"She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv'd, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries-
So rainbow-sided, touch'd with miseries,
She seem'd, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne's tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman's mouth with all its pearls complete:
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?"

- John Keats

Alris lay upon her divan, and fanned herself lazily with one of her slender hands. By this point, she was used to the heat of the bayou, but it was particularly hot this June, and she hadn't feed in almost three days. What am I going to do with you? She looked at the man who stood at attention in her doorway. He would be especially hard to manage, now that Eric, or Arik, as he had been named at birth, was off on another one of his play "business" trips.

This man was handsome enough, but he didn't have the aura of power Eric always carried. Alris was getting tired of waiting for him to come home. If he didn't come back soon, she thought she might go and fetch him. Yes, she thought, smiling. It was a gruesome and lovely smile, red lips, and shining, razor like incisors; she thought she might go and bring him home. He was hers, after all, and England should know it as well.

). 0. (

Eric knew he would eventually have to get her alone, but for now, he watched her from afar. She had gone out, with her father, or uncle, as chaperone. She wove her way through the bustling streets of Lintenshire. It was a small town, but with a high population density. Her hair was piled up under a proper brown hat, but wisps of dark, chocolaty hued tendrils fell out around her chin and ears, as if to announce mere fabric could not control them.

They stopped in a few stores, but he could tell she wasn't interested in any of them. They were all for her companion. He wondered what she was interested in, what she liked. Why do I care? She's only a mere girl. It wasn't as if he had any possible interest in a mortal, except as a source of energy.

What was interesting, though, was the way she looked over her shoulder every now and then, or just paused and cocked her head slightly to the right, as if she could tell someone was watching her.

She should not have been able to sense him at all, and yet she had glanced through him, to the exact spot where Eric stood at least twice, maybe four times. He felt a shiver run through his spine each time she did so, something that hadn't happened to him since…well, he supposed it had never happened. Eric assumed it was just her aura; it was very powerful, and he wanted that energy.

Traitorous thoughts filled my head, he wanted that aura for himself, Alris would have to find her own. But as soon as those thoughts came, he dismissed them. He had to obey, and share, always, with his sire. He had never gone against the rule before. He had never minded that rule before.

He kept watching them as they moved, and each time her companion paused, the girl looked to him.

She wasn't necessarily a great beauty, it was just the look she had about her, the air, that made her seem an angel. Her face was perfectly composed; it was small and pale. Her eyes were not any particularly interesting color, they were pale, not gray nor blue, but simply devoid of color. Although they weren't strange or frightening. Perhaps bland, and innocent, would be the terms to use. Vanilla eyes.

He watched as she walked on, and spoke with her chaperone, but he could see no emotion on her face. Odd, normally it is an easy task to see what these children are thinking. It bothered him that he could not tell. At least, until they paused in some sort of shop and seemed to enter a heated discussion. The expression on the girl's face turned from vacant to foolish. She didn't look this way in the garden. What is she playing at? He watched as she entered the shop, and her chaperone walked on.

But then, something odd happened. Very odd.

). 0. (

Is father ever going leave me alone? Hope sighed as she moved quickly down the street, but every so often, she'd have to slow her pace for her father to catch up.

"We'll be attending Lord Ashington's ball tonight. Don't eat too much; you'll be too fat to marry off. "

"I don't recall you mentioning this before. We've never been to the Ashington's."

"We're going to be receiving more invitations from now on. I've signed a partnership with Lord Worthsly."

Hope maintained an expressionless visage, but inside, she trembled.

"Lord Worthsly?"

"Of course. Are you deaf or just stupid?" Her father looked away, the tone of his voice condescending enough to make Hope wish to smack him. Instead she said,

"Perhaps a little of both. You've always said a man likes a rounded woman, haven't you Father/"

Her father didn't laugh.

"Listen to me, Hope. You'd better stop acting so clever, or I'll never get you off my hands. Next is that sister of yours. Too bad she's under age."

Yes, or you'd probably be selling her off to some brothel. She's not as prominent in circles as I am, yet. The thought was an ominous one. Hope paused; she felt an odd shiver trace its way down her back. It felt as though someone was watching her. But when she turned around, there was no one. Everyone was busy with their own affairs, wandering too and fro. But she couldn't take off the feeling.

Don't be stupid. You're just nervous. After all, if father catches you… She couldn't let herself finish the thought.

"Oh, look, Auxberg's! I've been dying to go there forever, Father, can I?"

Hope forced herself to squeal, and hoped her father wouldn't count this behavior odd for her. He'd heard enough among other ladies.

"No. I won't set foot in there, and I can't leave you alone. People might think…well, some might say you could be damaged goods. Then, you'll never marry."

Hope tried to look sufficiently shocked.

"Father! How could you say such a thing? It's only a dress shop. Just for the afternoon, while you go to the club?" She knew her father wanted to go and sit in their fancy leather chairs, in a cloud of cigar smoke and brag about his business ventures. She saw him calculating, and threw in,

"Besides, a new dress might push someone to make an offer. Someone rich."

Hope could fairly see the scales tipping in her favor.

"Fine. But don't go spending my money. Use your mother's; she won't need it, I dare say. These gowns are so expensive…" he trailed off, looking as though he might change his mind again.

"But, it might be my new husband's expense by that time," Hope held her breath.

"Go on. Can't see it'll help; heaven knows you're ugly as sin."

Biting back what she truly wished to say, she merely replied,

"Good-bye, Father."

Hope entered the dress shop and waited behind lovely drapes of fabric until she was positive her father had gone.

Now I just have to find where I'm going. She stepped out the door. I can't let him treat Anna so poorly. I just have to find something. She continued to walk, hoping she looked calmer than she felt, and tried to keep herself from blushing. She'd almost perfected the art, even with her paleness. She was a master at keeping herself in check.

But again, she felt the odd sensation of someone's eyes on her. And again, she brushed off the feelings as foolish nerves. Hope pulled a worn piece of paper form her pocket, and read the directions carefully. They led to a part of London she'd never been to before, and she only had one chance at this. If she failed… Hope pulled her hat down father over hr face as she walked; it would do her no good to be reorganized. She would have taken a cloak, but it was rather warm, and her father would have noticed. And that could not be allowed. Hope fingered the jewelry case in her pocket, just to make sure. She sighed; it was still there.

After walking for quite a way, and avoiding people's eyes, Hope ran her gaze over the shops in front of her now. They were quite different from what she'd seen in the parts of town she frequented. This place had smoke thick in the air, and it smelt of oil and machinery, and must. But she saw it, and braced herself to enter. That must be the old gypsy's shoppe. I heard she takes anything, with no questions or notifications. I can only hope that's truth. Hope stepped up to the door, and taking a deep breath, entered.

It was dark within, dimly lit only with burning tallows, and incense or something similar filled the inside of the shop.

"Hello?" Hope called hesitantly, for she saw no one within, and wondered if the gypsy had gone. "Is anyone here?"

"Yes, child. Have patience. Old Hezmerald is here. What may I provide to you?"

Hope's eyes widened at the sight, she couldn't help it. The gypsy woman was so old it was difficult to believe her still among the living, and she was wrapped in purple robes and shining gems. But what startled Hope the most were her eyes. They were the clear blue color she so clearly recalled, the same color of river her mother's had been.

And to make it stranger, the gypsy woman had gasp at the sight of Hope.

"Kihanya. It cannot be."

Something stirred in her memory at the mention of that name; it was elusive, and lyrical, from a far off dream. She remembered that name. Kihanya, that was the name she'd forgotten, the name that had been stolen from her. Kihanya, that was what her mother called her when sending her off to sleep. Her name was Kihanya Hope Prentiss. Her mother's choice.

"How do you know my name?" Hope whispered.

"Is it you? You are not playing tricks on an old woman?"

"I don't know. Who am I?" Hope confused herself with her own cryptic words, but hoped the gypsy woman understood. Who am I to you? How do you know me? Did you know her?

"You are Raevcala's child. Rachel's daughter. The half-blood."

And then Hope understood perfectly. Though she would rather deny it, play dumb, Hope was a quick girl. She was fast to understand, quick to make connections. And much to her sorrow, it all became clear.

"You mean, my mother, was one of you?"

The gypsy did not reply, and that was enough answer for Hope.

"Fate has truly led you back to us, child." Hope didn't answer this time. Fate? Yes, I suppose you could call it that. Cruel fate, to deny a girl of her mother, to deny her of a loving father, to deny her of rights to live for herself. The need for money, the need for freedom. Perhaps, yes, you could call that Fate. I might call it Hell.

"I only came because, well, I needed to sell something." Hope suddenly felt she could not sell her mother's rings to this woman. "But I…I changed my mind. I must go."

"But, child, you must take heed. There are things you don't understand. Where is your mother?'

Hope turned to look at the gypsy woman for a moment.

"She's gone."

). 0. (

Eric had followed her to the darker part of London, wondering what on earth the girl was doing. He followed her silently, and she did not turn around again. He almost missed her glances, but then wondered what was wrong with him.

He watched her through narrowed eyes as she entered the shop of a gypsy. He might enter there, but he would prefer that she did not know of him. Not yet, anyway. He would make an appearance to her with his name of this century. He'd discovered one of his ancestors had an odd lineage in England, and had also discovered he was to inherit his old uncles title. The crazy fool wished to go hunt in Africa, or some other such heathen adventure. And, lo, Eric had become His Grace Eric Moore, Duke of Kensington.

What was more important to him though, was his unquestioned ability to go anywhere in London, and he was basically beyond questioning. As now, if he'd wished to be visible, he doubted any would stop him if they'd seen his coat of arms. But he didn't want the girl to know just who he was. Yet.

He watched as she exited the shop, and as she believed herself quite alone, he was privy to the expression of pain upon her face. Something within seemed to wish to…comfort her. What the blazes is wrong with me? Perhaps this damp air isn't good for one, after all. Eric watched her walk on, and sensed she was still distressed, but as she walked she composed her features back into perfect blankness.

He left her back at the dress shop, and went on to carry out his own business. But she never left his mind. Her vanilla eyes.

). 0. (

Hope sighed as she entered the dress shop; her father had not yet arrived. She would have just enough time to pick out a dress.

"Excuse me?" she called to the clerk, a matronly woman with chestnut hair piled into high, glossy ringlets. "What dress would you have on my coloring?"

"Oh, for you, miss? I'd say a deep burgundy, or a brown. Pale skin is all very high fashion with those colors now."

"Fine." Hope motioned for her to hurry; she didn't want her father to have to wait. It would put him in a very bad mood when they got home to Anna. "Just fetch one of those for me. And put it away."

"Which color, miss?" The clerk looked confused.

"I don't care. Either. Just be quick with it."

The clerk disappeared into the back room for a moment, and Hope attempted to compose her feelings once again. The encounter with the old gypsy had unsettled her more than she liked, and she couldn't let anyone see her distress.

"Here's your dress, miss."

"Thank-you. How much?" Obviously the girl was not used to such frankness, but she stuttered out the figure, and Hope graciously handed it over without hesitating. She had to get outside. "Good-bye."

She stepped out of the shop, and with bag in hand, and relief in her chest, she waited for her father to return. She felt no eyes upon her, but the memory made her look over her shoulder whenever someone passed a little to close by.

Oh, the ball. At least nothing bad can happen there. I hope.