Story Time

Sera's going to have to apologize to a certain golden-eyed vampire of hers …

I should not have been surprised to find that it was raining again when we arrived in Kellogg. It had been cloudy and drizzly the day I'd left, and that hadn't changed since I'd been gone. The rain rattled furiously off our scales as we descended like storms of brimstone upon the forest. My sister's blue scales were sapphire-bright and shiny even though the sun wasn't out. I sincerely hoped we'd have no reason to get near the town. As much as I trusted Arina to adhere to her training, I wasn't sure she was actually ready for the field. It was a totally different experience from training.

She had attended human school several times before. It was custom for dragons to send their children to boarding schools while they were young so that they could learn to understand humans and their ways. It was part of preparation for the day that a young dragon would become a vampire-killer. And it was necessary to maintain our connection to the outside world. We had to stay up-to-date with human activity in order to keep ourselves secret.

So I had some confidence in Arina. She'd been among humans before, although this was still a completely different scenario. Besides, we were here, and there was no turning back now. I landed in the clearing where I had first arrived in Kellogg a little over a month ago. There was a gigantic crunching of branches and breaking trees, and my heart jumped into my throat. Oh, shoot. I'd forgotten. I tried to growl at Arina to stay back, but I wasn't quick enough.

She landed beside me in the trees. My huge body occupied the entire clearing, so she had no choice but to land in the woods. Trees went down with tortured shrieks against her steely blue scales, banging like guns as whole trunks snapped under her weight. I cringed, pressing the frills on my head flat. Shoot. We'd been trying to avoid making a scene. I snorted, wearily. My long, serpentine tongue flickered in and out a couple of times. It tasted like rain and good dirt.

I suddenly, stupidly wished that it tasted like Crispin.

Then I rolled my glowing eyes at myself. It would soon enough. I was utterly head over tail, and I was embarrassed at myself.

Arina made a big, happy dragon sound and tried to shake her bag of personal belongings off her neck. It caught on her horns and hung there by the strap. She growled, irritated, and I chuffed a low dragon laugh like a steam engine.

Field work not as simple as you imagined it would be, eh?

You're teasing me.

Yes, yes I am.

Arina growled. But she couldn't butt me with her angular, horned head until she'd gotten the bag with fragile objects in it off her horns. I knew this, and made it a point to quickly resume my mortal form to avoid the worst of her wrath. I shivered as the rain chilled my mortal flesh. Whoa, that was cold! I had an abrupt bout of déjà vu. I'd been here before, in nearly this exact situation. Alone, though. And I'd been planning on killing vampires, then, not finding the one that was my new boyfriend/mate.

I was glad things had changed. This was a different kind of happiness. It was no longer about prestige or showing off. It was about love.

I had to wait for Arina to shake the bag off her horns. Mine was still in this part of the world, at Crispin's house, where I couldn't reach it. So we'd packed something for me to wear, along with Arina's desired things, in her bag. I jumped in to dress myself as soon as I could access the bag, relieved to get out of the rain, pushing the bag up into a tent.

Arina joined me in the tent as I pulled on hiking boots, jeans, and a t-shirt. To the ensemble I added earrings and a necklace with a pale piece of fluorite as the pendant. Dragons liked to look beautiful. It was a certain weakness we all shared. That and our love of shining things. I tucked the necklace under the neck of my shirt. I didn't want it to snag on branches and get damaged.

Arina and I both pulled cloaks over ourselves as we began the trek toward Kellogg. Dragons had never quite fallen into the fashion of wearing raincoats. I had tried it once during training, when I'd attended boarding school in my human form. It was necessary to wear modern clothing when among the mortals, and a cloak was no longer the style. Still, raincoats bothered me. They were uncomfortably crinkly, and the rattling of even the softest of drizzles was a threat to my senses. I needed my hearing to be highly attuned while I was at work. Noisy rain on a plastic raincoat took that away.

Besides, cloaks were much, much warmer.

I pulled up my hood against the drizzle. Although the rain was softening and I wouldn't need to cover my head soon, I liked to restrain my long, glossy, black hair so it wouldn't tangle in the tree branches, which was all too common an occurrence without a hat.

I helped Arina drag her heavy dragon satchel-tent under the same knot of trees I'd used for my tent not many days ago. The plants were still crushed and flattened in the place where it had been. Once Arina's bag was settled, I started leading the way to Kellogg.

I was a little worried as I followed a moderately familiar path in the general direction of the small town. I remembered how Crispin had tried to follow me to the Alps. Had he managed to escape from his family after all? Was he maybe lost somewhere, wandering around trying to figure out where I'd gone while his family looked for him? Or maybe his family was still here, waiting for him to get tired and come home.

Hopefully the affection he felt for me hadn't addled his brains too much. If he were behaving like the Crispin I knew, he would still be at home. Angry, probably, but safely at home where he belonged.

I'd have to locate the Cullen residence from Kellogg. I couldn't remember the exact way to it from here. It had been extremely dark when we'd come to the clearing after the conference with his family, and I'd come most of the way in Crispin's arms with my eyes tight shut while he ran at breakneck vampire speed. I simply could not recall the direction we'd come.

"So, these vampires," said Arina as we marched painstakingly through the woods. "What's the proper way to talk to them?"

I pursed my lips, thinking about it. We'd discussed my new vampire friends on the way while in flight, and now that things were getting down to the quick, we needed to make a game plan.

"I don't know," I admitted. "I'm not sure how to talk to … all of them. I've only talked to Crispin, really. I met the others for about two seconds before I came home."

"Hmm …" Arina had her brows knit and looked worried. I shrugged and hauled myself with a great deal of effort over a log.

"I guess just … talk to them like they're normal people. That's how I talked to Crispin. After a while. Once I could see him properly." I grabbed my sister's hand and helped drag her over the log, too. "It's going to take some getting used to. The gold eyes really help."

"You've said that a lot," said Arina, frowning. I chuckled.

"Yeah, well, I mean it. Those eyes are all the difference. It makes them look so much more beautiful. They turn from demons to angels."

"If you say so."

"You'll get it when we see them," I assured her.

Fortunately, we didn't have to plow through the forest all the way to Kellogg before help arrived. I heard Crispin yelling my name several seconds before he came upon us. My spine tingled, wildly, and I stopped walking at once upon hearing his voice, my heart rate shooting up as chills passed through my whole body.

Whoa. I had not expected to feel so good upon hearing him again.

It took me a second or two to remember that I was supposed to open my mouth and yell back, but by the time I'd started doing that, he'd arrived. He skidded several feet, sliding past me from the speed at which he'd been running, and thumped into a tree. Then he turned and dived toward me with a joyful cry.

"Sera! You're back! I found you!"

And, in an instant, I was embraced in his solid arms. I completely forgot about my sister for a moment and just buried my face into his chest. He held me close, resting one hand on the back of my head, pressing his cheek into my hair. "There you are, Sera. There you are."

I held on tight and squeezed my eyes shut. Oh my goodness … this was right. Yes, it was …

Then I came to myself. I stiffened slightly and my eyes snapped open. "Uh … Crispin?"

"Mmm? Oh!" Crispin loosened his snuggle and tried to put a little space between our bodies. There was Arina. She was staring at the scene, gaping. Her eyes blazed like lava. The power of the Mother Sun was pulsing through her veins. I moved quickly to plant myself in front of my boyfriend, peeling my lips back into a warning grimace.

"Don't you even think about it!"

Arina stepped back a little, a look of nausea on her sharp brown face. Her every instinct was being turned upon. I knew to some extent how she felt. But we couldn't afford to have her explode. She would hurt my vampire. I growled, low and threatening. "Get a grip, Arina."

"I've got a grip!" my younger sister snapped. She took another couple of steps back, away from us both. Crispin was inching away, too. I hoped he was remembering my transformation from a couple of days ago and was thinking about running. As much as I didn't want him to go away, it might be better for him if he put some distance between himself and Arina. I shifted to make sure I stayed in front of him, watching my sister closely for any sign that she was about to slip. Her lightning-blue eyes flicked from me to my vampire. I could see she was studying him, closely. I tried to stay still, waiting for her to make her judgement.

Crispin was frozen for a moment. Then he cleared his throat and half-whispered, "Ah … hi, there. I apologize … I might've … gotten a little overexcited. I forgot my manners."

Arina didn't reply to him. Why should she? He was a vampire. By the logic that had been ingrained into her being, she didn't need to respond. But her eyes flickered over his body, shifting to his face repeatedly as she tried to see something about him that was unlike what she expected. She kept focusing on his eyes, recognizing that they were unusual. Otherwise, she didn't look particularly impressed. I wasn't surprised at this. I hadn't thought he was really beautiful until I'd started to break down my internal wall against vampires.

As the uneasy silence stretched out, Crispin seemed to be having a hard time deciding between me and running away. Eventually, I stepped back, closer to him, and reached out for his hand. He took it, and I relished the feeling of his cool palm against mine. Arina stared.

"Hey, I warned you," I reminded her. "The whole I'm in love thing? Remember?"

"Yeah. It's still weird."

"And you will not hurt him."

Arina put her hands up. "I won't, I won't. He just startled me."

I gave Crispin's hand a squeeze. He let out a nervous little laugh. "So, ah … I'm not in trouble?"

I couldn't help the great big smile that made its way over my face. I turned to him, stepped into him, and rested my head on his chest. "I'm so glad to have you back."

Crispin put his arms around me, shooting a nervous look at my sister. "So … who … ?"

I chuckled. "That is Arina'ardezure, my little sister."

"O-oh! So that's why she looks so much like you."

My sister made an unhappy noise. I smirked. She hated being called by her long full name. I nuzzled Crispin, sighing, breathing in his earthy-pine-honeybee smell. It just felt good to have him back. It felt good to be snuggled. I was glad he was alright. And, most importantly, that he'd be alright permanently, from here on out.

Crispin allowed me a moment to sit with him, and then he gently slid a hand under my chin and lifted it so he could look me in the eyes. "What happened, Sera? Are you okay? Are we … is it … ?"

I took a deep breath through my nose. "You know, it's a lot. Long story short, you're safe now. But maybe I'll save the details for your whole family. I'm sure they're worried."

"They are. Rosalie already started packing to move out."

I chuckled, slipping my hand into his. "Well, she can probably put just about everything back. But plan on a little traveling, anyway."

Crispins raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. I marveled at the look of his honey-gold eyes flashing in the sunlight that streamed through the trees. "So … is this a bad thing or a good thing?" Crispin asked, cautiously. I chuckled, standing on tiptoe, trying to kiss him. He was too tall to reach.

"It's a good thing, I promise."

Crispin smiled a little. He pecked my nose, his eyes darting toward my sister. Although it annoyed me that he was too cautious of her to kiss me properly, I couldn't deny that he was making a smart decision keeping things at the bare minimum. He was breakable, in spite of all the odds, and I could see he'd recognized that.

All the better. Poor, shatter-able vampire.

"I'm glad you came back," Crispin said, his eyebrows scrunching a little. "I missed you more than I thought I would. Maybe … possibly more than I should have."

I chuckled. "Oh, I can't help it, either. I'm totally infatuated."

Crispin laughed, too. "I don't think my family could stand my moping. I'm a bit ashamed. We'll have to work on that, I guess." He squeezed my hand lightly, making sure to be careful with my mortal form, recognizing his own vampiric strength put up against my living flesh. "So … are you sure we're okay? No fiery vengeance on our heads?" He shot another worried look at my sister. I patted the back of his finely sculpted hand, trying not to already be thinking of his handwriting.

"Don't worry. She's under orders from the Matriarch. You're all safe. I promise it." I paused, considering telling him more. Then I laughed at myself. "Look, I'll explain a little on the way, alright? We need to tell your family the good news."

"And … after that?" Crispin pressed. "Then what? You won't leave, I hope?"

I leaned on him. "I'll never leave again. Not if I can help it." I grinned up at him. "Come on. Let's go visit your very nice house. Maybe you can meet my true form properly afterward."

Crispin's golden eyes got very large and round. I wasn't certain what he was thinking, but I imagined it included some trepidation.

Well, he should be wary. Even if I wasn't trying to kill him, my draconic strength was still dangerous to him, just as his vampiric strength was dangerous to my human form. We could both understand that. I pressed into his side for a moment. "Let's walk." I glanced back at my sister with a devilish grin. She was watching the scene in utter astonishment, silent in her disbelief and complete bafflement. "Come on, Arina. You need to meet him properly. You'll feel better when you can get to know him, okay?"

Arina nodded, but she didn't say anything. I squeezed Crispin's hand. "So it was pitch black when we walked here from your house. You'll have to lead the way."

Crispin smiled and tilted his head in the appropriate direction. "Will you tell me some on the way?"

"I will."

We set off. The going was slow, as expected. My mortal form wasn't very quick. I felt even slower than usual compared to Crispin, but I didn't want to be in the sky so close to civilization if I could help it, so we'd just have to make due. Crispin helped me over logs and glanced behind us every once in a while at Arina. Whether he was afraid of her or just checking to be sure she didn't get left behind, I didn't know. Either thing was good.

On the way I explained in brief what the Matriarch had told me, the way that she'd set us up from the beginning. He snorted faintly in weary outrage at discovering that we'd been set up. When I softly told him why the old Dragon-Mother had neglected to explain what I was getting into before I'd come to Kellogg, he became especially quiet. It made me feel slightly ill, too. If I'd known what I was about to encounter before I'd come here, Crispin would have been nothing more than an experiment.

I couldn't even dream of such a terrible thing. Letting Grandfather have him … it was too horrible.

Crispin pondered on what the Matriarch had foretold for us and for the rest of his kind as we made our way through the woods. He seemed worried, and for good reason. It was a lot to think about, and our responsibilities seemed beyond measure. I squeezed his hand and leaned into him when there was a good flat stretch, blinking up at him. He glanced down at me out of the corner of his golden eye with a smile. "I guess we'll have to just … take it as it comes. What else can we do?"

"Not a lot." I shrugged my shoulders, and then climbed over a log with a grunt. Crispin stepped lithely to the other side with all the long-legged ease of a deer. His strong, white hands were there to help pull me over.

"Well …" Crispin sighed. "I'll do my best. Whatever's coming. Would you like some help?" He spoke the last sentence to my sister, who was trying to get over the log. She froze and stared at him, too stunned to say anything. Crispin cleared his throat, tucking his hands behind his back. "Oh … sorry."

I chuckled. "It's okay, Crispin. She'll figure it out. Remember where she's coming from, right? It's going to take time. Took me a few weeks, remember?"

Crispin licked his lips, worriedly. "So … would you like some help?" He tentatively offered his hands to Arina. She stared at those perfect, long-fingered white hands for at least three seconds before slowly taking them and allowing him to help her over the log. Crispin gave a small, awkward laugh. "Just as light as your sister," he commented. "Is there, ah ... any way I could help you see?" he asked, a little hesitantly. "Any way I could make it easier to understand?"

I giggled. "Yeah. Stay with me and we'll eventually get that journal of yours out."

Crispin whirled to look at me, slightly alarmed, and I was sure he would have blushed if he'd been able to. "What—why?"

I smiled. "Because, believe it or not, that cute little journal of yours is proof that you have a soul. All those little details, every thought and wish and musing, every bit is precious evidence."

Crispin looked helplessly embarrassed. I stood on my toes for a moment and pecked the underside of his chin, which was the best that I could reach, being as short as I was.

"I loved listening to you read. I wanna hear more."

Ahem, said Crispin. I giggled. Arina gaped in utter astonishment, and made not a sound.

We arrived at the house from the backyard. When we stepped out of the trees into the clearing, it became immediately obvious from the atmosphere that the entire family was on high-alert. The tension was nearly palpable. I hesitated as we left the woods, and Crispin paused beside me. Dr. Cullen stood in the doorway, looking small from this distance, worriedly waiting for his adopted son to come home. He stepped out and approached us at a light—but brisk—pace, not bothering to hide his concern. Crispin went to intercept him, glancing at my wary sister as he went.

The two vampires reached each other in the center of the vast backyard, and they talked quietly for a moment, too quietly for my ears to hear. I watched Dr. Cullen's countenance transform as he visibly relaxed, his shoulders settling down. Within a few seconds, he and Crispin were approaching us. I stepped back closer to Arina. "Arina," I said, clearly, "this is Dr. Cullen, the man who saved my life."

Arina became very still. She might have stopped breathing. A glance back showed me that her eyes were wide. I smiled at the doctor when he reached us. "Hello, Doctor."

"Hi, Sera." Dr. Cullen looked down at the two of us dragons in our little mortal forms, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Are you okay?"

I smiled broadly. "I'm more than okay. I feel amazing." Then I hurried to make introductions: "Sir, this is Arina, my sister. She wanted to see if I was telling the truth about all of you. It … might take her a little bit to get used to having vampires on our side."

Dr. Cullen's bedside manner came through a little as he bent slightly to see Arina better. "Hello, Arina. It's a pleasure to meet you." He held out a hand. This, Arina stared at in befuddlement. One did not shake hands with a vampire. Normally. I chuckled and lightly elbowed her.

"Come on. This is the man who started an entire family of golden-eyed vampires. He's not going to eat you."

"No, no, that's alright," said Dr. Cullen, smoothly, and he took his hand back. "I understand if you're a little wary. I've heard that you weren't raised to think of my kind as people. You don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with."

Well, it was very nice of the doctor to say such things to Arina. She, however, spoke up quickly for the first time in his presence. "Nonono, it's okay. I'm just … erm … getting used to this, still." She offered her hand, and, with a smile, the old vampire gently shook it. I smiled. That was much better. If only she could truly understand the significance. This was the Doctor Cullen! The vampire who had never once fed on human blood since the day he'd been born.

This was all going to take time. I'd have to wait for her to really start comprehending the details.

"I'd better go tell the good news to the rest of the family," said the doctor, softly, to his son. "Rosalie thinks she's going to move out and run away with Emmett."

Crispin smiled at his father with a surprisingly tired look for a vampire. He looked like someone who'd had an elephant lifted off his shoulders. Dr. Cullen returned to the house, moving at lightning vampire speed. My hand instinctively shot out to catch my sister in case she instinctively went supernova. She puffed when I smacked her chest and glared at me.

"I'm not going to blow up!"

I grimaced with some embarrassment and put my hand down. "Sorry. I know."

"You are acting a little protective of us," said Crispin to me, speaking gently. "It's okay, Sera. Have a little faith in your sister."

I figured he was probably saying it just to win some brownie points with Arina, and I hoped for his sake that it had worked. It stung a little. "Sorry," I said, gruffly, "I'm just thinking … I was in her shoes once, I remember how I felt …"

"I might be the impatient one," said Arina, "but you're the one with the explosive temper."

I blushed deeply. Crispin smiled and then laughed at the look on my face. He took my hand. "I love you, anyway."

"Thanks," I mumbled.

Crispin pecked the top of my head.

It wasn't long before the entire vampire family emerged from the house. They approached us cautiously, and I knew it was because Dr. Cullen had warned them of potentially volatile Arina. Jasper was the first to reach us with his adoptive father, his adoptive mother, and Alice, the one he was attached to. Alice surprised me by stepping forward immediately and taking my hands into her own with a beaming smile. "I'm glad you're here, Sera. We have so much to talk about!"

I reminded myself that she was the psychic and raised an eyebrow, grinning in spite of myself. "I'm curious to know what you've seen coming, especially in the past couple of days."

"Oh, there's so much coming up," Alice gushed. Then her face fell slightly. "Some of it looks … a little dangerous. But I think we'll be okay." I wanted to ask what dangerous things she'd seen, suddenly worried, but she didn't give me room. Instead, she instantly brightened again and said, "I still haven't seen you in this form, your human form. In my visions, I mean. Only your dragon form."

Crispin mumbled something that I couldn't hear, and I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. He noticed, cleared his throat, and said more loudly, "your human form must have shielding abilities of some kind."

"Ha! Like I'm not shielded enough," I muttered, sarcastically, thinking of my obsidian-black scales like iron and diamond. Crispin gently touched my shoulder.

"Not in this form, you're not," he said, quietly. I paused, suddenly seeing what he was talking about. He finished the thought before I could voice it. "I think you have different protections in this form. Not physical."

It was a very interesting observation. Mental protections … the idea seemed to fit together. To my knowledge, our scientists had not realized that our minds were shielded in our human forms. Very few vampire gifts worked on us as a general rule, and we had simply accepted it as a normal part of being a dragon. But with Crispin's insight, I could see it made sense. Our human forms were protected differently than our true forms were. I reached for my pocket, thinking about getting my pen so I could write the thought down, and then froze and scowled. "I'd write that down, but I don't have a pen."

"Ah! This pen?" And my glorious Crispin reached into his own pocket. He extracted a resin pen with deep blue and white swirled loosely together. I squeaked in horror and joy.

"Oh, my gosh! That was in my pocket when I transformed!" I squawked in horror, reaching out to lovingly take it. Oh, I could have destroyed the thing with my transformation. A limited edition! Melted by the heat of a dragon's flame! Oh, the horror. Crispin laughed.

"I found it a few hours after you left. Realized you didn't take it with you, didn't want it to get rained on."

"Oh, you adorable nut, you!"

Crispin looked very pleased with himself. At swift vampire speed, Edward the mind-reader came to join us, holding a stack of books in his arms. He smiled knowingly at Crispin, took one of the volumes, and handed it to me. My journal, which was full of draconic script. I beamed. "Thanks!" I flipped the book open and stood behind my sister for a moment, using her back as a desk. She blinked silently at the vampires while I scribbled down our latest observation, and I hoped the look she was giving them was a nice one. She was probably trying to figure out how Edward had known to come with my journal. I'd have to explain to her later. Crispin tilted his head at my writing, and then scowled.

"I can't read it when you use that," he said, a little grumpily. I chuckled. He couldn't read the dragon script.

"Sorry, Crispin. It's habit."

"He's been trying to crack it for days," said Alice, rolling her yellow-gold eyes with a smile. "Ever since you left. He goes at it like he's trying to crack a code. It must be pretty good. He hasn't figured out how to read it yet."

"Poor Crispin." I patted his arm. "You'll have to learn it later. There'll be plenty of time."

Crispin sighed. He still looked put out.

I turned next to Jasper, the scarred one. Now that the rain had almost stopped completely, there was some sun coming through the clouds. It cast a couple of his plentiful scars into sharp relief, but the aura that protected Jasper's disfigurements was still strong enough to hide most of them. I could still make out a jagged crescent bite mark on the underside of his jaw.

It would be much less difficult to see when I had taken my true form.

"Hi, Jasper," I said, quietly, and the vampire looked startled to hear me speak his name. I smiled at him in a way that I hoped looked friendly and disarming. I didn't want to put him more on edge than he already was. I was thinking of the story that Crispin had told me of Jasper's past, of where he had come from. He knew when it was appropriate to be afraid. I didn't want to scare him off. I had garnered respect for him as I had for Dr. Cullen and Crispin.

"Hi … Sera …" said Jasper, cautiously. Dr. Cullen looked pleased to hear any attempts at being friendly. I was grateful for them.

"Don't be afraid of us," I encouraged, "not even of her." I tilted my head at Arina to get the point across. "Technically we're all under orders not to harm anyone in your family, and we wouldn't want to do that, anyway."

"Erm … thanks."

I gave him a slightly pained grin. "Sorry. What I mean is … hi. I'm glad to be part of the family. I hope I can get to know you all a little better, now that you're not under threat of death."

Some of the tension fell out of Jasper's shoulders. He put on a small smile, which improved everything drastically. The atmosphere seemed to lighten. "You'll have to tell us how it happened."

"I will. I'll tell everybody." Then, after a moment of thought, I added, "including Rosalie."

"That would be good," said Crispin with a low chuckle. He gently kissed the top of my head. "I know you two could be friends … once she figures everything out a little."

I smiled and leaned heavily into Crispin without a second thought, tucking my cheek against his sturdy vampire chest. I could practically feel Arina's eyes burning into the side of our heads and tried my best to ignore it. Right now I had Crispin, and that was all that mattered.

"Why don't we sit for a while?" the doctor asked. "I could grab a few chairs, maybe bring out a snack for our visitors …"

"We'd appreciate that," I assured him with a smile.

"I'll get them," Jasper offered, and I wondered if he was trying to flee for a little while to calm his nerves. He shot Alice, the small pixie-like one, a very pointed look. Then he trotted away at a moderate pace, purposefully moving much more slowly than a vampire was wont to run. I wondered why he held himself back. It had to be because Arina and I were here.

Crispin led us closer to the house so we could interact with the rest of his golden-eyed family. I could see Arina closely examining each of the other vampires, trying to understand, looking for the similarities between them all that I knew she would quickly find. I was glad that she was paying attention, holding back her instinctive draconic fury so she could see as I had come to see. The looks she kept casting toward Crispin and I made me feel slightly embarrassed. But I was happy. Nothing could go wrong, now. The only problematic thing to worry about was making friends out of natural enemies.

Well, I'd managed it. Surely it could happen for my sister and all the other vamps, too.

I felt better around the vampire family this time around than I had during our conference in the house a few days ago. For one thing, the space wasn't enclosed. If I had to take my dragon form in a flash for whatever reason, I could do so without destroying them or their house. The open air was more like home to me, anyway. And then there was also the reduced threat of death, now that I wasn't here to endanger the family.

I sat across from Crispin in the grass for the first few minutes while the other vampires tried to settle down. I happily held his perfect hand and listened to him reading from his journal, which his elder brother had brought out for him along with all my other books. When Jasper returned with our snacks, I delivered the bag of jerky to my sister, knowing that to chew on something would ease her nerves. It annoyed me slightly that Crispin had to keep skipping sentences in his journal for the sake of his own privacy while the family was around. I wanted to hear all of it. But I didn't want to make him any more uncomfortable than he already was.

I was slightly afraid for Alice when the small vampire went fearlessly up to my sister, popping herself happily into the grass in front of Arina and trying to strike up conversation. I knew Arina had intentions to retrain herself, but my first thought was that she'd blow up at the slightest sign of anything unusual. But my fears were banished almost at once. Arina tried to permit some semblance of conversation, attempting to talk to a vampire as though the vampire were a person. It wasn't easy for her. She sounded slightly robotic. But it could have been much worse.

Crispin stopped reading after a little bit and listened in to his sister's conversation along with me. I was extremely curious to hear Alice talk. She wasn't bothering to hide the fact that she was psychic to my sister, and I found myself just as enthralled as Arina was.

"So … your Matriarch …" said Alice, sounding reverent. "Like a living mountain. I'm kind of afraid to meet her."

"Meet her?" said Arina, warily. She glanced at me. "I mean, Great-Aunt Fio kind of talked about that … I didn't think she meant it for reals."

"Yes, she did," I replied. "The Matriarch wants to meet all of you in person." I shot a nervous look at my boyfriend and the other vamps, thinking of pitting them against the terrifying, overpowering aura of the Matriarch. "So … you saw that, Alice? With your powers?"

Alice grinned. "I see a lot of things with my powers," she told me. "But I only saw a glimpse of your Matriarch. I get the feeling …" she paused, choosing her words, and then said, "it kind of feels like I've been blocked off. I've only seen a single flash of her. It seems intentional. Like that's all I was meant to see."

Chills ran down my back and I pursed my lips. Crispin felt my shiver and touched the back of my warm brown hand with his frozen white finger. "I'm not surprised you feel that way," I said, reverently. "The Matriarch is … she's … kind of alien. Older than ancient. Like a goddess. I was nearly sick just talking to her a few days ago. She can be really overwhelming."

I realized the whole family of vampires was looking at me. I grinned a little. "Okay, you know what? I'd probably better start explaining, now."

I adjusted my position so I could face the whole family. Crispin promptly moved beside me, wanting to be close. I patted his knee. Although I wasn't as afraid of the other vampires as I had been the day I'd first met them all face-to-face, I was still a little intimidated. It wouldn't be nearly so bad when I took my true form for them. But that was not yet.

"The Matriarch is the beginning of our story," I said. "You vampires and your enemies, the Children of the Moon, are descended from her by curse."

I hesitated to give them all a second. The family stared at me, wordless, except for Emmett, who said, "you couldn't have started with something more weird?"

I smirked at the burly brother. "The Matriarch had three children, two sons and a youngest daughter. The sons were blessed with her powers. She was a shaman at the time, for her band … I'm getting ahead of myself ..." I paused and rubbed my forehead, holding my tongue between my teeth.

"So … how many years ago was this?" Crispin asked me. "You said your language stems from paleolithic?"

Ah, thank you Crispin! "Yes, that's right. The Matriarch was born as a human, almost twelve-thousand years ago. Agriculture hadn't even been invented at the time. She was a nomad."

The vampires all shot looks at each other. Emmett chuckled a little. "I thought I was used to being around old people," he said, half-jokingly. "How old is Aro, again? Three thousand?"

I wrinkled my brow questioningly at the burly vampire. He was talking about another vampire, obviously, and an old one. How had this one escaped being killed by dragons for so long?

But that wasn't what this conversation was about. I pulled my thoughts back to where they needed to be.

"Point is, she was a shaman. She was in touch with energies of the universe and nature … complex stuff. I won't pretend to understand it all. Her sons had the gift, too … and they hated each other for it." I drummed my fingers on my knees, grimacing. "It got worse as they got older and more powerful. They tried to kill each other a few times, and they loved to show off. Eventually, they sort of went to war.

"That's when they crossed the line. The eldest brother is responsible for the creation of the werewolves. And by that, I mean the Children of the Moon," I added, nodding to the not-werewolf Jacob, who sat with the vampire hybrid girl. "The elder brother sacrificed the Matriarch's husband to do it. Stripped him of his soul and turned him into a mindless beast that would propagate itself by biting and scratching.

"Vampires were next. The younger son created the vampires in retaliation to the older brother's werewolves. He sacrificed his sister to do it. He bled her out into the snow in midwinter. That's why the vampires and the Children of the Moon are such enemies—you were made that way."

"Ah," said Dr. Cullen, quietly. "That's how it happened. I presume you're aware that the Children of the Moon are almost extinct?"

"Yes, we know," I said, "and we were glad of it. It allowed us to turn our focus toward one target instead of two." I grimaced a little. It felt bad to talk about killing vampires in the family's presence.

"Then what?" Crispin pressed, trying to keep the story going. I hurried to oblige him, grateful to move away from discussing still-sensitive matters.

"Both vampires and werewolves are meant to propagate themselves," I said, "by spreading the curses. It took a while for the brothers to build their armies, because humans were still pretty scarce then, and widely scattered. The Matriarch laid enchantments and used charms to protect her band, but that only worked for a little while. The brothers got stronger, enough that they could get around their mother's charms. They eventually started picking off band members.

"That was when the Matriarch finally put her foot down. They couldn't afford to lose any more people. The human population was already fragile, and the vampires and werewolves would have been the last straw. Humanity would have gone extinct. By that time, the Matriarch wasn't strong enough to end the vampires and werewolves by herself. So she did as her sons had done, and made a sacrifice. She sacrificed herself, and was reborn as the first dragon."

I paused there, trying to decide what there was left to say. Arina elbowed me. "You didn't talk about the volcano!"

I smiled a little, looking up at my favorite vampire, who tilted his head in great curiosity. His honey-gold eyes were remarkably three-dimensional in the rainy light. It was hard not to be completely distracted. "Arina likes the part about the volcano," I said, shrugging with a grin. "The Matriarch threw herself into it as part of the sacrificial ritual. Her rebirth out of it was … spectacular, to say the least. We're told it was quite dramatic."

Crispin smirked a little, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. I sensed an unease there, and my own smile faded a little. He was probably thinking about my true form, which he had only witnessed for a brief moment before I'd left him just a couple days ago. I knew it still scared him a little, and I couldn't blame him. Vampires were so used to being indestructible. It had to be a shock to realize that I could kill him just as easily as he could kill me.

"There's something I don't understand," said Dr. Cullen, abruptly, pulling my attention away from my boyfriend. "Why didn't your Matriarch destroy all of the vampires and werewolves at that point? Obviously some escaped her wrath."

I laughed at this one. "You're absolutely right. She had been transformed into a dragon, but she still had to get used to the new body and powers. You have to realize—dragons weren't really part of folklore at that point, right? Most humans have a basic idea of what a dragon should look like, but she was the first. Everything was strange, and she had zero hunting experience. There were escapees, and she just couldn't handle them all by herself. They scattered far and wide once they knew what they were up against. She wasn't very omniscient at that point, either. Those powers had to mature over time."

"Guess that's lucky for us," said Emmett. "We wouldn't be here if she'd killed all the vampires back then."

"Lucky for us, too," I added, gesturing to my sister. "See, the Matriarch wasn't going to create more dragons. That certainly wasn't the plan. She was going to kill herself after she finished destroying her sons' creations. A dragon is … well, powerful, obviously. She didn't want to upset the balance of the universe, so she was going to wipe herself out as soon as the threat to humanity was dealt with. And when it wasn't dealt with, that's when she decided to make more dragons. That's where we came from."

Alice sighed. "Isn't it great how things work out that way?" she asked her scarred partner. Jasper shrugged a little.

"I'm not sure," he said, slowly. "I don't know that it was worth the plague on humanity that vampires are."

It was a solemn statement. But before I could dwell on it for more than a second, Emmett's loud voice interrupted. "So … how exactly did she make more dragons?" he asked. "It's not like there was a boy dragon hanging around just waiting to make babies, you know?"

For that, he got cuffed by Rosalie, which made a sound like two marble statues thwacking each other. I laughed.

"Well, he's right," I said, smirking. "There were no male dragons. So she created one." My face fell as I thought about exactly how to explain. "She couldn't make a life out of nothing, obviously. It took more sacrifice. A … an unbelievable amount, so we're told. She needed a spirit, first. Rather than kill a human to use, she pulled her husband back from the other side."

Dr. Cullen drew in a small gasp of astonishment. Edward's ochre eyes widened, his brows knitting, and Crispin made a noise like a mouse. "What?" he asked, gaping down at me, leaning a little to look me in the eyes. "She brought him back to life?"

I nodded, but I didn't smile. "Yeah, she did," I said, quietly. "You have to understand … what a huge breach of the natural order that is. To my knowledge, her mate is the only living thing in the world that has successfully come back from the other side. I don't know what she sacrificed for him. Nobody does. She never talks about it. I can't even imagine … I mean, there are rumors that she sold her soul to a higher power, somewhere. I don't know if that would have been enough, honestly."

I shook my head, taking a deep breath. "Anyway. Don't get any ideas. If the Matriarch won't talk about it, you can be sure none of us could ever aspire to do something so ridiculous. But she needed a spirit first, to occupy the body that would be created, and she drew her husband back from the other side to do it. His body was created the same way hers was, from a volcano. Maybe the same volcano, but we don't know for sure."

Alice beamed brightly. "She got to have him back!" she said, happily. "Even after he got turned into a werewolf, she still got to have him back."

I finally allowed myself a smile. "Even though she never talks about what she sacrificed for him, she has said she'd do it again," I said. "Those two are tight. Sometimes they're more like one than they are like two different people."

"How big is he?" Alice asked, eagerly. I imagined she was thinking about the glimpses she'd seen of the Matriarch.

"Oh, he's only around three-quarters her weight," I said, shrugging. "Pretty typical of male dragons."

"Typical?" Edward jumped in, surprised.

Dr. Cullen chuckled at him. "You know, for a species to have larger males than females isn't all that usual for non-mammals," he said. "Especially for reptiles and birds, it's the other way around. The female pulls the weight."

"He's got it," I said, pointing to the doctor. "See, he gets it."

"I'll never be three-quarters your weight," Crispin mumbled, sounding put out. I laughed aloud, playfully scooping his head down to my level so I could peck him on the cheek.

"Sorry, Crispin. At least you get to be a million miles taller than me while I'm in my human form!"

Crispin did his adorable if-vampires-could-blush thing. I sensed Arina watching closely and tried my best to pretend that I didn't feel her eyes on the side of my head. The other vampires chuckled lightly, shooting knowing glances at each other. Whatever. Let them tease. They had mates. Crispin and I had both been alone for a long time until now. I wanted to relish every minute with him.

Crispin hurried to cover up the moment, embarrassed by his family's chuckles and knowing glances. "I—I should have been taking notes," he said, abruptly. He pulled away from me and leaned over heavily to reach for his notebook that lay in the grass near him.

I laughed. "Oh, you're cute! It's kind of too late, you know, the story's finished."

"Well, I don't want to forget," he explained. He gently plucked my pen out of my pocket, which made my face heat up to my own embarrassment. He unscrewed the cap. "Ready," he said.

"I already told the story, silly! You'll have to wait and read our history textbooks when we get home, okay?"

At those words, I sensed a nervous flicker amongst the rest of the family and looked at them all. I hadn't really explained to them all what was going to happen when they went face-to-face with the Matriarch.

"You said we were going to meet your Matriarch," said Edward, hesitantly. "You're going to take us … home? To your giant clan of angry dragons? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

I pursed my lips. "I'm under orders to bring you all. The Matriarch requested your audience. I'm not gonna tell her no."

"I wouldn't tell her no," said Alice, happily, and everybody scowled at her.

"When were you going to tell us that we had to visit the dragons?" Rosalie demanded of the pixie-like vampire. "I would have liked to know that before I started packing. And why didn't you say anything?" she added, speaking to Edward, who shrugged, wide-eyed.

"Don't look at me!" he said, alarmed. "She kept it a secret! I didn't know!"

"We can't go amongst dragons," Jasper said, alarmed. "They'll kill us! You said they kill vampires on sight," he added, looking at me. I took a deep breath and nodded.

"I know I said that. Normally I wouldn't even dream of it, but this is at the Matriarch's request. The rest of the Siege is under orders," I added. "They're forbidden from hurting any of you. Technically there's nothing to worry about."

The one with the heart-shaped face, Bella, spoke softly at that moment. "When are we supposed to go?"

I cleared my throat. "ASAP."

They all gave me withering looks, and I smiled. "We don't have to, really, not right away. The Matriarch wanted to see you all as soon as possible, but she doesn't perceive time in the same way that you or I do. The difference between days and months isn't that obvious to her. She won't be mad if we take our time."

"Dad, though," Arina muttered, and I rolled my eyes.

"Oh, he can wait."

"Dad?" Crispin echoed, worriedly, and I patted his knee.

"Don't worry about it. He's just … he grew up hating vampires, like I did, right? He doesn't know what to think, and that's not his fault. It's going to be okay."

"Are we really going to be safe?" Dr. Cullen asked, quietly. I took a deep breath.

"You're right to be worried, sir," I said, gently. "Absolutely, that's the proper reaction to have. I can't pretend we're not dangerous, even when we're under orders. But … well …" I had to stop talking again, taking a great big breath. Now came the big stuff. "The Matriarch told me that she's been waiting for you for a long time. She sort of set Crispin and I up so we would fall in love for that reason. I really don't think she's going to let anything happen to you guys."

Crispin made a small grumbly noise, and I patted his knee again. We were both a little annoyed that we'd had to go through so much distress all for The Matriarch's little game.

Edward suddenly barked a laugh. He sat back and shook his head, staring up at the cloudy sky. "I can't believe I'm actually here."

I grinned, apologetically. "I'll be honest—I can't believe it, either. I'm sitting around a bunch of vampires, talking about dragon history with them. That's pretty ludicrous."

"We've got dragons," Edward told his partner, Bella. "Can you believe that?"

"Hey, I had to do vampires and then werewolves," Bella told him. "I'm used to the whole earth-shattering revelation thing by now."

"What's next, aliens?" Emmett joked, and everybody rolled their eyes. I laughed.

"Honestly, the way things are going …"

Crispin chuckled, too. He glanced at my sister. "What does your natural form look like?" he asked. "I saw Sera's for a moment, when she left. Are you … that big?"

Arina looked something between amused and embarrassed. "No, I'm not old enough yet," she said. "I'll probably never catch up, really."


"Dragons have indeterminate growth," I told Crispin. "It slows with age, but it never quite stops."

"I guessed you were around fifty feet," said Crispin, and I was sure his intelligent brain had picked that out of the destruction that I had left in the forest the day I had first arrived in Idaho.

"Close. I'm about fifty-five."

"How old are you?" asked one of the vampires. I was surprised to see that it was Rosalie. She hadn't asked me personal questions, yet, and I wondered if she was considering being my friend. She'd been so livid only a few days ago when I'd revealed myself to the family.

"Oh, I'm … something like eighty-three?" I looked at my sister, who rolled her eyes with a smile.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Oh, that's not half bad," said Rosalie. She jerked a thumb at Edward. "He's older, though."

Crispin made a small noise and I looked at him. His brows were knit. I grinned.

"Aw, poor Crispin. So what if you're just little? You're still technically a grownup, right? And I'm technically a grownup for a dragon."

"Yeah, but I'm—what—sixty years younger?"

Edward snorted. "And how old am I compared to Bella?" he asked. Crispin shrugged his shoulders, awkwardly.

"Yeah, well … I suppose I didn't expect Sera to be … that old."

"I'm not old!" I insisted.

"She's not," agreed Alice. "Don't worry about it, Crispin. You're a vampire! Age doesn't even mean the same thing anymore, right?"

Crispin lightly nuzzled the back of my head. I could tell he was still put off. I was also very amused at the nuzzling motion—he could undoubtedly smell my blood-scent, and I wondered what he was thinking of it.

"Do you need fed?" I asked him, and he tilted his head at me, blinking intensely golden eyes. They weren't particularly dark today. He hadn't eaten that long ago, I recalled. He'd had a meal the day of my seizure.

"I don't think so," he said. "I feel alright."

"Well, I do," Rosalie said, grumbling a little. Ah, yes. That would explain some of her grumpiness.

"We could go hunt," I suggested. Crispin wrinkled his brow.

"You're talking about hunting in your true form."

"What do you think would happen if you all were hunting while I looked and smelled like this?" I asked, pointedly. Crispin looked ill at the very idea.

"Well, do you smell good in your other form?" Edward asked. "Because if you smell good enough … put up against all of us …"

I shook my head. "We're impervious in our true forms," I told him. "Even if I did smell tasty, you couldn't put a dent in my hide." The vampires all looked at each other again. I smiled. "Like I said, we're meant for vampire-killing. It's what we were designed to do. And I doubt I'll smell good in my true form. Pretty sure you've got nothing to worry about there."

"You're sure a vampire couldn't bite you?" asked Emmett, dubious. I smirked at him. He looked and sounded like a man up for any challenge, anywhere, any time.

"You could try it. It might be funny," I replied.

"Sera," said Crispin, his voice rich with worry. He took my hand, eyes big and round. I laughed and held the back of his cool hand to my cheek.

"No, seriously. He couldn't hurt me if he threw a half a mountain on my head. Don't be worried."

"And that logic doesn't apply to these forms," my sister suddenly said, pointedly. "No throwing mountains on these forms, please."

Alice startled us all by leaping to her feet, graceful as a ballerina. "Got it. Human forms are crushable, dragon forms are not." She beamed around at us all. "We should get this show on the road."

I glanced at Crispin, who was squinting thoughtfully at his adopted sister. She gave him a smile that looked like it was meant to be as annoying and teasing as possible. "Oh, it's nothing, Crispin. I'm just tired of waiting. Why don't we have our guests show us their true colors?"

I chuckled a little darkly. "If we do that, you'd better promise us you won't freak out too much."

"I'm not going to," said the pixie-like vampire, happily. "But Rosalie will be much nicer after she's eaten. Better sooner than later."

Predictably, the savagely beautiful vampire scowled. Emmett lightly swatted her arm with the back of his hand. "Ah, you know they've got a point."

"Well, we can't fly anywhere near the town," I said, pushing myself to my feet. "We'll need to move far away before either of us take our true forms. Can't risk exposure, of course."

"I'll be glad to be myself again," sighed my sister. All dragons liked to be in their natural forms, especially when nervous. I pushed myself to my feet with a heavy grunt. My legs were falling asleep from sitting still for so long. Crispin stood, too, immediately gaining five or more inches on me.

"I could carry you," he suggested, "so we can run. There's a place we like to hunt in a canyon meadow. There are always elk."

"Elk are tasty," I said, happily, leaning on my favorite vampire boy. "Good, dense meat."

"Wish we could say the same about their blood," said Jasper, pulling a face.

"Aw, you've got to eat your vegetables!" Alice joked, flinging her arms around her tall, lanky mate. He sighed, returning the hug and shaking his head a little. I cast a curious look at Crispin, who smirked.

"We call ourselves vegetarians," he said. "It was meant to be a joke, but it works well for lack of a better term. Herbivores are rather … unappealing. Carnivores taste better."

"Really?" I marveled. "Fascinating!"

"That's one for the textbooks," said Arina, and I turned to her, sensing nervousness. Then I realized why.

"Oh, who's going to carry Arina?" I asked. My little sister gave me a sharp look, and I realized that maybe she wasn't all that happy about being carried by a vampire. But I didn't see a better alternative. It would take her hours to catch up to us if we left her behind.

"I could," the doctor offered, gently. He smiled kindly at my sister. "I promise I won't hurt you. It would be much quicker, and as soon as we reach the meadow, you'll be free to take your true form. Okay?"

Arina scowled, and her eyes were on her boots. I was glad she wasn't looking up—the whole Cullen family was watching her. It would have made her nervous.

"Fine," she finally relented. I relaxed, laughing.

"Hey, you'll be the one carrying them on your back soon," I reminded her, giving her a light elbow to the shoulder. "I won't be able to carry them all. That's why you came."

"I guess," Arina mumbled.

The vampires all looked at each other again. It was probably the first time they had really realized that we would be the ones carrying them to the Alps. I smiled a little. I couldn't imagine anything better than flying. There was no way they'd not like it.

"If I may?" said Dr. Cullen, crouching beside Arina and offering his arms. She sighed.

"Yeah, I guess so."

The doctor scooped her up. She seemed somehow much smaller than usual in her little human form in his arms. To him, she'd be light as a feather.

Crispin stepped up behind me, his nose in my hair, his arms around me, touching my wrists. I grinned broadly in spite of myself. "Your turn. I'll just have my eyes closed while you run."

"Not much for speed in your human shape," Crispin sighed, gently scooping me up.

"Nope, not in this form," I agreed, patting his cheek. "It'll be better when I'm scaly."

The family set off, and I closed my eyes just as we started to pick up speed.