A cold wind was dancing around the cave, running this way and that like a never tiring child. Shivering, Norbert tried to kindle the fire, but the flames stood no chance to the wind. With a low rumbling, the dragon let his head sink back to the icy ground.
He had known for a while now that his time was coming, had felt it in his creaking bones and heavy wings. It bothered him that there was nobody to come after him, no other dragon to take his place and keep the peace in this world. Soon, this would be of no concern to him, but right now it was the last obstacle between him and a happy death. Norbert had even tried to haggle with the universe for just a little more time, desperate as he was, but of course to no avail. The universe has so many ears that it never bothers to listen to anyone.
The dragon sniffed, noticing a new scent on the wind. Darkness seemed to be mixing with it now. They danced around each other, twisting and twirling, the darkness winning more substance all the time. Maybe it drew it from the walls, which seemed to fade slowly.
He scarcely had time to look surprised, so suddenly was a huge black dragon lying next to him, curled around him, protecting him from the cold breeze.
“It is time to go,” the black dragon said after a moment.
“But there is no one to come after me,” Norbert replied sleepily. “This world will not be save without me...”
“The next one is coming. You do not need to worry.”
The walls of the cave had almost vanished.
“Wait... Will he know how to guard the gateway? Who will teach him, if not me?”
The black dragon smiled. “You have taught him.”
With some effort, Norbert turned his head to stare at the black one from under heavy eyelids.
“Whom have I taught during my lifetime? There was never another dragon here except me.”
The black dragon smiled. “It is time you remember your life before you became the guard. Look at yourself.” A different room had solidified around them, and a mirror was mounted just a few feet away on a black wall. The dragon nodded towards it.
Irritated, Norbert got up. It was a strange sensation, like losing a lot of weight all of a sudden. Unsteadily, he crawled to the mirror, but it was too high for him to look into. With a sigh, he raised himself to his hind legs.
Silence filled the room while he looked at his reflection, frozen in shock.
“What is this?” he whispered, suddenly too weak to stand. A hand that should not be his own groped the wall for support.
“This is who you are.”
“But... This is a human body!”
“It is indeed.” The black dragon’s head appeared behind him in the mirror. It was twice the size of Norbert’s. “Remember. You have come here as a human. You were friends with Moraine, the former guard dragon. She taught you all about this world, and when she died you took up her dress and her position. You were turned into the next guard dragon. But the wings have grown too heavy for your mortal human body, and now it is time for you to go and for the next one to arrive.”
Norbert still started at the mirror, into his own, human eyes. Wizened fingers trailed the lines on his face, trying to recognise it.
“I remember... my family. My parents... and my wife! I left them all behind, didn’t I?” His voice was hushed and creaky with age. “Can I see them? How are they?”
The black dragon shook his head sadly. “Your wife has died 156 years ago. It may be that you will see her on the other side, though.” Noticing the man’s despair, the dragon continued, “Do not regret, you have made the right decision. Your wife understood, and led a good life after you left. You should not worry about the past. It has gone, and we need to go, too. The next one is coming.”
With that, the mirror, the room, and the empty dragon skin on the floor dissolved forever around Norbert, the ex-guard.