Hi everyone! Today, I'm finally starting my new story about Carlisle's years before he found the other Cullens: the title, "Stregoni Benefici, Unico," essentially means "The Beneficial Vampire, Alone." I'm not sure how often I'll be updating (maybe every other week?), but I've got a lot of ideas for stories about Carlisle, so we'll see what happens. (And just so you know, this story crosses over with "Eternity" a bit, which is why Liza appears in this chapter). This first chapter takes place during the Great Fire of London; the way I figure it, Carlisle was probably a vampire by then, and had been one for several months, so he might have risked a trip to London just in time to see the fire...

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer, not I, is the author of "Twilight." :)

September 1666: The Great Fire of London

"Liza!" Carlisle called. "Liza?" Fire was rapidly devouring the crumbling building in which his friend—his only friend, as it happened—made her home. Carlisle gazed up at Liza's windows, which were covered in large quilts, and wondered, with senseless panic, if she could still be inside.

"Over here, you silly creature!" an irritable voice called, and Carlisle sighed, deeply relieved. Liza was standing in an alleyway across the street, her silver hair hanging in wild tendrils around her face. She was loaded down by boxes and bags of clothes, books, and what were clearly other treasured possessions she'd saved from her now smoldering house.

"I was hoping you might come by," she explained when Carlisle hurried over to her, crossing the street just before a panicked crowd of humans hurried past, racing to outrun the flames. "I need you to help me carry all this. It would look suspicious if anyone saw an old woman like me hauling so much without having any trouble."

"Here," Carlisle said, quickly slinging a makeshift bag over his shoulder and then picking up a tall stack of boxes. "Can you get the rest?"

"Yes, but go slowly," Liza cautioned him. "We need to look like we're struggling, just to be safe."

"Why not just run across the rooftops?" Carlisle wondered. "No one would notice us in the middle of all this."

Liza snorted. "Where's the fun in that? If you're serious about wanting to live among humans, then you need to practice mingling with them a bit, and you won't get a better chance than during a panic like this—even if you kill someone tonight, you probably won't be spotted. Now, come on, don't dawdle."

Carlisle sighed and followed her, the flames blazing in the streets behind them nothing compared to the burning he felt in his throat every time they passed a fleeing group of humans. This was only his second trip back to London since he'd become a vampire; for months, he'd lived in the wild, initially trying to kill himself, but later trying to control his thirst once he'd learned that he could live on the blood of animals instead of that of humans. He'd met Liza just weeks before, when she'd spotted him crouched on the edge of a roof late one night, draining the blood from a rat, and she'd promptly decided that he could use some help adjusting to his new life as a vampire.

Liza, the only vampire that Carlisle knew so far, had given him new clothes, books to read, and most importantly, she was someone he could talk to when he came to town. Carlisle didn't dare live in London, fearing that the temptation of human blood would be too much to resist, but while he made the forests that bordered the city his home, he enjoyed thinking of Liza in London and how he'd enjoy visiting her once he finished the books she'd loaned him. Of course, it was clear that in coming tonight, he'd chosen a poor time to visit.

"Here," Liza said, stopping on a grassy bank several streets beyond the fire. Quite a few humans had gathered in the streets to watch the progress of the fire, but on the bank, Carlisle and Liza were hidden beneath the shadows of an old tree. Liza set her belongings in the grass before sitting down and patting the ground beside her. Carlisle reluctantly sat down next to her.

"Shouldn't we get further away before we stop?"

"Further away from the humans, or further away from the fire?" Liza wondered, raising her eyebrows coyly.

"Both," Carlisle managed, gritting his teeth.

"You're the one who's determined to live alongside humans without killing any," Liza pointed out. "It's never going to get any easier to do that if you spend the rest of your days hiding in the woods."

Carlisle sighed, then drew in a pained breath; there was still a group of humans uncomfortably close, but they appeared to be moving farther away from where he and Liza sat. Carlisle knew that in spite of her brash demeanor, Liza really did want to help him adjust to this new life—her idea of adjustment just differed from his. In her opinion, he should stop worrying so much about killing humans and learn to compromise as she had: kill humans who were already dying, who were killers themselves, or who lived on the streets and would welcome a quick death compared to a slow demise by starvation. The way Liza saw it, what she did wasn't noble so much as practical. By hunting selectively as she did, Liza quenched her thirst while avoiding unwanted human attention and also giving dangerous or suffering humans the rapid demise they either deserved or desired.

"You know," Liza said suddenly, "you had better get used to people like me trying to order you about. When you were human, things like class mattered, but they don't among vampires. In London alone, there are coven leaders who were slaves once and more than one of noble birth. You might even get to meet some of them sometime, if you didn't insist on living in the wild like a savage beast."

Carlisle shook his head. "Class doesn't matter to me—it hardly did when I was human, and you're right, it certainly doesn't seem important now. I don't mind the way you talk to me, Liza."

"Then why are you sitting there looking so grumpy?" Liza demanded.

"All these vampires you're describing…well, they all drink human blood, don't they?"

It was Liza's turn to sigh now. "Yes, of course they do. Our kind are rather famous for that."

"But we don't have to," Carlisle insisted. "My experiences prove that! I can't really be the first one of us to ever try to live this way, can I?"

"You might be," Liza said with a shrug. "Carlisle, when I was human, I did anything and everything I had to to survive. Just because I'm not human anymore doesn't mean that the desire to keep myself comfortable and well fed has disappeared. Most humans aren't really suited for a life of strict self-denial, and vampires certainly aren't. We feed the way we do because our instincts tell us to, so I have no compunction about my eating habits. You're a man of strong convictions, and I admire you for that, but you aren't going to change my mind about what, or rather, who I drink."

Carlisle nodded. "I know, Liza. I'm not trying to lecture you or to imply that I disapprove of you. I don't agree, but I understand why you live the way you do."

"Likewise," Liza said with a smile. "So let's agree to disagree and not try to change one another. Trust me, you'll make more friends if you can overcome your aversion to your fellow vampires."

"I'm sure you're right," Carlisle said thoughtfully. "After all, it hasn't stopped me from being friends with you. So long as a vampire isn't going around snatching children out of their beds, I suppose I can learn to overlook our differences of opinion when it comes to diet."

"You can overlook it, but you can't condone it," Liza said shrewdly. "You're never going to join a coven unless you can find others who live like you, are you?"

"Why are you on your own then?" Carlisle countered. "You don't have the same difficulty I do when it comes to feeding."

"No coven in their right mind would have me, honestly," Liza said with a careless shrug. "I'm too old, too conspicuous. Most of our kind are physically young, you know. Of course, anyone who looks too young might draw the attention of the Volturi, but anyone older than most just seems odd, a liability in potentia. Whoever heard of an old vampire, after all? It's one thing to be young and beautiful forever, but imagine being my age for the rest of eternity."

"How old are you exactly?" Carlisle asked, smiling slightly.

Liza swatted his arm. "That's a cheeky thing to ask a lady and you know it, even if I am a lady in the loosest sense of the word."

Just then, a group of humans watching the progress of the fire drew closer to the spot where Carlisle and Liza sat. Though Carlisle had been enjoying their conversation, combative though it had been at times, he was abruptly desperately thirsty. Liza took in his pained expression and pushed a cloth bag toward him.

"Here. Some new books for you to borrow. Take those back to whatever godforsaken forest you're lurking in at the moment and bring them back to me when you're finished."

Carlisle was holding his breath, not daring to breath, but he looked at her questioningly.

"Go on," Liza said, pushing him toward the road. "Leave before you do something you'll regret later—don't stay here and spoil your spotless record on my account."

The words themselves were haughty, but Carlisle could tell by her smile that she was only teasing. With a nod of thanks, Carlisle turned and ran, eager to get away from London and the tantalizing scents of its human residents. Behind him, the sky glowed with an eerie orange radiance, and Carlisle wondered grimly just how long the city would remain in flames.