Tavora is back. And a certain obsidian-black dragon is ready to torch half the planet if that's what it takes to kill her.
The name hit Crispin like a stake to the heart. His breath caught and an instant sting of sharp panic blazed across his nerves. His hands clenched into fists and he felt himself go like a steel beam, frozen. Alice had spoken that word to him recently not long ago, when he'd stood in the clearing where Sera had first arrived. He'd been ripped from his thoughts on Sera by the name and by Alice's terrifying warning—that Tavora was gathering numbers of followers at an unusual and alarming rate. She'd been far away then. But now, Alice's warning was much less distant.
We've got to move.
That meant … that could only mean …
Edward put a hand over his eyes and took a steadying breath. "Why do they always have to have armies?" he asked, dejectedly. Crispin barely heard him. Memories were ripping into him, flashing across his mind's eye, blinding him to reality. The panic and fear ate deeper and deeper, like an acid that chewed through his flesh while he stood there, immobile.
Alice woke him from his frozen state of horror. She took his hand, and he jumped so violently he startled most of the rest of the Cullens and the obsidian dragon who stood beside them. Sera snorted in alarm. "I'm … sorry … I'm sorry," Crispin muttered, putting a trembling hand over his mouth. He hated this. He hated having this reaction to the memories that he'd tried to bottle up ever since his early days as a vampire. It made him feel stupid and weak, and he lost his grip on his mind, which he was sickened by. Sera growled, deeply. Her nose touched his shoulder, nudging him firmly even though she tried to be gentle.
Crispin, I can't keep up the telepathic connection, she said. Your panic is disrupting the magic.
Crispin took slow, deep breaths. Sera's hot breath on his shoulder and back helped him as he tried to pull himself to the present. Still, the memories of pain and fear and of being hunted flickered across his mind. The time, Sera saw those memories. And she didn't like it. She emitted a low, rumbling snarl, a sound that shook the ground. Even though she wasn't touching him, Crispin could feel the terrible heat of her internal flame rapidly increasing. Yelps from the Cullens surprised him, and he blinked his eyes open in time to see that the glow deep within Sera's body was getting brighter and brighter—fast. It shone between the heavy scales on her chest, and the air rippled with the heat. Crispin stepped back in surprise. Sera lifted her huge head, baring all her teeth.
Crispin cringed. His dragon girlfriend's mental voice was huge in his head, booming, which was extremely uncomfortable. The black she-dragon relaxed slightly, breathing heavily, her rows and rows of wolflike teeth still bared. Her thoughts descended into furious rambling in her native language, which sounded rough and harsh in Crispin's mind, like ancient stones on stones.
Alice took Crispin's hand again. He jumped a second time, though not nearly so badly. Alice winced. "I'm sorry, Crispin," she said, softly. "We have to go. She has your scent, now, and she won't stop until she has you."
The panic rose up Crispin's throat again, cutting off breath and voice. He swallowed hard, fighting to hold onto himself, to hold back the anxiety. Alice looked sorrowful. She understood his pain, on some level. Although her human memories were faded, she still suffered from fears of the time she had spent as a caged animal, enduring shock treatments for what they had thought was a mental illness. She had wasted away under the cruelty for a very long time before vampirism had freed her. Residual fear lingered in her deepest instincts.
"We don't need to leave," said Emmett, abruptly. Everybody looked at him. He stared at them all. Then he gestured with a heavily muscled arm at Sera, who was still seething. The grass all around the dragon had melted away. "We have her! So what if that … witch has an army? We have a freakin' dragon. Two of them!"
Crispin looked at Carlisle. He wasn't thinking straight in this state, but he didn't feel right about something, though he couldn't put his finger on what. His first instinct was to trust his father. Carlisle was looking at the two dragons. Arina was looking back at them all in some confusion, shooting sideways glances at her livid sister, who was paying attention to no one. The younger sister, of course, did not know about Tavora or her powers, and had no grasp of the severity of the situation or of Sera's anger.
Carlisle spoke slowly. "We do have the dragons," he said. "But we have to make sure that we aren't anywhere nearby if they use their fire. What if we get a head start on Tavora and leave the dragons here? They can intercept her, assuming she doesn't suspect them somehow."
"Um …" said Alice, softly, and Crispin gave her a look a split second before an explosion of furious snarling turned them all around.
It was Jacob. His clothes were in tatters all over the ground, and he stood in his cinnamon-pelted wolf form almost a quarter of a mile away, his hackles raised, teeth bared into the trees. He was protectively placed in front of Renesmee, and Bella stood nearby, her gaze sharp and focused as she quickly reached out with her powers to protect her family from unknown vampire abilities. Under the canopy of pine needles at a far edge of the wild field stirred a massive coven of vampires. They'd lined up like soldier ants in a line, staring at the family, faces void of expression. Crispin's stomach attempted to throw itself up his throat. His eyes darted wildly across the tree line as he counted. There were at least thirty. No, there were more. They appeared slowly, creeping into view, melting out of the shadows.
"Crispin," said Carlisle, and the doctor shifted quickly in front of him to hide him. "Get out of here." The others shifted into fighting stances, snarling, growling, ready to fight. But Crispin couldn't move. He was frozen again, rooted to the spot.
But there was one person who definitely wasn't rooted. Sera. She turned, parted her jaws wide, and roared. Crispin finally moved, clapping his hands over his ears. It was like standing beside a jet engine at takeoff—agony, just as it had been the night she'd left him.
Then Arina suddenly lurched into action. She moved at shocking speed, a huge gallop that shook the earth. The sapphire younger sister emitted her own jet-engine roar that shook needles from the trees. Sera screamed at her, flinging her head sharply to the side, flaring her frills.
And it became immediately obvious that Arina, young and inexperienced, had made a fatal mistake. The army of vampires under the trees bolted in every direction. Crispin's sharp eyes thought he saw a flash of perfect blonde curls and freckles—Tavora—but then the sight was lost as the shadows surged with motion. The young blue dragon reached the trees too late, and the amber flame that exploded into the air reached nothing. Sera screamed up a frantic storm, thrashing in panic as her head whipped from side to side, tracking the army that was racing toward them on all fronts. Her dangerous jaws parted wide as she backed up, trying to hide the family behind her wings. The Cullens were forced to scatter as she nearly trampled on them by mistake.
Then the army exploded upon them. The Cullens lunged into motion at once, tearing into the enemy with all the skill born of years of work and practice. Crispin dodged Sera's sweeping tail and cried out in pain as one of the burlier vampires in the army slammed him to the ground, knocking the air out of his hollow chest. The soldier pinned him, and Crispin looked for a split second into the eyes of a soulless husk, a body without a mind, slave to its master.
Then Alice saved him, lunging upon the mindless husk like a tiny—but very effective and angry—wildcat. Crispin pushed himself backward, scrambling on the ground like a crab, cursing frantically. He was hopeless in a battle. No fighting experience at all.
Sera was screaming her head off. The cacophony was deafening, disorienting. Crisipin wasn't sure it was helping. It didn't seem to bother the soulless soldiers at all. They didn't react to any kind of pain. He scrambled to his feet and ran toward the black dragon, the panic pulling him to her without thought. The ground shuddered under her huge footfalls and she roared at him. Her thrashing tail cleaved aside an entire grove of trees as she backed away. The soldiers were completely ignoring her. Of course they were! She couldn't hurt them as long as they were among the Cullens. Sera couldn't risk spitting her flame or using her whiplike tail as long as the family was in the way.
A soldier much stronger and faster than Crispin ploughed him over before he reached Sera. Crispin struggled, but the vampire was like a bear, with sixty times the strength, and his hands were an unyielding force, like trying to wrestle free of an unholy demon. The battle was a terrible cacophony. There were cries of pain, the metallic shrieking of vampire bodies being torn apart. Jacob was yelping. Crispin saw him—they were crawling all over him, a mass of stony vampire zombies all smothering the wolf together. They were hurting him! How many were there? Where was Nessie? She had to get away!
There was a high, girlish laughter. Crispin writhed in sheer terror, thrashing like a snake, his teeth bared as he frantically tried to bite. It was Tavora! Her voice chilled him to the core, sending needles of steely fear through his veins. The titan-like slave who wrestled Crispin seized him by the hair and twisted him, painfully. Crispin's face was in the dirt. He couldn't see! Sera's screaming took on a new note, and the blaze of red fire glowed through Crispin's eyelids even from behind the soil. He felt the heat raging over his body, and suddenly realized he might die. A jolt shook him—another vampire husk like a boar had come to the aid of the first one, and together they pinned Crispin on his back like a pack of bullies pins a ten-year-old.
There was Tavora. She stood over him with a sneering grin on her perfect, pouty-lipped face. She was like a porcelain doll, but wrapped in grey and the Volturi's colors, her perfect blonde curls spilling out from beneath a hood. She was so close. She could have touched him easily with an outstretched hand. Sera was going nuts. She couldn't hurt the little witch-devil, not when Crispin was so close to her. The ground shook violently and the forest burned like the surface of the sun as the dragon raged. The battle thundered on, out of Crispin's sight, his family fighting for their lives against an untold number of zombies who felt no pain or fear and who had no thoughts.
It was like the world moved in slow motion. Tavora's pale hand was reaching for him, a delicate chain bracelet around her wrist. Crispin threw his head back, desperate to keep his face away. She'd claim his soul! A fate worse than death!
"NOOOOOOOO!" Two voices cried out together. It was Alice, and Carlisle. Alice's scream was frantic and desperate—the doctor's was furious and it frothed with rage. Tavora's hand was a hair's breadth from Crispin's cheek when Carlisle exploded upon them like a mountain lion. Tavora shrieked in fury, her prize ripped from her grasp. The huge vamps who pinned Crispin released him in a flash, whirling to protect their master.
Crispin scrambled back, gasping, and saw Carlisle on his face on the ground. Tavora knelt beside him, panting, picking up her own hand which had been ripped off. In an instant, Crispin knew—Carlisle had been still for too long.
Something was terribly, terribly wrong.
"CARLISLE!" Crispin's voice cracked. The shrill fear that pierced his heart now was greater than any terror he'd felt yet. "DAD!"
Tavora looked up, her teeth bared in pain. Her ruby eyes met Crispin's and her lips twisted in a cruel grin. Crispin uttered a wordless scream of horror. Not Carlisle! She couldn't have taken him! Sera uttered an unearthly, banshee wail. She was in the sky, whirling overhead, helpless to save them when they were so mixed up in the fight. And the whole while, Dr. Cullen lay face down on the ground, unmoving.
A cry rose up out of the midst of the battle. Esme. As Tavora moved in toward Crispin, ready to kill, Esme came up out of the chaos like a rising dragon. A look that Crispin had never thought possible for her motherly face now marred her like a twisted scar. Tavora's mindless slaves fell before her like cockroaches fleeing the light. Esme's golden eyes locked on the monster who'd brought such destruction upon her family, and Tavora faltered. She was caught in the gaze of the vengeful mother, and things had just taken a turn. In an instant, Crispin felt a profound sense of sudden calm. His mother was here. It was all going to be alright.
Esme charged forward. One of Tavora's husk slaves tried to stop her—she tore the empty shell down with a primal savagery and plowed on, unhindered, barely slowing. Tavora whirled, golden curls flying, and she fled. There was a jolt. The army had faltered. The Cullen family took advantage of the brief instant of hesitation, ripping their way through their opponents and tearing loose from the binding grips. "Come on!" Jasper roared, and he turned to run in the opposite direction of Tavora. "Get out of the way!"
Get out of the way.
Crispin staggered to his feet. Esme had come to a halt beside her mate. She had her lips peeled all the way back from her teeth, panting, watching Tavora flee. Cispin could see the rage and fury. She wanted to chase the monster down. But there was no time!
"MOM!" Crispin screamed. "MOVE HIM!" He skidded to a halt and bent to grab Carlisle's unresponsive body. They had to move! The fire was coming! The remains of Tavora's army was fleeing, scattering to the wind. And the cries of the dragons changed their tones. Here came Edward. He bent to help, lifting Carlisle's body.
"Esme!" he cried. Here came Bella. She seized Esme's hand and pulled with all her strength, dragging the vampire mother away.
Then the fire came raining down. Crispin's face turned skyward and he stared openmouthed. The blue eagle-sized form that was Arina wheeled away, shrieking. Sera … she was changing.
Sera had once told him that dragons were born of the sun and the guts of the earth. As she came down like an apocalyptic hurricane of flame and fury, Crispin could see it. Fire poured from her mouth. It streamed off her canvas wings and blazed golden-hot in her heart, illuminating her from within. Red and gold raged forth from her, and the forest fell before her might. The sky was already blackening, the sun going dark as the smoke belched into the heavens. Lava fell in streams from Sera's mouth and the fire leapt up. It thundered and raged and roared with a life of its own, ripping across the earth with a speed that no vampire could match.
Crispin staggered. He'd been frozen, gaping in awe and fear. Now Alice had him by the wrist and was dragging him. She was screaming at him, but he couldn't hear a thing. The fire leapt into the sky, towers and walls of it. Crispin was drowned in the roar of the tempest. The heat scorched over him in massive waves. He felt like he was blistering before it, like he would crack and flake away under the power. He staggered after Alice, the smoke choking off his breathing, blindingly trusting her. She knew where she was going.
The flames thundered. They swept down the world on all sides, bringing all things to their knees. Crispin ran. Sera roared and the earth shook with it. The sun was gone. It was dark and it was light. The fire blazed, the blackness pressed in, thick as molasses, suffocating. The fire had a life of its own. It was like a conscious thing, a mass of energy that carried on the work of destruction, commanded by the dragon who had conjured it.
Suddenly, they came upon her—it was Arina. The sapphire-blue sister was crouched, hunched, her wings scooped around her. Alice dragged Crispin almost off his feet. She wrenched him to Arina and practically threw him under the canvas of her wings. She followed him in, and the younger sister sealed them off from the rage of the apocalypse, using her own head to close off the space between her wings. They were plunged into darkness. Crispin collapsed. The others were there, all the rest of the family. Jacob's singed fur reeked. They were clustered under the safety of the dragon's scaly body, the fireproof wings protecting them from the blaze. It flickered and roared beyond the membranes, glowing savagely, ravenous and raging. Renesmee and Jacob were both coughing, struggling for breath. Someone was faintly weeping. It might have been Esme.
Crispin sat up with difficulty and pushed himself back. He needed something solid. He needed to ground himself. His back rested against the underside of Arina's scaly chin. He leaned into it, gasping, reeling. The blue dragon whined, but she didn't move. She had to shield them. Crispin closed his eyes, clutching his burning throat. The smoke—it was awful. The earth was hot, conducting the terrible heat from Sera's fire. Crispin blinked watering eyes, and looked at his family. They were crammed tightly together beneath Arina's wings. They were holding each other. In the center of the bundle was Carlisle. Crispin didn't need to get a closer look to know that his adoptive father hadn't moved at all. Esme held him, her head bowed, her singed hair hiding her face. Crispin shut his eyes again.
He couldn't bear to think about it. Not now.