“I have wondered, since I took up your offer, of the staff that you have working for you,” Ophelia started as she walked through the open doors and into the dining room, the bottom of her nightdress trailing across the wooden floor. Ariadne was sat at the table, a great mahogany piece of furniture large enough to seat thirty people, though only one end was set with white linen and silver platters with two chairs pushed up. The room was decorated in tasteful dark wainscoting and green brocade wallpaper meeting seamlessly in the centre of the walls. “I have not seen a single soul other than yourself walk through the winding corridors, and yet everything is immaculately clean and food is prepared and laid at the proper times.”
“I have no staff,” Ariadne said simply. “Servants are for the aid of humans.”
“I hardly believe that you are responsible for all, though.”
Ariadne laughed. “I would love to say that I do, but then I would be lying. I have no need for servants when I have magic. The house is, for all intent and purposes, alive behind its false exterior—a house that is alive is able to do all the work itself. Enchanting houses has quite a number of advantages.”
Ophelia considered this for a moment as she took her seat and the rack of toast and pot of jam. She always ate toast with jam before even considering sausage or egg. “Do you not ever get lonely?” she asked as she slathered jam across the toast.
“I scarcely believe that you are in a situation to ask me that, given your penchant for solitude,” replied the demon before she bit into a sausage that was impaled upon the fork she wielded.
“No, I suppose you are right. It is odd to take meals with someone.” As she ate Ophelia noticed the newspaper laid in half beside Ariadne’s cup. “Do the journalists have anything of entertainment to say regarding Charles, or has the hype blown over?”
“Nothing more than the last newspaper article you took any interest in. The Beauchamp’s want information; want your arrest—all that you have read before. You have done them an injustice.”
“Are those your words or theirs?” Ophelia poured herself a cup of tea and dropped a sugarcube into the liquid, stirring absentmindedly for a moment with her finger hovering above the ceramic.
“Theirs. I just believe that is was a rather gruesome way to kill a man, boiling his blood. Why could you not have simply kissed him on the lips?”
Ophelia shrugged. “I act in extreme ways when I am caught up in fury, I always have. I once capsized a vessel, a fishing boat, because the captain dared to steer it near my territory—I am prudish where my space is concerned and cannot abide those who intrude upon it.”
The grand room fell into silence. There was an air of awkwardness between the two women who had never quite been little more than distant acquaintances, despite their crossed paths in the past, as there was little they had in common to speak about and neither truly cared for small talk. Four days was the longest time they had ever spent in one another’s company, and despite their extended histories they did not have much in the way of common ground, especially not when one was just over one-thousand years older than the other.
Ariadne cleared her throat, the silence deafening her hearing. “There is one thing that has sparked my curiosity. You mentioned last night of how you would be taking a trip to the police station, but how do you intend to do that when they are charged with arresting you? You can hardly sing, it would look a little strange since you shall be in public and not in an opera.”
Ophelia paused her act of piling her plate with bacon and scrambled egg, in a manner that would never been seen of a human woman in the society of etiquette and morality. “Whistling is a much more inconspicuous form of melody and louder than humming. Anything that is melodic enchants the minds of human men . . . I do so hope there will be no men of supernatural identity present when I begin.”
“It is the only sound they are not . . . immune to, shall we say? To them my whistle is a high screeching sound that induces pain into their ears. If I whistle for long enough their eardrums can burst, their ears bleed, and it can cause death.”
Ariadne blinked. “Oh, how nice.”
A smile crossed the siren’s lips. “I am a creature whose design is to allure and kill. I rather think I do it quite well.”
“Have you ever tried to not do that?”
“We cannot change our nature. I am not a good person,” Ophelia replied. “But I have not killed a man—once. The man I had taken to bed and kept there until Charles interrupted does not count, as he was merely a distraction. But yes, I have once not killed a man who was my lover, the man who knew the reason behind my exiling—he died, but I did not kill him.”
Despite herself Ariadne smiled. “On the embankment you said ‘they’ when referring to the one who knew that secret, and now you narrow it to a man. You are allowing me to get close to the secrets of your past, Ophelia.”
Ophelia huffed. “I give you one piece of information that was a slip of the tongue. Why are you so keen to know of my past, demon?”
“You are a private person, a mystery, but I do believe there is a fragility behind the stubborn shell you poise yourself in,” murmured Ariadne. “That, and I like to know about the people that I consider to be my friends—”
“We are not friends,” Ophelia said sternly. Her face had dropped into seriousness, all amusement lost. “We will never be friends. I am only here because I promised to help, because I am not quite ready to leave this city yet, but do not confuse my helpfulness for the want of friendship.”
Before Ariadne had a chance to speak Ophelia had pushed back her chair, her breakfast abandoned, and stood up. She was acting melodramatically, petulant even, but Ophelia had never cared for how she was viewed by others and she was not about to begin that now.
“I’m going to go dress in suitable attire to wear outside the confines of this house. Are you accompanying me to the Met headquarters?”
“I have nothing else to do today. I have no calls to make or messages to send. I shall have a carriage arranged and here on the street in twenty minutes.”
Ophelia smiled, the coldness slightly gone, as she used her hands to drape her grey-brown hair, the strands like silk between her fingers, over one shoulder. “Make it thirty, I want to look exceptional.”
The carriage halted just outside the steps of the Met with but a small jostle. The interior of the cab was dark due to the blind having being pulled down, and the dim illumination of the lamp left the inhabitants in solid silhouettes.
“Before we enter the building, I would care to know more about the effects of your whistle,” said Ariadne.
Ophelia inspected her nails as best she could in the darkness: for all her powers seeing in the dark had never been one of them. “The effect of my whistle is one of a temporary arrangement. The minds of men are only twisted to my needs whilst they are within my presence, once they leave they will forget that they were ever with me. It is quite a neat influence inducer.”
“And also quite convenient given the circumstances you have thrown yourself into.”
Ophelia smiled. “My people are evolutions greatest creation.”
“Modest as always.”
Ophelia said nothing for a moment, instead choosing to adjust her hat adorned with feathers and flowers, making sure that the pins were keeping the red velvet piece securely in place. “Is that all you had to ask?”
“Yes. Why? A little hasty, are you?”
“I do not like dawdling; there is never a reason to it.”
Ariadne laughed. “So eager to uncover files about those you have no care for?”
Ophelia shook her head no by the slight. “I love to toy with the desires of men; it’s the easiest way to reveal their true natures.” She left the most men, anyway, as not all can be entranced by me silent. “And I have plenty of care for prostitutes, thank you very much; they are by far the only people I do care about the welfare of.”
The only thing Ariadne did by way of reply was nod before turning the handle to allow for the door to swing open. She gestured for Ophelia to go first and the siren did just so, climbing out of the carriage with elegance and ease after opening up her parasol. Her heels hit the cobbles with a small click and set off walking with Ariadne keeping pace just behind.
The reception area, Ophelia saw upon entry into the headquarters, was void of all souls except for an officer half-slumped behind the desk that did not even register her entrance, but instead had the expression of someone in disdain of his current position. Behind him, on a bulletin board, was a poster with an artist’s rendition of her appearance that must have been given by the Beauchamp family—it was almost accurate, almost (for the nose was a little too big and haughty, and the hairline a little too high). Ophelia would have to either find every copy of the drawing and burn them to ash, or simply roam the streets of London shrouded in a glamour during the day—the drawing was far too close to real for her liking. The thing unnerved her by the slight, made her feel unsafe . . . not that she would ever verbally admit that.
Two whistled melodies and three minutes later, she and Ariadne found themselves in a modest sized room chocked full with shelf-upon-shelf and stacks on the floor of records with crimes from the most present and those dating back twenty, thirty, forty years. It was just one of three rooms but it was the one they needed.
“For a safeguarding society with contacts in many sectors of the human world, I was surprised when you told me you held none in the police,” said Ophelia as she gathered records they needed and dumped them unceremoniously on a mahogany desk.
Ariadne, who was sat at the desk, took a hold of a record regarding the Whitehall Mystery and began to work her way through the pages of writing and post-mortem and coronary reports. “We never had any viable reason to do so before. We are a safeguard between the humans and the supernatural but have never interfered with the activities of mortals.”
Ophelia nodded despite being hidden behind a shelf of folders that she skimmed her fingertips across absently, her touch moving silently through the years of crime, soon of the crimes she had no doubt caused among them. “Humans are petty. They kill for power and land. They are creatures full of jealously and know how to be cruel.”
“Are we not a lot like them, then?” quipped Ariadne. “I am over two-thousand years of age; I have destroyed many a soul due to not liking what they said, learnt how to be the cruellest that I can—it is in my nature, it is what it means to be a demon. Can you, siren, earnestly say that you have never taken someone down to the sea’s rocky bed due to an insult?” When Ophelia did not answer Ariadne smiled and carried on. “As I thought. Humans and supernatural’s are not so unalike in nature.”
“We are better than them,” Ophelia said stubbornly.
“No, Ophelia, we are not.”
“We are in some aspects,” countered Ophelia. “Humans are this world’s greatest discriminators and parasites of prejudice. You only have to take a brief reading of Frankenstein, though a literary work I know, to understand that their capacity of acceptance is limited and they will hate anything different to themselves. How do you think the society we are amongst would react they did find out about us, all of us? Do you believe they would welcome us, treat us as if we are family? No, they would not. Their revelation of us would be met with the upmost fear and scaremongering. I can envision it now, segregation and registration, brands burned into our skin as if we are cattle . . . out of all of us I can say that the Lycans would experience the worst, they would be brandished uncontrollable murderers and a law would pass for them to be killed on sight as if they are vermin. Humans of this society cannot cope very well with a change in skin colour; they most definitely wouldn’t be able to cope with magic and shape-shifters.”
“That is why we are here, Ophelia, to ensure that what you envision will never come to light. I know as well as you of the way man treats man, I have bared witness to over two-thousand years of it.”
“We as a society have never shown barbarism and discrimination towards one another. We hate, yes, and we kill the other, yes, but all that is over ancient feuds and hostility. We are better.”
Silence fell. There was nothing more to say upon the matter, not when they both knew well the injustices—for lack thereof of a better word—that the human society ignored if they did not concern them. Human nature was to ignore those in need because one was not in need.
The silence lasted until Ariadne broke it abruptly. “'The sixth cervical vertebra had been sawn through in removing the head from the trunk’,” she said, quoting details from the post-mortem report given by Dr Thomas Bond. ‘The lower limbs and pelvis had been removed’ . . .”
“Well, yes, obviously,” muttered Ophelia before she came back into view and moved to stand beside Ariadne, looking down at the document over the heiresses shoulder. “I fail to understand why, however, if your theory regarding wanting to reveal this society is correct, why it was the torso exclusively that was found. Would the killer not have been more successful in doing so if the horse side had been left attached?”
Ariadne sighed and leant back in the chair. “I am failing to understand any of this. I thought that perhaps coming here would reward us with at least one answer, but instead there are just more questions.”
Ophelia manoeuvred a hand over the demon’s shoulder and picked up the piece of paper with the report written across it. She skimmed her eyes over the words, golden eyes widening as she read the descriptions of the injuries. “‘I examined an arm that was brought to the mortuary’,” she read aloud and then realisation struck. “Just ‘an arm’, a singular.”
Ariadne glanced up. “And?”
“The other is missing, as are the lower limbs and the woman’s head, as well as ‘portions of the body’ which I assume to be other organs,” said Ophelia. “So there are two other theories in relation to this: one, the killer is a collector of certain body parts that they keep in jars and tanks of formaldehyde . . . or two, an especially fussy Wendigo.”
“Wendigo’s are forbidden from eating the flesh of humans, with the exception of murderers and rapists and the diabolical alike. They are also prohibited in the strictest of manners from assigning fellow supernatural as their victims—a break of this law is punishable by a slow death.”
Ophelia took a moment to consider this information. “So are we vouching for my first theory?”
Ariadne frowned; clearly unimpressed with the sirens lack of interest in the innings of the laws of the society she had brought herself into. She knew the banished daughter of the sea had no care for things that did not impede upon her persons. “Or simply a cannibal of the wholly human variety.”
Ophelia shook her head. “No, theory number one is completely legitimate and I will place six pounds on it being correct in a Gambling House.”
“That’ll be a dreadful waste of six pounds.”
Ophelia huffed and moved away, back towards the shelves so as to flit across them as she read the labels. “Or perhaps it is a different circumstance entirely, or all the aforementioned theories.” She came to a stop at a bulging book with a splitting spine, labelled ‘Unsolved cases of missing persons: one-thousand-eight-hundred-and-sixty to one-thousand-eight-hundred-and-seventy’. Out of curiosity, heightened by a year ringing in her head, Ophelia pulled the book out from its home and placed it atop a pile of boxes that rose up to her waist. It was an archive, she noted, with reasons as to why each case had been discontinued. She flipped through the pages, through eight years of missing men and women, until she came to a stop at a small passage that she would have overlooked had it not been for the name of the person. Her fingertips brushed over the name as she read:
James Rye was reported missing on December 16th 1868 by a friend and fellow workman on the docks after Mr. Rye failed to show on the fourteenth and fifteenth. Subsequently we began a search, but failure to recover any evidence of the man’s whereabouts or clues to what may have led to his disappearance caused the closing of this case exactly seven days after.
Ophelia closed her eyes for a brief second and sighed. The report was not wholly wrong, nor was it entirely correct. Two months tomorrow and it will have been twenty years since the incident she did not speak of, tried very hard not to think of, and had compartmentalised for all these years—only for the concentration behind locking everything in a closet in her mind to be not quite shattered, but not whole anymore, by giving in to curiosity and the sight of a single name. There was the familiar ache in her breast, and she pinned so much of her attention on ignoring it that she started, her eyes flying wide, at Ariadne’s voice.
“Did you know this man?”
“From the way that your fingertips are resting under the name, I assumed you knew the man that this passage is written about.”
Ophelia glanced down and sure enough, her nails were underlining James Rye. She curled in her fingers and dropped her hand, knowing that the demon was gauging her reaction. “The name is familiar,” she said and looked Ariadne directly in the eye. “Though I cannot place as to why.”
Ariadne’s eyes flickered across her face, trying to find a hairline fracture in the tempered and mastered impassiveness that was the siren’s mask. “A past lover, perhaps?”
“Perhaps, though my lovers have always died instead of going missing. This report is from almost twenty years ago, and I have taken many—forty?—lovers since then, they all blur.” She closed the book with a soft thud, dust flying into the air from the pages as they shut, and replaced it back on the shelf. “Now, are we about done here?”
“Yes. Thank you so much for your assistance.”
Ophelia smiled. “Oh, you are quite welcome. Well, I was the one who got us in here, wasn’t I? You should at least be earnestly grateful for that.”
“Ah, yes. I am quite grateful for your uncanny ability to hypnotise mortal men.”
Ophelia bowed her head in mock gratitude. “Where to now then, O’ great boss? How about a nice restaurant for afternoon tea?” she asked and raised an eyebrow. “We can listen to the latest gossip of the scandalous affair of the woman who dared to show an inch more of her wrist than is seen to be proper, or the gentleman who wore a white bowtie to a black-tie dinner.”
A laugh produced from Ariadne’s lips. “Gossip is the art of those whose lives are too boring to speak of,” she quipped.
“Oh, you are no fun! I so want to hear of the woman who, you will scarcely believe it and I hope it does not shock you, went out with a chaperone!”
“Were these two women you speak of actually one in the same and are actually you?”
“Not this time. Though I am commonly the subject of gossip. But no more of that, I wish to know where she shall be spending the afternoon. We could go to Hyde Park if you do not wish for afternoon tea.”
“No,” Ariadne said as she retrieved her gloves from the pockets of her basque jacket and slid them over her hands. “I need to speak with Atticus about what I read from these files.”
“Then I shall join you. It will mean I am not walking the streets out of sheer boredom, but instead I shall be walking through a house in boredom.”