Three Years Later...

Several figures appeared on the horizon. Their silhouettes shimmered against the brilliant full moon, causing onlookers to mistake them for phantoms. They approached slowly, drawing a certain young woman's eye. Her brow furrowed as she tried to make out who they were, but she was unable to recognize them from her place in front of the bakery where she worked.

A crowd began to gather at the edges of the town, each human eager for their chance to meet the strange newcomers. Irritation began to fill her at the others' lack of self-preservation. There was no telling how dangerous those outsiders could be to the townsfolk; why did they all rush out to meet them as though they were celebrities?

She forced her way to the front of the crowd, glad for the petty inconveniences—helping Nora tend the bakery on her day off during a particularly busy morning—that had delayed her morning archery practice and forced her to rehearse late in the evening. She tightened her grip on her bow, ready to use it if she needed to defend her home.

As the figures moved toward them, she was stung with the odd sense that she would recognize those faces when they were close enough to study. She didn't want to get her hopes up, even though she could make out the figure of a child walking ahead of the rest. What group of people in their right minds would let a small, helpless child traipse in front of them, where he was exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless against possible assailants?

She quickly drew two possible conclusions: one, that these people were out of their minds and potentially dangerous; or two...

She didn't want to consider that possibility. She was already having trouble keeping her mind clear of a specific seven-year-old face that was forever frozen in time.

Steeling herself against the icy grip of a long-lost memory, she took a deep breath and began advancing toward the mysterious shadows, planning to meet them halfway—away from the townspeople—in case they were trouble.

"Piper!" The call did not come from the humans behind her, to her surprise. It came from the people before her. She skidded to a halt, staring the intruders down. She tried to ignore how familiar that voice sounded to her, refusing to believe it until she saw who it was with her own eyes.

"Who are you?" she asked.

The light from the town shone onto their faces, revealing their identities to Piper. She gasped, promptly dropping her bow and arrows.

"Piper, you're alive!"

"Dominic?!" Without hesitation, she flung herself at the boy and wrapped him up in her arms. Sobs caused her shoulders to tremble violently as the resulting shudders wracked her body.

Dominic was alive!

"Somebody call Jericho!" Piper shouted.

Dominic was shocked. "Jericho? You're both here?!"

Jericho arrived momentarily, locking eyes with his brother. When he spoke, his voice was tight with emotion. "Dominic," he breathed, lunging forward to embrace his brother tightly.

"It's been a long time," Dominic said with a smile.

The heartwarming reunion brought fresh tears to Piper's eyes. Said tears began rolling down her face in rivulets when both the man and the boy lifted their heads and beckoned her to join them. She rushed into their waiting arms.

"Too long," she murmured, burying her face in Dominic's hair.

Another voice that Piper would never be able to forget made itself known. "You've grown up, haven't you, dear Dancer?" That voice would never lose its majestic quality.

This time, it was Jericho who spoke up. "Sophie!"

She smiled pleasantly. "It's good to see you again."

Jericho engulfed Sophie in a ferocious hug, and to all three's unending surprise, Piper joined in. She wrapped her arms around them both as best she could. "I'm happy you are safe," Piper said cheerfully.

Sophie and Piper raised their eyes to meet each other's, and in that moment, both knew that whatever animosity had existed in the past had long since died. Their peace had been made.

"What are you doing here?" Jericho asked incredulously. "I mean, not that I'm not elated you both found us, but—"

"We've been looking for you," Sophie stated simply.

"In Germany?!" Jericho and Piper exclaimed simultaneously.

"You weren't anywhere else!" Dominic interjected tersely.

The other people waiting behind Dominic—both humans and vampires—shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Piper peered back at them curiously. "Who are your friends?"

Dominic grinned widely. "They're followers that I've picked up from my travels. They believe me when I say there's a better world out there. And we're right. Oh, Piper, I knew we'd find you."

Sophie and Dominic explained that they had ended up escaping the flood together. None of them knew what had happened to Erica, Greyson, the king, or Katrina, making Piper's heart heavy with pain and grief.

Dominic brought with him tales of communities that he had found all over the globe—communities of humans and vampires alike, but this was the first one he'd found with both living together in peace. Once he'd heard that they had a tentative sort of harmony that surrounded them, he volunteered to be a political envoy between the two communities, since Piper and Jericho didn't have the knowledge of a leader that had traveled the world. Plus, Dominic wanted to stay with Piper and Jericho. Over the period of several days, the mayor of the German town they lived in and the leader of the vampiric public agreed to this.

Dominic's political influence, as well as Piper's and Jericho's close friendship, helped to eventually bring the two worlds closer together, and with that, they began to build life again. This time, they did it as one society, instead of two separate species. This model slowly spread to other communities across the globe once lines of communication were reestablished, and it even brought some shape-shifters into the fray. The world was coming together again.

As for Piper and Jericho, the two of them remained best friends. Staying true to their own natures, they grew to be closer than siblings, which, Piper had to admit, got rid of her desire for him. The romance that had once blossomed between them morphed into a bond that tied them together for the rest of their lives. Neither grew romantically attached to anyone else, but they were happy that way.

Love, for Piper, was something she hadn't believed in from the moment she was old enough to comprehend it. Everything had been taken away from her, from her family to her entire sense of self. She'd had to rebuild herself among the creatures that lurk in every child's nightmare. She had earned the right to be considered an equal, but not without great suffering.

For Jericho, it had made him believe in magic and then stabbed him in the back, promising Sophie's utter devotion to him without consequence. He'd become a shadow of his human self, void of light and love. In becoming a vampire, he'd lost everything, but had gained a family.

Neither understood it, neither wanted it to even happen, but the progression of their link was like an avalanche—once it started, nothing and no one had the power to stop it. Maybe finding solace in the right person wasn't enough to fully heal old wounds, but it certainly stopped the bleeding.

My name is Piper Dawson, and I am finally home.