Chapter 2 - Bella Rises
Bella opened her eyes and saw the deep grey silk lining of her own coffin's lid. It didn't even occur to her to panic - she felt no claustrophobia, no fear of the dark, no fear of death for that matter. Been there, done that.
She gave the lid a tentative little push and the top half of the lid opened easily. The bottom half, however was latched. She found that slightly annoying. Why secure the bottom half of the lid and leave the top completely unlocked? The living could be so inconsiderate.
She chuckled as she imagined the sight of herself in her burial gown squirming and pushing herself out of the top half of her coffin. How undignified.
A vampire rising should be an awesome sight, the lid creaking open, a beautifully aristocratic lady rising with preternatural grace, stepping gracefully out of her resting place.
"Oh well," she thought, "nothing to do but to do it." Saying this she shimmied out of the box looking more like a woman pushing her corsets down to step out of the restricting garments than abeautifully savage dark creature.
"Thank the Goddess there was no one here to see that."
"Don't worry dear, I won't tell."
Bella hissed like a cat, spun on the spot and froze. In the darkest corner of her mausoleum stood a stunning pale lady in dark velvet robes, a traveling cloak flung carelessly over her left shoulder. She was tall, thin, and aristocratic with sharp, perfectly symmetrical features. Black hair but for a single lock of purest white framed her perfectly symmetrical face. Impossibly large almond-shaped eyes the color of black diamonds were set just above her turned up nose. Her full blood-red lips smiled over a delicate, almost pointed chin. She wore a black velvet choker around her neck set with a cameo depicting a soaring raven.
"This," she thought to herself,"is what a creature of the night should look like!"
"Why thank you Granddaughter, that's very kind."
"Did I say that out loud?" Bella asked, chagrined.
"Not to worry dear, you'll find people won't be able to help but voice their thoughts around you too. It's agift."
"Granddaughter?" Bella asked.
"More like great grand-niece with six "greats." I and your maternal ancestor walked the Earth as mortal witches in the mid to late seventeen hundreds. Ruth Shakespeare was my younger sister; I swore to take care of her. When we were returning home late from a day at market we were set upon by three vampires. We had them at a stalemate, but the vampires knew we couldn't hold them off all night so I made a magically binding oath. They could do with me whatever they would if they let my sister go free.
"Ruth refused to go, she begged and wept and pleaded for me to reconsider. But the oath was binding to all parties involved and just past midnight my sister was compelled to go home.
"The vampires, two females and ayoung male, were so taken by my courage and self-sacrifice that they decided to turn me rather than just feed on me. If I'd only known then what I know now."
"What do you mean?"
"Vampires seldom kill, what would be the point? They take enough blood to make a meal and then use vampiric mind-magic to confound the victim so that he or she never knows what happened. Of course, the exchange of blood is a very intimate act, so many times, more often than not; our food becomes enamored with us. This has given rise to the legend of the succubus and the incubus."
"So the vampires would have had ameal and then set you on your way?" Bella asked.
"Pretty much." The dark lady agreed, "Of course they would have shagged our brains out as well, but that's neither here nor there, the point is my sister and I never were in any actual danger."
"So you would have to be Eliza Shakespeare?"
The lady bowed and smiled, "I see my reputation precedes me. May I ask how?"
"My cousin, Sirius, once told me about you."
Eliza nodded, "Come, you must be hungry."
"Will we look for, um, people to drink from?"
"Later." The lady explained, "You must feed now or you'll drain the first person you see dry. That would be bad for human-vampire relations."
Eliza wandlessly conjured acrystal goblet, setting it to hover before her. She extended the little finger of her right hand. Bella saw that finger's nail tapered to a point so that it looked more like a fang than a fingernail. Eliza punctured her left wrist right at the pulse point, letting her blood flow into the goblet.
Bella never had been squeamish at the sight of blood - whether hers or anyone else's. If anything she looked at the goblet with the same relish that she felt when offered rich, dark chocolate.
"Hey, I still want chocolate!"she said, somewhat surprised. "Chocolate and red wine; is that normal for us?"
"Quite," the elder vampire said as she handed Bella the goblet, "cheers darling."
Bella sipped. Tentatively at first, then with more gusto, she handed the goblet back as if to say "more?"
"Patience darling, we will both feed. That was just enough to take the edge off your hunger - an amuse buche, if you will." Eliza beckoned Bella to follow.
They walked out of the mausoleum. Bella squinted and shaded her eyes.
"It's so bright out here!"
"Yes we are terribly sensitive to light; over the past few decades it has become more and more difficult to avoid them. First the gaslights, then the electric lamps; many of our kind wear dark lenses to filter out very bright lights, but then we lose our ability to see in the dark."
Bella assumed that they had stepped out into the afternoon sun, but all she saw was a thin crescent moon low in the evening sky. The brightest lights came from the city around them, glaring electric lamps of every description and all too, too bright.
In the lights of the city she could clearly see colors, brighter and more vivid than any she had seen before. Eliza's gown and traveling cloak were both deep crimson. Her own gown, which she assumed to be charcoal grey in the no-light of her mausoleum, was actually deep purple. She looked at her companion.
"Where are we going?"
They walked down a narrow, dark alley, then turned to a non-descript set of metal double doors, where they waited.
The doors opened of their own accord and the lady's were treated to the sight of a beautifully appointed sitting room which opened into an equally exquisite dining area.
"Madame Bard," a small, elderly man in tails greeted them, "it has been too long!"
"Ian!" Eliza enthused, "how have you been?"
"I am a grandfather now, please don't make me take out the pictures, we'll be all night in the sitting room. Come, you look hungry and I have just the thing tonight."
The main dining room was set around a raised dais on which a single harp rested. There were no tables on the floor, all the seating appeared to be behind curtained booths. Dark woods, polished to a high gloss reflected the muted lamplight. Thick dark carpets muffled their footsteps.
Ian led the ladies to one of the larger booths and Bella was surprised to see couches and a low coffee table, but no dining table, no chairs. She cast a questioning look in Eliza's direction.
"My Grand-niece has been traveling a long time and is very hungry."
"Hmmm, something Mediterranean I think, Italian or Greek, perhaps?"
"I'd like Italian," Eliza agreed,"but I think Miss Bella should avoid garlic until she regains her strength."
"Of course Madame, may I suggest a 1988 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo?"
"I will leave everything in your capable hands, Ian darling."
The little man blushed at the praise and excused himself.
"Such a darling little man, don't let his size fool you, he's a very talented companion - I was quite smitten with him thirty years ago. He had the one quality that we find most alluring."
Eliza laughed, "That too darling. No, Ian could say no."
"Oh yes, you'll see that after an endless parade of men and women who will do anything, and I mean /anything/for you darling, that it's refreshing to be refused from time to time."
"I offered to turn him, I still would if he would let me, but he tells me he'll be content to see his loved ones on the other side sooner rather than later."
Bella thought of Sirius in the Elysian Fields and nodded, truly understanding.
The haunting strains of harp music charmed the intimate booth as Ian returned with the bottle. With practiced ease he removed the foil then the cork. He poured a small taste through a complex gurgling carburetor - "to mellow the wine, just a touch." As he closed the blade of his foil cutter he accidentally nipped the end of his thumb.
"Oh bother," he said with a wink, then let two drops of his blood drop into the wineglass before he offered it to Eliza, "well, no sense in wasting it."
Eliza smiled her affection for the old man very obvious. "You don't fool me you old reprobate; you know what your essence does to me!"
Ian poured a small sip into the sommelier's cup that he wore on a chain about his neck.
"The best times." She toasted in return, and then sipped her wine.
Ian excused himself saying,"Dinner will be here shortly. Please enjoy the wine."
Bella sipped the ruby red Italian and smiled appreciatively. "Excellent."
Just then two young men and one girl, college age from the look of them entered and bowed.
"Ah," Eliza clapped, "dinner!"
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