She lounged over the length of the chaise-longue, her body covered only by a loosely tied dressing gown of red silk. She held a silver cigarette holder in one hand, with smoke billowing lightly from her lips. In her other she held a book, a battered copy of the Iliad in the original Greek.
It had been a week since her conversation with the demon heiress. For the last five days, since her lover was away attending to some business in the country, she had kept the . . . company of a man whose mere purpose was to entertain her. He was not rich, did not have all that much in the way of money to his name, but Ophelia did not take kindly to boredom and had needed some form of a distraction. So she had taken the first man she could find.
Ophelia snuffed out her cigarette and gathered herself on to her feet, walking over to the bed in the centre of her room. She perched on the edge and glanced down at the young man that, after moving underneath her and kissing ever inch of her skin that she had allowed, was lost in the valley of sleep with the coverlet low on his stomach. Archibald, she thought he had called himself.
Though she felt nothing towards him this man—the same way she was with her lover and those men before him—she had to admit that he was beautiful—that cliché, angelic beauty of blonde curls and fair skin.
She lifted her head and ran a hand through her hair, glancing around her bedroom which should really have called a clutter room. She truly had too much in the way of possessions, but she’d been a hoarder of antiques and pretty things for as long as she could remember. In her once-home, her sea cave with its ward so that the water only reached so far, the ceiling had been hung with glistening stalactites and walls spotted with precious gemstones that she’d placed in a mosaic pattern so that the place lit without the need for that awful, orange-yellow star in the sky. There had been various items from self-caused shipwrecks strewn across the dry parts of the cave, from chests full of gold coins and ornate frames, to jewellery and hairpins.
She may not have liked many, many aspects of this land the humans inhabited, but she had to admit that she loved the architecture and the interiors, the ever changing fashions and the glamour. If there was one thing she admired humans for, it was their ability to make the most basic appear beautiful. And in the place where her beating heart would have been had she been born with one, she envied that ability—alas, there was only so much that could be done to make a cave look breathtaking; wallpaper could not be put up, nor could rugs so fine one daren’t step on them be placed on the floor.
But that was all she admired humans for.
Ophelia sighed and rolled over, not content, and unable, to stay still. She was tired. She was restless. She glanced down at the young man—Archibald—again. She should kill him, she should place her kiss upon his lips and take his life—he had no family, he had told her that when she’d asked, so no one would miss him—and to take his essence would partially cure the tiredness their ricocheted down her skeleton. But this man was simply a distraction, he was not wealthy and she had not sung her song of poison to his ears—she had not sang it to her lover, but he was almost Narcissus incarnate with the exception that he held her physical beauty slightly higher than his own, and she would never deign herself to be his Echo—and perhaps a simple distraction should be allowed his life.
The sound of wood being broken resonated up to her ears due to the open door, and she would have thought it was a petty thief if it was not for the fact that she had taken up residence in the respectful area of Mayfair. But then again, being where she was would be an excellent place for a petty thief to break into and lather themselves in riches.
Only, a thief would certainly be no match for a siren.
Beside her Archibald turned and stretched, beginning to stir. Ophelia swayed off the bed and stood, tied her gown more securely around herself, and moved out onto the landing space and faced the stairs. Her hands were curled into claws—there was a reason she kept her fingernails clean and curved.
Human steps could never be silent no matter how desperately they tried to make them. The floorboards creaked quietly, prickling her hearing and the ends of her slightly pointed ears. A shadow danced across the rose papered wall just as the assailant emerged—
“Charles!” Ophelia said with a start and relaxed her hand. Charles; her lover. “I believed you to be a thief or some form of criminal. I also believed you to be in the country. Have you broken into my house?”
Her lover nodded. “That I have.”
Ophelia’s eyebrows furrowed. “Why? You could have simply used the knocker, or given me some indication that you would be calling so that I would be better presented.”
“I could have,” he started and drummed his fingers against the banister. “But then that would have given your new lover time to escape, or for you to find some place to stash him whilst I was here.”
Ophelia’s eyes widened before she let out a high, sharp laugh. “My dearest Charles, I simply have no such idea of just what you are talking about! Have you taken something, my sweet—opium, perhaps—to cause you to speak nonsense?”
“I have consumed no drugs. And you know exactly what I speak of,” Charles murmured and moved to stand a mere few feet away. “Did you believe that though I’d been in the country I would dare to leave my mistress, who is the most beautiful of whores, to her own devices and not know of it? I have had a surveyor—a spy—watching your movements since I left, and he informed me of the young man you’d brought into your home and bed and had not left for a few days.”
Ophelia was stunned silent, but a heat was brewing in her bones. How dare he have someone spy on her? She had ignored the way he had titled her a whore, she had heard the word from various lips after all, and kept her own lips closed and pursed as he carried on.
“I take it this charlatan whom you have taken to bed with is still in your bed?” he asked and before the siren could react he had swept into her room and was staring at the young man who had been startled awake and in the process of redressing, but was frozen in his spot with only his trousers on and his shirt in his hands as he watched in fear. “After all I have done for you, after all the articles of clothing and pieces of furniture I have bought you, you choose to repay my generosity with this?—some petty, poor man who probably lives within the Whitechapel slums!”
Ophelia laughed once more, but this time it was more of a harpy’s shrilling cry. “You speak as if I belong to you. If you believe that I belong to you, then you are all too foolish.”
“You are my mistress! My own personal whore!”
“I am my own,” Ophelia growled. “I will not be subservient to keep you entertained.” Her hands felt moist, and when she glanced down at them she saw they were wet. To anyone else this would have been odd but she was Ophelia White, and she knew exactly what it was and what it meant. And it was not that she was nervous, but in fact the exact opposite.
Charles seemed to ignore her, and had instead turned to face Archibald. “You, pauper, I shall be forgiving and generous and allow you to be on your way, for I admire a man who hunts outside of his boundaries and seeks another man’s possession for himself. Go now, and do not return or I shall be less lenient towards you. Leave.”
And the young man went running, shirt still in his hand, leaving Ophelia facing Charles with her chin held high and her nostrils flaring. Her body felt warm, but the water on her hands made them cool.
Just a few more minutes.
“Another man’s possession, am I?” she murmured as her hands curled back into claws. “Forgive me; I thought I was a woman, not some jewel in a trove of treasure or some piece of furniture. I am flesh and blood, not mystery and in need of ownership. I am a she, not an it.”
Charles laughed, clearly not caring for Ophelia’s words. “This lifestyle you have cocooned yourself in had been due to my generous purchasing and adorning. You owe me your thanks.”
Ophelia’s eyes narrowed. “I owe you nothing. I have enough money to my name to keep me in comfort for millennia. You are not my first lover, nor will you be my last. You are simply a means to an end, an efficient way to receive what I wish for and desire—if anyone is the possession then you, Charles, are it. You are simply another trinket to pin onto my charm bracelet.”
Charles eyes went cold, measuring. He stepped forward until his booted feet were almost touching her bare ones. Ophelia did not have time to react before he had flipped out a pocket knife and slashed the edge of the blade across her cheek. Blood welled from the shallow wound, dashed red on snow, and dripped silently down her cheek, down, down, until the fat droplet splashed scarlet on the crimson rug at her feet.
Ophelia let out an ugly laugh as she lifted her hand and brushed her fingers across the infliction. The tips of her fingers shifted to seeming translucent and blue for a brief moment, and her eyes glinted the same. She dropped her hand. The blood was smeared across her cheek, but the cut itself had healed so that only a faint pinkness remained before that, too, melted into her skin.
Her blood was her war-paint.
“Did your parents never warn you against playing with matches, boy?” she asked. One corner of her lips turned upwards into an icy smile.
“I am not a—”
“You are a boy!” she snarled. Water dripped from her fingertips. “Foolish. Arrogant. Selfish. Narcissistic. You are a boy.”
“I will not hear anymore from your lips, bitch,” Charles roared and held the blade up to Ophelia’s throat, pressing into her skin but not hard enough to draw blood.
Ophelia ignored his feeble threat. “Do you truly believe that your small blade insights fear into my bones? It is a butter knife compared to the blades that have sliced my skin. You cannot hurt me, human; I have been a victim to scourges and flaying. Your choice of defence is but the prick of a spinning needle to my skin.”
Charles expression turned to one of confusion. “Did I make a mistress out of an inmate of Bedlam?”
“I am a siren. And banished though I may be, and little magic though I may have, your blood is liquid and I can drown you with it,” Ophelia murmured and raised a hand. “Asphyxiation by what aids to keep you alive. No one treats me like I am nothing—men have tried before, and, just like for you, it has never ended well for them.”
Her lover tried to back away towards the door, but some sort of force had pinned him where he stood. Horror washed over his face as he witnessed a transformation in Ophelia’s face: her features contorted to become feral and harsh, all hard lines and taut skin over bones. The molten gold of her irises bled out and engulfed the white.
Ophelia’s outstretched hand became, once more, a claw, her fingertips closing in towards each slowly as if she were crushing some semi-solid object between them. But she was not crushing, no—she was flooding, contorting Charles blood so that it filled his lungs and burned like acid on bare skin. Said man thrashed and raked at his neck, the cravat falling away so that his blunt nails slashed against the pale skin layered over the trachea, and he attempted to scream and screech but boiling, fizzing blood clogged his throat and all he could produce was a whining gurgle. This carried on for a couple of minutes, until Charles eyes rolled backwards into his head and his hands lolled to his sides. From the self-inflictions across his neck ran a waterfall of red.
Ophelia released a shaking breath and dropped her hands. Her features returned to normal. The body of her dead lover crashed and crumpled onto the rug. Blank white eyes stared up at her. Blood dripped down from one corner of his mouth, splitting his face into a downturned half-Glasgow smile.
The flames danced across the wood, consuming greedily, and Ariadne watched them idly as she reclined across one of the plush settees in her drawing room. She had just returned from a meeting and was looking upon a quiet evening with a pleasant demeanour, as evidenced by the book that was occupying one of her hands and the large tumbler of whiskey in the other. Her shoes had been taken off and she had loosened her corset.
Unfortunately for the demon heiress, a quiet night alone in her townhouse was not something she could acquire and enjoy, for no sooner had she opened her book to the page she had left it upon, a pressed nightshade flower acting as a bookmark, did a note fly down the chimney and across onto her lap after scarcely missing becoming burnt.
She picked it up with a frown and unfolded the nondescript piece of paper, jade eyes skimming over the cursive font that made up only a line of five words in the centre:
I need your help. Ophelia.
Ariadne’s brow furrowed, a moment away from throwing it into the fire as if it were a highly unfunny joke, but then she realised that the siren was a lonely soul full of pride—pride that almost bordered upon the realm of hubris—and would only deign herself to appeal for assistance only if it were of the upmost importance and urgency.
She jumped back up onto her feet and hastily downed the whiskey in one gulp. She smoothed a hand over the note, murmured words in her native magic tongue to enchant the piece of paper with a spell that would reveal to her the location of its original dwelling, since she did know whereabouts Ophelia had taken up residence.
She pulled the shadows of the room around her as soon as she knew the location, shrouding her body in pitch. She would have taken the carriage but that meant preparing it—besides, shadow-jumping, like portal-jumping, was a faster means of transportation by far.
So fast, in fact, that it was a mere ten minutes later that she stood outside of the place the note had said was the siren’s house. The front door had been busted inwards, revealing a dark hallway beyond. Ophelia must have placed a glamour upon the broken entrance to free herself from the prying eyes of mortals.
Ariadne walked through the doorway, examining the door—human strength, cracking where a shoulder would have pushed against it. I need your help, the note had said, but this break-in was from a human so it was clear that Ophelia would not be injured in any way. The demon called out the siren’s name, and the response she received had her climbing two flights of stairs before she glanced upon Ophelia stood on the landing, her hands were clasped together and rested against her stomach, and there was dried flaking blood on her cheek and black spots of the same bodily fluid on her dressing gown.
Ariadne took in the blood, the messy bun that was Ophelia’s hair, and the calm aura that the siren carried despite this. “What have you done?”
Ophelia took a breath. “Something stupid,” she murmured and raised a hand to run it through her hair, causing a number of strands to fall loose around her face. “I did not mean to do so; I was angry and lost control. I did not know what to do afterwards, so I sent you a message.”
“What exactly have you done, Ophelia?”
The siren blinked once, twice, before she turned and walked into a dimly lit room full of furniture. Lying on the rug, Ariadne saw with a stifled gasp, was a young man with blood of his face and neck and his eyes rolled to show exclusively the white. As Ariadne inspected more closely she noticed a small pocket knife laid in his hand.
“Did this man hurt you?” Ariadne asked. Ophelia motioned to the flakes on her cheek. “What happened?”
Ophelia sighed and sat on the edge of her bed, and then spoke a brief but quite explanatory description of what had taken place, to which Ariadne had listened to as she had closed Charles lids over his eyes. When the siren had finished Ariadne simply said, “And why did you send me a message asking for help? I do hope you do not wish for me to help you remove this body into the Thames or a back street; I do not do that anymore.”
Ophelia chuckled and shook her head. “I am not going to depose of his body on some backstreet and make it seem that Jack has moved to killing more than just prostitutes in Whitechapel.”
“Then what will you do?”
“I intend to leave this house, and the moment I do so the glamour will drop and the humans on the street will see the state I leave it in, so someone will come to investigate and find his body, sooner or later, and the police will be notified and his family told,” Ophelia murmured as she examined her nails. “The Beauchamp family are among the elite here in London—middle class and quite powerful, and when they find out they will know it was me behind the death of their precious, eldest son.”
“What do you intend to do? Where do you intend to go?”
“I need to disappear,” said the siren. “I do not regret what I have done, but his family will want my blood and I am not willing to give it to them. By the time they find out I need to be gone from this side of society. You offered me a home, and if your generous offer is still open then, now, I wish to make you that deal—I will help you in exchange for a new home and protection, I will aid you until I am not needed and then I will leave London and travel to some other place with money and superficial possessions that humans love so much—make a new life in the Middle East, perhaps, or Africa or America—until Ophelia White is nothing more than a name in an antique paper in forty, fifty, sixty years and then I may return to here. So I will help you, and I will join your little society to prove so.”
“Why now? How is this death any different to the others you have caused? His family that you speak of may want your blood, but why is that enough for you to accept my offer.”
Ophelia glanced down at Charles’ corpse and ran a hand through her hair. “Because this is so obviously a murder, I cannot hide that. When I kill I kill with my kiss, just enough that it the cause is, with no doubt, an accidental affixation ... but this, him ... I cannot hide this, I cannot make it seem what is so obviously not.” She paused and stood up, moving across the space to place herself a foot away from the demon. “I could leave, but I do not wish to yet—there are things I am here for, things I must do. My only choice is to accept your offer, and I will do just that.”
“Do you swear on it?” Ariadne asked and reached into the pocket on the skirt of her dress, pulling out a dagger from the shadows concealed in there. She dragged the blade’s edge across her free palm, did not even flinch, and then held both her bleeding hand and the dagger out to Ophelia.
Ophelia understood immediately. A blood oath. She took the blade, did the exact same as Ariadne, murmured that she swore on it and clasped hands with the demon to allow their blood to mingle and seal their words.
A smile broke out across Ariadne’s face, pearl splitting apart rubies. “Welcome to the Society.”