London, October, 1888
Ophelia White stalked across the Victoria Embankment alongside the River Thames, her parasol up to block the yellow glow of the lamps. After an hour of smiling and presenting herself as a young lord’s mistress, she had needed to step away from humans and into another dull London night. She paused to lean against the edge and watched the murky water lap against the side.
Being by the water made her calmer, made her feel lighter and younger. It reminded of home, of her sea cave out to the west near Tintagel Castle, which she had not seen since four-hundred years ago. The water was a lifeline.
A sigh escaped her rouge lips and she glanced out towards the city sprawling around her, the odd couple that walked past and enjoyed the quiet night despite the light smog. Those mortals could not see her due to the glamour shrouding her body, but she could see them perfectly fine.
It would be so easy, she thought as she watched the young man whose suit denoted wealth. It would be so easy to sing and take his heart, to take his money.
But she was not in the mood for that, not tonight. Not when she had a lover gifting her with furniture she had no need or space for, dresses and hats she would never wear. She had no need to be in the news once more, not since the scandal of how a lord had left his country manor to her in his will instead of to his family the year beforehand—after a few months of inhabitation she’d sold the manor, but events like that had branded her a breaker of families and the journalists often said she would be better off as a prostitute in Whitechapel.
She would rather not be a Whitechapel prostitute, thank you very much. Not when Jack the Ripper was spreading hysteria through London like unrelenting wildfire. From what she had heard the mass murderer was running circles around the police, with three prostitutes dead so far and no one had any idea just who the man behind the ‘Jack’ persona was.
She watched from afar, like she always did, since she had never been one to concern herself with humans. She had no care for those who called those like herself the monsters when mortals were the most monstrous of all creatures. She was not a human sympathiser—she couldn’t sympathise with a race that killed and pillaged, discriminated and destroyed. And humans were more selfish than sirens like her, who loved gold and jewels as much as magpies loved shining objects.
Ophelia tipped her head back and released a breath that misted from her lips like the smoke of a cigarette, and stepped away from the lamps into the shadows, closing her red parasol. Her senses, heightened by her supernatural identity, pricked up at the sound of heels that were so quiet no human would ever had heard them. She felt the shadows she was in shift over her bare arms, clasping around her neck with its black, icy fingers.
She waited a few seconds before whirling on her booted feet. As she did so, she held her parasol out in front of her by the handle. An iron knife shot out from the end. Her eyes narrowed to peer into the eclipsing wall of darkness, taking a tentative step forward.
She was not scared—that was not an emotion she had been born with—but she was cautious.
A laugh resounded from the heart of the darkness, a darkness which warped with a shudder before dissipating into the chest of a woman with midnight hair. After a few seconds her whole being fully materialised, the navy blue of her dress, her pale skin, the green of her wide eyes and the bitten pink of her lips. Her hair was a mess, a haystack coming undone from its bun.
“Well, don’t you look delightful,” Ophelia murmured as she clicked a button on the handle to bring the knife back in. She lowered the parasol once more, leaning her weight on to it.
The woman ran a hand through her hair, releasing more of the curled strands of night. “So do you. You look older than the last time we spoke.”
“The last time we spoke was the first day of the June Rebellion,” Ophelia reminded her. “And my immortality is not what it was when I had my tail, I am aging . . . albeit very slowly.”
The woman looked her over, eyeing the beaded detail of her scarlet dress and the neat curls of her grey-brown hair. “How many lovers do you take the arm of now, Ophelia?”
“Only one at the present—a young lord,” she answered. “I must say, he is exceedingly generous. Alas, over the years I have accumulated far too many material possessions for my mortal-built townhouse to be able to cope. I have dresses laid out in every room, and I am up to my ears in dressing tables and chaise-longues.”
The woman simply rolled her eyes. “I am delighted to see that you have not changed your ways.”
“I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle, Ariadne,” said Ophelia before she took a seat on a bench nearby. “Now, tell me why the banished princess of Hell is concerning herself with an exiled siren?”
“I heard you were living in London and—”
“Have you come to ask whether I had reconsidered the offer you proposed to me all those years ago in Paris? I was brought up in the sea by my Matron, and I was brought up to be a solitary creature of greed and destruction. I have no care for joining your circle for wayward, estranged Supernatural’s.”
Ariadne gave a huff and flicked her wrist slightly. A cloak of shadows floated over her shoulders. "You cannot continue flitting between one lover and the next, sooner or later you'll be found out and you won't have any man to turn to,” she murmured.
Ophelia’s golden eyes narrowed. “I have been exiled for over four-hundred years, I have taken over a two-hundred lovers, and my secret has always been safe.”
“There will come a day when it is not.”
“What will you do? Reveal it? My song keeps my secret hidden.”
“I am not going to reveal you to be a siren to the human society, in doing so would lead to the revealing our entirety—jeopardising the safety of all our species is not something I would ever partake in,” said Ariadne. “I am not here to deliver to you empty threats.”
The gold eyes kept their narrow position. “Then why are you here? To advise me? I do not need your humble advice, O Princess of Hell, and nor do I want it.”
“Nor am I here to advise.”
“But this is not just a humble visit, you want something. Tell me.”
Ariadne ran a hand through her black hair, which would have looked more as a hood to her shadow cloak if the lamplight did not highlight the fine strands. “I need your help. I beseech of you for your help.”
“Why would a demon deign to enlist the help of a siren?”
Ariadne moved and sat on the other end of the bench. “I need you to help me track down Jack the Ripper.”
The curved eyebrows on Ophelia’s face rose, but the only question she asked was, “Why?”
The demon drew a hand into her cloak and retrieved a casebook. She rested it on her lap and flicked through the pages of writing until she stopped and held up a photo. “Elizabeth Stride, his third victim, was not only a prostitute of Whitechapel—she was a witch, and part of the Society.”
Ophelia took a hold of the photo and examined it for a brief second, her fingertips brushing over the surface, then dropped it back into the casebook. She did not particularly care—she had always favoured apathy—but her interest was slightly peaked. “So Jack murders one of your members and makes it personal . . . I fail to see how I am pieced into this.”
“The resources of the Society are limited, and we have no members within Scotland Yard. I had a pixie steal this from the building last night, but it must be returned before the mortal men realise it has been missing from their presence.”
Ophelia gave a laugh, now knowing how she and what she was fitted into the equation. “You wish for me to sing a song of poison into the ears and hearts of the police, in order to gain access and information.”
“They are not so . . . accepting of a woman working with them, but I need you to persuade them otherwise.”
“Jack appears to be hunting prostitutes, and there are plenty others with ties to the Society—ones who merely put on glamour’s to appear human, but in death they will revert to their true appearance,” Ariadne explained. “It is not just the lives of those within the Society that I wish to protect, but also the entire population of us that are hidden within the human world.”
Ophelia glanced down at her nails, which were shaped into points and free of imperfections. Not at all did she care for the individuals, but the discovery of her beings as a whole would prove to deliver consequences similar to those that had been inflicted upon her the last time someone had found out what she was. The proof of that was on her back, and it ached as she thought about it.
“You are selfish by nature, of that I understand,” Ariadne said, a touch of annoyance and chide to her tone, “and so I know you will not help out of the kindness of your heart—”
“There is no kindness in my heart, demon heiress, for I have no heart,” Ophelia interrupted.
”—but I know that you can be persuaded with a deal.”
“I own enough gold that I need not have to appear a kept woman to secure my lifestyle for millennia’s, and I can always sell the gifts old kings have bestowed me if I am ever in trouble. You cannot think that you will be able to buy my help with what I already have and have no need for.”
“I offer you no article of clothing, money, or piece of furniture. Instead I offer you a place to keep them.”
“I already have my townhouse.”
Ariadne’s green eyes rolled. “That place is a house, not a home—the differences between the two are remarkable.”
Despite the warm words, Ophelia’s face turned cold and hard, the gold of her eyes becoming icy. “The only home that I want is my sea cave, but my sisters and my Matron banished me from it. Unless you are able to magic me back my tail so I can return from whence I came, do not presume that you have an ability to grant me a home.”
Ariadne kept silent for a moment as she stood up. “Then I offer you friendship. You have your lovers, but they are not your friends and they only live for a limited amount of years. You cannot be alone forever, Ophelia—solitude will drive your mind insane. One day your lovers will not bend to your call.”
“I do not need the men I enchant; they are simply an advantage and the best way to achieve what I want.”
“What do you want?”
Ophelia did not answer immediately, but instead walked back over to the embankment edge. She leant over the edge, peering into the murky water, and waved a hand above the surface. Small ripples broke the current of the river, churning into a small whirlpool. “I used to be able to control waves, drown ships, gather storms . . . but now I have only a slight water affinity.
“I want my tail. I want my gills. I want my scales. I want the water over my head. I want my hair floating around me. But mortal men cannot give me that . . . instead they remind me that even though I am constrained to this forsaken land of buildings and pollution, I am still a siren and my powers are not completely decimated.”
Ariadne slowly walked up to the lost, exiled siren and laid her hand over the others. “We all want what we cannot have. Being exiled from your home is the worst; you know that I know it.”
“And yet I hear pity in your voice, not understanding—pity is not something I want.” Ophelia snatched her hand away and released the water from her control. “Not from you.”
Ariadne studied her out of the corner of her eye, before decidingly to subtly and slightly change the subject at hand. “We have been acquainted with one another for centuries, and yet you have never enlightened me upon the reason of your exile—I do believe, however, that I have told you why it is that my father banished me.”
“My exiling is not something I wish to discuss, so do not ask to know. Only one person has ever known the reason, and they are dead—they have been dead for almost twenty years.” Ophelia ignored the stinging in her eyes and blinked it away before it became tears; she was a heartless siren and a death should not bother her.
“Who was this person?”
Ophelia let out a laugh, but it was a cruel and emotionless one. “I did not realise that my past was something to be shared. I had always believed it to be my own.”
Ariadne blinked. “I was merely curious, I did not mean—”
“Take your curiosity elsewhere, I do not care for it,” snapped Ophelia. “In fact, demon, go back to your precious Society and let me alone—I tire of your company!”
A scowl dawned across Ariadne’s face, but she nodded and moved away. She may be a demon, and she may not have originally listened to anyone, but after her millennia of banishment she had learned patience and to heed to the commands of people when they wanted space. “I will leave you if that is what you wish.”
Ophelia did not look away from the water as she said, “It is.”
“You know where to find us, to find me, if you need someone to talk to. And think over my offer, please,” Ariadne murmured as she started to walk away into the shadows. After a second, however, she stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “You need friends, Ophelia White; loneliness will drive you into Bedlam.”
Ophelia did not register when the heiress of Hell disappeared in a swirl of shadows, but instead simply stayed exactly where she was until the hours turned into the early morning. Only then did she reside back into her townhouse, sleeping and reading away the daylight hours under a canopy of gossamer curtains.