Disclaimer: I do not own the Death Gate Cycle. If I did, it would have 80% more Alfred!
This is Alfred's POV during his fight with the Royal One in Serpent Mage.
Green and gold, huge and powerful, a dragon soared through Chelestra's aquamarine skies. Below him, a stunned dwarf-maid gaped up at the mighty creature. Her lips parted in a silent gasp, amazed by the magic that had brought forth the dragon.
For it was not a true dragon which dominated the skies. The dragon-shape had been borrowed by a clumsy Sartan called Alfred. His true name was Coren, the Serpent Mage. Alfred had shape-shifted for one reason: to save the lives of two children and his ancestral enemy, the Patryn Haplo.
Keen golden eyes peered downward, where Haplo and the two mensh children were. With a start, the dragon realized that Haplo and the human girl were down. Only the elven lad and Haplo's remarkable black dog remained standing. Relief surged through Coren's blood: as long as the dog was alive, Haplo was too.
Coren's shadow passed over the wounded Patryn. Haplo, the dog by his side, looked up. His jaw dropped, eyes widened. His dog danced around him in jubilant affection.
But the dragon could not waste time contemplating his associate's (friend's?) health. Their enemy, the dragon-snakes, must be dealt with. Screaming a warning, he dove down low, towards the dragon-snakes- only to flare upwards at the last moment. He flew in a tight circle, dove again, this time with a specific target in mind.
It was surprisingly easy to pierce the king snake's flesh. Long golden claws entered, tore, ripped. The monster contorted, its muscles squiriming like dying worms, trying vainly to escape the dragon's claws. It spewed venom, hoping to hit the dragon's vulnerable eyes.
Alarm surged through Coren. Most of his body was covered in green armor-like scales, but his eyes could be wounded. He jerked his head aside. The poison missed.
The Royal One was fighting, struggling. It knew it would die unless it dislodged the dragon. The other dragon-snakes, seeing their king in mortal danger, overcame their shocked terror and began to approach.
Coren sighed silently. He had hoped to finish this quickly, but it was not to be. He extended his golden wings. With a mighty effort, he lifted himself and the king snake off the ground.
Coren had done many difficult things in his life. He had raised the dead (though he'd only just remembered and would soon forget again), he had infiltrated the Nexus, he had crossed the Fire Sea of dead Abarrach, but never before had he felt such physical strain. The dragon-snake in his claws had grown fat and strong from torturing its seamoon home. And it was struggling, thrashing about in its captor's claws, making Coren's task even more difficult. But somehow, some way, the Sartan-turned-dragon persevered. Higher and higher he soared, and when he was high enough, he released his burden.
The king snake fell. It cursed the dragon, pleaded, but Coren did not dive down and save it. The dragon-snakes were monsters, and he would do nothing to help them.
Finally, the king snake crashed into Draknor. The seamoon quaked at the impact. Then, as if taking revenge for all the pain the dragon-snakes had inflicted, it sent a mountain down on the Royal One's shattered corpse.
Coren would never be sure, but at the moment the dragon-snake died, he thought he heard the seamoon's whisper of gratitude.
He circled overhead. The dragon-snakes were getting over their shock at his appearance, starting to conspire against him. He could hear their voices but not their words. It worried him. Coren was powerful, but even he could not hope to defeat them all. If they forced him into battle, he and Haplo and the mensh children would die.
Fortunately, the dragon-snakes were cowards. Not one of them wanted to risk itself against the dragon. They turned back, tried to retreat to their lair.
Joy surged in Coren's chest. They were still disorganized, still weak. He dove down, raking his claws across their backs, nipping at their necks with his fangs. Blood, acid and foul, covered his tongue and teeth.
Not one dragon-snake fought back. Instead, they retreated faster to their safe haven.
Coren spun around. He knew he didn't have much time before the dragon-snakes reorganized a counterattack. He needed to talk to Haplo, to make the Patryn retreat.
As he came nearer, a chill spread through him. The human girl hadn't moved… she was dead! Misery, agony inflicted him. He had saved Haplo and the elf, but he had arrived too late to save the poor girl.
Then the pain became resolve. No more lives would be lost! He hovered in front of Haplo, wondering how to communicate. An image blossomed in his mind: one of the fire dragons of Abarrach, her voice speaking in his mind. Telepathy. He was currently one of her kin; he shared the ability.
You are wounded. Yet you must find the strength to return to your ship. The dragon-snakes are disorganized for the moment, but they will soon regroup and I do not have the power to fight them all. Oh, how true that was.
Haplo stood, staggered. The elf ran to him, supported the wounded Patryn. For a few seconds Haplo stood there, his face pained and strained, weak as he'd been in Kleitus' prison, before he took a tentative step. Suddenly he stopped, choked out a word. "Alake…" His pain-filled eyes dropped to the human corpse, then glanced towards the dragon-snakes.
A new wave of pain assaulted the dragon. Alake… it was a strong name, a beautiful name. He had no doubt that it had suited her well. Somehow, he managed to reply. I will care for her. Have no fear. They will not disturb her rest. Coren had not saved Alake's life, but he would save her body from desecration!
Haplo, still using the elf-lad as support, staggered away. Coren hovered above Alake's body, reached for his magic. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that it still worked even when he was in dragon-form. That would prove useful later on.
A tomb of stunning beauty blossomed around Alake's form. The base was marble, covered in royal purple velvet. Alake lay atop it, a sad, peaceful smile on her face. Flowers covered her legs and feet- and the hideous bite wound which had killed her. He topped it with a covering of pure crystal, transparent yet strong.
The entire structure was surrounded by blazing Sartan runes. No dragon-snake would come near the dead princess.
Coren knew that he should leave, but he remained for just a few seconds more. I'm sorry, he whispered to the princess. I'm so sorry… but this I swear to you: I will not fail again.
His heart was heavy as he flew back to Grundle. Coren knew what would happen when he returned to Sartan form: he would become Alfred again, clumsy, bumbling, a coward. He would not remember his broad beautiful wings, his long arching neck. He would not remember his thrilling, terrifying fight against the dragon-snakes. He would not remember the dead princess- or the dead king. He would not remember the wonder in Haplo's eyes, the jubilant affection of the dog. He would not remember a thing.
Heaving a silent sigh, the dragon hovered just a few feet above the beach. Grundle looked at him with huge eyes. Her mouth was open in a tiny O.
The dragon sighed again, slipped out of his powerful body, out of Coren, back to Alfred.
It was Alfred who denied his usefulness to Grundle, Alfred who went meekly along with Samah. His heart was heavy, mourning a loss he didn't fully understand- or remember. But somewhere, deep inside of the bumbling Sartan, Coren stirred.
That night, Alfred dreamed of dragons.