Ophelia could hardly bear to look at the body that had been laid out upon the metal table. It was not due to the array of careful incisions that left little of the alabaster skin of the girl, nor was it that her entire torso had been ripped open and no organs remained—no, it was the girls age that made the siren turn her back and walk over to a corner to lean her head against the cold stone. The dreadful wounds themselves did nothing in the way of affecting Ophelia (she had seen worse in her years; she’d inflicted far worse before) ... but the girls age ...
The girl on the table looked to be no older than thirteen. Ophelia had been expecting a woman, someone closer to her physical age—not a girl who scarcely looked as if the features of womanhood had begun to grow in and on her. Who murdered young girls? What kind of monster took the time to inflict such injuries upon a young girl? And what sort of werewolf or lycan had so little restraint or agenda that they would turn a girl into one of their kind?
She’d looked away from the girl’s—Annabelle, Evadne had signed—youthful face, from the blood-matted brunette curls, as soon as the cloth had been pulled back once she’d been placed on the table. In her head, as she catalogued each infliction, she’d made a silent vow to be the one to exert her idiosyncratic sense of justice upon the murderer . . . and if they ended up being the same killer of Elizabeth Stride . . . well, she and Morag would have to come to some form of an agreement—she wanted to be the one to rip the bastard’s throat out with her teeth or nails: only monster’s were allowed to destroy monsters.
She pushed away from the wall, weakly raising and turning her head in the direction of the voice. At her side, looking concernedly at her, was Atticus. He’d been the first to arrive through the portals and had immediately struck up conversation with Ophelia once he’d reached the morgue, the two of them rapidly exchanging theories of why the now-three victims had been who they were—neither of them could find a commonplace link. He’d turned a shade of green when the rest had entered the room and the sheet had been taken off the girl’s corpse, revealing her wounds and the dress that was no more than shreds of fabric.
Ophelia forced herself to glance over her shoulder, watched as Ariadne inspected the girl and kept signing to Evadne at intervals, whilst two of the High Alpha’s betas (two women with androgynous appearances) looked on with sentinel stances. Ophelia moved her eyes away from them to look at the hands of the girl and the claws that were still out—she’d been a werewolf for two moons, Evadne had informed them, and those who were newly or near-newly turned had to learn self-defence using their new natural weapons outside of the full moon; Ophelia had felt some form of comfort in knowing that the girl—though futile—had been able to defend herself.
“She is so young,” she whispered, repeating the words that had continuously been reeling through her head. Ophelia turned her head to look at Atticus, who simply nodded in understanding. She couldn’t stay here, not in this room, not near this death. “I ... I’m going to go for a walk ...”
“Do you want me to accompany you?”
Ophelia shook her head. “No, no, I’ll be fine on my own.” She moved away and began to walk towards the doors before Atticus was able to reply. She ignored the way Ariadne and Evadne glanced at her with curious, confused expressions, ignored the way the two goblins—residents of these levels, Ariadne had told her—halted their cleaning of medical instruments to stare up at her with glints in their eyes. She certainly did not turn her face even the slightest to the left to look at Annabelle. No, Ophelia only glanced forward as she hastily left the room and headed down the twisting corridor.
After what felt like an eternity traversing the hallways, not paying any mind to the direction she was going but instead kept staring at the flagstones and using her fingertips to find corners, Ophelia stopped in her pursuit of going anywhere and leaned back against the wall. She scrubbed her hands down her face, dragged a hand down her throat until it caught a hold of the locket, and tipped her head back as she let out a long sigh.
What was wrong with her? Why was this murder affecting her in such a profound way? Hadn’t she inflicted worse upon people just a few years older than the dead werewolf? Yes. Was she not cruel and merciless? Yes. So why was death any different than ones she had committed? Perhaps it was because the wounds, the lashes that turned skin into ribbons, the fact that someone had taken the time and concentration to create a lurid artwork of horror, were all a reflection of what she was capable of. Perhaps it was because she could see herself reflected in the murderer, in their conscious decision to do this malicious act. It was one thing to kill and mutilate yourself, to seek a twisted kind of thrill from the act, but to see the same thing at the hands of another and know that the person—or people—responsible had got the same kind of pleasure ...
It was almost too much for her to bear.
Her lifestyle was forged upon death, the foundations of her fortune built atop a mountainous peak of lifeless bodies. Ruin and death were all she knew, the topics of her childhood lullabies. Her sisters’ had once said she had been born the cruellest of all of them, without mercy or heart—and in a way it was true: she had lured her first man to his death when she but thirteen years of age. Human girls of that age were married then, but she was turning the water red and scattering corpses along the seabed of the Cornish coastline.
She could clearly picture all the deaths she had been the culprit of, the bodies but not the faces—the faces all blurred, for time and the great number of them had dimmed the memories of what they looked like ... except for three faces: the man who had been the catalyst for the events that led to her exiling, the man who was the cause for her physical scars (the mental ran deeper, and he had not been the cause of them ... not all of them), and Charles.
Perhaps she should not have killed him—not in the way she did. Then she wouldn’t have been here, wouldn’t have been privy the events unfolding around her—all these murders, supernatural and mortal alike, and she didn’t know what to do, didn’t know or understand anything except that she was worried, so worried, about the safety of Mary. And she also knew that Charles, and every other man she’d ended the lives of, he and all of them had deserved to die.
But that girl lying in the morgue, on that cold table—she had not deserved to die, had not deserved the death she had been given. No one so young, so innocent, should have to experience what she had—no one her age should be turned into a werewolf, should be butchered simply because she is one ... and that was the whole crux of these murders, wasn’t it?—selected simply because they were inhuman.
Ophelia was still no better than these murderers though, was she? No better than Jack. And truly she hated this realisation, hated it with every fibre of her being, but she was a killer and that would never be changed. She would never change. It was too late for her to change, and so she would stay the cold killer until Arachne decided it was time for her own demise—she’d be grateful then, greet her death as if it were an old friend: she would embrace it.
Ophelia scrubbed her hands over her face again and sank down to the floor, not caring about the cold that was seeping into the marrow of her bones. She brought her legs up to wrap her arms around them and leaned forward to press her forehead against her covered knees. Truly this death should not be affecting her this much ...
The doors of her mind opened upon their own accord, filling the void there with images of a broken body with similar wounds. She could picture his body so clearly, could remember so precisely the breaks in his spine that had contorted his torso so horribly. She’d screamed and thrashed and attempted so futilely to piece him back together—tried to mend him. But there was no mending truly broken things.
These memories were another piece of familiarity—only this was too much to bear.
She lifted her head just enough to press the heels of her palms into her eyes. Why was his death still weighing down her heart? Why was it that, even almost twenty years later, she was unable to move on? Why?—because it was her fault, that was why; her fault.
All my fault.
Ophelia opened her mouth wide and screamed, but no sound came. It was just a voiceless, useless scream into the quiet of oblivion.
It had been all her fault, she was to blame. That was the cruel joke she’d truly been cursed with, not this human cage she was trapped in, but that that she was capable of love but incapable of keeping it and it was always her fault that she lost those she loved. Always her fault that they died in horrible ways. She would not be surprised if her dead blamed her, if she called upon them on Samhain and was met with the wrath of them all—blazing eyes and bony fingers reaching out to encircle her neck, to rip at her skin, to wrap around her heart and rip it out of her chest.
She would not hate them if they, all of them, wished to seek revenge on her. She would understand. She hated herself too.
Slowly, after however long spent curled up, she raised her head and stared at the flagstones beside her left leg. She stared at the stone with distant eyes, seeing and not seeing, until—
She felt the movement of air rather than saw as the object moved with speed towards the back of her head. But she was faster, and just as it was about to make its impact she reached out and threw it hard against the opposite wall in the same heartbeat it took her to whirl up onto her feet. The object, a heavy looking hammer, clanged against the stone before it dropped to the ground, leaving an indent when she had swatted it away with the palm of her right arm. She stared in the direction the weapon had come from, finding one of the goblins standing not a foot away from her.
Ophelia growled and slammed her attempted assailant against the wall, wrapping her hand around his neck and digging her nails in so tight black, thick blood ran down her fingers. “Should I bother to ask why or should I simply rip out your throat?” she snarled, delighting in the anger roaring through her blood simply because it was something she revelled in. Simply because it was something. The gold of her eyes bled out, engulfing the white, her skin became taut and a light grey. Rage boiled through her, and rage truly brought out something animalistic in her appearance, something closer to siren than human in form.
Despite her nails buried in his neck, the goblin laughed. A greedy glint shone in his eyes. Ophelia growled again. “Do not test me, hideous thing! I will rip apart your throat and whilst you are gurgling, trying so desperately to stay alive, I will tear out your spine from the wound I make.”
Yes, she was no different than Jack or the killers of these supernatural beings, but oh did she enjoy the adrenaline that came with killing. She would enjoy tearing this creature apart. Let her be nothing more than a killer, in the end she did not care—killing was her art, the one thing she excelled in. All she had thought before, about finding the similarities between herself and those murderers ... it did not matter anymore, she did not care.
“Do goblins scream?” she asked, cocking her head to the side. “I hope they do; I want to hear you scream.”
The creature laughed again. “What a pretty price you’ll bring. A very pretty price.”
Ophelia blinked. “What?”
“A pretty, pretty price. Two-thousand pounds for the siren murderer! Oh the Beauchamp’s will give us a great reward for you!” He began to cackle, loud and obnoxious.
Ophelia snarled and was about to slam the bastard’s head hard against the stone, to crack his skull and let the blood run, when she felt something bitingly cold slash at the bottom of her dress. A sharp pain ran up her legs. She screamed, the sound guttural, just before the iron chain was pulled hard and fast, sending her falling in an instant.
She registered only a millisecond of blinding agony in her head before the world went black.
Ariadne watched as Ophelia took great effort to ignore everyone as she walked out of the room, before turning a questioning glance towards Atticus. Her closest friend was leant against the farthest wall, but when he registered her gaze he pushed himself away and came to stand beside her.
“What did you accuse her of now?” Ariadne asked. The satyr and siren had been speaking too quietly for her to have been able to pick up any words, even if she hadn’t been inspecting this young werewolf’s body for any clues and conversing with Evadne.
“I promise you, I said nothing,” Atticus replied. He drummed his fingertips against the edge of the table, glancing at Annabelle’s pale and cut face. “It is this girl—her age—that has shaken Ophelia so badly she had to go for a walk.”
Ariadne nodded. “I suppose Ophelia was drastically different at thirteen.”
“Are you insinuating she had a string of skulls on a belt around her waist?”
“A catacomb, not a belt.”
Across from the demon Evadne gave a small laugh. Ariadne turned her head and raised her brows at the High Alpha.
I hardly believe you were much different at ten-and-three years of age, Ariadne, Evadne signed. I scarcely think Lucifer would deign to call you his daughter unless you had brought him the heads of your enemies as presents. Even at such a tender age, you the Lady of Darkness must have made as much as a reputation as Ophelia.
Ariadne sighed. Despite having spent so long attempting to forget all the pain she had committed before she was even ten, she couldn’t ignore that Evadne was right. She and Ophelia were not so different underneath, though Ophelia would never deign to acknowledge that.
“My father told me I was born without a soul, child of an unholy being that I am, which to him means that taking a life should not affect me for without a soul I do not have a conscience,” Ariadne said, looking at Evadne as she spoke. “I know I do not have a soul, but I have a conscience and each life I have taken has stayed with me—Ophelia has a soul but not a conscience; death does not affect her.”
Evadne’s eyes narrowed. You are as blind as I am deaf if you truly believe your words. She walked out of here for she was incapable of looking at Anabelle. Evadne paused to run her fingertips over the young girl’s cold cheek, before staring up and across at Ariadne. And yet you dare to say that death does not affect Ophelia.
“I meant the deaths she has caused; I know she is affected by others.”
Have you ever stopped to think that there may be a reason that Ophelia has killed the men she has done? It is not a random pattern, Ariadne, but a calculated decision.
Atticus raised his eyebrows. “How would you know such a thing? You had never met her until that meeting.”
That is where you are wrong. I have been in her presence before: years ago when my family was nothing more than servants to a bourgeois family, when I still had my hearing, she was the lover to the eldest son. This young man was known for being a great admirer of beautiful women and everyone knew of his ways when it came to those women who dared to say no to his advances.
“A rapist,” Ariadne said, keeping a tight leash on the rage that ran through her veins.
Evadne nodded. I had turned onto a corridor in the servant’s quarters to see him raping a parlour maid; he told me to keep quiet if I wanted to stay alive, and I did just that because I was young and terrified of the power of white men. A few days later Ophelia appeared, attached to the arm of the young lord—the man himself acted completely different, complacent and submissive, agreeing to everything Ophelia said. A few weeks later he was dead: Ophelia found me, knowing what I am, and told me she had killed him. When I asked why she replied, “He should not have harmed one of my own”.
“Her own?” Atticus asked.
“Women,” Ariadne answered. “Ophelia has always been protective of women.”
Ophelia had made sure she had taken what she could before she killed him. She seems to choose men who are rapists, adulterers, torturers and murderers and slowly destroys them before ending their lives.
“She has an idiosyncratic sense of justice,” Ariadne said. “Though I suppose there is little difference to the deal we have with the courts of law and judgement.”
“What happened to the girl?” inquired Atticus.
I am not sure; all I know is that when Ophelia left so did the girl. I never saw her again, nor was I ever in the company of the siren until the meeting. Her eyes flickered to Ariadne. You have known her longer than Atticus and I combined, I would have thought that you would have already known the reason Ophelia takes the lovers she does.
“I know next to nothing about Ophelia, even after all these centuries; she has bound herself within secrets so tightly that I have never been able to know where to begin on the journey of unravelling them.” Ariadne leant against the table behind her. “But she has told me she is finding it harder to keep those secrets, her past, concealed. There is this distance, this darkness, in her eyes when she loses herself in the memories that scar her mind, and when you pull her from it she tries to assure that she is alright but still a remnant of the darkness is there.”
There was no more to be said, nothing that could be said. There was no need to comment on observations, no need to attempt to discuss the darkness within a siren because it was a void that had embedded itself within all of them for years. No one could live as long as any of them had and remain whole in body and mind. A band of broken pieces pieced together in a mosaic—that was what the society had become over the centuries.
Ariadne lowered her eyes to Annabelle’s face. Her brows furrowed when she noticed the edge of a small mark just below the young girl’s jaw line, something she had not spotted upon first inspection. She pushed away from the table and moved down to kneel on the floor, reached out a hand and turned Annabelle’s face to the left.
The demon glanced up at Atticus, who was looking at her with a confused expression. She tapped a fingernail against the mark on the girl’s neck. Only, it was not a mark, but an engraving carved with a knife. The killer had taken the edge of their blade and carved two letters into her flesh, the small wounds crusted with dried blood.
Behind Ariadne, Evadne had moved. The High Alpha leaned forward to survey the two letters. “OC,” she read aloud. Her voice was brittle sounding from common disuse, but she’d been hearing for enough years before her incident with the makers of her deafness that her vocalisation was clear. “Do you suppose they are initials?”
Ariadne pushed herself back up onto her feet and turned to face Evadne. “Truly, I believe that is too obvious an assumption ... though that may be the point. The only way we would know for sure is if we were able to examine both the centauride’s torso and Stride’s corpse.”
Would such a thing not be on the post-mortem papers? You yourself read them and found no trace of such a thing, signed Evadne, returning once more to the language of the hands.
“I read the post-mortems, yes, but I never saw the bodies—such a thing could very well be hidden under a glamour, which would account for there being no documentation.”
“Humans cannot use nor wield glamour’s,” said Atticus. He scrubbed a hand down his face and beard, looking physically as confused as Ariadne felt.
“True though that is, these people know about our world—”
“They could be of our world,” Evadne said. Her eyes went wide with panic.
Ariadne stiffened. The blood inside her veins felt like ice, and underneath that she felt that ancient darkness run, practically aching to be unleashed upon the perpetrators of these crimes. Anger and darkness did not mix well—if she found out that one of her own world, possibly from the society, were responsible in some way helping the bastards ... they’d see just what she was capable of when she took the well-honed leash off her power. They’d see why she was called the Lady of Darkness. They’d see what it meant to incur the wrath of a Princess of Hell. And no prayers to any of their soft-hearted gods would do them any good.
For now, however, Ariadne would keep that tight leash in its place. But, oh, would Hell itself be unleashed upon the killers—human or otherwise. Ariadne half-understood just why Ophelia acted the way she did now, half-understood why the siren seemed constantly in a fit of restrained fury; Ophelia would drown the world to keep those she held dear safe, and Ariadne would engulf souls in shadows and darkness to keep her society safe.
“Who do you think would dare to do such a vicious act?” asked Atticus, breaking Ariadne out of her reverie. “What kind of person would help these people to kill other supernatural and immortal?”
Morag, Evadne signed after a beat of silent consideration.
Ariadne shook her head. “Morag is no fool, nor would she kill one of her kind—even if it were simply to make a statement. She is also a matriarch in every sense of the word; she would not warrant the deaths of three women.”
“I cannot think of anyone else who would want to destroy the Society.”
“Is that not half the problem? Being so quick to blame a person simply because she fits the criteria is how you accuse the wrong person.” Ariadne walked over to one of the cupboards and pulled out a long white sheet, which she draped gently over Annabelle’s body. “I suggest that we carry on with what we have already put in place and wait: if there is an affiliate to these killers within our society, they will reveal themselves sooner or later.”
Evadne and Atticus nodded in sync. Evadne then asked, What shall be done in regards to this OC?
“I will find a way to access the mortuaries, probably with the help of Ophelia, to be able to see the body of the centauride,” replied Ariadne. “As for Stride, however, her body will have to be exhumed from the East London cemetery.”
“I suppose the cover of nightfall will be needed? Are we to wait for the next new moon?”
“The new moon isn’t until the fourth of November—we shall work under nightfall and glamour.”
Ariadne mulled over her next words for a few seconds before speaking them: “I shall have to discuss the exhuming with Morag beforehand, not merely because Stride is of Morag’s clan but also because she was buried according to human law instead of witch. We cannot simply take Elizabeth’s body out of the ground; it will cause an argument that can easily be avoided. I shall reach a deal with Morag to allow for us to inspect Stride’s body before handing it over to the witch queen in order to follow their ancient funeral rites.”
“Is Morag capable of having a civil conversation with you? And you with her?” quipped Atticus. There was a faint smirk ghosted across his lips.
Ariadne rolled her eyes and laughed despite herself, a breathy laugh that resulted in a smile. Her closest friend knew exactly when a situation was becoming overbearingly depressive in tone and when a small injection light humour was needed. “Perhaps I am better off discussing the situation with Ophelia and beseeching her for her aid where Morag is concerned; I did not miss the way that the witch smiled at her with that conspirators grin at the meeting.”
“I think Morag senses a similarity between the two of them—Ophelia also.”
“They talked for a few minutes before Ophelia went to find you. It seemed to be a rather deep discussion,” murmured Evadne. She glanced at Ariadne. “Memnon informed me that he heard Morag mention that she was in affiliation with Ophelia’s Matron, as well as that Morag is open to accepting Ophelia into her clans, despite being of different species, should she want to create an alliance—she said they should be friends.”
Beside the High Alpha, Ariadne went still. The idea of these two women, these two killers of the same calibre, being in an alliance—being friends—was something the demon had not realised she should fear until the moment Evadne had mentioned it, because the simple thought of them being friends brought only images of mass bloodshed. An alliance between the Queen of the Northern Witches and a siren that was a great harbinger of death could never happen, lest the world wished to drown in an ocean so full of blood it was red.
“What did Ophelia have to say in regards to the propositions?” Ariadne asked. She needed to know.
“She said that they should remain distant acquaintances with no system of fealty between them.”
Ariadne loosed a breath. “Good,” she whispered in a sigh of relief.
Atticus turned his head slowly to glance at his closest friend, cocked his head and raised an eyebrow at her. “Jealous, are we?”
Ariadne’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You sounded as if you were jealous of the idea of a friendship blooming between Morag and Ophelia.”
Before Ariadne had the chance to reply, to even scoff, a high-pitched sound reverberated through the morgue. It was piercing, not quite painful but harsh enough against the ears to make Ariadne wince. She understood immediately what the sound was, was now familiar with it after the hour in the police station, and yet there was a momentary blank space in her mind concerning what the whistle of the siren meant in regards to the supernatural male gender—
Atticus fell to his knees with a cry of pain. His hands flew up to cup his ears, palms pressed hard against them in an attempt to drown out the sound. His face was the very image of agony, his features contorted in pain and skin drained of all colour.
Ariadne had already flung the doors open and was hurtling down the corridors, following the sound that grated against her eardrums, before she even had time to register her movement. A rage bubbled in her blood, honed towards Ophelia.
The rage dispersed some, however, when she turned the final corner, and beheld the sight before her. Trembling in the centre of the corridor, back bowed and head touching the floor as if in prayer, was one of the goblins that had she had granted asylum to in these lower levels after their king had cast them out, and he was clawing at his ears and crying out loud. Crumbled against the wall to her right lay another goblin, only he was not making any sound—his throat, Ariadne saw, had been torn out by either nails or teeth. By nails, if the blood coating Ophelia’s fingers and dripping to the ground was anything to go by. The siren was stood a few metres away from the whimpering goblin, looking every much the feral beast she was, with her lips pursed and eyes full of molten gold.
But there was dried blood down the side of Ophelia’s face, a sole indicator of there having been an injury there, and a chain of iron lie at her feet.
What had happened?
Ariadne would ask questions later. First she needed to act.
The demon raised a hand and flicked her wrist. Darkness shot out of her palm, a wall that moved quickly and slammed into Ophelia hard enough that the siren fell backwards. The whistling stopped.
Ariadne walked over to the other woman, holding her other arm out behind her towards the goblin and manipulating the shadows around her to keep the creature locked in his place. She wasn’t foolish enough to allow him to scurry away without explaining his side of the events that had led to Ophelia having to whistle so close to Atticus.
“Care to explain?” she growled at Ophelia.
The siren glared up at her from her position of sitting on the ground. “This was supposed to be a refuge for me, a safe place until I have done what I came here to do and could leave,” she said venomously. “And yet here I am, having been distracted by one goblin whilst another goes to attack me in order to bring me to the Beauchamp’s for a price.”
Ariadne blinked. Once, twice. “What?”
“How do you think I got this?” Ophelia gestured to the blood on her face and then to the iron chain. “And do you think I happened to find this? Iron is my bane, it stings and it burns.” She pushed herself up into a standing position, clutched a handful of her dress and pulled up the skirt, revealing more dried blood across her ankles. “Another present courtesy of the bastard creatures you allowed the live in this place.”
Ariadne nodded. “Did it ever occur to you that whistling was not the best course of action?”
Ophelia glowered. “It was the first course of action I thought to take, and it worked perfectly fine. I could think of nothing else to do.”
Ariadne pressed a thumb and finger against the bridge of her nose and sighed deeply. “You are forgetting one factor to your ‘worked perfectly fine’.”
How could she have forgotten in such a small space of time that there was a man of supernatural sort in close distance to her whistle?
“Atticus,” was all Ariadne said.
The gold of the siren’s eyes shrunk back into the irises, and her face drained of colour. Raw panic washed over her features, so striking and prominent that Ariadne was taken aback at the fact that Ophelia was capable of this emotion, this fear. Ophelia, who took great care at being heartless and caring for nothing and no one, showed a sense of guilt for having forgotten the power of her whistle and hurting Atticus.
“Is ... Is he?”
“He will be fine, Ophelia,” Ariadne murmured. She hardly managed to speak her next words, “Go and see for yourself, I shall sort everything out here”, before the siren took off in a sprint down the corridor the way the demon had came, running at an inhuman speed—the current of a fast-flowing river.
Ariadne turned slowly, feeling the darkness coil in her veins once more, and dropped the freezing ward she had placed on the goblin. The creature trembled still on the ground, his hands clasped and raised to the demon as he gazed up at her form but dared not meet her eyes.
“Is what Ophelia said true?” she asked and her voice sounded everywhere and nowhere all at once, ancient and powerful. The voice of a demon. The goblin at her feet gave out an involuntary cry of fear at the tone. Ariadne manipulated the shadows around her, drew them near and underneath the chin of the goblin to lift his face further up and held it in place so that he had nowhere else to look but her eyes. “Is what she said true, Kalex?”
She called him by his given name because it was the sole way to make a goblin speak, and speak the truth.
“Y-yes,” he stammered. “But—”
“Save your words, Kalex, you only wish to explain and show fear because you have been caught,” snapped Ariadne. She honed her external darkness into claws that raked across the back of the goblin, anger boiling under the surface of her skin. She’d granted this male, his family and friends, asylum after their rebellion against their tyrant king had failed, had given them all an area of this sprawling place to call home and jobs to earn their keep and immunity under the wing of the Society, and this was how she was to be repaid for the generosity she hadn’t had to give?—to have her mercy undermined by a greed that she had always thought was due to culture, a culture she now understood to seemingly impossible to break away from.
“M-m-my lady, please,” Kalex pleaded.
“Why would you do this?”
“I-I was following orders.”
Ariadne’s nostrils flared, her anger barely contained. She gestured a hand to the dead goblin slumped against the wall. “His orders?”
“Y-yes. H-he said we could use the siren to get the money and l-leave L-London.”
“Did you truly believe the Beauchamp’s would so freely hand you the money? You are a goblin, Kalex; they would have sooner made sure you were locked up in some circus than give you the money for handing them Ophelia.” Ariadne released the hold she had on the male, and dropped her hands to her sides. “And did you earnestly believe that a siren would be so easily caught and kidnapped, especially Ophelia White?”
“Your actions today would have been inexcusable had you not apologised and shown remorse. I am not a tyrant, and I hold you in prestige of an ally and friend, and I am aware that your wife is heavy with child, so I will not cast you from my keeping.”
In the moment Ariadne paused, Kalex surged forward and reached up to grasp the demons hands in his. Tears sprang from his eyes, and he murmured his apologies and thanks in a chant.
“However,” Ariadne began again, and snatched her hands out of the goblin’s hold, “this is your first and last warning. Do not again attempt what you have done today, to Ophelia or anyone else, or I will not be so lenient. I am a leader first and you have harmed one in my protection with the most heinous of metals, and for that I should punish you but I have already said I will not. But hear this, goblin, if I find that you have harmed another person again—if you have harmed Ophelia again for selfish gains—you will understand what it means to face the wrath of the Lady of Darkness.
“Ophelia is here for her own safety and you jeopardised that. I may be exiled but I am still a Princess of Hell and I have my ways of communication and influence with that unholy realm. I swear to you, on the life of my father, that I will use what I have if you ever threaten Ophelia and her safety again. In return for my lenience I demand an oath from you—”
“A-anything,” Kalex stammered. Ariadne could practically smell the fear recoiling off of him.
“Swear to me that you will never cause harm to Ophelia or anyone in my society.”
“By my father.”
“If you break your oath your punishment shall be that I will hand you to my sister, Tisiphone, guardian of retribution and overseer of torture, to be cast into a perpetual punishment befitting oath-breakers.”
Kalex gulped. His whole body was shaking as he held up a hand and recited the oath, knowing where to put in the extra details due to experience in these sort of things, binding it into place with his voice. “I, Kalex, hereby swear by Lucifer, the light-bringer, to never cause or bring harm to Ophelia White or any member of the Society held in place by Ariadne Dante. The breaking of this oath will result in my handing to Tisiphone, guardian of retribution and overseer of torture who stands at the gates to the Circles, to be cast into a perpetual punishment befitting my crime within the Ninth Circle.”
Ariadne nodded, satisfied with the oath. She could feel the strength of the binding in the air around them, could almost feel the elation from her sister down in Hell as she awaited the moment this goblin broke his promise and she received a new toy to mangle the body of. Tisiphone would have to be patient and content with the one goblin already sent to her—the one with his throat ripped out, who would have descended to the Fourth Circle upon drawing his final breath.
“Go back to your family, Kalex, explain to them your new situation and depose of your dead,” said Ariadne, and she gestured to the dead goblin absentmindedly. “You will apologise to Ophelia yourself whenever you are next within her company. Now, go.”
Kalex nodded repeatedly as he backed away down the corridor, pausing only to grab the dead creature’s feet and drag him along the flagstones, and disappeared around a corner.
Ariadne loosed a sigh and retracted her influence over the shadows, feeling as the darkness disappeared and contained itself within her body. She rolled her shoulders and scrubbed a hand over her face—her way to transform back to simple Ariadne Dante after a stint of allowing the other being within her to take over. She let out another sigh before beginning her walk back to the morgue.
When she returned to the room, however, she found that it was empty of inhabitants and Annabelle’s body had gone from the table and placed into one of the free cold chambers. She listened out for the sound of voices, picked up on hushed, barely there tones and followed them until she reached the open doors of the parlour.
The parlour was one of Ariadne’s favourite rooms, bedecked in hues of blue, gold and cream and furnished in some of her more luxurious furniture and antique ornaments. Along the walls were portraits that had been gifted to her over the years, all people she had not actually known but had taken a liking to the elegance and details. Every empty surface was now covered with candles, courtesy of Ophelia and her decorating for the celebration of Samhain.
Ariadne leaned against the doorframe and watched the scene before her, smiling as she did. Sat on the single settee, a French piece she’d had since the failed rebellion in 1832, and covered by a red blanket that so obviously belonged to Ophelia, was Atticus. Sat beside her dearest friend was the aforementioned siren, who was working deftly and gently with her hands to weave Atticus’ hair into a Grecian braid. Ophelia occasionally looked up from her work and over Atticus’ head to join in the conversation that Evadne, who sat in one of the plush chairs facing the other two, and Atticus were having about ‘OC’. The two betas that had accompanied Evadne through the portal were sat on the two chairs across from their alpha, ever the stoic and silent sentinels.
“There are many men in London with the name Oscar, Evadne,” Ophelia murmured after she finished her styling of Atticus’ hair. “Besides, how do you know that, if they are initials, they refer to a male name? It could as easily be Olivia—”
“Or Ophelia,” interrupted Atticus. The statement earned him a slap upside the head by the siren.
“Do not begin with this again, satyr,” Ophelia said in a serious tone, though Ariadne could see the slight upturn to her lips. “I was serious when I threatened to turn your horns into drinking vessels.”
Evadne’s brows rose. What is this?
“I accused Ophelia of being Jack a few days ago,” replied Atticus.
“He apologised for his insane accusation, of course, and I accepted his apology,” said Ophelia, “and I told him that if he was to ever say such a thing again I would skin him and turn his horns into drinking vessels.”
Ariadne could not say she was shocked at the threat; this was the standard for the siren. Honestly, however, one thing Ariadne was shocked about was that Ophelia had so easily accepted the apology.
Atticus looked halfway over his shoulder at the siren. A sincere expression was on his face. “You must know that I was only joking just now—”
Ophelia nodded. “Of course I know that.” She raised a hand and flicked Atticus on the temple, a light jab, and gave him a genuine smile. “But the threat and promise still remains. Perhaps I’ll also turn your legs into chair legs.”
Atticus grinned at her, which caused Ophelia to laugh. Of course this had to be the sort of humour that arose between the two, dark and twisted. Of course these two—these three—would instantly become friends, despite what Ophelia had said about not having or wanting friends and preferring to be alone.
Ariadne felt a sharp pang in her breast and recognised it as a sort of envy. Envy over the fact that, though she had known Ophelia the longest, the siren seemed to appear more comfortable and spoke easier in the presence of practical strangers rather than her. It was inane, really, this form of jealously she felt—after all, the siren was able to choose who she spoke to and who she was more concerting towards. And yet, despite knowing and respecting this fact, Ariadne could not help but yearn for Ophelia to speak to her with warmth and consider them friends.
How foolish she thought herself, for being caught up with the pining for friendship. How were two people who were similar in so many ways ever supposed to become friends? And even though they had laughed together earlier over that morbid joke, Ophelia had said herself that they would never be friends.
Ariadne banished the thoughts from her mind, steeled her heart against the feelings there, and stepped into the room. Immediately Atticus’ eyes met hers and she smiled at him.
“I was wondering when you would show your face, Ariadne,” Atticus said. “I was beginning to think you had somehow gotten yourself lost.”
Ariadne snorted. “Hardly.” She moved across the room towards the drinks cabinet in the corner and poured herself a glass of cognac. “I had to deliver some harsh words to a goblin, is all.”
Ophelia stared at her, face void of all expression except—there, a flicker of anger in the corner of her eyes. “Harsh words? Is that the only punishment you will give?”
Ariadne swirled the contents of her frosted glass and took a sip of the alcohol. She should have decided to drink her beloved whiskey. “He has sworn to an oath to never cause harm to you again.”
Ophelia glowered. “Mere humans commonly break oaths, and he is a goblin; he’ll break what he swore for the right price.”
“Unless Kalex has a strong desire to become a plaything for my sister Tisiphone, he will keep true to his oath.”
Ophelia’s eyes widened, but she quickly regained composure and nodded. She cocked her a little to the side, a faint smile ghosting on her lips. “Are all your siblings named after figures from ancient Greek history?” History, not mythology, for the latter was only used by those who had been made blind to the truth of their world—the mortals. Mythology was a term only used by people who did not know the truth.
Ariadne rolled her eyes. She had been waiting for this question. “Surprisingly, no. Most of us have names stolen from all sorts of history—though I am named what I am simply for the irony rather than the daughter of Minos and wife of Dionysus.”
“‘Very holy’,” Ophelia laughed, “ironic indeed.”
The demon merely smiled and leaned against the side of the wide fireplace that was the focal point of the room, glancing down at the glass she held. She thought more of the conversation she had had regarding the exhuming of Stride’s body, how Ophelia be the best option for bringing this subject up to the Northern Witch Queen ... the prospect of what could happen if Ophelia were to change her mind and strike an alliance with Morag ... despite the fear of that possibility, Ariadne knew that the risk was worth it if Morag was ever to agree to what needed to be done without becoming another circumstance in which the queen was scarcely resisting the urge to rip out Ariadne’s throat.
Ophelia, though Ariadne was loathe to view her in this way, could become a way for neutral conversation to funnel between the two opposing women; completely unbiased and without need to withhold information.
“Ophelia White,” the demon said and raised her eyes to meet the siren’s, “I have a favour to ask of you.”