It wasn't a throne so much as a raised platform of stone in the middle of a vast chamber. The walls of the subterranean hall formed an almost perfectly smooth cone shape. Above them shone the pale moon, nearly full, through a round hole at the peak of the chamber. Once, the hall had been a sea of fire and glowing stone that spat smoke, noxious gas, and flames into the sky far above. But the volcano had been dead a long time, for as long as the realm of griffins had existed.
A single figure perched regally on the platform, deadly talons scraping the rock. Another, smaller form reclined next to the dais, eyes narrowed. Behind them, the sparse light reflected off the burnished helmets and armor of a trio of silent, grim-faced guards. Something very small and very frightened cowered and trembled at their feet.
Before the dais stood a lone creature, moonlight touching his gray fur and feathers. Amber eyes glinted rebelliously, and a curved beak flashed as he spoke.
"Sire, I must disagree." The tone was respectful but firm. "I cannot… nobird could possibly consider this anything remotely resembling a good idea."
Perhaps not so respectful.
The defiant griffin met the eyes of his superior squarely as the latter shifted and fluttered his wings. "You call me Sire, but really, what am I? We have lived in Equestria's shadow for generations, leeching off their sun and moon like… like common parasites. Perhaps my predecessors were satisfied with this, but I, for one, am not."
"The treaty has kept both our kingdoms running for over a thousand years!" the gray griffin argued.
"No, Silvertinge, it has kept their kingdom running!" the king retorted, eyes flashing. "We have been victim to violent storms and droughts, while they cover the sun, bring rain, or chase away the clouds at their own leisure! We see the sun and moon when those princesses see fit! I am sick and tired of living at the mercy of the wild elements while those self-serving ponies keep their weather secrets to themselves!"
Silvertinge lowered his voice to a more reasonable tone. "Sire. We are not ponies. We do not—cannot—share in that power. But that doesn't mean they can't still share it. If we could just… change the treaty, ask for their pegasi to help us with the weather—"
"We will learn to share in that power," the king snapped. "And I will not see this kingdom at the mercy of those ponies any more than it already is. It's bad enough that we must rely on their sun and their moon… but no longer. We must have that power for ourselves if we are to thrive."
"Is war the only option?" Silvertinge asked wearily, knowing what his king's answer would be.
"I want control of nature, and the ponies will never give that up," the king replied firmly. "I want fertile land, not these barren mountains we live in. But it is mostly the magic that we need. My father died a fortnight ago, and I am forced to assume the throne decades early, because we lack that power." His tone brooked no argument, and indicated that the discussion was over.
The gray griffin bowed his head. "My heart breaks for your loss, Buteo. He was a good ruler."
"I will be ten times the king he was," King Buteo told him. "I will see Felavia into a Golden age. Now go."
Bending his raptor legs in a bow, Silvertinge turned and padded out, his tail down.
The griffin next to the dais smirked. "You told him, bro."
The king spared his younger sister a fond glance. "I only want what's best for us all," he said. "I'm glad you support me. I remembered how you came home from that pegasuscampFathersent you to, raving about your new Equestrian friend, and I was worried you might be biased in their favor."
His sister scowled. "Nah, screw 'em." Nobird ever had been able to clean up her language, or her mannerisms, after the time she had spent at Junior Speedster Flight Camp. Their father had hoped that her attendance might strengthen relations with Equestria, but that no longer mattered. "They were all losers from the start, and the one I thought wasn't a loser just turned out to be a backstabbing bitch." She stood up, flapping her wings lazily as she glanced back at the guards and their small captive. "So what's he here for?"
The young king was about to reply when a sentry at the chamber entrance called out. "King Buteo, your guest has arrived!"
Both royal griffins looked up as the cloaked newcomer entered the room at a sedate pace, her eyes grim. The king's sister raised a feathery eyebrow.
"Seriously, bro? A unicorn? Weren't you all Equestria-must-die just five seconds ago?"
The pony glanced haughtily at the female griffin before turning to the king and bowing.
"Have you agreed to my terms?" Buteo asked simply.
The mare nodded. "Yes. I will spy for you and help you in your campaign with my magic if you help me. I swear it on my horn." The horn in question glowed and sparked.
Smiling, the king stood up. "Good. Very good. As a token of my good will, I have a gift for you. Guards?"
The three griffins behind him stepped around the platform, herding their unwilling prisoner forward. He resisted, shaking and protesting weakly, until one of them simply grabbed him by the arm and flung him before the unicorn mare. Her eyes widened with cold delight.
The prisoner, a small baby dragon with cobalt-blue scales and dark red spikes, stared up at her in wide-eyed terror. A high whimper escaped from his mouth as the unicorn loomed over him. She looked to the king.
"Where did you get him?"
"Yesterday, when I received your message that you were coming, I had some of my warriors raid a dragon's nest on a covert mission in Equestria," Buteo replied. "Every powerful mage must have a servant. The Sun Princess's own protégé has one, so why shouldn't you?"
"Thank you, King Buteo," the pony said, bowing again. She turned to fix the baby dragon with a cold look. "You, what's your name?"
The dragon jumped. "M-M-Midnight," he stammered, his voice high and wavering. "P-please, miss, I just want to g-go home."
"Will I have an angry mother dragon hunting me for this?" the pony inquired of the king.
"No," Buteo replied flatly. "I assure you. You will not."
Understanding the meaning behind his words, the pony nodded and turned away. "Thank you. You will not be disappointed." To the dragon, she snapped, "Come."
After a moment's hesitation, the little dragon followed her.
Once the pony and her new servant were gone, the young king of griffins settled back on the dais. "War with Equestria," he said grimly. "It will be like nothing those ponies have ever seen. Their greed got our father killed. We have scores to settle, don't you think?"
Gilda grinned at her older brother, her talons scraping the rock in anticipation as she thought of a pale blue face framed by a multicolored mane. "Sure do, bro," she said with a grin. "I can't wait."