It was midnight in Romania. The stars had been overhead for hours. Their fragile light was washed out by dazzling, silver moonlight that lent an eerie glow to the darkness. The luminescent moonbeams filtered into the cliff-side cave where the dragon had made his home. Under the full moon, his scales gleamed like emeralds on velvet and his long, golden horns—so coveted by dragon poachers—glittered and glinted.
Resting at the cave entrance, he was watchful—a sentinel of the night. The dragon was one of four Romanian Longhorns that had not sought refuge within the protective limits of the nearby wizarding reservation. No, he and three others were the self-appointed guardians—the Fathers—of the others. They gazed outwards, in the cardinal directions, from the boundaries of the reservation. The dragon keepers at the reservation knew of the sentinels but left them to their watchful pursuits.
His kind had been hunted almost to the point of extinction before the wizards had founded the reservation in the Transylvanian Alps. Sensing a communal goal, the dragons had accepted the long overdue assistance of the humans. Now, during the daylight hours—beyond the telltale shimmer of the ironclad wards that surrounded the reservation—the Father watched with pride and satisfaction as younglings took to the air.
The dragon gazed out over the landscape towards Turnu Rosu, the steep mountain pass that linked Transylvania with Walachia in the south. Romania was never more beautiful than at night. The crystalline massifs of the Southern Carpathians reflected in the mirrored surface of a pristine glacial lake. And below that, the densely forested mountain slopes gave way to sub-alpine meadows. It was indeed a visually striking milieu.
His gaze turned upwards, to watch the sky solemnly from the warmth and comfort of his lair. His breath steamed in the chilly air as he let out a low, rumbling sigh. The stars had bad tidings in them. He had seen the coming of the war all those years ago in the stars, and now, tonight...
He stood up. The air tasted wrong. There was a sound as if the air were splitting open just off the peak of the cliff, a rip being made where there was no room for it. The dragon crouched at the entrance of his cave, not hiding, but ready to spring. There was a final rush of air, and then something blasted into existence ahead of him.
Two wizards in black, hooded cloaks streaked through the air astride gleaming broomsticks. The dragon unfurled his wings, roaring his protest. The Father sensed a darkness emanating from the circling wizards, and he breathed in deeply, the air rasping through his multiple lungs. He exhaled, simultaneously releasing a jet of fire that crackled and sparked in the icy night air.
The poachers had always come in larger teams; these two were no match against his firepower. The Father knew that his deafening roar would have carried to the reservation and the other sentinels. If these two knew what was good for them, they would leave now, before it was too late.
Deftly, the wizards dodged his fiery attack. Their black cloaks fluttered and rippled behind them as they dived steeply. Simultaneously, they released two jets of electric-blue energy from wands aimed carelessly over their shoulders. Missing him, the spells struck the cliff-side with a shower of cerulean blue sparks and wispy, glowing threads that fluttered and swirled in the air. The dragon snorted steam contemptuously; his hide was impervious to two minuscule spells. The dragon roared with fury at their impertinence.
He breathed in to generate another fiery reply at the ignorant wizards, who had circled for another attack. Halfway through his rasping inhalation, the Father swayed, suddenly dizzy and unbalanced. His gleaming eyes widened with surprise. He fell heavily onto the ledge outside the cave. The mountain seemed to tremble for a moment, and then the air was still.
The wizards—one far taller than his companion—descended to the ledge and alighted from their brooms. Keeping their faces shrouded, they moved quickly and with purpose, as if sensing that their time was limited.
"Diffindo." There was an awful ripping sound as the dragon's thick skull split open, releasing an acrid stench that permeated the crisp air. There was a slight retch of protest from the taller wizard before they leant forward over the dragon's head, industriously collecting a part of the dragon.
As the three menacing forms of the other guardians approached, shadowed against the moon, the murderous thieves slung their legs over their brooms and kicked off victoriously before streaking in a steep dive off the edge of the cliff. In mid-dive towards the lake, they each performed a complicated loop, and the air seemed to ripple for a moment before it swallowed them. A sharp crack echoed mournfully against the cliff-face.
Corrosive dragon blood wound sinuously away from the Father's body, bubbling and etching into the crystalline rocks—tangible scars witnessing an inconceivable tragedy. The starlight seemed to fade slightly; the death of the Father witnessed from afar.