On Equestria's northern border stood the Dawn Glow mountains, a thick band of imposing summits named for the way the rock faces appeared to turn from charcoal and ash to silver in the light of the rising sun. Perched high atop the tallest of the range was a city, but this was not just any city. This city was the home of the Griffon King. Sweyn's Roost was a city of such splendor, it was said that it rivaled Canterlot in both grace and beauty, and the Griffons prided themselves in maintaining that image. The Griffons were a proud race, each individual born with a keen eye for detail, for perfection. Anything they set out to do was done with utter precision. Every single building in the capital, from each lowly family house to the towering library, was expertly constructed to portray a sense of prestige and elegance. The streets themselves were decorated with large golden statues of famous griffon rulers, warriors, and scholars, to always remind the citizens where they came from and what they could aspire to.
The area of life in which the Griffons strove for perfection beyond all others was their military. Every single griffon, male or female, was required at the age of sixteen to enlist in the military for no less than a two year term. Over time, this system groomed the population into an exceedingly efficient work force and lead to an overwhelming sense of unity. The king also looked very harshly upon those who tried to avoid enlistment. Being caught trying to avoid military service was met with an immediate banishment. Even with such a masterfully trained military and disciplined workforce, however, the Griffon kingdom still struggled to provide for its subjects.
Sweyn's Roost was the gleaming crown of Griffon territory, lands which extended north to claim the majority of the Dawn Glow mountain range and beyond, and a small bit of The Darktide, the deep forest named for how it barely slid up the bases of the mountains like a viridian wave lapping at the shore. At one time the mountains had been full to bursting with precious metals that past Griffon kings had made use of to build their mighty empire. Now, however, the mountain was very nearly depleted of all its resources, abandoned mines littering the mountainsides. For the last five generations, the Griffons were forced to make trade agreements with the Princesses of Equestria. They provided their skills in forging and construction and helped to train the Equestrian royal guard and military in exchange for the materials they could no longer obtain in their own lands.
Griffon kings had made requests several times in the past that the Equestrian crown provide a small portion of land to be used for farming in exchange for a reasonable price. The mountainous land the Griffons ruled over was next to impossible to cultivate, meaning the only places to grow crops were around the edges of The Darktide, at the base of the mountain. The resilient trees of the forest had long ago evolved to grow with little nutrition from the earth, however, so as time passed the tide had begun to close in on where earth met stone on the mountainside, requiring management to be held away from the farms. These small, scattered farms were also not safe, as the forest was home to beasts said to be even more terrifying than what lived in The Everfree. It took constant patrols by elite guards to keep the farms safe from attack, and a portion of the food they produced therefore went directly into keeping the guards fed.
Every request was almost immediately denied. The letters would always read: "We do not feel it is in the best interest of our subjects to allow such a heavily militarized race colonize a section of Equestrian land." It was always the same story. Although it went unsaid, it was clear that the Equestrian crown also held their claim to most of The Darktide for this reason instead of allowing the Griffons to clear the forest and expand their farms. They did acquiesce to upholding the current trade agreements, but with each passing generation the Griffons' resources shrank further, and as they needed more, talks became more strained. With the odds stacking higher and higher against the Griffon empire, it had been in slow decline for some time. More citizens would go hungry with every frigid northern winter, and the cities would become more dilapidated with each passing year. The only thing that managed to withstand the test of time was the military. No Griffon king, whether mighty or humble, would allow that edge to dull.
Overlooking all of this once majestic but now diminished kingdom was Dawn's Peak, a castle which truly brushed the sky and had been home to rulers of the Griffon empire for well over a millennium. The golden apex of its towering spire was the first point in the land the light of dawn touched as the sun began its slow climb into the sky every morning. This morning, a lone figure could be seen standing on a beautifully sculpted balcony. Standing tall as beams of light illuminated more and more of the gleaming spire, he cast a hard but weary gaze at the city below and sauntered back inside as the light began to stream into his chambers.
King Ozarian Bright Talon was still relatively young for a Griffon and even more so for a crowned monarch; at the age of thirty-four he was the youngest to sit upon the Griffon throne in centuries. He had taken the throne shortly after his twenty-second birthday when his father, King Stavros Swiftwind, succumbed to diretide, a foul illness that originated from the depths of The Darktide.
Ozarian had luckily been strong enough to resist it, even having stayed by his father's side during the final days, but, then again, he had always been a strapping young Griffon. His frame, which stood larger and taller than most Griffons, was covered by a healthy coat of feathers which looked as though they were blanketed in a mix of gold and amber dust. Around his throat and reaching down his breast and over his shoulders, each feather was a brilliant crimson, as if he wore ruby armor, and the scaffolding of his wings was the same hue, bleeding into the glittering amber and gold. He was truly a stunning sight to behold, and served as an impressive image of his mighty kingdom.
He reached a small table, lifted up one of the glass pitchers on it, and filled his goblet leisurely with a smooth, perfectly aged, dark red wine. As he brought the cup to his beak, a loud rapping resounded through the room. With an annoyed huff, he sat his cup back down and walked over to his chamber door, agitated that anything dared to interrupt the tranquility of the morning. There was only one in all his kingdom who would dare trouble him at such an hour.
"What is it now, Keirin?" he questioned irritably as he threw the door wide open and headed back toward his wardrobe without a second glance. "I thought I told you to hold all matters until after I'd at least put some clothes on." He pulled open his wardrobe and entered it as an older Griffon calmly entered his chambers. Keirin Greyfeather had long ago learned to ignore the petty complaints of his liege lord, having stood as retainer for the royal family for generations. His feathers, once countless shades of smokey slate, had given way to silver over the years, and his royal blue cloak and silvered tail swept the polished floor.
"My fine king, I'm sure I don't have to impress upon you how important it is to handle matters concerning occupied territories not just with prudence, but with haste." The elder Griffon's brows furrowed as he set his ruler with an unamused gaze.
"Yes, yes, spare me your lectures, old man. What must we review this time?" Ozarian did what he could to calm his aggravation as he exited his extensive wardrobe, adorned in tunic the same royal blue as Keirin's cloak with golden trim.
"Well, I might as well get the troubling news out of the way first, then. There was another incident in Cloudsdale in the night. A group of rebels set fire to a barracks, destroying nearly half the building." Keirin waited for the cursing he knew was coming.
"Damn those accursed Pegasi! Nearly a year has passed now and they are the only ones still causing trouble! I was hoping it would not come to a point where I must turn to true barbarism to bring those winged fools into line, but now things are getting out of hand." Ozarian returned to the table that he had abandoned his goblet on and quickly snatched it up, downing the sweet liquid in a single prolonged swallow. "Send a mandate to the ones overseeing Cloudsdale. Tell them to inform the Pegasi that from this day forward, if even a single act of rebellion transpires in that city, I will tear it apart. Cloud. By. Cloud."
The older Griffon scribbled the order down in his ledger before looking back up at the king, scrutinizing him carefully. "Are you sure you want to use such a heavy hand, sire? There might yet be a more peaceful solution to this problem." Keirin had never been fond of overly aggressive actions. He knew all too well the history of his people and the many follies that had befallen them when they responded too quickly and too harshly.
"General Varzeros's actions with the town of Ponyville proved to me that proper displays of force can work just as well as negotiation. Also, need I remind you, Keirin, of just how well 'negotiation' with the Equestrians has worked out for our people in the past? No. I used a gentle hand in the beginning, and all it seemed to do was make matters worse. If they will not fall in line themselves, then I will put them in line." With a deep breath the king returned to his seat, his fury quickly fading.
Keirin let out a deep sigh. General Varzeros was as warmongering a Griffon as he had ever known. The general had been pushing for open war with Equestria for years, even before Ozarian came into the throne. Stavros Swiftwing had been a particularly gentle soul, for a Griffon, and he would immediately dismiss any notions of war with any race. Varzeros eventually gave up trying to convince him to go to war, but not a week after his death and his son's ascension to the throne, Varzeros was once again whispering tidings of war, now into the new sovereign's ear.
Sadly, Ozarian was a bit more ambitious than his father and for years grew increasingly vocal about his distaste for how far the kingdom had fallen. Slightly over a decade after he rose to the throne, the order went out: the entire kingdom began producing weapons, and an additional draft went out to collect as many soldiers as possible for training. Keirin had to give credit where credit was due, at least. The strike was a masterful craft of tactical warfare, placing the whole of the Equestria firmly under griffon control in three days.
"Speaking of Ponyville, your grace, my next bit of news comes from that exact location." Keirin flipped several pages of his ledger and began to read. "It would appear that the element of magic, Twilight Sparkle, was caught practicing magic in a restricted zone. The report states she was trying to perform a tracing spell on princess Celestia in the attic of her home. She has since been put to proper work and her horn has been affixed with a suppressor ring." Another turn of the page brought forth news which made Keirin grimace uncomfortably, but he continued to read. "It also appears the element of loyalty, Rainbow Dash, was once again caught trying to blitz through the no fly zone around the town to escape. As per your orders, for her third violation of this rule, her flight has been disabled. She won't be getting off the ground again for some time."
Each recount seemed to darken the king's mood. Keirin knew that somewhere deep down his liege hated every punishment he was forced to deal out. The loyal adviser also knew all too well that Ozarian Bright Talon would never dare show such weakness. In his mind, as long as the good outweighed the bad, he would be able to live with his decisions, and, for the Griffons, the good quite certainly did outweigh the bad. In the single year since the invasion, during which the Griffon empire reaped the rewards of their newly acquired conquests, there had been tremendous improvement.
"Enough of this!" the king barked out. "Tell me something good, for a change, old bird." He didn't even turn his head from the balcony.
"Very well, sire. The new infusion of goods seems to have jump-started the economy. We are once again selling our metal work around the world, and with the addition of the newly acquired farmlands, we have more than enough food to sustain both our own people and the Equestrians."
If only for the briefest of moments, Keirin thought he saw the corner of the king's mouth curve upward. The thing Ozarian was truly after, at the end of the day, was the well being of his people. Keirin knew full well that one major purpose for the invasion of Equestria was to investigate the dark secret that princess Celestia had been keeping for centuries, but it seemed this was not the primary concern weighing on the king's heart.
The king turned back to his adviser. "This is good news, indeed. Tell me something, though: what news have we from Varzeros on the captive princesses?"
Another dozen or so pages of tedious reports were turned before the old Griffon looked up from his tattered ledger. "The reports indicate the same as always. Neither have made any attempts to escape, and their fear for the well being of their subjects has kept them raising and lowering the moon and sun." Keirin turned another page. "This report is new, though. We have finally made contact with the spirit of chaos known as Discord, and he has hinted that he might be able to free the celestial bodies from the control of magic for the right price."
The king was momentarily speechless. This was never something he had considered to be possible. Even before the time of Luna and Celestia, the sun and moon were moved via powerful magic. The mere idea of them moving of their own accord seemed almost insane.
"And what price would this being of chaos demand?" His eyes locked with those of his adviser.
"It would appear, my liege, that the only thing Discord requires is the destruction of the elements of harmony." Keirin saw the king's sharp look, shocked by his adviser's apparent indifference, and shot back a reprimanding glare as he continued. "The very elements we have locked in the royal treasury." His gaze at the monarch then became inquisitive, unsure as to what Ozarian might do with this information. The younger Griffon stepped quietly back to the balcony.
Ozarian contemplated this newfound knowledge as he looked over Sweyn's Roost, now shining in the sun's rays. It took only another moment for him to tilt his head to the side without turning and state, "I would speak with this Discord, if at all possible. Tell him I am more than willing to have those blasted elements destroyed, but I would first like to speak with him about his claims regarding the moon and sun." For far too long had one of the most essential parts of life in the world been left up to the whims of magic. Ozarian swore right then and there that he would go to whatever lengths he must if he could change that fact.
The scratching of quill on parchment filled the chamber once more as Keirin marked down his king's wishes. "There is one final thing, my liege. General Varzeros has requested that another five battalions be dispatched to Equestrian soil."
Ozarian seemed to stumble over his thoughts for a moment. "What could he possibly need another five battalions for? We already have over ninety percent of the country under sufficient control. Adding any more troops, never mind five battalions worth, could spark even more civil unrest." Keirin could see the confusion in the young king's eyes as they stared out over the city.
"I am not sure, your grace. The reasoning for his request is 'Disturbances in Canterlot'. I don't know what to make of the situation with so little detail." Keirin did not hide from his liege the concern he felt that the general could be overzealous, but he felt it prudent to keep any further worry to himself.
King Bright Talon stood in deep thought for a moment. While it was against his first instinct to add even more troops to Equestrian lands, General Varzeros had yet to offer him anything but sound and profitable advice. In the worst case scenario, losing Canterlot would be a heavy blow to their claim on Equestria, a blow Ozarian was not sure he was comfortable enduring. He turned fully around and approached his trusted retainer.
"Send General Varzeros the troops he requested. Canterlot must be kept under total control if we are to demonstrate any real authority over the Equestrian lands. As for the rest of the report, I shall deal with it in due time. It is far to early in the morning to have already dealt with such tiresome matters. Leave me now, Keirin. I would like to enjoy the last bit of morning in peace." With this last command issued, Ozarian gave a gentle but dismissive wave of his amber wing toward the door before walking back to the edge of the balcony. Keirin quickly closed his ledger and excused himself from the chambers, leaving the monarch to his own devices.
The streets were bustling again. The market place was filled each day with traders from lands near and far. As he looked down upon the rediscovered prosperity of his people, Ozarian felt a renewed sense that everything he had done thus far had been well worth it. The city seemed to glitter in the light of the mid-morning sun now that they finally had the time and resources to keep everything maintained. Every structure, in fact Sweyn's Roost itself, was carved out of the very stone and steel of the mountain, the entrance being a grand arch on the summit's southern side. From far enough away, it looked as though Dawk's Peak was the natural top of the majestic range, and a proud flame burned in Ozarian's crimson chest when he could oversee his lands and be confident that he was making the right choices as the Griffon king.
Life in Equestria, however, was far removed from the vision the king saw in his head. If he could see but a mere glance into the suffering taking place in Ponyville alone, he might have an entirely new outlook on what his occupation was doing to the inhabitants of the country he now ruled.