The end has arrived. Long journey, but hey! I followed these guys through it. I'll leave it a little open, just in case I ever have the urge to write a sequel. Until then ... wow, I have a BOATLOAD of other story ideas to cough up. Stay tuned, folks.
It gave me a savage pleasure to destroy her.
I had waited too long for this moment. I had somehow managed to botch the job the first time around and, by the Sun Mother, that was not going to happen again! My little sister shielded the golden-eyed vampires with her wings, happily adding her glowing amber flame to my whirling scarlet. I let the fire-nectar pour from my jaws, watching the little simpering frame go down, crumbling away, purple ash on the wind.
Walk away from that, you witch.
I wanted to rage in my jubilation. I wanted to spit fire into the sky and roar. But the human town was much too close. It was surrounded on all sides by the sweeping forest, yes, but a roar from me could be heard for miles away, and to spit fire into the sky …
Well, it would take a blind human not to notice a display like that.
So I reigned in the flame. I commanded it. I restrained it to just a single raging, pulsing, whirling bonfire. That would have to do. Besides, if I let it get out of control, my golden-eyed vampires would pay for it with their lives. I couldn't afford that.
I snorted a final huge gust in my furious satisfaction. Ha.
Then I closed my eyes. The power of the Mother Sun already coursed through my veins, and I merely guided it in the right direction. I shrank swiftly, and, within a moment, stood again in my frail human shape in the pine-needle mulch. I watched the raging flame, pleased to let it burn, watching the purple smoke climb into the sky.
Technically, our job here wasn't over. They needed to burn the remains of the husks. Although the leftovers couldn't put themselves back together as the slaves were without wills of their own, it wouldn't do to leave them lying around. The remains wouldn't rot away. Humans would find them, and there would be quite a few questions about the strange stone-and-metal body parts.
Arina shuffled backward. It was a motion that dragon bodies weren't particularly well-suited to perform, but she wanted to keep the Cullens behind her wings. But they were already escaping from behind the shield, confident that the fire was under control. Some were running: Jasper, Rosalie, and Edward were among them. They were going to help fetch the remains of the husks that had been killed in various parts of the city. My Crispin came to me, bearing my robe. He kept a good distance from the fire, which was still dangerous to him, even though it was controlled in the little clearing. He smiled, though he seemed a little embarrassed. He couldn't seem to figure out where to focus his gaze while I was standing there in my birthday suit after my transformation. I couldn't help it. I laughed.
It was a weird feeling, this victory. I tingled with a savage joy. We'd won! And Crispin had wrenched that little demon's arm right off! He'd been so brave throughout the entire thing, executing his plan with a breathtaking exactness. I was just bursting with pride in him. I accepted the robe when he reached me, hardly even wasting the time to feel bashful at standing there without anything on. We'd won! Haha! I stood on my toes in an effort to give him a kiss, but the best I could do was reach the underside of his jaw. He still seemed to be having a hard time figuring out where he was supposed to look while I was undressed.
"Oh, you little genius, you!" I told him.
Ahem, said Crispin, finally looking down at me. He had on that if-vampires-could-blush expression, but his eyes were quite serious. "Sera, you should really—"
"Oh, that felt so good!" I reveled, haphazardly yanking my robe on, barely caring if I'd put my arms in the right sleeves. "I told you I wouldn't miss a second time!"
"Sera, my feisty thing," said Crispin, a little exasperated. He was trying to help me. I realized I'd been putting the robe on upside-down, and I was somehow trying to shove my arms into the pockets, not the sleeves. I blushed a little, but it was hidden under the flush of my victory. Crispin would never have to fear that little devil ever again. The job was finally done. Our secret was still preserved, and our mission together remained. I was ecstatic.
Crispin firmly bundled me into my robe, doing up the sash for me even though he didn't need to. I let him tie it before flinging my arms around his neck. He sighed, accepting the embrace, putting his nose into my neck. I let us stand there for a moment, enjoying it. He was sturdy as a vampire could be under my small weight, and he still had that wonderful Crispin-smell of honey bees and pine bark. There was a little smoke mixed in, but I was fine with that.
Crispin relaxed out of the embrace, letting me take my own weight back. He stood there, staring down at me, his brow slightly furrowed, his hands holding my elbows as I rested my hands on his chest. That was when I remembered: he was still sort of in pieces. The bits he'd had yanked out of his face, arms, and body were glaringly obvious, as they were meant to be. I sighed, reaching up to playfully stroke his rather badly-damaged cheek. I could see the vampire bones beneath the torn-away flesh.
"Yeah, we should fix that," I said.
Crispin smiled slightly, though it looked a little painful. Although he was a vampire, to lose pieces of his body still hurt him. It was a sacrifice he had chosen to make to help ensure that Tavora would fall for his trickery. "Yes, let's fix this," he agreed, putting a hand with several missing fingers up to his cheek.
"Here's the fix," said Dr. Carlisle Cullen. He was approaching us with a small fireproof safe in his hands. Although it was made of metal two inches thick, the vampire doctor carried it as though it were made of feathers. He set it on the ground so he could work with it, busily putting in the combination on the small built-in keypad. He popped it open and sat cross-legged. Crispin sat gratefully in front of him, and they started taking all the missing bits and pieces out of the safe, sticking them back on in the appropriate places. Crispin had wisely kept all the torn-off parts safe from the flame and any other potential damage. Just in case I got a little out of hand in my excitement to burn my victim.
I sat down in the mulch with them to watch the process in fascination. I had only ever seen the re-attachment process done under lab conditions. The vampires were careful to put everything back in the appropriate orientation, and muscles, sinew, and bone rearranged itself into the appropriate configuration. Dr. Cullen took great care in replacing the torn-off pieces of Crispin's face. It relieved me to watch his pale vampire skin knit itself cleanly back together. I hadn't been very happy with Crispin's plan to mutilate himself. He'd tried to convince me that it was the equivalent of stage makeup, but I knew how much it had hurt to change his appearance like this.
Still, he'd had a point. Vampire eyes were very keen, indeed. To fool Tavora, his injuries had needed to look as authentic as possible. We'd done our best around the constraints: we hadn't dared burn any part of him, even though it would have added significantly to the authenticity. It was a vampire's greatest weakness. A burned body part could not be restored. Fire to vampires was permanent.
Crispin took one of the scarlet contacts out of his eye, sighing. "I was worried she'd see the contacts right away," he admitted. "I was hoping the excitement would distract her enough."
"Well, it worked," I said, reaching up to scoop his head into my hands. He turned to me with a smile, one eye golden like sunshine through honey, one eye a very fake ruby red. I chuckled, and gave him a quick peck on the lips. Gosh, I was still bursting with pride and joy. "Your plan was genius. I'm so proud of you. You were so brave."
A shiver passed down Crispin's spine. "When I think of how risky that was," he said, weakly. "The odds weren't very good, admittedly. So much could have gone wrong."
"But it didn't," I said. "You were too smart for her. She couldn't get her hands on you."
I paused when a few of the other Cullens made their return. Emmett was with Jasper. They carried a bunch of pale vampire body parts. These were added to the bonfire, and the amount of purple smoke doubled. I sat back with a smile, watching the flames.
Jasper sighed, crouching beside us and shaking his head. "It's nice to burn that blood away," he said. I winced sympathetically. According to Dr. Cullen, Jasper was still new enough to the vegetarian lifestyle that he suffered great temptation when exposed to human blood. He was still very sensitive to it.
"Agreed," Crispin sighed as he took the other contact out of his eye. "That was awful. It's good I was freaking out so much. It was easier to resist temptation."
"It was a clever touch," said the doctor. He closed the door of the safe and paused to help Crispin carefully reattach his last missing bit: a pinkie finger. "Even if it was a little risky. Every bit of distraction was helpful."
"Good thing we have plenty of human blood just hanging around," Emmett joked. "What would we do without donated blood, eh?"
Crispin flexed his fingers, rubbing his knuckles hard so they cracked. "That's better," he sighed. He settled into my side cross-legged. I leaned delightedly into him. A moment later, Alice entered the clearing with Edward and Rosalie. They bore more enemy vampire body parts, and all the junk went into the fire. Emmett was grinning as Rosalie praised him for bringing down the burly husk by himself. Alice came to Jasper, grinning viciously.
"I told you it would work."
Jasper sighed, smiling. "I know. You did."
"It was still a little tight," Crispin commented, resting his elbows on his knees as the blaze of my scarlet fire shone in his honey-gold eyes. "Let's never do that again. Too much was left to chance. It was sheer luck we succeeded the way we did. I mean, I only calculated the possibility of success to be—"
"One hundred percent!" said Emmett, loudly and boisterously. "We won!"
Crispin sighed. I patted his knee.
"You were so brave," I told him. "I'm so proud of you!"
Crispin smiled, shaking his head a little. "I sure didn't feel all that brave," he muttered. "That was terrifying."
"Added to the authenticity, though," said Jasper. He looked a little pitying. "You could smell the fear a mile away. I think it pulled her in even more."
Crispin sighed, massaging his forehead. I put an arm around him and rested my head on his shoulder. He leaned gently into me, and I felt his ribs expand with a deep, calming breath. We sat together and watched the fire rage.
We had dinner at the Cullen house. The vampires were happy to make use of their kitchen. My Great-Aunt Fio chatted happily with the doctor and his mate while helping them cook, and my parents watched in amazement as Crispin laid out his fountain pen collection on the table for our viewing pleasure. I happily sorted through his pens, adding my Neptune's Pearl to the lineup just for fun. I kept my ankles crossed beneath my chair as I sat beside my favorite vampire. The Cullens were meandering about, talking to each other and helping with the food, mingling with my family as though we'd all known each other for years.
Well, almost. My dad still seemed a little tense, and my mom didn't seem to know quite what to do or say. It would still take time for everyone to get used to each other. I showed Crispin's pen collection to my dad and tried to help distract him from his nerves.
Crispin demonstrated his perfect figure-eights in a notebook, and I watched his perfect hands a little hungrily. His golden eyes didn't miss it, and he laughed at me. "Come, now, you can't have dessert before dinner," he told me, playfully. I flushed furiously as my parents cast me looks with raised eyebrows. My dad's gaze burned.
"Crispin!" I complained.
He chuckled again, handing me his pen and scooting the notebook over to me. "Just sayin'," he said, innocently, though he looked a little worried when my dad's eyes bored holes into his face. "Just a joke … I was only teasing …"
My great-aunt Fio came to the table and set a platter of roasted, spiral-cut ham in the center of the table. Mmmm, meat! Crispin observed it with his head tilted, and I smiled. "Not appealing to a vampire, is it?"
"I mean … it looks very nice," said Crispin, shyly. "It just doesn't smell good."
"That's alright," I said. "I'll have your portion." He rolled his spectacular honey-golden eyes with a small smirk.
Aunt Fio settled into a seat near us with a laugh. "Ah, you two! Perfect couple if I ever saw one. The Matriarch did good. So, when are you going to have the wedding?"
Crispin and I both exploded into a cacophony of rebuttals as my face burned furiously. Aunt Fio laughed aloud. "Oh, it's gotta happen someday!"
"Oh, I love this part!" said Alice, suddenly, and she plopped into a seat across the long wooden table from Crispin and I. She put her elbows on the tabletop and linked her fingers together, beaming all over her perfect vampire face. "Planning the wedding is the best! I could have a dress made for you, Sera. We have sooo many designs! And the cake! And we need to get you a bridal shower gift!"
"And let's not get ahead of ourselves!" I insisted, still flushed with embarrassment. "We haven't even decided which tradition we're going to follow! Dragons weddings are nothing like yours."
"I have to seal the binding," said Aunt Fio. "It won't be official otherwise. And we didn't even have a proposal ceremony."
"We can't do a proposal ceremony," I said, immediately worried. "We can't bathe Crispin in fire, obviously."
"Can't what?" said Crispin in alarm. "Please tell me that's not part of the wedding, too."
"Well …" I drummed my fingers on the tabletop. "We'll just have to do the wedding without that part."
"Hey, we could still do the fireworks," said my little sister, sounding quite cheerful as she brought a massive bowl of garlic-butter potatoes to the table. "Like what they had when our cousin got married. That was my favorite part."
"And we can't do it without a wedding feast," added Mom. "Even if the vampires can't eat it. They'll just have to be patient until the week is over."
Crispin tilted his head slightly, narrowing his eyes a little. I scowled. "Do you think you guys would be okay with hanging around for a week during the feast?" I asked him.
"This … goes on all week?"
"The whole wedding lasts all week."
Crispin looked tired at the very thought of that. "I think I'd rather do it overnight," he said. "Human weddings sound easier."
"That's it?" said Arina, looking disappointed. "Doesn't seem like much of a celebration. Maybe we can split it fifty-fifty and have a feast that goes, like, three or four days."
"But this is a huge deal!" said Aunt Fio, her lightning-blue eyes very wide as she tried to make her point. "Think about it—a marriage between a vampire and a dragon. This will go down in history! And it's the start of the New Dawn. We should make the feast go for two weeks, at least."
"Guys!" I cried, helplessly. "Guys, slow down. Maybe Crispin and I should talk about this with each other before you all go planning our wedding without us."
"I second that," said Crispin, quickly. "Let's find a different topic of conversation." He selected one of his pens off the table and handed it to me. "Do you like this one, Sera?"
It was a good attempt. The others all looked at us, bemusedly.
Fortunately, Edward chose that moment to rescue us from any more of the topic of weddings. He came to the table and leaned on it, bracing himself up with his hands. "Yes, let's talk about something else more important. That prophecy. When we visited your Matriarch, she talked about some 'New Dawn.' And you mentioned it before that, too. What is the New Dawn?"
I paused to consider the right words. Crispin tilted his head to see my face and I examined his honey-golden eyes. He poked his tongue out of the corner of his mouth for a minute, and then said, "'There shall be a final Chaos?' I remember that part. And she gave us a command to gather other vampires who won't prey on humans any more."
"She did," I said, and I put the cap on Crispin's pen so it wouldn't dry out. "I'll try to explain. The Matriarch set us up to fall in love because she foresaw the day when you golden-eyes would arrive. You're the New Dawn. If I'm getting it right … she's going to destroy all the vampires who won't choose to leave behind their ways of taking human prey."
The Cullens all glanced nervously at each other. Dad muttered finally, and Mom swatted his arm with a scowl. He needed to be a little more sensitive to the vampires in the room. Aunt Fio spoke. "That's right, Sera. That will be the final Chaos. Your job is to gather all those who are willing to become vegetarians. All else will be burned."
The Cullens all looked very worried, and rightfully so. I took a deep breath, reaching subconsciously for Crispin's hand. I instantly felt better when he gently took it.
"We're going to usher in an era of peace," I said. "At least as far as the vampires are concerned. Your kind won't kill humans anymore, not as prey. And you'll lead the vampire world instead of those creepy old ones."
"Now, hold up," said Emmett, abruptly. "We will? We'll be like the Volturi?"
"You will," said Aunt Fio. "Eventually. It'll be a couple of decades, of course. You still have to gather the others, first."
This statement was greeted by a brooding silence. Dr. Cullen finally murmured, "Oh, the irony."
"But, we can't—no way," said Emmett, looking alarmed. "We're just … us. We're not like the Volturi."
"We won't be like them," said Crispin. "Not power-hungry like them. But somebody has to show the others what to do if they chose to be vegetarians, right? And somebody probably still has to make rules."
"That's too weird," said Emmett. "We're not royalty."
"You will be!" said Aunt Fio, happily. She leaned over, grabbing the platter of ham and pulling it towards herself. She picked up a massive fork and started taking the pink meat apart. It fell easily off the bones, releasing a burst of delicious-smelling steam. "Eventually. Right now we should really focus on gathering the others. Wouldn't do to have them destroyed by accident, would it?"
"We can start with the Denalis, of course," said Alice, brightly. "All we have to do is introduce them to the dragons, and we're golden!"
We all looked at each other, bemusedly. That was much, much easier said than done. "I suppose we have to start somewhere," said Crispin. "We just have to … hope we don't end up burning down Alaska while we're at it."
"I solemnly swear not to burn down Alaska," I said, raising my right hand. It was only partially in joking. After my display earlier today, torching a whole valley out of the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, it was clear I needed to work on keeping my dragon strength under control. Crispin chuckled, getting the joke, rubbing circles on the back of my hand with his thumb.
"Let's not," he agreed. "The Denalis are our friends. They're almost like extended family. I haven't seen them much yet; I'm still pretty new."
"They're already vegetarians," Alice explained. "So it should be easy-peasy."
"Nothing is easy-peasy when it comes to dragons," I said. I paused to accept my plate from Aunt Fio. It was piled high with the meat from the bottom of the pan—my very favorite. I happily tucked in right away, starving after a long, stressful day. I hadn't gotten to eat since the elk from the forest earlier, and my fiery dragon power had burned that all away a long time ago. Crispin looked on, and he had a strange expression on his face like he was slightly ill.
Vampires weren't much for people food.
I sympathetically patted his smooth, lean arm.
"Tomorrow, then?" Edward prompted.
Dr. Cullen pulled out his phone. "I can let them know we're coming," he said. "We'll give it a night so our dragons can get some rest. We'll take it as it comes."
"Then we'll have to go to our friends," said Alice. She grinned. "Won't it be great to see Benjamin again?"
"Benjamin?" I wondered. Crispin shook his head.
"I can't help you there," he laughed. "Apparently there was a real to-do in Forks when Bella had Nessie. There was almost a battle. We needed witnesses to prove that Nessie wasn't a normal vampire child. I haven't met most of the others, but they were a lot of Carlisle's old friends and … stuff."
"You'll meet them soon," Alice promised, beaming around at all the dragons in the room with that confident optimism of hers. "They're not so bad, most of them. I mean, Vladimir and Stefan are kind of weird, I guess, but the others are alright."
"We could bring the rest of the shifters," said Jacob, suddenly. He came to the table with Nessie so he could join in the meal. He beamed. "They'd love to help. And it would be cool to introduce them to you guys, right? I mean, you're practically shapeshifters, too. Just … scaly. And scarier."
I grinned back at him. "Well, I'd like to get to know them," I said. "I'd want to figure out how your powers work."
"Me too," said Crispin, happily. He linked his fingers with mine. "And now I have a research partner!"
I beamed, leaning into his side for a moment. Then I added, "You still need to learn to read our language."
Crispin looked excited. "Then I'll be able to read your books," he said, eagerly. "Books I've never seen before! And your textbooks. Then I'll know what makes dragons tick."
I laughed aloud. "I'm going to have to rewrite some vampire textbooks," I said, relishing the thought of getting published. "They all went out of date starting when I met you."
Crispin rested his forehead on mine, his glorious honey-gold eyes glittering, that perfect smile on his lips. "And we'll have all the time in the world to do it," he said. "Together."
How could I resist? I placed a gentle kiss on his lips. "Together," I agreed. Now that I had him, I would never go anywhere without his hand in mine.