The last thing I need is another fanfic. I tried telling this to the plot bunnies, but did they listen? No. So here I am with yet another story that's going to take forever (this is, unfortunately, my lowest-priority tale. Sorry, but updates are going to be slow) and whose ending I do not yet know. Oh well.

Disclaimer: This disclaimer disclaims my non-existant ownership of DGC and means that you cannot sue me. Because I don't own it. Also, this disclaimer applies throughout the fic.

This is an AU of Serpent Mage and the next 3 books that picks up right after the Royal One's death. Just in case you couldn't figure that out.

Haplo was dying.

Perhaps, if he'd still had his magic, he could have survived. But his power was gone, washed away by Samah and Chelestra's magic-nullifying seawater. Already his vision was beginning to go dark, almost blotting out the shining light cast by the wondrous green and golden dragon that had appeared out of nowhere to save them. Even now it was fighting to buy them time, driving away the hordes of dragon-snakes. Hopefully its attack would buy the others- the ones who might actually survive- enough time to escape.

His hand, pale and cold from blood loss, clasped Devon's shoulders. The young elf jumped- he too had been gawking at the magnificent creature. "What is it, Haplo?"

"Run. Get Grundle and… Alfred." Did the prince know the old man's name? Probably not. "He's the…Sartan. The nice one. Take… them and go. Warn your people."

Devon went even paler. "No. No. You're not-"

The dog whined sadly, laid its paw across Haplo's tattered back.

"Go," the Patryn rasped.

The elf grabbed Haplo's arms, hauled him to his feet. The Runner gasped, hissed with pain. "Don't," he ordered. "Lost… too much blood."

Devon looked ready to cry. "I can't lose you too. Not after-" He choked.

Not so soon after Alake's death. Haplo understood. But that didn't make it any better, any less necessary. "It's me or… you. Just… go already."

The world brightened again as the dragon flew over to them. His bright golden eyes took in the scene- Haplo, bleeding and broken and almost dead. If the Patryn- his enemy, his friend- did not receive healing soon….

The dragon folded his wings, sank to the ground. Devon stiffened. Sure, this beast had just saved his life, and it shone as brightly as the One's own angels, but it was still a dragon. Hadn't dragons been known to eat people?

"Go away," the elf whispered. The dragon ignored him. He stepped forward, extended his neck until his nose almost touched Haplo's flesh.


Wonderful. Now he was hallucinating. And of course he couldn't imagine something nice, like returning home or playing with the dog. No, he had to imagine that Alfred was talking to him, calling his name in that worried tone of his. Stupid Sartan. Couldn't he see that he was dying horribly and would like to be left alone?

"Go away," Devon repeated. He knew that he stood no chance against the dragon, but he wouldn't just stand aside and let it eat Haplo.

The dragon met his gaze. The elf flinched, looked away, eyes watering as though he'd stared too long at the sun. But what he saw in the dragon's gaze- pity, mercy, compassion- made him whisper, "You can help?"

Yes, the dragon said, his voice swimming through the prince's blood. With permission, of course. He leaned closer still to the wounded Patryn. Haplo, may I heal you?

He was on Abarrach, a prisoner of Kleitus. Poison surged through his veins, destroying him from the inside out. Then Alfred was there….

I never thanked him, Haplo realized.

"Let me heal you," Alfred said quietly, proffering a hand.

"All right," the Patryn mumbled, and took the hand.

The circle was forged, complete. Warmth flowed from one to the other, and with that warmth came life. With life came memories.

The dragon-snakes were powerful, terrifying, deadly…. But so was he. Magic exulted within him, thrilled that he was finally wielding it. It was eager, the power was, and its eagerness filled him.

This is what I was born to do, thought Alfred- no, not quite Alfred- and sang the spell.

Then he was a dragon, huge and mighty, the Serpent Mage in truth. He flew, fought. Then he saw Haplo wounded, Haplo dying….

And then he was Haplo, and Haplo was him, and their circles were joined together even as the exhilarating magic, the marvelous purpose, the glorious wonderful rightness, drained from his soul….

Haplo opened his eyes.

Alfred was sprawled out before him, unconscious in the sand. His hands, which had just slipped from Haplo's, were black with blood. The Royal One's blood, he realized with a chill.

"He- he was-" Devon found himself unable to continue. His eyes bulged with shock and awe.

Haplo snapped out of it. He launched himself to his feet, leaned down to shake the unconscious Sartan. "Alfred! Get up!"

"Huh?" The other man blinked blearily at him, utterly befuddled. "Haplo? Wh-"

The Patryn very nearly didn't answer- he had just noticed that his tattoos were back, shining softly and completely unbroken. Evidently Alfred had done something to him during the healing process that had restored his magic. How-?

But that could wait. Now, he had to ensure their survival. "Run with me, both of you. Now!"

Confused, looking as though he'd been hit in the face with something large and heavy, Alfred obeyed. Sartan and elf followed the Patryn across the beach, towards Grundle's still form.

"Do you have enough magic left to transport Grundle away?" Haplo demanded.

"Of course," Alfred panted.

'Of course,' he said, right after turning himself into a dragon the size of the Kicksey-winsey and driving off an army of monsters. Not to mention whatever he'd done to get rid of Samah. And of course he'd already transported himself and the dog to Haplo, punching through whatever wards the dragon-snakes might have erected.

Just how powerful were serpent mages anyway?

"Get her," Haplo ordered, ignoring his last disturbing thought. "I can get Devon home. When you have Grundle, have the magic bring you to me."

Alfred nodded, too out of breath to speak.

Haplo and Devon halted. "Just hold onto me," the Patryn growled. He began to speak and trace the runes.

Transporting two people at once drained most of his energy. Even with the help of Alfred's healing spell, Haplo's body was still recovering from its near-death experience. That, and teleportation was a difficult spell at the best of times, and now was not the best of times. Which led back to the question of how Alfred could-

Focus. You're doing magic now; don't let that fool Sartan distract you.

The world faded. Haplo spoke the last few runes. Another world appeared.

"Devon?" exclaimed Eliason, staring at his almost-son-in-law. "Haplo?" He took in their bloody forms, Haplo's torn clothes, the shock and residual terror on their faces. "What's going on?"

The two younger men exchanged glances. Devon's gaze was lost, miserable. Haplo sighed, took the fall. "Get the other royals. Alake is dead."

"What?" Eliason cried.

"Dragon-snakes," rasped Devon. Now that the danger was over, he could no longer control his trembling. He sank into a plush chair. "They-they-" He couldn't continue. One hand grabbed the dog (when had he gotten there?), clutched his ears. The animal whined quietly but didn't move away. He knew that the nice elf was sad, hurting.

Bright blue runes shone in the center of the room. "That's Grundle and… her escort," Haplo said. How was he supposed to explain Alfred?

Eliason opened the door to his makeshift study. Two guards were standing at its other side. "Go get Delu, Dumaka, Yngvar, and Hilda," he ordered. "Now!"

The runes strengthened. Alfred and Grundle stepped into the room. The guards, who had turned to look at their lord as he gave his instructions, gawked. "Majesty, what-?"

"Get them," the emperor repeated. "Tell them that I have…." He froze. "…news."

It was plain from his tone of voice that the news wasn't good. The guards scurried.

Eliason stared questioningly at Alfred. The Sartan flinched, waved awkwardly, looking exceedingly guilty. Then he realized that the elf was royalty and dropped into a bow. Unfortunately, he hadn't looked around before bowing and ended up hitting his head on the wall.

Eliason continued to stare.

Grundle realized she was safe, burst into tears. She grabbed Devon, who had been sobbing silently, in a fierce hug. The elf's arms wrapped around her, taking and offering comfort.

The emperor scurried over to them. "There, there," he murmured gently, patting their backs.

Alfred, rubbing his head where he'd bumped it, fished a handkerchief from his pocket. He sang a rune of replication and handed the two handkerchiefs to the weeping mensch. Then he froze, staring in mute shock at his blood-drenched hand.

A chill crept over Haplo. He thought back to Abarrach, when Alfred had performed a remarkable spell. The Sartan had killed a dead man, unmade the magic keeping the poor thing 'alive.' Nothing the necromancer (who, unlike Alfred, had spent her life studying the art of raising the dead) had done had brought the man back to life.

But though Alfred had seen the results of his song, he had not been able to remember how the magic had worked. He hadn't retained the spell- still couldn't remember it, so far as Haplo knew.

But, he assured himself, not even Alfred could forget turning himself into a dragon. The necromancy spell took only a moment to cast. He was in dragon form for several minutes. He can't have forgotten something like that.

Except, judging from the horrified confusion on the Sartan's face, he had.

Haplo's head began to hurt.

Alfred raised his bloody hands to his face. His eyes, already wide, enlarged even more.

Haplo grabbed the Sartan's arm, dragged him to the other side of the cramped study. "How much do you remember?" he demanded, speaking Patryn.

"I don't know," the other man confessed, speaking the same language. He hadn't lifted his gaze from his blood-covered hands.

"You don't remember," Haplo repeated, incredulous. "You're joking."

Alfred shook his head. His face had gone very pale. "The last thing I remember is unmaking Samah's spell- the one with the sea monster. The children were screaming, and I thought that you and I could help once I'd…." He trailed off. "That can't be right," he said. "I can't have been thinking that I could drive off Samah."

"But you did," Haplo pointed out.

The Sartan opened his mouth to protest. The Patryn knew what Alfred would say- I can't have, I'm not powerful enough (liar), I certainly would remember that, I wouldn't. Then his brain caught up with his tongue, and he realized that if he hadn't driven Samah away, they would both be his prisoners.

"What happened?" Alfred's voice was tiny, frightened.

Haplo closed his eyes. "You're sure you can't remember?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. I just-"

The Patryn heaved a sigh. "I don't know what you did to Samah," he said without preamble. "I was busy with the dragon-snakes- not that I was much use. Alake, the human princess- she's dead now. I couldn't save her. I couldn't save myself either.

"Grundle went back to ask for help. I sent her, mostly to get her out of the way. That way, one less person would die. Then the dragon-snakes injured me. I knew I was dying, told Devon to run. He refused. Then…."

How could he phrase this without sounding like a complete and total lunatic?

Haplo wished he wasn't so tired, but the magic (not to mention the rest of his day) had drained his strength. His thoughts felt sluggish, slow. Still, he persevered.

"Is any of this ringing a bell? Grundle going to you for help, me injured, Devon refusing to leave?" Haplo spoke without much hope. He knew what the answer would be. Sure enough, Alfred was shaking his head.

The Patryn grimaced. Of course not.

"What about the dragon?" he prompted.

"Dragon?" Alfred repeated.

"Yeah, the dragon," Haplo repeated. "Green scales, golden wings. Huge, powerful, shining." Yes, shining, blazing with the hidden strength of your soul. That dragon represented the part of your being that you pushed away, kept hidden under lock and key.

Alfred could see an image of the creature he had become, painted in the very air by the magic of the Patryn rune-language. Yet no recognition lit up his face. Haplo's remaining hopes plummeted.

That was when Delu and Dumaka burst into the room. "What's going on?" the former demanded. Her eyes scanned the room. "Where is my daughter? Where is Alake?"

Grundle and Devon's sobs redoubled.

Delu spun, faced Haplo. She took in the confused Alfred. One eyebrow arched, but she chose to ignore him. "Haplo, where is my daughter?"

"Dead," the Patryn confessed.

The humans went very, very still. "Dead?" Dumaka echoed. "You are…."

"I saw her die." Haplo glanced at the grieving prince. "So did Devon. Grundle was getting help."

Delu's shoulders shook. Alfred grabbed another handkerchief. He handed it to her before shrinking back into his corner.

Yngvar and Hilda arrived. They too took in the scene: the weeping teenagers, the stunned adults, the inexplicably present Sartan who was trying and failing to hide. "What's going on?" the dwarves demanded in tandem.

Grundle disengaged herself from Devon, ran over to her parents. "Alake's dead," she sobbed. "Alake's dead, she's dead, she's dead…." She hugged her mother, shaking all over.

Yngvar looked at Alfred. "Did your people do this?" he snarled.

"No!" the Sartan cried, shrinking away.

"He saved us!" Grundle protested. "The dragon-snakes- they were going to kill Haplo and Devon and me too, but he chased them away!"

Yngvar stared critically at Alfred, the least impressive specimen he'd ever seen.

"It's true," Devon croaked. "Haplo was dying and I was trying to get him up so he wouldn't die, but he'd lost too much blood and- and- it sounds crazy, but-" He couldn't continue.

Haplo's headache flared. He rubbed his temples, finished Devon's statement for him. "Alfred turned himself into a dragon, killed the king snake, and chased the others off."

Dead silence. Alfred's mouth worked silently, trying to form the word dragon but incapable of forcing the sound out. The royalty looked from him to Haplo and back again. Then Grundle broke the silence by announcing, "It's true. I saw him."

The Sartan recovered his voice. "Dragon?" he whispered. "I- what?"

"He can't remember," Haplo explained to the befuddled prince and princess. His headache throbbed. "I've traveled with him before. This isn't the first time he's forgotten something that a normal person would remember."

"He's senile?" Grundle squawked.

No, the Patryn thought. Not senile, only broken.

"I think," Eliason said, "that we should start at the beginning."

Haplo nodded. "Good idea."