses. Her sister was often more direct, and apt to have a simpler solution to matters. That was perfect in some situations, however others required a more finessed approach. Other still needed a more critical mind than either of them, of which Twilight possessed. 

 

Celestia was never not surprised by how detailed Twilight could get with the slightest thing. Though it often made her giggle when she saw her former pupil stressing over something that she thought was an important matter. For Celestia and Luna, these things had become trifles. Though their lengthy tenure of leadership had taught them many hard lessons on what was most important to a princess. 

 

Entering the study, Celestia sat herself at the table and waited for the others to arrive. Tea was already prepared and waiting, as was a small selection of fruits and sandwiches. Celestia preferred the simpler foods, as well as the sweet treats she allowed herself from time to time. And she hoped her selection of food was desirable for her friends. She knew some of what Luna liked, however Twilight had been away long enough that her tastes may have changed. As the solar princess set her papers down and began sorting out some parchment and ink, she paused and then sent a note to the kitchens to have extra treats prepared, just in case this ran longer than normal.

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Twilight was always excited when she got to meet with one of her fellow Princesses to discuss matters of state. There was something invigorating about the process of problem-solving on the macro-scale, especially when the preponderance of solutions stemmed from microscopic ideas, Of course, this was not always the case and sometimes big action, broad action, the type anypony and everypony could see, was called for. Even more invigorating than solving the initial problem was solving the problems that would crop up from the initial broad solution. For every action there was an equal and opposite reaction, or so the saying goes, but in matters of state, the reaction was often times tremendously unequal in the pressure it created. It was a never-ending, unstoppable puzzle whose only reward was the continuation of the puzzle. It was perfect!

So she was very excited to receive news that Celestia had called for a meeting of the Princesses. No doubt there was some good cause behind it, but Twilight could only guess. The lack of any serious urgency told her that many of the problems were going to be gnawing pains rather than severe punctures but that didn't make them any less significant. She cleared her schedule...well, that was incorrect. She instead packed everything she had planned for the time of the meeting and the travel to and from in the few days before it all took place. A few parties, meetings to finish the creation of the Twilight Guard, a quick sojourn with Daedalus into the Aetherial Plane to retrieve the Lockets of Al'tuban Raa, all to name a few. Not to mention attending Zap Apple's second birthday celebration and the resulting mass outbreak of drunk mares that an Apple-thrown party could turn into should somepony bring out a particular vintage of cider.


She arrived in Canterlot and made her way to the Castle with good pace. She had studied Canterlot's pedestrian traffic over the years while taking a bath and had decided to avoid as much as possible. She landed and moved quickly, with only a single Twilight Guard with her. She arrived to the palace almost entirely without being spotted, dismissed her guard, and entered. On her she carried two large saddlebags overladen with papers and documents with another set of basic care requirements in case the meeting went long. She wasn't planning on spending the night but she was prepared to, and besides, if they all had plenty of subjects to bring up and problems to solve she didn't know if she could even get sleep in she'd be so excited that sleep would be...unlikely.

Twilight entered the study not long after Celestia had sat down. Twilight had to resist the native urge to bow to Celestia, and instead decided to settle for a decidedly unroyal “Hello! It's been so long, Princess Celestia. You look great as usual!” She said, walking over to her Ruler-turned-Mentor-turned-Colleague-turned-Friend and giving her a hug, before hovering away nd taking a seat. “I brought some very exciting stuff to talk about. Very exciting!”

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The younger diarch chose to take her time getting to the location her sister picked for this meeting. If it were a casual gathering, Luna might've been there sooner, enticed by the prospect of getting to spend some more casual time with Celestia, something she rarely ever got to do these days. Their schedules made it difficult for them to get any sisterly time together- anytime they were both present was if there was something pressing. A disaster, a grand event, or some villainous being yet again putting Equestria in peril for their own gain.

 

Alas, it wasn't a casual gathering in the least. It was a private meeting of the crown, something that would most likely involve lengthy discussions about varying matters of importance that they'd need to tend to. At worst, it might be somewhat drab. At the least, it wasn't court. Her own experiences with Celestia's daily duties had been something of a nightmare for somepony as asocial as she was, somepony who was far more used to solitude and simply doing her own thing at her own pace, if anything was required of her at all. The list she was required to bring to the table of what needed attention was an unfortunately short one, one she chose to discard in the small wastepaper basket on the way out of her study.

 

Princess Luna's stroll through the castle to Celestia's study saw her arriving shortly after a certain enthusiastic purple alicorn princess. She'd never gotten to know Twilight particularly well and only picked up on what was most apparent about the new alicorn's personality. She was bright, enthusiastic, inquisitive.. and often prone to nervous 'freak outs'. Twilight had also done quite a bit for Equestria and carved a path to spreading friendship. It was a nice notion.

 

The moonbringer stepped through the room with her usual silent grace, finding her place at the table next to her sister's. "Evening," she greeted, making herself known. Celestia might've noticed that she'd come in, but she wasn't sure how observant Twilight might be while she was focused on Celestia.

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Celestia smiled and gave a soft chuckle to Twilight. "One can only hope so Twilight. These affairs often leave myself and my dear sister bored to tears. Personally, I wish we could just take the day off and spend time lounging in the spa or in a flower field. It has been so so long since I was your age. Do not let the weight of your crown keep you from what matters most my Dear Twilight." She reached a gentle wing over, patting Twilight on the back softly with a kind smile. Though now that smile was weathered, showing some cracks. She kept perfect face in front of crowds. However away from the limelight, she let some of the facade fade. 

 

But that smile immediately brightened up to the point it would make the sun itself jealous. Luna was here. Celestia loved her little sister, and would never let anything happen like that again. Once Luna was seated, the mare took a deep breath and set out her parchment. A bottle of ink and a few quills as well. "I will transcribe the copy for the Canterlot archives. Twilight, it seems you brought plenty of supplies to make copies for your palace records as well. Good. Hopefully this will go by swiftly and we can enjoy a day of tea and cakes." 

 

Setting her list down, she looked to Luna. Her sister had brought no list, which hopefully meant she had no major issues to address. That and it made the meeting shorter. Celestia loathed having to deny her sibling and her friends the chance to just relax for the day. However, duties must and needs be there were a thousand and one things to do. Looking to Twilight, she smiled and gave a nod. "Perhaps our younger princess would like to begin first? We can lend our experience to the issues you see most in need of attention, and hopefully reach a swift and helpful solution." 

 

Celestia was honestly feeling better now that her sister and friend were here with her. For a thousand years she did this alone and it ate her up inside. Mostly because it was her own fault. Now that she had others to speak to, that could understand the difficulties involved in the position and point out things she might have missed she felt more at ease as a princess. 

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Twilight didn't know if Luna understood how inspirational a pony she was, if not traditionally, then at least with great power. It wasn't easy to have dealt with your own demons in such a stark and literal fashion as she did, doubly so when it was not just public but part of the fluttering fabric of Equestrian history. She could easily have allowed herself to sink back into the background noise of her sister's radiance and love, but she didn't give herself the excuses so readily applied by others. She worked hard. She worked very hard for the ponies of Equestria. She worked very hard for the ponies of Equestria in ways they didn't know, and didn't begrudge herself for the lack of intense glory that came with it. Regal, hard-working, coming back from a place of darkness? Very inspirational. “Good evening to you as well, Luna. Haven't seen you for a while! How have you been?”

“Oh, I'm not worried about the work this involves. I actually relish it. One giant puzzle with an infinite number of pieces that are constantly moving. The ultimate problem without a permanent solution, but along the way we make the lives of millions better,” she gushed, blushing afterwards. She was just too excited to really contain herself, but she had to remind herself that while enthusiasm could be a tool well used to solve problems it had to be applied, oddly enough, conservatively for it to be effective. Speaking of, it appeared that they would have her open the meeting's working portion. What an honour! She had believed Cadance would show up, but she was likely busy. Being a mother could do wonders for your timetable.

Twilight got up, her horn lighting up. Her saddlebag opened and documents started shuffling their way to the other two Princesses, whose experiences would be most useful in discussing the very important matters. A chalkboard zapped into being and Twilight approached it, a piece of chalk levitating nearby. She cleared her throat.
“To start off, I have taken note of seven cities, twenty-four towns, sixty-two villages, and more than two-hundred and nine settlements that are running some sort of budget deficit, as reflected in several tables in your position. More run a net budget surplus; cities supporting one another and likewise down the line is common. By the nation's classification and mutual support system, this is how things work. However, there are multiple problems with it, which I have laid out in pages sixteen through forty-three. To summarize, the bit exchange rate with the Yakyakistan Rug-Penny means that Stalliongrad trading houses take in lower than reported income...” Twilight began, and soon was off to the races as she described the vast and deep web of Equestrian economics.

It was really interesting, completely and totally and not at all boring. Not. At. All.

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The moon princess didn't miss how her sister's expression brightened when she'd entered the room, and just like with the sun she could feel some of that warmth radiating off of Celestia. It was encouraging, enough so that Luna felt she might be able to get through this meeting of theirs. She offered Twilight a smile after the purple mare's greeting and dipped her head to the younger alicorn. "It has been quite a while. I've been doing well enough." Luna gave her a simple enough answer, avoiding the possibility of having to give any details about, well, anything that was going on with her. It wasn't anything terribly concerning- mostly mere annoyances and a few issues that she felt she could discuss later. Mostly with Celestia.

 

Any chance she had to ask Twilight about herself was lost as the princesses settled and Celestia opened the meeting, starting with Twilight. The youngest princess in the room would no doubt have quite a lot to go over, knowing how much information she tended to gather and store. Luna looked up with some surprise when the purple mare summoned a chalkboard and she was left wondering once more where Twilight stored such things to summon them so quickly for these occasions. Lifting a brow, the diarch placed her silver-shod hooves onto the table to pull the folders Twilight presented them both with, and Luna started looking through them.

 

There was a wealth of information here, and neither it or what lecture Twilight soon launched into made as much sense to her. Princess Luna was still learning the ropes of being a leader in this day and age, but the complexities of economics was something she still hadn't quite wrapped her more old-fashioned mind around. Did some cities not get enough funding, and some were getting too much? It sounded like it, and that some families weren't earning enough..

 

Luna supposed it was all rather interesting to learn about how the economy was in different parts of Equestria, but there was so much detail to sort through much less pinpointing all of the problems as well as figuring out how to fix them without impacting others. The dark alicorn glanced up towards Celestia, who she felt had more experience in matters like these.

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Celeatia's quill danced on its own. Writing notations as she leviated the folder of paperwork to look at. All the while she fixed Luna a cup of tea to sip, as well as one for Twilight. She was patiently listening, knowing full well Twilight had a clear head on her shoulders .   The young mare was plenty aware of finer details.

 

After a full thirty minutes, Celestia held up a hoof, "Twilight. Please wait a moment. Let us have a moment to understand what you have presented." Looking to her sister, Tia took a short breath. 

 

"As I see it, we have missed important trade and investment notifications. Perhaps we should schedule a meeting with Stalliongrad leaders as well as other major trade cities to see if we can instill new policies that may yet help change things over time. I fear too fast a change may destabilize trade and economical hoofholds. What do you think sister?"

 

Celestia wanted to hear Luna's suggestions. She valued her sister's thoughts more than ever. And even though Luna was still learning, she often had helpful insights. 

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Twilight loved economic discussions. There were simply so many facets to it, a self-perpetuating loop that was equal parts self-sufficient and entirely reliant on a multitude of other factors. She hoped others thought the same. That way ponies could really sink their teeth into it and get to helpful solutions into the field. But maybe she was just a nerd who liked numbers and problems and how they worked a beautiful ballet together. In fact, when she was stopped, she was in the middle of linking Saddle Arabian trade disputes deep into their interior with the falling values of some fibres in Manehattan, and the ensuing disruption in the clothing industry. A fascinating subject that even Rarity could enjoy, no doubt, but probably wise to stop the train there. She was getting into tangent territory.

She turned back to the fellow Princesses, shaking her head sheepishly but with a wide smile. “Sorry, sorry. I might have gotten carried away there. Yes, some trade imbalances and budgetary concerns in the interior, major concerns. I think there are multiple solutions, and indeed it requires several, with the easiest starting point being a complete overhaul of the settlement classification system,” Twilight said as she sat down, allowing Luna to invest herself in a good answer while bringing up the classification system. Invented several hundred years prior, the system made some sense. The size of a settlement would dictate what degree of funding the state would assign it. In a nation like Equestria where communication could be slow- not everypony had a dragon assistant or was a Wonderbolt, after all- it made sense.

The issue was that as Equestria had grown, the system had not. Settlements, villages, towns, and cities alike all experienced a wider variance of population than ever before. Population centers on the verge of being classified above what they were before found themselves struggling while the opposite presented itself. Now, Equestrian cities and such tended to support one another, and it was never hard to find stories of a budget shortfall in one city being corrected by the help of another, while local budget measures were often successful enough to ensure that most places didn't have a critical issue.

The true negative was how trade came about. Much less capital could be spent on trade, while towns that relied on trade were at the mercy of poor trade deals. This allowed events and movements outside of Equestria to have great influence on many Equestrian cities. This then had a trickle-down effect. The result was that most of Equestria's cities and towns were operating just fine, but very few were ever thriving. And all it would take for it to become a significant problem would be for a major disaster or event to happen to a major trading partner of a city that was supporting others.

By coming up with a better classification system, one that was more exact and had more layers, budgets could be adjusted and extra capital available in most places. Without the need to keep some on hoof to help others, cities and the ponies who lived in them would be free to pursue healthier trade. This would then allow Equestria to be less vulnerable to events outside of her borders economically and cause less consternation.

“So, yes. That is the basics of it. I can't wait to hear what you've got to say, Princess Luna!”

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Princess Luna had looked to her sister to gauge her feelings on the matter of the economy, and she wordlessly accepted the tea Celestia made while she multi-tasked. The teacup was set down next to the folders she'd been given and gave a subtle start after her sister halted Twilight's tangent and asked her what could be done. A slight twitch of an ear, an adjustment of her wings. She rested her hooves on the edge of the table, glancing between the two alicorns and tried to gather her thoughts; she was sure she'd guessed correctly about the problems Twilight had underlined about Equestria's economy.

 

"I feel a visit will be a good idea so that we might assist the towns and cities that are currently struggling, and that perhaps.. we ought to change a few things. We could assess the funding that each town or city is getting and adjust it so that those that aren't getting enough may get what they need for their population." It was all that she could think of to do, if only because it looked like the most obvious solution to her. Of course, she didn't have as deep a knowledge as the young purple alicorn did, and Luna had to admire her for being as knowledgeable as she was- the moonbringer could only wish she had the same capacity for information. In time, perhaps she could, but it was an unknown.

 

Clearing her throat, she surrounded her cup of tea with her magic. "What other solutions might there be, Twilight? I am certain we may be able to find something that is a more permanent solution, among others that may prevent such a problem from happening again." Luna looked between then and lifted her cup to her lips, sipping at the tea in the silence. She wasn't sure if anything she'd suggested would be useful, other than what she knew Twilight had to say. If her own suggestions didn't sound like they'd work, what ideas Twilight had certainly might.

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Celestia listened and took her notes, as she was watching both her fellow princesses. As she was thinking on a solution herself, she could not actually think of anything solid herself, aside from going to actually visit these cities and see for herself. After a moment she had a thought that might help supply them more information and help them all make a better judgement. "Perhaps, if it is possible, we could have a census taken. Having a knowledge of the number and type of citizens in each town and city, we can understand more about their needs." 

 

She was not exactly grasping at straws, but there were facts missing. Even in Twilight's folders of information, there was no possible way to account for everything without performing a detailed survey of each city on site. There was need for something to be done about this, but hasty decisions were not good ones. As Celestia made her point, she realized that Twilight might have already made a few options. That was good, but she had learned temperance in approaching large issues like this. Time was not the key every time. It was good to be enthusiastic, but it was also good to know how deep to jump into a problem at the start. Getting too deep with out an understanding of the problem had gotten her into serious trouble in the past. 

 

"Luna, would it be possible to conduct such a census in the night as well as the day? this way we could compile the information faster and with Twilight's help possibly find a better solution than we can find under normal means?" she asked. The thought came to her but she wanted to ask her sister first. It was likely just a fanciful idea. However, Luna was smarter than her older sister, and Celestia knew it. She just needed a little nudge to show it. 

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There was a broad agreement on what needed to be done. Twilight had compiled what information there was, but much of it was very general and brush-stroked. Census was difficult with so much of the nation decentralized and a segment of the population, not a small one either, constantly on the move. They did have a once a decade census but it was doubtful how much of it was entirely accurate, which resulted in percentage points here and there being off, and in some places rather larger mounts could be missed. And that didn't take into account poor tracking of incoming immigration. “Visiting places will certainly help, I think, and a proper, deep census will give us more accurate information, I concur. Doing so by night as well could be a great boon, if Luna thinks it can be done. Once we do that and have the information, I think we can take a deep look into the classification system. I have already made a model of the new system, which can be seen on pages sixty-seven through eighty-two,” she said, motioning towards the pages in question.

Each page had a population breakdown, and the sort of challenges such towns might face that were new, different, or growing, and was categorized along with a generalized budget. It started at a small settlement of a few dozen ponies and went all the way to Manehattan, currently Equestria's largest city. “But until we have more information, the system proposed there uses too many generalities. It might give us a good jumping off point, but only that. I would also propose a new department be created. Right now the Royal Office of Internal Affairs is burdened with many tasks and under-employed. The Office of State Budgets and the Office of Census and Tracking can both provide great services on their own, and together, can help us get a jump on this problem before it becomes serious,” she said, clearing her throat.

She had taken her time. She had more topics to discuss, but this wasn't the Twilight Lecture Circuit. “So, that is the first thing I have to bring to the table, but I think I've had my time so far. Who wants to go next?”

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There appeared to be one thing that they could all at least agree on: visiting each place in Equestria would help them gain the information they needed to help those who were struggling. It would be a lot to do.. Such large tasks usually looked daunting, enough that Luna was hesitant to even begin, but Celestia suggested something that had the lunar princess perking up a little in her seat, her ears twitching towards her elder sister. If she was to conduct a census at each place during the night.. it meant she'd be out of the castle. It meant she'd be flying. That is, if she was meant to travel by wing- she'd get to fly much more actively which was something she'd been missing for quite a while now.

 

"I would be happy to do so. Do you intend to divide up this task, with who goes to what towns and cities? It may lessen the load on all of us," Luna suggested. As much as she'd want to stay out of the castle for as long as possible.. they'd be putting too much on their own shoulders if they both visited every location in Equestria.

 

The dark diarch turned back to Twilight to hear out the rest of what the youngest alicorn had to say. Looking down at the copy of the documents she'd been given, she idly flipped to the pages Twilight mentioned and skimmed over what she proposed with some curiosity. "Hm, I do believe it may work.. Especially if we all work together on this.. and we should try to help the Royal Office of Internal Affairs gain a few more ponies so that they are not stretched so thin."

 

Straightening her set of the documents, she closed the folder with a hoof and glanced between the two other mares in the room when it became clear that Princess Twilight was finished with what she had to say for now. As she didn't have anything as important or pressing, that she felt, Luna chose to remain silent to see if her sister might speak up about what she wished to discuss.

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"I agree. I think the first step will be to place additional ponies into the Office of Internal Affairs to assist in data collection. After that, we should all take turns visiting cities, so that we can help conduct the census of each city. As well I would like suggest that we take our time in doing so. No good can come of rushing into such a large project. It is our ponies that we must think of. Very well, this matter is put to rest for the moment. I will have the papers set aside and ready for when we need them," Celestia said softly. As she set the papers aside, she levitated the tea pot up, refilling her cup, and fixing one for Twilight as well. 

 

As she looked to her sister, she noticed Luna was looking at her, waiting. Celestia nodded and looked at her list. Sipping her tea, she decided the most pressing matter was that of rogue ponies on the fringes of the kingdoms. "Firstly, I would like to point out a serious matter that has troubled ourselves and our fellow nations. Bandits that live and operate along the borders of our nation and others. While they are no real threat to any kingdom, they hamper trade and harass the small settlements on the boarders. They steal and threaten ponies, as well as any other being they catch. As far as I am aware, there have only been a few incidents of injury when ponies tried to resist them. The REA is spread too thinly to deploy a garrison at every boarder crossing, however we can not just let this pass. And I am loath to hire mercenaries to deal with the issue."

She set her cup down and tapped a hoof on the table. "I have run into several of them when they come to collect their bounties. They are crass, care for nothing but coin and act as if they are superior to the common ponyfolk that live in Equestria. One of the worst offenders in this sense is a frequent visitor to Ponyville. Though I doubt she would draw your attention to herself Twilight. But I use her as an example of how bad these ponies can be. We need something better than using military might or common thuggery. I have a proposition to handle this issue, however I want your thoughts on this matter my friends. The thought of using force to counter force is a poor option to me. However, the threat to our ponies and neighboring nations can not be overlooked."

 

Levitating over the plate with the sandwiches, she took one, and left the plate within reach of the other mares. Taking a moment to eat one slowly she thought to herself before continuing. "We must counter this. Our resources are vast, and we have influence. Rather than lower our kingdom to the level of these common bandits, we need a means to defend against them. To deter them without resorting to out right violence. And perhaps come to an accord with them. They have a right to life as they see fit provided they are not causing harm. Most of them began as groups seeking a life outside our rule or the rule of another nation. Independence from a crown, so to speak. Others are simply criminals that hide from the REA and continue to cause trouble."

 

Having made her point, she waited for Luna and Twilight to think and make suggestions. She needed their council, and wanted options beyond just what she knew. There was no way she could make such a large decision alone now. IF it had been a few hundred years ago, she might have, but times change and so must she. Looking from one to the other as she waited for them to speak, she took time to think on her own proposal for the issue. 

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For a little while, the sound of talking within the room would have drowned out the approaching hoof-falls outside.  As Celestia paused to allow her fellow Princesses a chance to speak, however, the sharp taps of keratin against polished marble would have made themselves heard, growing ever louder as the mysterious pony approached.  From the more than usually staccato pace, those inside the room could infer that the pony outside was more than usually peeved.  If the guards outside even attempted to muster a protest, they were cut off by the sudden action of the intruder, who burst through the doors, revealing a golden-maned alabaster mare in a huff.

 

"Auntie!!"  Sea-blue eyes sought out Celestia, fixing on the magenta irises of her adopted relative.  "You promised I would be invited to the next Princess Summit!"

 

Now, in the Sovereign diarch's defense, the oversight was excusable enough.  Bluebelle was technically the newest Princess of Equestria, and not even an alicorn, having come about from periodic shifts in gender, rather than a permanent change of species.  Plus, any who were familiar with her early history as Blueblood might have very well wanted to keep any kind of responsibility out of their hooves, for the good of the nation.  That said, they had been making a genuine effort to be better these past few years, and had even taken up all the responsibility they could get their hooves on voluntarily.  Not doing too bad a job at it, either.

 

So, while Bluebelle was angry at being obviously regarded as not worth consulting, she was perhaps even more hurt at the lack of trust or acknowledgment.

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“Excellent. I can get started on my end of the project, including census in the Heartland area and the development of the new governmental offices,” she said excitedly before tabling it for more important matters. Well, importance was hard to judge, but it was a new topic. Brought up by Celestia, so she perked up even more for it. While she understood that everypony had valuable experiences to share and ideas to explore she had a noted preference for the matters that concerned the Princess who had ruled the nation alone for so long. And the topic was indeed very interesting and quite important, a subject that Twilight was more than willing to sink herself into.

Well, that was until the sounds of hoofsteps rapidly approaching the room changed to the proclamations of a very vexed Bluebelle. Twilight smiled happily at the newest Princess. It was funny how it all worked out, this crazy thing called life. Blueblood had been sick and called Twilight to help. Twilight herself was coming down with an illness and the spell she cast to help him had unintended consequences. Blue's gender and sex changed due to an unforeseen factor. This could have had a terrible impact on Blue but it had the opposite. Now Blue had a significant other, a better outlook on life, and donated much of his/her's time to charity functions and plans to make the world a better place.

It had worked out for the best, and Twilight was excited to see her join. “Princess Bluebelle! I didn't think you'd make it. Here, take a seat next to me,” Twilight said, excitedly levitating a chair next to her and laying it down. She then went into her folders and started pulling out copies. “Here, I made extra copies just in case I lost something. How fortunate!” Twilight said giddily, happy to have another set of eyes on the subject at hoof. Speaking of:

“The current topic is bandits. They operate on the fringes and current methods being employed are equal pats unsavory and less than satisfactory. I have a few thoughts on the matter. There are generally two large categorization of bandits, pirates, and likewise. The first are those who do it out of necessity, and the second are those that do it out of choice. Those who do it out of necessity can be brought back into civilized society and lawfulness with opportunities and help, but they likely need to be broken of their lawbreaking habit first. The second group will likely not be dissuaded through opportunity

Both I 
think require some force. Instead of a broad use of force through military means I would instead institute a better bounty hunting system. If we only accept bounties from people that pass certain standards we can ensure such operations are conducted more to our liking, and we can give them better access to law enforcement tools to bring brigands to justice. This can break the brigand chain of command and make operations less lucrative as infighting takes its place.

The first group can hopefully then be shown opportunity and they take it. This sort of program can be two-fold. Those with 
certain skillsets can start programs to integrate them into the work-force. Those without such skillsets can be brought into government work for a while. Earn a good living, do right by Equestria, and when they're finished they have a nice little future set up.

The second group will be...more difficult to ever fully remove. Probably impossible. But I think we can make a big dent in the problem at the very least.”

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Princess Luna finally averted her eyes from her sister, a part of her making a small note of how her sister chose to go first. She was fully aware that she'd been expectantly eying Celestia, yet.. somehow she'd hoped the elder alicorn might ask her. It didn't matter. It wasn't as if she had much of importance to say, beyond putting in her own opinions on what Celestia and Twilight had brought to this meeting.

 

The dark alicorn listened in silence, staring down at the folders with their copies of documents Twilight handed out not too long ago. Idly, she lifted them in her magic and tapped them against the table, straightening them out so that she could set them aside in a neat little pile. They were sure to be left on her desk later for her to read with some difficulty, if only because some of it might not make any sense at all to her. Crossing her forelegs on the now bare edge of the table, she looked up, a small frown playing around her lips. Bandits. It pained her to know that they didn't have the resources or the ponies to deal with them, that bandits should exist at all.. This country had changed quite a lot over a thousand years, and even though ponies still had their issues.. they were better than they had been. To an extent. Although the guard were too soft to handle the threats that often reared their heads, and the Wonderbolts were little more than glorified showponies.

 

Luna's lips began to part to say something, but she paused when she heard the sound of forehooves just outside the door. Her wings twitched up a little ways from her sides as the doors were flung open, and an angry pony of some familiarity came barging in. It took Luna a short time to recognize who exactly it was. Blueblood. She was unaware of their chosen name in this form, when she hardly spent any time awake during the day.. and she hardly saw them in general.

 

She settled back in her seat and propped her cheek against a hoof, a vague look of annoyance on her face. Luna wasn't entirely sure what she was annoyed about, if it was the interruption or.. well, she didn't particularly feel annoyed with Celestia on the golden-haired princess's behalf. Sighing through her nose, an ear twitched towards Twilight's run down of the situation and the moonbringer took that time to pull her thoughts back together.

 

Luna straightened up in her seat. "I do agree that most of these bandits could be helped to integrate back into society, and given the right help. I feel that most may do it out of desperation, as you've said- poor, with no help, no food.. They are those that we failed, who may feel as if we've abandoned them, do not care about them. If we can personally make amends with them and show them that there is a far better path, that they can live better lives.. we may be able to help them transition better. For the others who do it purely out of greed and malice.. I am uncertain." She paused, her eyes remaining more on Celestia than lingering on either of the two other princesses as she added her own input. "We do not truly know why they turn to such things, as we- Twilight excluded- have spent far too long separated from ponies. Even social gatherings in Canterlot are not enough, as those who are in Canterlot live, dare I say, rather comfortable lives. Their problems are not the same as those who are truly struggling in the world."

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Celestia's hoof hit the table with a resounding echo that would have been loud enough to be heard all the way down the hall. She came up out of her chair with the force needed to actually push it back and for once in her life she openly displayed her anger. Her eyes were locked on Bluebelle and her lips parted in that way when you knew a pony was about to spit forth flame and. 

 

"If you have something important to add to the conversation, then I would gladly hear it. However, if you EVER burst into this room in such a manner again I will personally escort you to the Fet Loch highlands and name you the name emissary of Canterlot to them, as a permanent posting. These are not the usual trifles that we were discussing, they are more serious issues that are taken upon by those of us that the citizens of this nation run to in their time of need. Too often have I seen battered ponies run into the gates of Canterlot hoping for help only to meet that sort of attitude first! I will not tolerate this any further.... Am... I....  Clear?" Celestia spoke in a level tone, but it was bordering close to one that said she was very loath to use. Taking a moment to put a hoof to her face and breath a few times, she levitated her chair back to her and sat slowly. leaning her forelegs on the table and rubbing her face, she levitated her a scrunchy from a nearby desk and put her mane up in it. 

 

Now that she was calmed again, she looked at Luna first. "I agree with you sister. This falls on me. It was I that am solely responsible for how the country came to be this way. You were always more keen on the needs of the ponies than I ever was. And I have inadvertently turned a blind eye to the suffering of ponies I could not directly see every day. More needs to be done. Your thoughts on the ones that can and will reform is likely the ideal solution. Making amends personally would provide them the gesture of faith they need to see we are genuine." Looking to Twilight, she leaned back up in her chair properly. 

 

"Your idea has good points. However, we need a system to determine who is the type of sword for hire we are looking for. Many of them are very skilled in combat or spells. However, their lifestyle leads them to a belief of superiority or arrogance. We first need to change that for you r plan to work.However I believe there is good in every pony. Even in the darkest heart, there lives a tiny spark of good. It just needs to be nurtured."

 

Lastly she turned to Belle. Looking at her for a moment, her expression softened and she spoke gently this time. "Now, given that you understand what we are discussing. Do you have some ideas or plans that may help? Something that may help us turn these ponies for their paths or perhaps some information we may have overlooked?" It was plain on her face she was upset about losing her temper like that. She wanted to say she was sorry, but how and when was escaping her. 

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That was..unexpected. Bluebelle's voice had been more than a little...churlish, one might say, but it didn't seem like it warranted Celestia's response. Twilight believed it was stress related and immediately discarded the concern, though her sympathetic body language towards Bluebelle with a lean betrayed a desire to make the newest Princess feel safe. The important thing, however, was to remain on task, and to make sure that all personal issues and concerns were set aside. One, they made her uncomfortable. Two, they all needed to work together. Luna brought up an interesting point: They had failed. It would be easy to say that this was Celestia's fault, but that was untrue. The rise of banditry as any sort of concern for Equestrian began not long after Luna;s banishment as Nightmare Moon. The ensuing chaos and unrest led to the first real societal break that wasn't caused by external factors.

It would then be easy to lay the blame on the Two Sisters, but that was false. Other ponies across time could have pushed for solutions to the problem and didn't. Many great REA generals or Equestrian heroes could have taken steps but didn't. Outside forces like the Caribou from Whitescar, organizations like WRAITH, the Storm King, Queen Chrysalis, a dozen others- many were newer, some were old, all created instability. Instability bred chaos, and all were responsible. Twilight had spent so much of her time in books when she could have been trying to solve problems for Equestria. Bluebelle spent many years as an intensely narcissistic and vain Prince. As the wheel turned to this pivotal point in history, it found a group of ponies with the ability but not the attitude to make the changes needed. No one pony was to blame.

“We all share some blame for this, you're right Princess Luna. This stretches across time and it stretches across decisions. All we can do now is try to fix what we can fix. On task: A bounty hunter licensing system would be easy enough to implement. Initial entry into the system is based on competence, and then the issuance of a license is based upon the completion of a program designed to ensure those who get the licenses follow a certain sensibility. This will have a three-way effect, I believe. First, we weed out mercenaries and sell-swords who don't share our same values and commitment to the Equestrian cause. Secondly, we ensure that bounty hunters follow a certain set of procedures and codes that will help guarantee safety, security, and morality. Third, when we have effective systems in place to harm banditry without resorting to militant force, we can help transition many of those willing to make changes. Force is still used, but we can show that even when that is in use that there are limits, and as a moral and ethical guiding principle we will not allow anypony to be left behind,” Twilight said at length. As she spoke she started writing some of the framework of the idea down.

“Of course, in order to create such a system, we need to build it from scratch. How does one advertise or recruit for it? How is competence judged? What does the program they have to complete entail? What powers come with the issuance of a license? What do we do about those trying to collect bounties without a license? What resources do we provide those with a license? A lot of questions would need to be answered but I think it can work,” she said, hard at work as she wrote down line after line of what she considered important detailing the entire program. But there was much more to do.

“Of course, that solves one problem but doesn't solve the other. It is a nice germ of an idea but as Princess Luna has pointed out, we are a little out of touch. I do what I can but the position has a certain...distance from the common pony ingrained into it, and I feel as though outside of what I know in my immediacy I may not be the most experienced pony here in handing out a helping hoof,” she said, turning to Bluebelle with a smile, “but I think your experience running IMAGINE may give you a unique insight into how such programs can operate. I'd be keen on what knowledge you can share in this matter.”

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Alright, so admittedly, Bluebelle's entrance had been a bit peevish, but the hurt and betrayal she had felt after being left out of the loop again was real.  The fact that Celestia seemed either not remember or not care about what essentially amounted to a broken promise hurt even more, and struck the unicorn princess' soul deeper than any threat from Auntie ever could have.  Her blue eyes blinked, almost welling up with tears, but another blink cleared them.  The mare's jaw stiffened, a mannerism held over from her stallion side, and her hoof set more firmly upon the table.

 

"You seem,"  She answered, in a voice as equally calm on the surface, disguising emotions equally as broiling, "To overestimate the dread in which I hold my in-laws.  But I shall certainly keep your warning in mind, next time Star Crusader is feeling homesick."  In a moment of expressional mastery, Bluebelle even managed to cap off the retort with a saccharine smile.  This was no longer the Blueblood that many in this room would be familiar with, the vapid, narcissistic epitome of the idle rich.  Nor was it the recently known bi-gendered, penitent, and charitable royal.  No, this was the take-no-prisoners diplomat of a long line of take-no-prisoners diplomats that could sit at the table with caribou clan leaders and come out with all four limbs intact.  Ironically, the little spat between Auntie and Niece had rendered the latter most able to render proper service.  A charitable interpreter of Princess Celestia's character might hypothesize that the effect was intentional...

 

But if the diplomat was testy to the hostile, she was gracious to the welcoming.  "Why, thank you!"  She gave a naturally sweet smile to Twilight as she hoofed over the folder with all the notes.  A boon, given that Bluebelle hadn't been briefed as to the agenda.  While Princess Luna was speaking, she familiarized herself with the background as much as she could.  Which is to say, she whipped out the folder with an audible *crack!* as the relevant documents were magically lifted out, unstapled, and held around her head to allow her eyes to move freely from one to the other out of order.  Blue wasn't good at speed-reading in page order, but holding them up in a cloud like this did allow her to get the gist of things.  Plus, it was showy, and she at heart could not resist putting on an impressive show.

 

While her eyes were occupied, her ears were perked, taking in the feedback of the other princesses.  At last, though, Twilight asked her for her insight, and she cleared her throat, parting the papers to show herself clearly framed.  "There's something... off about this.  All this."  She tapped a document with her hoof.  "The narrative of economic desperation leading to this recent rise in banditry... it doesn't answer the question of why ponies decide to steal rather than beg.  I know from my time on the donation circuit that most ponies are generous if you ask them, and even the snootiest of them will give you a bag of bits to go away.  A pony could make a living just from that; in fact, some of my best fundraisers in IMAGINE used to do exactly that.  What goes through the head of a pony who decides that they're more likely to succeed in targeting the fear of their fellow ponies rather than their generosity?

 

"That's even leaving aside the question of if they have to."  She pulled out two graphs, the one charting the increase in banditry, the other economic performance metrics.  "These aren't correlated.  It's not like the golden age of Piracy, where mercantilism and high tariffs led insolvent traders to turn outlaw; production is up, it's easy to start a small business in most parts of the country, we have a good transportation infrastructure to go from low opportunity places to high opportunity spaces, a free press to let you know where those places are, and a working frontier program where new towns can feed any willing set of working hooves.  I've been to many places like Whitescar, and even Aquellia, that don't have these things, and the difference is n-"  She stopped herself from saying 'night and day', mindful of Princess Luna's presence.  "Not even close.  So why are some ponies acting as they're in a failed society where they can't trust their fellow equine, let alone the crown?  I've seen ordinary ponies literally lay down their lives for strangers, at the Crystal Faire, so I have a hard time believing that they're responding to any real change in Equestria..."

 

With a sigh, she gently let the papers flutter down onto the table.  "Huh, sorry, what was the specific question?  Bounty hunting?  No, I think you're approaching it from the wrong end.  The sort of ponies who are actually good at going out and hunting down bandits tend to be the ones who can think most like them.  We're just going to have to expand the definition of what we find acceptable attitudes and personalities.  That's what I had to do, for instance, when I realized that I'd have to deal with dirty beggars in order to get enough donations to fund the Whitescar project.  If we think that they have nothing to contribute just because we find their attitude emotionally offensive or inappropriate,"  Here Bluebelle gave a pointed look at her Auntie, "Maybe we shouldn't be surprised when they tell us to go buck ourselves."

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Princess Luna's wings twitched when Celestia's hoof came down, and the mare herself rose to tell off Blue. Even though Celestia never raised her voice and shouted, Luna could hear the underlying anger and threat in her voice. It was.. a little frightening, especially for somepony like herself who'd known Celestia for so long, and had only ever seen her far more angry than this once when Celestia quite literally glowed like fire. The recollection of this memory from so long ago now made a little more sense after the context of her own corruption, the day she'd named herself Nightmare Moon, and it made Luna worry.

 

She no longer felt as sour as she had moments ago, and her body language was subtly tense. Her teal eyes had pulled away from Celestia to settle on Blue. She didn't know who Star Crusader was, or what was implied in that retort, so she set her questions aside for now. "I am certain what my sister means to say that it is rude to come ah, bursting, into a meeting. It is unbecoming." Luna gently put in and turned to her sister to lean in, a small frown on her face as she whispered, "I believe you were a little too harsh to her, sister."

 

Straightening back up, she lent an ear to Twilight's input, her eyes briefly twitching towards Bluebelle after the soft snap of levitated papers. Whatever thoughts she'd formed, she held onto and waited until the newest princess spoke up. "It may be because they had not considered generosity, or have never known it, and resorted to doing what they felt might have been the only option to them if it meant survival. Those who'd lived on the edges of civilization, or in places that hardly saw any help, or anything. Those who have never lived in a place with such unity as the Crystal Empire, or Ponyville for an example." Luna mused. "Although I can see your point, ah.. Blue. It is strange that they've turned to such a thing when Equestria is far better than it ever used to be with your programs." It made her wonder what exactly the reason was that ponies turned to petty thievery and banditry. She sighed softly through her nose.

 

"I.. do agree that inviting mercenaries to do work for us might be an issue. There are some that may glorify in the power we give them and abuse that power if they manage to pass whatever test in order to get the job." A small frown flitted across her muzzle at the words dirty beggars. "It might be useful to forge a sort of contract, as well as some sort of group whose intent is to clean up Equestria's borders. That ponies may submit applications to for us to review, and interview them, to see if they are right for the job, or only in it for the wrong reasons. We need ponies who are capable of dealing with bandits without any of the anarchistic and selfish attitudes of some mercenaries. It might also prove helpful to have ponies in the same group also have a secondary goal and the capability to help those caught bandits integrate back into society and show them that they can do better."

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Celestia had sat silently while the others spoke, nodding when her sister whispered to her, but saying nothing. She let her eyes moved to the one that was speaking each time. Focusing some attention on them. After they had all spoken, she sat in silence, looking at the table intently. She rested her chin on her forelegs and took a deep breath. Her mind was working, but one could tell there was more to it than that. She was trying to decide on what might be the best option. 

 

Twilight proved an excellent point, that there needed to be some change. A system that garnered at least some restraint over the sell-swords to prevent them from going overboard. While most of them were crass and uncouth, it was the fact that many of them believed themselves better than their fellow ponies that bothered her. Others only took to the profession because they could not pass entry to the REA, and became bitter. 

 

Bluebelle also pointed out that the system would need to have a broad term for what was acceptable, because too constrained and the ponies they were looking to recruit might just tell them off and go about their business either way. Or worse yet join with the bandits if they could not make coin bringing them in. As well, Blue's point that the matter was wrong might also hold merit. Celestia could only work from what information was brought to her. Being a princess, it was hard for her to just go out and see for herself. Which might also be part of the matter. Paying taxes to a ruling body you have no direct contact with might be a bitter pill to swallow, and push ponies to turn away from those that agree with that body. Creating a schism between ponies that leads to some of the worst forms of fear mongering. 

 

"We need to understand the root issues for each group of bandits. Reports are different for some captures. One bandit brought before the courts in Appleloosa pleaded guilty, and when asked his reasons, he said he was trying to feed his family because none of the trade routes came near his village. When investigated it was found to have a grain of truth, as the primary trade routes were far from his home. IT was only small trade routes that carried limited goods that came through his town. Others stated they felt no obligation to the laws set forth because they have never even seen a princess before, and believed there wasn't one. There is no one cause, and therefore, no one solution. We need to work on this issue in a broader light. Luna has a strong point, and I agree that a group would likely better serve the cause we seek than simply issuing licenses for legalized terror and fighting. Perhaps combine the two. Several groups spread across the boarders, licensed to act on behalf of the crown. Give them the autonomy to think through each situation as a group, and come to their own conclusion, while still working within the law. Helping to reform those that can be, while bringing to justice those that can not...."

Celestia was more thinking out loud than making suggestions. Her quill was tapping the paper softly, and after a moment she stood and walked to the window. Looking out at the city below, she seemed to stiffen. There was something about her that was changed during the conversation. Her jawline grew stiff and her lips pressed. After a moment she spoke. "Luna, can you and Twilight cover a few days together? I have an idea to give us a better picture of the situation at the boarder. Several townships in mind that need visiting and perhaps a diplomatic presence for a couple days may give us greater insight into the situation that exists. Possibly even strengthen relations with the outlaying communities and help us get them the resources they need, rather than what we think they need. As well it would also tie into the previous issue of needing a census done, as since I am there I can take an auditor or two and have them conduct a census and resource check." 

 

Turning back to the group she looked at Bluebelle. "And I know just the other princess that will be coming with me. Perhaps its time for a hooves on lesson that I have neglected to give you Princess Bluebelle. This way we can see first hoof just what sort of issues we have to deal with, and bringing that information back to the council would provide us all a great deal of insight into making a better decision to help our ponies.Until then, we can begin forming a large group with the purpose of investigating and carrying out the plan Luna and Twilight came up with."

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Princess Cadence would have been preferred to have attended the entire royal conference, but circumstances dictated otherwise. Gen. Pummel, Shining Armor's former commanding officer, had requested a meeting in Canterlot that very day as well. Due to how both their schedules worked out, the only way to fit that in was to have Cadence be several minutes late to the Royal Conference. Being considerate, the Crystal Princess made sure to write a letter behorehoof informing Celestia that she'd be delayed.

 

Coming into this gathering, Princess Cadence felt... uneasy. Among other topics of discussion, Pummel had requested if Shiny could be convinced to return to active duty down in Equestria for a little while, claiming increases in suspect activity along the Equestrian borders. Cadence could see that the old general looked worse for wear, that something serious was on his mind. The alicorn told Pummel that she'd discuss the matter with her husband and that had been that.

 

As this was an assembly of princesses, Princess Cadence made sure to carry various documents in a saddlebag should the need arise, along with the latest edition of Newsmare that she used to keep her mind occupied on the train ride to Canterlot. The biggest story of interest: interestingly, the Manehatten Post and Stalliongrad Pravda had a spectacular skyrocketing in the number of articles and editorials criticizing the princesses after being bought out by an Aquellian company. It made Cadence recall that was around the same time both publications stopped carrying her "Dear Cady" column. Most curious indeed, but reflecting any more on the matter would have to wait for the train ride home. Work needed to be done!

 

The pink alicorn eventually entered the private study to little fanfare, arriving in time to overhear Cousin Bluebelle discussing piracy, opportunities, equines not trusting one another, and... the Crystal Faire. Cadence knew the Faire which Bluebelle referred to; the one crashed by a resurrected King Sombra and an army of Viking Caribou rebels. She spent much of the Empire's sacking trapped in a magic crystal, watching as the burden fell upon assorted ponies to save the day. While not the most pleasant of memories, that conflict and the rebuilding afterward ultimately reinforced Cadence's faith in Love, Friendship, and the Equestrian Way.

 

Taking a seat next to Bluebelle, Cadence listened as her adopted aunts talked further about bandits. Wait... was this connected to whatever had been worrying Gen. Pummel earlier? That uneasy feeling only grew heavier in the pink alicorn's heart. It wasn't much longer until the need to speak out became too overwhelming. "Ahem," Cadence politely cleared her throat; "Just a moment, but Twilight... haven't you and your friends already made plenty of trips to the frontier settlements on your adventures? I think one or two of you have even made it as far as the Neighjun communities in the Marais de Feu. Based on your experiences, what what be your read of the state of affairs in the outlying areas?"

 

Remembering the lateness of her entrance, the pink mare turned apologetic; "Ohh... I'm sorry I couldn't have arrived earlier, my fellow princesses."

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Celestia was right, at least in the abstract. It was well known that bandits had many different stories detailing the causes of their proclivity for crime. No one chose that lifestyle purely for the sport of it, at least deep down in their core. This much Twilight believed. But in counter, Bluebelle was right. The ponies who turned to banditry had other choices. Equestrian charity and kindness to those in need were legendary across the world. If being economically disenfranchised was the only or primary cause, then it would be an easy problem to solve. And there were no easy solutions, at least as far as Twilight could see. That was what made it vexing. That is what made it so enticing a topic of discussion, so amazing a problem to be confronted. Granted, Twilight would have much rather been shown problems that weren't necessarily as dark as this, but it wouldn't have been a problem worthy of this meeting of the Princesses if it was small.

Twilight absorbed what the other three were saying, but that topic got more enriching with the arrival of Cadance. Unlike the rest of them, she controlled a region that was bordering several places that were not only untamed but actively hostile. No region encountered more banditry on average than the Crystal Empire. The Badlands and all territories that were inside of it hosted more bandits than anywhere else, as well as Changeling Hives, rogue elements, and even Traditionalist Caribou clans. Very difficult to control, made Cadance's knowledge stand out. More than that, she was a calming presence. Celestia had...a certain intensity, while Luna's hopefully unintentional brooding matched well with Bluebelle's somewhat exciting churlishness. Twilight ever focused on solutions; this meant that it was Cadance alone who had the clearest head amongst them. At least, that was Twilight's hope. Cadance, I'm so happy you made it,” Twilight said, getting up and giving her sister-in-law a hug before taking her seat back quickly, focusing as she was on the work ahead of them. She produced another copy of the documents and gave them to Cadance.

All four gave very focused and clear thoughts on the matter. But there seemed to be something missing when they discussed the bounty hunting program, and before Twilight considered the rest she felt she had to issue some corrections. “Pardon me for this, Princess Celestia, but I wouldn't call creating a program to try and ensure more ethical bounty hunting as equating to...legalized terror and fighting? We already pay bounties to bounty hunters when they get a bounty. And you are loathe to hire mercenaries to complete such work, but that means you have hired mercenaries to complete the work before. In a sense, the current way we are dealing with bandits could be considered legalized terror because the bounty hunters and mercenaries involved don't have any ethical considerations to worry about. By creating a system with some boundaries and guidelines we aren't legalizing terror, we are promoting ethical and moral for-profit law enforcement,” she said before looking at Bluebelle and nodding, “though I believe Bluebelle is right. There is no way we can guarantee that any group we create or system we promote will ensure a complete and total reversal of the attitudes of those who use it, so we have to make allowances for a certain...sharpness to the personalities involved. Then again, we can't ensure ourselves that every member of the REA or any similar organization is entirely in-line with the promoted values of their post. All we can do is do what we can to ensure what we do is the best we can do.”

She took a breath before continuing, thinking over Luna's idea. “And I think that the idea of trying to combine the two facets of a possible solution into one is possible, but perhaps unwieldy. First and foremost, this isn't a border problem, or at least, a border problem we can fix with additional border stations. Most cross-border raids happen too quickly for even quick-reaction forces from the REA to respond, and those responsible tend to melt far away from the borders. Any pursuit could draw them into a wider, open conflict. And that doesn't even take into consideration the bandit groups inside the borders or operating out of the Everfree. Additionally, rehabilitation of former bandits where possible is likely to be a long process, and saddling the same organization with different tasks can resource issues.
Having a licensing program for bounty hunting means that the onus remains on bounty hunters- individuals and organizations- to fund and complete the jobs themselves, and also allows them to go where any group we create would be unable to go. That then allows the rehabilitation organization or department to have all the resources it needs to do their job properly,”
she said, allowing herself to think of another possible solution. She'd have to sketch it out.

“I think this version of the idea definitely has some excellent merit. When and where it works as intended, having both purposes in the same organization can create a streamlined system. We would need to tread carefully on having such organizations connected too far to the Crown, however. A bounty hunter license is no different from a business license with some strings attached, while an official contract with governmental authority makes them answerable to not only us, but makes us answerable for their actions to other governments. All it would take is one such group to get over-zealous and pursue their marks into Aquellian territory and for a citizen of their nation to get injured or worse to start a legitimate international incident. If a single bounty hunter does that? That isn't something we have to answer for. Technically, speaking. Morally is another matter entirely,” she shook her head. She had taken up a lot of time talking.

“What I can do is draw up both proposals, including variations of them. A bounty-hunter licensing system with a separate organization for bounty hunting, a border-watching and rehabilitation private organization, and all versions therein. Bluebelle, I would like to work with you on several aspects of this, most importantly the rehabilitation element as well as what limits can we expect to have on those who are licensed or part of a broader organization. As part of that, we can pull up all known interrogations, communications, and total histories of bandits we have on files so we can begin to study the problem. I can speak to Captain Fire Walker- she has had a number of experiences with both Bandits and the bounty hunters that hunt them- and several ponies I know who have collected bounties and don't fit the general mold. Of course, I would like all your input into what we would want and not want out of these programs. I can hope to have the various mock-ups done in a week or two, give or take how much time I spend on our previously discussed economic concern,” she said, whipping her head to the two Princesses who weren't there earlier, “which, speaking of, I have the detailed discussion and information in the documents I gave you. Trying to transcribe it aetherically while involved was harder than I thought it would be, but I think it should help!”

Now came something new. Celestia had been acting...a little strange tonight to be sure but she had a lot on her mind. And that was starting to foment into the need for some new action. She wanted to visit the land, especially the border settlements, and learn what was going on in the fringes. Twilight approved of this. Celestia was a Heartland Princess through and through but had been so involved for so long that she had rarely gone outside of that region. More experience was always better. “If you and Bluebelle are going to head to the border, I'd be happy to do what I can to help everything run smoothly,” she said quickly, always excited and eager to aid her former mentor in anything she needed.

As always, Cadance provided an excellent prod. Twilight's mind was buzzing with so much information and a thousand and one ideas that she almost forgot she could chip in. “Oh! Yes. Yes, I have. Between my various adventures and the more social aspect of my Princesshood, I have done a lot of work on the borders of Equestria. The border regions have their struggles, but nothing uncommon. As was discussed earlier, there can be odd trade imbalances, but this doesn't lead to parts of border towns crashing down into poverty since even the most far-flung settlements are still part of our national budgetary system. If anything, this means that border towns tend to be over-saturated with trade infrastructure rather than the opposite. We haven't had a new settlement fail economically in generations. It is generally the towns on the inner-outer ring of expansion that face problems, but those were discussed before.

Crime doesn't tend to be higher in the settlements. Most initial waves of settlers tend to share very similar goals and philosophies. Tax fraud and other instances of anti-crown activities are likewise rare. In any of my visits to towns and settlements near 
the border I never ran into any troubles. Indeed, almost the opposite. I found that some of the most loyal and Princess-loving ponies I've ever met were those that lived on the very edge of Equestria. Still, I'm not blind to the fact that while I might be the Princess of Friendship, but most ponies will always look up to you more. I hope your visit to these areas will find what I experienced to be the truth, and I hope you two have an excellent census!” she said, her excitement at taking a Census more than a little unusual.

She looked around, hoping she hadn't missed anything. “So, we have the following: I will mockup the various nuts and bolts proposals, with a bit of help in various areas. I can have this done quickly. Celestia and Bluebelle will conduct a thorough examination of the border regions to ensure that our eyes are wide open on the subject. Luna and I will handle duties here until you return,” she said, turning to Luna, “though to be fair, I will have to lean heavily on your greater experience in the matter. In all likelihood, you'll likely be calling most of the shots.”

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Bluebelle was used to a fairly cutthroat social atmosphere, where one missed whisper mean going into conversations unprepared and vulnerable.  Her ears were perked, therefore, to any sotto voce commentary on her presence or performance.  She listened in to Luna... and was very pleased to find a statement in her defense!  The unicorn relaxed, a little more secure in her position.  She was being taken seriously, and even Celestia was relenting, if that invitation to go on a diplomatic trip accompanying her was any indication.  "I would be more than happy to go with you, Auntie; I'll admit to some curiosity myself.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to direct any of IMAGINE's funds to this effort; all our resources are currently tied up in the Whitescar project.  It's not really in our domain, either; our mission as an organization is to promote international peace and prosperity, and this seems to be a domestic issue.  Though I'd be interested to see if Aquellia was having similar problems. 

"I don't have much to say as to the rest of the plans. They're all good ideas, though it might be worth while to see if you can get local management as opposed to central planning.  I know the Duchess of Fet Loch has been successful in keeping the border marches as peaceful, through somewhat idiosyncratic methods.  Local recruits would also know the terrain better, and having a militia branch, as it were, could foster patriotism and community in the locality, providing a social bulwark.  In the meantime, I'd recommend travelers go in caravans, just as merchant ships go in convoys.  Safety in numbers, and all that."

 

Cadence entered at this point, and Bluebelle beamed to meet her.  "Ah, and that makes all of us!  I'm rather glad to see you, to tell the truth.  I wanted your input on what I planned to bring up today.  I'm just waiting on my secretary."  It took a bit for that selfsame unicorn to enter the door, bearing a mauve folder stuffed full in his magic.  In the meantime, it seemed that the discussion of banditry was wrapping up, leaving an opportunity for Bluebelle to bring up her own issue.  "Ah, thank you Psmith, you may go now."  It might have sounded like a curt dismissal, but it wasn't as if Twilight had let Spike accompany her, and Wordsworth Psmith was as full of sesquipedalian loquaciousness as his name implied.  Best for all concerned if he didn't get a word in edgewise, lest it grow a hundredfold.

"It sounds like we've got our plans on the bandit issue all settled.  If you don't mind, I have a couple of things I wanted to bring forward myself to you all.  One is a domestic issue I wanted to raise awareness for, and the other my perspective on the international situation.  Since Cadence is here, I want to bring up the domestic issue first, since there's an aspect of it that falls within her domain specifically."

 

Once no objections were voiced, she cleared her throat to speak.  The mauve folder opened within her golden magic, distributing fact sheets to each other Princess.  "Ever since my public revelation as Bluebelle, and subsequent public statements that I identify as both male and female, I've gotten a lot of letters from ponies who feel themselves to be in a similarly non-standard position when it comes to gender.  I have to say, there were considerably more of them than I expected.  Even in my own personal life, I have had ponies who later revealed themselves to have a desire to change or not be bound by their birth as stallion or mare.  There have already been studies on the subject itself; Twilight was... enthusiastic in sharing the literature on gender dysphoria with me.  But, there's been some recent developments that I turned up in my own research and experience that I think you should all know about.

 

"Up until recently, there wasn't much public awareness of this phenomenon, nor many options available for those ponies affected by it.  The best most ponies could do was act as if they inhabited a different body than they did, and hope their friends and neighbors would tolerate it.  There was an gender switching potion on the market, after zebra alchemy was imported and legalized, but it's production was difficult and proved prohibitively expensive to all but the wealthy, unless the purchase was subsidized.  A lot of that had to do with social stigma depressing demand, thus not making it's production all that profitable.

 

"With changing public mores, demand is beginning to rise.  Now, this isn't the method I use myself, and there are some key differences I'll get into later.  But the standard formula has a few key characteristics.  The first is that it is temporary; the effects from a single dose only last a couple of days on average, and sustained use can have adverse side effects, as well as an increased tolerance; that is, more potion needed to achieve the same transformation length.  Second of all, it's origin is ceremonial, not medicinal, which accounts for its limitations.  But since it was not originally meant for use by the dysphoric, the formula has an anxiety suppressant built into it, since otherwise it might induce dysphoria into the user.  This results in a loss of inhibition, similar to being inebriated, but without loss of mental clarity or physical coordination.  The upshot of that is suppressed inhibitions, which is why the main driver of demand even now, according to the alchemists I have interviewed, is as a, um, marital aid by the experimental."  Bluebelle blushed, not all that used to discussing such matters in front of her fellow princesses, especially Auntie Celestia.

 

She gathered herself together, still quite pink in the face, and continued.  "Despite urban rumors, there's only one known case of estrus being induced in a user who changed from stallion to mare.  However, as I stated before, the sample size wasn't very large until recently, so statistically significant results were hard to come by."  She took a break from her notes, rubbing her eyes as she sighed.  "Phew, sorry about all that.  Basically, the old formula was built for those curious about what life was like as the other gender, not those who would prefer to live as the other.  As such, it was formulated to keep the take from getting any further psychological issues, rather than treating ones already had.  However, with the new increase in demand, there's been a refinement of the formula to make it cheaper and easier to access, as well as experiments that have sought to replicate my own method of switching between bodies for longer periods.  With one key difference, though; modern magic has allowed for a full transformation, including all relevant brain chemistry.  That's apparently why I wasn't dysphoric myself when I first became Bluebelle, even though I had never felt myself to be anything other than a stallion before as Blueblood.  But when I changed back, I found that I didn't want to stay Blueblood, even though as Bluebelle I didn't want to stay Bluebelle.  I still don't; I'm comfortable in both, but dislike being restricted to either.  That's a function of the transformation magic, a permanent alteration to the psyche, which was apparently not a factor with the previous alchemical formula; though again, no significant sample size.  And that's what the new methods are likely to result in when the general public are introduced to them."

 

She paused, to let that sink in.  Having reached the end of her prepared notes, she slid them back into the folder, plopping back down into her seat.  "So that's where we stand; those genuinely in need of help are better able to get it than ever, but the side effects for the merely curious are going to be much more lasting than before.  I don't know how big this is going to end up being, but it could prove to be fairly disruptive.  I was fortunate enough, in my own situation, to find a very open and supportive marefriend, a knowledgeable set of ponies near to hoof, and money enough to buy my head back if I lost it.  I'm quite well aware that not everypony has my advantages."  She shrugged.  "I don't have a proposed solution; I don't even know if you could call it a problem, but it's been on my mind recently, and I think you should know about it now, just in case something comes from it."

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Princess Luna thought that what they'd managed to work out thus far was viable, that it might work out rather well. She'd surprised herself with her own input, her ideas, and she was pleased to hear that her sister liked it. It sounded as if everything might've been settled.. The soft click of the door opening caught her attention and Luna turned back to the other princesses, only to find that Princess Cadance had arrived. Albeit, late. Luna remained silent again, already feeling like part of the backdrop again as the others spoke up, including Cadance, and Twilight poked holes in what they'd already discussed. She couldn't blame the youngest alicorn for doing so, though, for seeing what they might not. Twilight was a sharp mare.

 

A small frown found its way onto Luna's lips again while she listened, though her mild annoyance was kept hidden from view. "If you found the borders perfectly pleasant and 'the most loyal, princess-loving ponies' there, then why is it that we have this issue with bandits? Were the ponies you met simply putting on an act to ensure you saw that all was well, or are these bandits little more than.. stories made up by ponies?" she asked, frowning. Something definitely did not add up. It was a problem to be sure, one that they would just have to figure out a better solution to after Celestia visited the borders with Bluebelle and brought back information on the state of it. Which was where something occurred to her..

 

"When you visit the borders of our kingdom, perhaps you should attempt to go disguised. Something that will not make you recognizable, as I do know what sort of disguise you often like to employ, sister. See what things are like through the eyes, and as, a common pony, rather than a princess. We all know how ponies scramble to look their best in our eyes as soon as we pay them a visit." The lunar princess sighed softly through her nose. This particular situation was a frustrating one, but nothing had ever been simple, not now, and not during the days of the three tribes. They would only have to get the information they required and do their best to tackle the problem.

 

She was relieved when the topic started to shift elsewhere, although Bluebelle's decision to launch ahead with her own topic --..

 

Luna had a few things to say in protest, but she closed her mouth and simply leaned back in her seat. Why was she even bothering to get upset? She knew it was eventual that she would be the last to get to speak, if she would get to talk at all.. and it wasn't as if she had much to say that would be particularly important. In all honesty, Luna thought it'd be best if she simply talked to her sister alone as some of her issues concerned Celestia more so than the rest of these princesses.

 

The nightbringer listened to Bluebelle speak in silence, her body lax and her face impassive, even as Bluebelle mentioned something about marital aids- the meaning of which went right over Luna's head. She only spoke once Bluebelle had finished presenting the topic. "It sounds to me, that those who feel their bodies do not fit their minds or their beings should, at least, have easy access to such magic so that they can live their lives as they're meant to be lived. I do not know about the experimental ponies, but, nothing should stop anypony from exploring or presenting themselves as they wish. To most it may not sound like a problem initially, but I believe it is a problem important to those ponies that could be addressed."

 

Luna turned her attention to Twilight with a lift of her brow. "I am not sure you can call it experience when I rule by night, and I do not have the same duties as Celestia does. I have only once switched places with my sister, so to speak, to see what one of her daily schedules were like.. and it was a disaster. I will certainly do it my way if I am to take her place temporarily, but I will need your help more than you will need mine. I may certainly help you look over these mockup plans of yours, however."

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