It had taken twenty minutes, due to the normal amount of traffic at the time of the day they were travelling, to reach the shop that the two women now stood in front of. The exterior was tasteful, painted a dark green that contrasted with the cream of the upper levels, with two elegantly large windows either side of the heavy-looking oak door. In gilded gold was wrote ‘LYRE & CO APOTHECARY’ with ‘WINE AND REMEDIES’ and ‘ESTABLISHED 1872’ written in the respective order underneath.
“Please tell me that ‘Lyre’ is a reference to Apollo,” murmured Ophelia as she closed her parasol.
“You are correct in your assumption,” replied Ariadne. “Though not only is it a homage to the medicinal side of the Greek god, it is also the surname that Atticus takes—much in the same way as you have taken White, as ironic as that is, and I Dante.”
Ophelia smiled. “So, Atticus is an apothecary. I must say I had not thought of that career, but instead a musician or even the proprietor of a gun shop.”
“It is not just herbal remedies for humans that he is the seller of; Atticus is also the producer of ones for us supernatural’s and deals in talismans and charms and all things associated with witchcraft.”
“Interesting,” was all Ophelia said before she turned the brass handle and opened the door. A small bell above her head dinged at their entrance into the organised yet busy shop. It was a pleasant shop, handsome in its decor of mahogany and marble, with long cabinets with labelled drawers and running shelves stacked with vials of every size that held a number of contents. There was a long counter at the end of the shop, running the length of the wall, lined with scales, a mortar-and-pestle, products in woven baskets, and a brass till.
The customers did not pay attention to the two of them, nor did the young man weighing sprigs of lavender behind the counter for a woman in a lilac dress. For a moment Atticus was nowhere to be seen, but then the door to the right-side of the counter wall opened and he emerged. He looked straight across and met Ariadne’s eye. The demon heiress and the satyr had a silent communication, Ophelia saw, which was a language of subtle eyebrow movements, blinks and slight inclinations of the head. Ophelia knew that the pair had had to have been friends for a considerable numbers of years to be able to communicate in such a way.
Atticus walked up to the young man turned his head to murmur something in his ear. Ophelia caught sight of the faint smile that upturned the man’s lips, and the subtle way Atticus’ hand moved to what Ophelia could only presume was the small of the man’s back. The young man glanced their way and Ophelia realised that his eyes were fully green and his ears were pointed and curved—a wood elf. The human customers did not seem to notice the intimate interaction.
Though he did not signal to them, instead moving silently back to the door he had come through and disappeared into the room, Ariadne began to walk in that direction and Ophelia followed suit, trailing just behind the hem of the demon’s skirt.
The room behind the door was dark, with a single lamp lit, and cluttered with all number of boxes and cabinets that contained who-knows-what. Atticus was not present in the place, but there was a staircase at the end that he must have gone up—must because Ariadne drifted up. It ended on a narrow landing with a side table and a single, open door. The women walked into a parlour, moderately sized and pleasant in decor but not ostentatious: the walls were papered in green and heavy curtains of the same colour hung undrawn at the sash windows (windows that were open to lend the room a cool atmosphere) in which a round table and chairs were positioned in the middle of; there was a single settee and two chairs on either side of a coffee table in front of the fireplace; a cabinet much like the one downstairs was backed against a wall and there stood a glass case with a taxidermy owl with its wings spread atop it.
Atticus emerged into the room through another open door with a silver tea tray in his hands. “I assume that this isn’t a simple courtesy call to your oldest friend,” he said to Ariadne as he set the tray down on the coffee table and gestured for the two women to sit down.
“Not this time around,” replied the heiress.
“I have to say, I expected your home to be similar to Ariadne’s,” said Ophelia as she took occupancy of the chair closet to the cabinet.
“I’ve never needed an enchanted house, or seen the need to constantly add rooms like my old friend over here,” Atticus murmured with a smile. “Do you take sugar?”
“Just one,” she replied.
“I suppose I am merely used to having a lot of rooms: my wing in Pandemonium had sixty,” interjected Ariadne as she took off her gloves.
“Huh, I had always thought Pandemonium was a fictional name for the capital, but then again I’ve never had any need to know more about Hell than the average religious person.” Ophelia took the cup and saucer that Atticus offered her.
“Who do you think gave Milton the inspiration to name it so in his Paradise Lost, or aided Dante on his writing of his Inferno?” Ariadne said the words matter-of-factly, as if she were simply reminding the siren instead of supplying new news. “The perfect way to make my father brood is to supply information about his realm to the mortals he hates so very much.”
“You are not . . . amicable with your father?” Ophelia asked. Atticus choked on his tea.
“Our relationship is built upon dislike and distrust. I was never the monster he wanted be to me, never quite lived up to the title bestowed upon my head—Lady of Darkness.” She paused and regarded Ophelia for a moment. “And what of you and your parentage?”
Ophelia barked a laugh. “Similar to any other orphan you will come across: my father is unknown to me and my mother abandoned me when I was but a wee babe.” She turned her head to look at Atticus then, a signal that that stream of conversation was over. “Before we start on the actual matter at hand, I want to know one thing concerning you, for I am nosy about the people I work with and love to pry into their lives.”
Atticus’ brow knitted. “Alright . . .”
“Is that young wood elf your lover?”
He sighed in relief that it was a simple question and smiled. “Yes.”
“I’ve courted women before, albeit not in the last couple of centuries.” She brought her cup to her lips and took a sip. When she replaced it on the saucer she said, “That was all I wanted to know for now. Ariadne will explain why we are here.”
And so Ariadne did, perched on the edge of her seat as she spoke of what she had found and what she and Ophelia had discussed, as nonsensical as the siren’s theories had been if she was to be honest. Atticus listened, nodding every so often, whilst Ophelia just sipped at her tea and glanced at the owl’s glistening eyes—how she loathed the killing and stuffing of animals to create trophies. The demon spoke of the Ripper murders, of those seemingly unpatterned kills—
“I do not believe they are unpatterned,” interjected Ophelia so suddenly the demon and satyr started in their seats. She glanced up at Atticus and asked, “Do you have any paper nearby, and a pen? I just realised something and need to write it down.”
Atticus rose to his feet with an elegance the siren did not think a satyr, due to their stocky, equine lower limbs, would be capable of and moved to rummage through the cabinet. Mere moments later he produced a piece of paper that was crumbled around the edges, but would suffice, and an ornate pen and handed the two to Ophelia, who placed them on her lap and began to jot words in the shortest of hands so that it looked like gibberish.
“I may not pay a lot of attention to events but I’m a dab hand at remembering dates,” she started after a couple of minutes. “Nichols’ dates of murder were the thirtieth and thirty-first. Now, last month Chapman was killed on the seventh and found on the eighth, whilst both Stride and Eddowes were killed and found on the twenty-ninth and thirtieth. Do you see a pattern emerging here?”
It was silent in the room before Atticus said, “There’s a day’s difference between Nichols and Stride and Eddowes.”
Ophelia nodded. “It isn’t much and I’m probably seeing patterns where there are none, but to have one killed on the thirtieth one month and then killed that date the next . . . it’s a little suspicious. And if we want to add Martha Tabram to the list—though she was murdered in August—then she was killed the sixth and found on the seventh.”
“What were the moon phases?”
Ophelia thought back. “A new moon for Tabram and Chapman, a waning crescent for Nichols and a waxing crescent for the other two. Why?”
Ophelia drummed her fingers against the arm of her chair before sighing and shaking her head. “There’s been no death this month, however—the pattern stops.”
“But why break a habit?”
“To avoid suspicion, perhaps—you’d stop if you realise you were creating a pattern and someone caught on to that.”
Ariadne, who had been listening like the observer she was, stood up and moved to pace across the space between the furniture and fire. “I read the post-mortem for Stride, albeit only briefly, and among it I read that she the wound on her throat was not done with a sharp, pointed knife . . . the other three women had wounds inflicted from that type of knife.”
“And she was killed behind a public house,” Atticus added and placed down his cup and saucer with a soft clang. “Jack does not kill so close to rowdy places where he could be detected, even if they will be drunk.”
“From what else I read of the report there is an assumption that the killer was right-handed, whilst every other murder was committed by someone who was left-handed.”
“And the only mutilation to Stride was the slit on her throat.”
Ophelia placed her own cup and saucer down and pushed it away, suddenly finding herself unable to enjoy the taste as a sudden coldness coiled in the pit of her stomach. She had truly brushed Stride’s murder off as a simple mishap, a singularity in the continuation of Jack’s spree of murder . . . but if Stride had not been killed by the one behind the mask of a mysterious persona . . . then this could be deliberate, a targeted attack. Stride, though an herbal witch, was still a witch and an emissary, and then there was the matter of the centauride . . . .
“You were right,” Ophelia whispered. The coldness in her stomach unfurled and ran through her veins as the entire extent of the situation barrelled down on her. She raised her head and looked Ariadne in the eye. “We are being targeted.”
“The question we must ask ourselves is: why? Why now?”
Atticus glanced over at Ophelia and assessed the way she stood, the way she held herself. “When did you return to London, siren?”
Ophelia’s head whipped to the side to regard him with wide eyes. “Pardon?”
“When did you return to London?” he repeated and gathered himself up onto his feet.
“The end of June,” she said slowly, cautiously, before she realised just why the question had been posed. The mask of ice wielded to her face and her eyes narrowed, the gold already overlapping into the white. “Are you accusing me of somehow being linked to these murders, little satyr?”
“Little satyr?” Atticus scoffed, “I am older than you by two millennia, girl, I walked beside Dionysus long before you were even a concept in your mother’s womb.”
“Once you did, but your god seems to have deserted you now,” retorted the siren as the first drop of water made her palms moist. “I’ll ask you again: are you accusing me of being a murderer?”
“Is that not what you are?”
“I am a murderer; I do not and will never deny that. But I am a murderer of the mortal men I make into playthings, the same brand of mortal men who believe women are their ragdolls to thrown around. Yes I understand that is not the right course of action to undertake, but I am not a good person. I am not a murderer of human and inhuman women alike,” Ophelia said. Drip-drip-drip. She had to keep her temper under control, she knew that, but this satyr was accusing her of nonsense.
“You do have to admit that is beyond suspicious, with you returning to London and not two months later the first murder happens.”
Why was Ariadne not intervening? The question hung in Ophelia’s mind dimly, clouded by anger of the hottest kind.
“How dare you accuse me of these murders?!” Her voice rose an octave, not a shriek but something close. “What do I have to gain from murdering prostitutes, satyr? Why would I murder people I care about? Yes, you heard me right—the siren cares for some humans—but how could I not when they are what I am?”
Atticus blinked, but it was Ariadne who softly murmured the siren’s name. Ophelia, however, whirred around to face her and narrowed her eyes slightly. “I am nothing more than a glorified prostitute, am I not? I choose my clients, I can be rid of them, but I am what humans so openly term ‘whore’ and the like just because I have the control over my sexuality instead of a man.” She stopped suddenly and took a breath, flexing her hands until they dried, with her clawed nails raking across the skin of her palm each time. “I cannot stand to be in the company of those who see fit to accuse the innocent; I would much prefer to be in the company of those who do not narrow their eyes at me in mindless suspicion. If you should have need of the murderous siren, you shall find her in Whitechapel with her kin.”
No one spoke as Ophelia gathered her parasol and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her loudly. No one bided her any attention as she retreated the shop and climbed into the dark carriage still waiting outside.
“Oh, people beware! London’s other resident killer is in our midst!”
Ophelia glanced up from her whiskey to the owner of the voice who had whispered the sarcastic outcry, the Irish accent fainter than it once was due to years in this island and city of smog, and smiled. “How are you this noon, Mary?” she asked of the tall and fair woman with red hair and blue eyes. Fair Emma, Dark Mary; the siren didn’t particular care for the nicknames of Mary Jane Kelly, the only one she deigned to call her friend. A friend who knew exactly what she was.
“Not as drunk as I would like to be this late into the day,” she said with a laugh before taking occupancy of the stool across from Ophelia. This was their usual table and usual arrangement in the Ten Bells public house, but where there used to be three of them idling the hours away with rum and whatnot there was now only these two. Compared to Mary and the other patrons of the building, Ophelia in her satin dress looked quite out of place (not that she was paid any attention; the people had learnt not to after her last fight). Mary placed her glass down on the dusty table, which was followed by her tatty shawl. “What had you killing your latest lover this time? Did ‘e scorn you?”
Ophelia rolled her eyes and drank her whiskey in one gulp. “I got bored,” she said nonchalantly. “You know how I am; I easily grow tedious.”
“I know how exactly how you are, or are you forgetting I’ve known you since eighty-three?”
Ophelia’s smile grew. “I’d just turned on to one of the back streets in Cardiff as a quicker way of returning to lodgings when I saw you pushed up against that wall with that horrible, sleazy man attempting to shove his meaty hand up your skirt—”
“Grabbed him by the back of his neck, ye did, and he raised his hand to you and you just said—”
“‘You raise your hand to me and I will raise mine back twice as hard’. It wasn’t so much as a threat as a promise. Told him he better get on his way unless he wanted to be sporting a rather fetching bust nose and a pair of blackened eyes.” She paused for a second to laugh at the memory, her lips turning upwards into the rarest of smiles—the purest; a quaint little thing of happiness that was so seldom displayed for she had quite little to show it for.
“The start of our long friendship.”
“Oh, what a fond thing to remember. I shall picture it on mornings to keep the sound of Melancholia from attempting to whisper in my ear.”
Mary took a long drag of her liquor. “I was not aware that it could ever sing to you, you who hold the songs in your keeping.”
Ophelia sighed. The smile was gone. The travesty of her happiness was this; a fishing boat upon a stormy sea of sadness that quite seemed to stretch forever. “It is a common occurrence for those as old and young as I am. All gifts bear consequences, but I bare them just as we all must.” She would not call it a gift, however, but a curse.
“Seems both gifts and sins give us consequences. I often wonder if what I am, what I do, will mean I go to that place of fire and punishment,” murmured Mary as she twirled the charm of Saint Brigid attached to the chain around her neck.
Ophelia shrugged. “I believe that you go to wherever you choose to be after death. No one should have the right to dictate to you about which afterlife you are entitled to . . . well, unless you’re a rapist or some other of the diabolical lot.”
“They’d go to Hell and become demons, then.”
“No,” Ophelia said and shook her head. “Hell has standards to uphold. They’d go to Hell, yes, but into the circle of perpetual punishment.” She took another pause and took the liberty of sorting out the pins keeping her hat in place as a non-verbal way of filling the silence. After a second she dropped her hands back down onto the tacky, dust-covered table and caught her friend’s eye. “But let us speak nothing more of this subject. I am glad to see you alive, my dear.”
“You expected me to be anything else?”
“I had grown worried due to this Jack, he has already murdered Mary and Annie and though my heart stirred to read of their deaths I never truly cared for either of them . . . but you . . . I do not wish to hear of your death. I’ve had not one whim of fondness for a human since him, but you are my dearest friend and to receive news of your death would certainly drive me to the noose for my reaction.”
A smile slowly crossed Mary’s face. “It warms my heart to know you care about me enough to react, but I can confidently assure you that Jack will not lay even a gloved finger on me.”
“You can’t know that.”
Mary laughed. “You’ve seen me drunk; violent to the bone can I be.”
Ophelia considered this and closed her eyes for the briefest of moments. When she opened them once more she said, “Just be careful.”
“When am I not, hmm?”
“Mary . . .”
“I’ll be careful,” murmured the redhead before she brought her glass to her lips, tipped back her head, and emptied the vessel of its remaining liquor. She banged the glass back onto the table and picked up her shawl. “If you’ll excuse me, I have business to deal with and money to be made.”
Ophelia rolled her eyes but smiled. “I do so hope you still follow what I taught you for dealing with unwanted customers.”
“Of course. You never told me how you learnt . . . what do you call it?”
“Savate,” Ophelia answered. “I was in France when Michel Casseux developed L’art de la savate’ and later again when Charles Lecour added boxing to the style. I wanted to learn but I am a woman and was told to return to restful past times, so I did what I do best and sang. I had it learnt to the highest standard in little over six months.”
“These stories you tell, these memories you speak of . . . before I met you I did not think it possible, believed only God and the angels and demons could do so—”
“You know, I cannot remember for the life of me why I ever told you what I am in the first place.”
“A drunken slip of the tongue if my memory serves me correctly.”
Ophelia’s eyes widened by a fraction. “I must have drank more than my weight if I was drunk. It is incredibly hard for someone like me to become intoxicated, after all.”
“I rather think you did. I can recall asking you whether it was wonderful to be able to live for what seemed like an eternity, expecting a yes, but instead you looked across at me and said ‘it is the loneliest of lives, both a gift and a curse’.”
“I was telling the absolute truth.”
Mary did not reply but instead glanced over at the large clock face that took up most of one of the walls. “And you’re making me late,” she said as she looked back at the siren, throwing her shawl around her shoulders. “If I leave this pub to find that that witch Martha has taken my spot and is enticing my regulars . . . well, we shall no longer be friends.”
A bark of laughter sounded from Ophelia White’s lips. “Well go on then, I would hate to see a confrontation between you and this witch. I shall see you soon.”
“Don’t wait so long until the next time, though, a chara.”
“I promise. Now go.”
Mary left immediately afterwards, but instead of leaving as well Ophelia stayed where she was. No one who entered the public house and passed her by paid too much attention to her presence; the drunken men had learnt not to watch her with hungry eyes lest they wanted their glasses in their eyes, and hardly anyone was in a high enough station of repute to be bothered by who she was and what she had done. Ophelia White was safest here, here among her people: the prostitutes and debauched.
Twilight had long past, the stars of the night covered by the smog like some lurid mask for a masque, when she returned to the house on Bedford Square. She had stayed in the Ten Bells for an hour more before beginning a stroll around the parks. She’d returned and opened the black door expecting the same white marble, but instead found that the foyer was now decorated as if it were stuck in the baroque period, perfectly opulent, with the staircase now spiral and concealing a fountain underneath it. It was beautiful; as Ophelia moved around to view the details she noted not holy angels but fallen ones, they’re wings ripped out to expose the bones underneath and worse yet, the jagged upside-down V lines with golden blood weeping from them. The more she looked the more she realised that she was following a twisted story; a angel who wings are ripped out by not God but a woman, the angel descending in flailing limbs and screaming down to Hell, then shackled in a cage screaming. It ended there, in the cage, but she had a feeling that wasn’t the last of the story.
“I see you’ve discovered one of the murals hidden in the sculptures.”
Ophelia did not startle at the sudden presence of the demon heiress; she had felt the warp of energy and shadows around her. “Is it a real story?”
Ophelia reached forward and ran her fingertips over the tortured face of the angel, as beautiful and tragic as Cabanel’s painting the Fallen Angel. “Is it your father?” she asked, though in every legend she had heard and read a woman was never described as the doer of the deed.
Ariadne’s laugh was a shrill. “Oh no. Hell was nothing more than a pit when Lucifer was cast down, thrown backwards. It was supposed to be exile, a prison, but my father was quick to transform it into a kingdom. No, this angel is not my father; he has never been enslaved.”
Ophelia said nothing in answer but instead glided across the floor taking in more of the faces until she paused in front of ten figures, five female and five male, lined up in no particular order she could fathom. They were magnificent. “Do these hold any significance or are they just figures?”
“Nine of them are nine of my siblings,” Ariadne replied and pointed towards the first one. “This is me. Yes, I know, the gold in no way resembles anything about me, not when the light of it is precisely what I am not.”
“So are these murals sentimental?”
Ophelia nodded and began to open her mouth to utter she would be retiring to her chambers, but Ariadne spoke first. “I apologise for Atticus,” she said.
“Do not apologise on a man’s behalf, it makes them believe that is fine for them to never apologise themselves.”
“I’m not apologising for him, I’m apologising because of him—there is a difference,” stated the demon nondescriptly, though there was the faintest of an upward curl at the corner of her lips. “Atticus can be quick to judge upon character and reputation, and you do not have the . . . most innocent of either.”
“Really? I had not guessed.”
Ariadne ignored the sarcastic statement. “He is wary of you, Ophelia, just as everyone in the society is, as you well know.”
“And yet they are fine with you, you who are an heiress to Hell itself, you who are a daughter of Lucifer.”
“They have known me a long time, they have come to trust me,” said Ariadne. “The truth of that lies in the fact they believe what I want to believe about myself—that I am a soulful demon rather than a soulless one. They fear you because you act as if you have no conscience, and you have no mercy.”
“I’m glad of that. I was not raised to insight warmth and love, but to be cold and bring fear.”
Ariadne’s eyes narrowed but she did not argue the point. Instead she said, “That’s a lonely way to live.”
Ophelia shrugged. “Solitude suits me.”
“The same way not caring does?”
“To care only brings pain. To be aloof brings content.” She took a pause and when she spoke again she had changed the subject of conversation. “I am tired, Ariadne and as . . . stimulating as this conversation is, I would like to retire to my bed. Goodnight.” She turned and walked over to the staircase, paying no great attention to the details of the fountain as she did.
“A meeting has been arranged for tomorrow morning at nine o’clock,” Ariadne called out just before Ophelia managed to ascend three steps.
“Must I attend?”
Ophelia huffed but nodded her head. “I will try to keep myself awake and looking interested throughout, then. I will try to be on my best behaviour and not become involved in any arguments, as well. Now, goodnight.”