Iron


Finally, Crispin goes face-to-face with his girlfriend in all her splendid, obsidian glory. Dragons are living furnaces.


Crispin watched Sera step out of sight, his brow slightly furrowed. The fierce feelings of protectiveness and the powerful desire to be with her at all times was still off-putting to him. He'd never been in love before, and he didn't know what to do with all the strange emotions that came with the territory.

Edward patted him sympathetically on the shoulder. "Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?" he asked, knowingly. "I know you're still mad at yourself for all the moping earlier."

Edward was talking about the past few days. While Sera had been far away, securing their safety with the rest of her kind, Crispin had been stuck here, without her. It had been much harder than he might have expected. He hadn't even had the will to read through his favorite books on venoms. It had been a useless, embarrassing, miserable couple of days. Crispin really hoped he'd never look that foolish and wimpy again.

"Are you afraid?" Crispin asked, trying to draw their attention to something else. "To meet the other dragons?"

"I haven't even met a dragon in its real shape, yet. So … I might be a little nervous," Edward admitted, which was an unusually humble thing for him to do. Crispin remembered flashes of his last encounter with Sera's true form and felt like there was a piece of metal settled in his stony vampire gut. He couldn't get the image out of his head of the inside of her long, fang-filled mouth when she'd screamed at him. A pale scarlet glow had shone from deep inside her throat.

Crispin shivered slightly. Edward patted his shoulder again, sympathetic. "She was just … really upset at the time," he said, trying to be optimistic. "She won't be scary like that again."

Crispin breathed a sigh through his nose. "Let's move away from the trees. We don't want to be too close, in case they jump on us by accident."

"Would they do that?" Edward wondered, his ochre eyes looking worried. Those eyes were darker than usual. Good thing they were about to go on a hunting trip. Crispin set off back toward the rest of the family.

"I don't know. Probably not. But no point in taking chances."

They stood in a relatively small clearing. Compared to the fields where the elk were, it wasn't very impressive, but it would provide room for Sera and her sister's true forms. Crispin could smell the elk from here. Rather unappealing … ew … he sort of wished they had gone upwind. Then he wouldn't have had to smell them while Sera's warm-and-crispy odor was still lingering in his nose.

It was a good thing she would soon be taking her true form. It was dangerous for her while she was human when the family was getting ready to hunt.

Emmett trotted over, catching up to them. "Do you really think I wouldn't be able to put a dent on a dragon?" the older brother asked. Crispin's lip twitched in a small smile. Trust Emmett the Buff to wonder such things.

"If she said you won't be able to, you won't be able to," Crispin confirmed. "They've been killing vampires for a long time. If we could hurt them, they wouldn't be dangerous to us, would they?"

"We can hurt the shapeshifters," said Edward, pointedly.

"True, and that may be why we know they exist," Crispin replied. "We don't have dragon bodies lying around as evidence."

"Yeah, that's a good point."

"And dragons don't leave survivors or witnesses," Crispin added.

"Except for that one time," Edward remembered. "The first dragon, when she couldn't kill all the vampires and werewolves."

"Except that one time."

"And this time," added Emmett, and Crispin smiled a little, although he felt like he had that piece of metal in his stomach again. They had been targeted by the dragons. If anybody but Sera had come to do the deed, they probably wouldn't be here.

But Emmett wasn't done. "You could follow her, you know …" he said, suggestively, his eyebrows waggling. "Just have a look between the trees … if she's taking off all her clothes before she transforms …"

Crispin snapped out of his musing at once and peeled back his lips into a threatening grimace at his older brother. "Don't even suggest such a thing. I'm not a peeping tom."

"I know, I know …" Emmett said, putting his hands up and turning to walk to the house. But he glanced back with a devilish grin anyway. "But you heard what she said. You two are practically mates, now."

Crispin glared. "Want me to tell her what you just said?" he asked. "I might not be able to take you down, but I'm pretty sure an indestructible dragon the size of our house could do it."

Emmett might have gone a shade or two paler, but his jaunty grin remained firmly in place. "Hey, it was a joke! Just a joke …"

Crispin watched his older brother meander away. Edward chuckled, startling him.

"I remember when Bella took him down as a newborn for making jokes about us," the older vampire said with a smirk. "It was funny. He takes great pride in being the strongest in the world, and it doesn't make him feel good when somebody turns up who can put him to shame."

"Well, I wouldn't be boasting about my strength around Sera," said Crispin, seeing again in his mind's eye the flash of glittering black scales. He suddenly remembered how Sera's head had carved a huge channel through the forest when she'd transformed, slamming through the trees and ripping them up as though they were made of warm butter. Crispin had visited the site again after she'd left, and had stood in that newly-felled clearing in astonishment and longing.

Well … it wouldn't be long before he went face-to-face with the dragon once again. His stomach did itself into a stony knot.

Jasper stepped up to him when they reached the rest of the family. "Can I go with you to see her?" he asked. "When she first comes back?"

Crispin smiled a little. He could understand Jasper's curiosity. His older brother had lived through wartime, and Jasper knew about things that could cause destruction. He wanted to see what a supernaturally-born force of destruction looked like. He had to be a little afraid, too. Crispin remembered too well how worried Jasper had been when Sera had first told the family about what she was in their conference room. His first instinct had been to pull Alice to safety. Out the window.

"You can come," Crispin assured his other older brother. "She won't hurt you, of course."

"Oh, good," said Alice, happily, "I can't wait to see her sister." And Crispin and Jasper both shot her worried looks.

"What are you seeing?" Crispin asked, warily. Alice smiled and shrugged.

"Oh, I don't know. We might just end up being good friends, maybe."

Ha, maybe. Sure. Alice was not a creature of maybes. Crispin and Jasper exchanged amused and exasperated looks.

"So … what does she look like, again?" This time it was Jacob who approached. His brows were knit. Crispin was not surprised to find him asking questions. It was about time he'd started showing some real interest in the "other shapeshifter."

"Scales like polished obsidian," said Crispin. "Big as our house—longer, I mean. Eyes like coals. And inside her mouth is like looking into an active volcano."

Jacob wrinkled his brow. "You saw what her phasing looked like, right?"

Crispin smiled a little. "I'll admit, it all happened so fast. I think it was a little different from yours. There was fire."

"Huh."

If Jacob had intended to say anything more, he didn't get the chance. At that moment, a huge blue form like sapphire given breath lunged over the trees, vast wings spreading into the air, blowing the treetops about like a small hurricane. The ground shuddered when she landed, even though she was all the way at the other end of the clearing. Jacob took a shocked step back.

Crispin gazed upon Sera's sister in wonder. He was trying to recall all the details about what he'd seen when Sera had transformed for him just a few days ago. He hadn't remembered her shape very well, apparently. The neck was shorter than he recalled, the horns sculpted out of the skull as though they'd been drawn out like clay. It was hard to tell if Arina'ardezure was actually smaller than her older sister. Vampires had very good eyesight, indeed, but they were no better at telling the sizes of things from a distance than humans were. Sera would have to come stand by her sister for comparison.

Crispin glanced at Jasper. His older brother looked paler than he had been a few seconds ago. But Jasper met his eye and nodded.

Crispin led the way. Or tried to. Alice skipped ahead of him, and he quickly picked up speed into a jog, not sure he wanted his small older sister to meet the blue dragon first. But Sera's sister reacted to Alice's arrival in a friendly manner. Her wide amber eyes blinked, and she lowered her heavy, angled head to see Alice better. Crispin jogged to a stop near the dragon, his gaze raised high to focus on her thick horns. Her skull was built like a skink's, angled and powerful with broad, flat scales on her snout and over her crown. A long, black tongue, forked like a snake's, lashed out to taste the air, almost hitting Alice over the head.

She laughed.

Classic Alice.

Jasper had just caught up with them when Sera made her arrival. And it was immediately clear that she was quite a bit bigger and heavier than her sister. She nearly jumped on them, landing with Crispin squarely between her heavy wings. Her vast, deep chest almost touched the top of his head. He staggered back, gaping in shock. A hot wind rushed around him.

She called herself a dragon, but she really was a wyvern. Her vast, powerful wings doubled as front legs, her weight resting on the backs of her wrists. Her long, thrashing tail moved like a slithering snake, undulating through the grass, the light catching on the glitter of her obsidian scales. That tail had to be at least as long as her body was, if not longer. She was a creature of frills and fins, made for the air.

Crispin gaped up at her. She towered over him, taller than the trees, a serpentine Goliath. Her angled head tilted, lowering to see him. Crispin tried not to step back. Alice had been right. He was only as tall as her snout was long. She could have swallowed him like a pill.

Crispin couldn't keep his eyes off of hers. Her gaze was lava, glowing, her enormous eyes with inhuman, oval pupils. Crispin swallowed with difficulty.

It was hard to see Sera behind the dragon's face.

The black dragon rumbled, gently, her nose very close to Crispin as she tried to greet him. Crispin was still trying not to feel so alarmed. She seemed twice as big as she'd been the day he'd first seen her in this shape. He was intimidated.

But he bravely stretched out a slightly shaking hand and pressed his palm over the dragon's snout. He clenched his jaw. It was like touching a hot stove. It was a huge effort to keep from taking his hand back.

The dragon's scales were soft to the touch, and very smooth, but sturdy. She was dense and solid. He could feel her strength like a warm mountain. She purred, deeply, sending tremors through his body. Crispin swallowed, again.

"Sera?"

The dragon closed her glowing, lava eyes. She shifted slightly, the heavy talons on her rear legs ripping up the turf as though it were only loose snow. Her head stayed stable, Crispin's hand on her nose.

And then there was a painful little snap. It felt like someone had just given him a static shock right between the eyes. It made his ears crackle. Crispin yelped, jumping back in alarm.

Oops. Sorry. I forgot to warn you.

"Sera?!" Crispin gasped, reeling. He rubbed his ears. "Ow! What was that?"

I could use my physical voice to talk with you, Sera mused, her mental voice ringing in his head. But you wouldn't understand dragon-speech. And it's REALLY loud.

"How—wh—you can use telepathy?"

Duh. Where do you think this trope came from, silly? It's in every fantasy story, right? The dragon rumbled, deeply, her long tail flicking. She tucked her enormous limbs close, settling down onto her scaly belly. This ability is a retained power that all dragons carry over from the Matriarch. Most of us never use it. We can understand dragon-speech in both our forms, after all. Usually there's no point in telepathy.

Sera's sapphire-blue sister emitted a low, pulsing groan that vibrated Crispin's head and made it feel like it was full of jelly. Sera breathed a low hiss, shaking her heavy, angled head. What the two dragons were saying to each other was beyond Crispin. It seemed the telepathy really was necessary. He rubbed the spot between his eyes where the link had stung him when it had been formed. This was a shamanistic magic. Something much older than any of them.

Fascinating.

But weird.

Sera stretched out her neck to put her nose close to Crispin again. Her breaths were hot, like getting blasted by the heat from a furnace. Her long, whipping, forked, black tongue suddenly shot out and lashed him lightly across the middle. She emitted another huge, happy purr.

You smell good.

"Erm." Crispin didn't know what to say. For all too long, it had been Sera who had smelled temptingly good to him. "Dragons don't eat vampires, right?"

Sera snorted. The blast of hot wind scattered Crispin's hair all over. Of course not. Your bodies are practically devoid of anything edible. Nasty.

She had a point. Crispin patted the end of her long, smooth snout. She was still incredibly hot to the touch. Her glossy scales were very shiny. He could see his reflection in them.

Jasper had made a hesitant approach by now. He stood nervously near Crispin, staring up at Sera's bristling crest of frills. "That is … her, right?"

"Yeah. I guess so." Crispin spread his hands over Sera's snout, cringing, trying to get accustomed to the heat. Sera's voice in his head was helpful. It made her seem a little less alien.

"Huh," said Jasper, still staring. Sera turned her angled head toward him and he stepped back a pace or two. Her shiny black tongue flickered in and out a few times. Crispin stared in fascination as her throat undulated gently with the motion.

He smells like … some kind of flower, she mused.

Crispin barked a laugh. It wasn't a humorous laugh—it was just stunned.

The rest of the family was making its way over. The two huge dragons were lounging in the grass, watching the vampires wandering around them like beetles. Sera greeted each of them as gently as she could, tasting the air with her long shiny tongue and touching them with her snout if they'd let her. Most of the vampires winced and backed away from the radiating heat that boiled from her body. Jacob put a hand on the end of her nose and gawked. "She's warm!"

It hadn't occurred to Crispin that Jacob wasn't used to feeling another person as being warm. His own body temperature was so high that ordinary humans had to feel cool to the touch. Sera, the living furnace, on the other hand …

Sera sneezed. The sound was like a cannon blast, and her nose punched a hole into the ground. Jacob scrambled back. Crispin massaged his ears. He'd luckily been standing by Sera's shoulder, and therefore hadn't been flattened. "Whoa, Sera."

Sorry. Sera tilted her head and examined the crater in the turf. I guess we've put a few holes in this meadow, now. She turned her flexible neck and looked behind her. Crispin thought of her powerful talons. She'd ripped long gashes into the earth like the furrows put in by a plow.

"It's alright," said Crispin. "We can fix the meadow to cover up the evidence. We've got plenty of time."

Sera rumbled a deep purr. She sighed heavily through her long snout, and rested her head on the ground. Crispin sat himself by her snout and leaned back into it. It was still incredibly hot, but he was slowly getting used to the temperature. Her huge head made a nice, sturdy backrest. Alice came to them like a ballerina on her toes. She sat beside Crispin and patted Sera's scaly snout.

"I like this form," she told the dragon. Sera made a low series of deep coughs that Crispin realized were some kind of dragon laughter. Alice beamed. "Will you carry Crispin through the air to go hunting today?"

Crisipn gave Alice a look of alarm. Sera spoke into his head. Possibly. If he dares try it. She rumbled a playful purr. There was a mighty smash, which made all of them jump. Sera's flicking tail had just felled a tree as thick as a school bus. The dragon emitted a low, gravelly sound. Dang it. Crispin, tell the others to stay away from my tail. It's for their own safety.

"Um …" said Crispin, weakly. "Sera says to stay away from her tail."

"Don't need to tell me twice," Jasper muttered. He sat beside Alice, hesitantly leaning back against Sera's heavy, angled head. "Crispin might be able to hold onto her if he sits in the crook where her neck meets her shoulders. It won't be easy to hold on during fast flight. Wind is stronger than you might think."

"I—I don't think that's a good idea," said Crispin, feeling like his insides were turning into noodles. His mind flickered to the vision Alice had once witnessed of him perched atop a black mass like a mirror. The idea scared him. So soon? He'd barely known Sera was actually a dragon for a few days. He definitely wasn't ready to be some dragon-rider.

Sera purred at him. She lifted her head, taking away their convenient backrest, and playfully nudged him with her snout, shoving him over into the grass. Jasper and Alice quickly got to their feet so she wouldn't accidentally crunch them. Crispin looked up into her glowing, fiery eyes. She tilted her head, sticking her long tongue out. I wouldn't let you fall, Crispin. I don't think a fall would really hurt you, anyway.

"Well, I could break apart if I hit the ground from that high," Crispin argued. "I'd really rather not."

"Aw, c'mon, Crispin!" Emmett marched over and grabbed Crispin's arm, dragging him up to his feet. "Where's your sense of adventure? So what if you lose a leg or something? You could just reattach it."

"Emmett!" Crispin growled. "I really don't think I'm ready for that." Truth be told, he was far more concerned about his head getting broken than his leg. He wasn't sure how having a sorely damaged skull would impact him on a mental level. And he definitely couldn't afford to lose any brain function.

Sera blew a hot breath of air over Crispn's head, sending his hair all over his face. It's okay. I won't make you. We can race! You run, I'll fly.

Crispin smiled slightly. "Well, you already know you can beat me by a mile in a race, so …"

Correction: hundreds of miles. Sera chuffed like a steam engine again. Hahaha! Her forked black tongue dabbed him on top of his head.

The sapphire-blue sister rumbled. Then she tossed her horned head and emitted a short, deafening roar. Sera replied with a long wail that made Crispin's ears crackle. Arina wants to fly! Let's go!

With that, Sera shifted her weight onto her haunches. She stood, her weight resting on her feet and the wrists of her wings. Then she reared back. The huge, void wings whooshed open, the wind flattening the grass, and the whole meadow was plunged into shadow. Then she lunged into the sky. The wind blasted all of them over. Those who were sitting down didn't have far to fall, but Crispin and the others who stood were flung backwards. Not even a vampire could fight against the powerful wind. Neither could a few of the meadow's dead snag trees, which fell over with mighty smashes.

Crispin didn't bother get up. Not until after Sera's sister had gone, too, blowing Emmett over a second time and smashing a few green pines by accident with her long, whipping tail. Only then did Crispin push himself up. He laughed a little. "Whoa!"

The dragons soared away on their massive wings, goliaths in the sky. Sera led the way, following the directions that Crispin had pointed out to her earlier. It didn't take them more than thirty seconds to pass the edge of the trees, and they roared in unison as they zoomed over the fields. As he started running to catch up, Crispin could hear the rumble of a thousand hooves. The elk were running. Not that it would save them.

He hoped the dragons didn't start torching the fields. He wasn't sure what to expect from them as they hunted.

When they came upon the scene, there was no carnage. The dragons hadn't pounced on the massive herd of fleeing elk. They soared around the herd, bellowing and thundering and screaming, playfully chasing the animals in circles. They were herding the elk, not eating them. Good thing, Crispin thought, watching the prey with sharp golden eyes. Makes them easier to catch.

It had been wise to move away from Kellogg. The dragons' voices were so incredibly loud. The roars, screams, and bellows would carry for miles.

Rosalie wasted no time. As soon as she'd realized what was going on, she raced past Crispin and out into the fields. As usual, she was beauty and grace as she hunted. But Edward quickly caught up to her, as powerful a runner as he was. They plunged into the already-panicked herd and selected their appetizers, felling animals and pausing to feed as the herd plowed senselessly on. The dragons swooped overhead, screaming up a storm and flattening the trees as they turned and spiraled in the sky. Crispin gazed upward in awe.

They were far more agile in the air than he had expected them to be. Their size didn't seem to hamper them at all. Sera shifted away from the herd and soared in Crispin's direction, wings spread wide. The sun was blocked out as the obsidian she-dragon passed overhead. Her vast, membranous wings dwarfed her lean, serpentine body. It had seemed impossible that she could be bigger than she already was, but her wings made her look three times more massive.

Aren't you coming? Sera's voice asked playfully in Crispin's head. The elk are going to get away.

I wasn't all that thirsty anyway, Crispin thought, staring in awe as his dragon girl carved a sweeping turn and focused on him with her fire-and-cinder eyes.

I suppose you did eat just a couple days ago, Sera mused. Crispin blinked when he realized she'd heard his thoughts.

Aren't you going to hunt? he wondered of her. She whirled overhead, back in the direction of the elk herd that her sister was still messing with.

I'll take the bodies of the elk you leave behind. No point in letting them go to waste.

Emmett paused to slap Crispin on the back as he ran by. "Yup, she's kinda scary," he said. "Good thing she likes you, or we'd probably be done for."

Crispin snorted faintly, but Emmett was already dashing off to take his share of the elk. They had almost been done for regardless of how Sera felt about him. Crispin saw for a moment in his mind's eye a sky filled with raging dragons and fire, and he shuddered. Even though he felt small, he knew there was no hiding. Sera's dragon eyes were more powerful than that of any eagle. The family would have been mice beneath the gazes of predators who far outmatched them in sheer destructive power.

And he hadn't even seen Sera attempt to kill something, yet. He didn't know all that she was capable of.

A few other family members chose to take prey, but most of them were well-fed and didn't need it. Soon, the two dragons let the tiring herd escape them. Sera came to land by Edward, who had brought down and drained three elk. The mighty wind of her wings threw grass and dirt into the air, and the earth shuddered when she slammed down. Crispin trotted over as her huge head hovered over Edward, who looked mildly alarmed to find her inspecting him so closely while he was crouched a bit protectively over his last prey item.

Hmm … they're about the right size, she said. I wonder what bloodless elk will taste like? Then she chuffed a low dragon laugh. I promised you'd see how a dragon feeds on suitably sized prey, Crispin. This is how.

Her huge jaws parted wide. Edward bolted when he saw the rows of gleaming teeth and the scarlet glow in her throat that hinted at her inner flame. Sera's angled head launched down, and her jaws slammed heavily shut over the head of one of the drained animals. She lifted the massive beast into the air, threw it back into her throat, and slowly swallowed it whole. Crispin watched with his mouth agape.

Oh my, he thought.

Sera's throat undulated as her forked, ribbon-like black tongue flicked in and out a few times. Hmm. It doesn't taste all that different, she decided. She observed the second dead elk, and then lunged down and started swallowing that, too.

The sapphire-blue sister landed near Alice and Jasper, who had shared an elk between them, the equivalent of a small snack to a vampire. The vampire couple were lounging around after the meal, and Alice greeted Sera's sapphire sister with a laugh. The dragon gave Alice a sniff, and then picked up the dead ungulate and tried to swallow it like her elder sister had done. But Arina was a little too small for the huge bull elk. She dropped the animal with an annoyed grunt. Then she lunged down and savagely ripped it in two. The mess was spectacular. Crispin's vampire stomach curdled into a dumpling.

Oh, that was just disgusting. He had no interest at all in meat, just as he had no interest in human food. The sight of spilled innards was rather off-putting to him. It certainly didn't look like something to eat. The bloodless remains of the animal weren't appealing at all.

Between the two of them, the dragons consumed most of the elk that the family had brought down. Sera put down four, and her younger sister did three. Then the two lounged around in the wild grass, toying with the last elk—one of Rosalie's—like cats messing with a dead mouse. Sera turned onto her back, pushing the bulky, furry beast with her long snout.

Mmmm … stuffed, she said. Crispin approached her with a smile on his face. He came at her from the side, avoiding the thrashing tail, which moved at speeds that not even a vampire could hope to dodge.

"Well, you do make the cleanup easier," he commented, glancing at his father, Emmett, and Edward, who were digging a huge grave for the last elk among the trees far away. Crispin put his hands on his hips as Sera stretched herself out where she lay on her back in the grass, spreading her wings. She was long, thin, and lean, with a deep chest like a cheetah. A very scaly cheetah with wings and a fire burning deep in her center. Her huge wings dwarfed her body. She was built like a kite, meant for the air.

Crispin couldn't stop watching the glitter and shine of her obsidian scales. Even with the drizzling rain, she shone mirror-smooth. She was so supple and beautiful. He went to her head. Sera blinked her glowing eyes, looking at him upside-down. He chuckled. "You're adorable," he said. "In your own … terrifying way."

Sera emitted a gigantic, rumbling purr. Thank you.

Crispin put a hand on the end of her snout, wincing. Ow. Hot. He ran his hands along the solid line of her jaw. "So … what's with the glowing?" he asked, noticing that it shone between the dinner plate-sized scales that armored her neck. It shone between the surfboard-sized scales of her chest, too.

My fireheart, Sera replied. My soul, and the source of my power. A dragon's fireheart is what makes a dragon a dragon. I lost it, you know. After the accident with the truck. The trauma to my head did something. The obsidian dragon shuddered, closing her glowing eyes. I can't describe the pain and fear. I thought we were all done for. If you can imagine, it was like losing a limb. No, worse than that. It was much worse.

She sighed, heavily, blowing the grass with a huge, hot breath. Crispin carefully rested his cheek on the smooth underside of her jaw. It was going to take a bit for his body to adjust to the heat. "I loved watching you fly," he commented. "You're very graceful."

Sera purred. Crispin's whole body vibrated with the huge rumble. Aw, you're so sweet!

There was a huge snarl at that moment, and Crispin looked up sharply. Arina was crouched over the last dead elk, growling defensively. Carlisle and Emmett stood in front of her, looking wary. They were trying to fetch the body so they could bury it, but it seemed the sapphire-blue dragon was reluctant to let her gigantic, smelly toy go. Sera snorted and growled at her. The younger sister hissed irritably, grabbing the elk and slinking away, serpentine in the grass, dragging it with her. She walked on the wrists of her tightly folded wings, almost like a bat, but with far more grace and speed.

Sera snorted in amusement. Ah, let her have it. She'll get bored eventually.

"Sera says to let it go," Crispin said to Carlisle, laughing. "She'll let you have it later."

The vampire doctor walked to them, shaking his head. "Dragons," he said, quietly, marveling. Crispin smiled.

"Dragons," he repeated. The word was sweet to him, thanks to Sera. "It's wonderful. But still a little scary."

The doctor put his hands on the underside of Sera's chin as she lay on her back in the field. "Where does all this mass come from?" he asked her. "You don't weigh as much in your human form as you do in your dragon form. Where does the mass go?"

Mmmmm, the answer involves shamanistic magic and inter-dimensional stuff, said Sera. It's very complex. We learn about it in dragon school, though it requires an in-depth background knowledge of magic and physics. You wouldn't understand. Crispin will be able to tell you in a few years, after he's been educated on magic.

Crispin laughed and relayed the information to his vampire father. "Dragons must have to run on magic as a basic state of being," he said. "They're just not possible without something supernatural going on."

"Fascinating," Carlisle sighed. "This will be very exciting to unravel, won't it?"

You won't have to do too much unraveling, Sera said. We have textbooks and college courses.

Crispin drummed his fingers on Sera's chest. At that moment, Alice danced over with Jasper. She leaned against Sera's heavily muscled shoulder. "So."

Crispin squinted at her. She smiled, knowingly, and of course she was hiding something. He sighed. "I'm not gonna ask," he decided.

"I'm not going to, either," Jasper sighed, an exasperated little grin on his face. He rested a hand on Sera's shoulder. "But I do have a question. How does the fire-breathing work?"

Ah, this is easier to explain. Sera rolled over onto her belly carefully, making sure not to squash anybody. Crispin saw, out of the corner of his eye, Arina flinging her dead elk into the trees like a frisbee. Did all dragons play with their food? Sera snorted. No, that's just Arina. She's still young, of course.

The obsidian dragon shook out her frills. Our flame comes in a liquid form, she said. We produce two separate chemical combinations that we eject from our mouths. The two solutions meet in the air and spontaneously ignite. The finished product is a fluid like flaming water. We call it "fire-nectar."

Crispin relayed the information to the others, and then clapped a hand over his forehead. "You'd be better off with modern napalm," he quoted. "Of course!"

Sera chuffed her steam-engine laugh, nudging him lightly with her snout. Yes, that's right. Our flame is essentially a kind of napalm.

"What are you … ?" Jasper raised an eyebrow. Crispin chuckled.

"When I first met her in the library, I was doing research on Alice's vision," he said. "I was looking for red fire, and she read the webpages over my shoulder. She told me to quit wasting my time on Greek fire."

You scared me, Sera recalled. Looking up red fire, of all things. My flame is red, you see. I see, now, Alice must have witnessed it in one of her visions.

The smile slid straight off Crispin's face. The other vampires stared at him. "What?" said Jasper.

"Oh," said Crispin, quietly. "Alice didn't see a volcanic eruption." He looked at his pixie-like sister. "You saw … Sera."

Alice's eyes widened. "That was her?!"

Sera hissed in alarm. What's going on? What did Alice see?

Crispin looked up at her, his stomach doing itself in knots. "A lot of fire," he said. "That's … that's really bad."

Sera growled, her scaly snout wrinkling as she showed teeth. I'd rather not spit fire around you Cullens, she said. Fire is a vampire's greatest weakness. If I'm spitting fire, it puts you all at risk. Only a terrible threat could convince me to do that.

Alice jumped to her feet. "You sure that wasn't a different dragon's fire?" she asked, urgently. "Someone else who decides to kill us all even though they're not supposed to?"

A dragon's flame is unique to each individual, Sera said. If the color you saw in your visions is right, then we can assume it's mine. With that, she opened her long, narrow jaws and arched her neck. Crispin stared as a flame burst to life in her mouth. It dripped rapidly into the green meadow grass, a thin, madly burning liquid that glowed the color of poppies. The searing heat washed over him in waves, and he backed up quickly. Great heavens, that was hot. The grass all around the flame for several feet curled up and died, and anything that touched the flame was cinder in an instant.

"Oh, that's hot," Edward suddenly whispered. He'd come to them, leaving Bella and the rest of his family, having heard their thoughts. "And red. Just like …" He and Alice shared glances.

"Is that the right color?" Crispin asked Alice. She nodded, looking a shade or two paler than usual. Crispin swallowed with difficulty. What his sister had witnessed was some Armageddon-level destruction. What could possibly drive Sera to such lengths?

Sera whined. She looked over at her sister and emitted a horrible-sounding, screaming roar. Arina looked up from the elk that Emmett was still trying to retrieve from her. She left it at once and came to them, her movements smooth and serpentine. She and her sister had a brief, deafening conversation. Meanwhile, the flame Sera had spat still burned, pulsing and searing. Crispin stared at the puddle of fire-nectar, his quick mind racing. He glanced at his siblings, realizing all at once that they were unusually quiet.

They were all focused on Alice. She was staring into the fire, her expression blank. She had become disconnected from the world … and that meant she was seeing something. Crispin clenched his teeth and stood very still, waiting. If he'd had a working heart, it would have been racing. Had the sight of the fire triggered something? It would not have been the first time that an external stimulus had triggered important visions for Alice. Crispin waited on baited breath, his gaze flicking from Alice to Edward and back again. Edward's face was difficult to read. His expression might have been something approximating horror. To Crispin's great alarm, his older brother turned and looked at him.

"What?"

Edward didn't reply, he looked at Alice again. It was very quiet—the dragons had stopped their deafening conversation and were watching. Slowly, Alice came back to the present world, and she looked at Crispin in fear and sorrow.

"We've got to move."

"What?!" Crispin demanded, more urgently this time. "What's going on?"

"Alice?" said Esme, worriedly. Her motherly side did not like to see her adopted children in distress, and everybody knew Alice always got the short end of the stick when it came to her visions. "Please tell us … what's happening?"

Alice took a slow, deep breath, closing her eyes. She turned to face Crispin full-on, and opened her eyes. Her gaze was sorrow and fear. She exhaled a short burst of breath with a single hated, demon word on her lips.

"Tavora."