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, dance reel lines had been called and she’d taken that opportunity she had stepped out 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. Despite the poor quality and the odour, the Thames reminded her of home, of her sea caves dotted along the north Cornish Coast, which she had not seen in four centuries. The water was a lifeline, even if it was impossible to swim in.
She sighed and glanced out towards the city sprawling around her, the odd couple that walked past and enjoyed the quiet night despite the light smog. A woman gave her a look that she was accustomed to; a look that regarded her companionless persons, the scandalously low neckline of her dress, her loose ringlets, her rogue lips—all of it accumulated in a look that suggested the onlooker thought she belonged in Whitechapel, back to the wall of dark alleyways and having coins shoved down her décolletage.
She liked Whitechapel, she was friends with many of the prostitutes, but she would rather not be one herself, thank you very much. Not when Jack the Ripper was spreading hysteria through London like unrelenting wildfire.
Ophelia tipped her head back and released a breath that misted from her lips 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, tan skin, the dark green of her wide eyes and the bitten pink of her lips.
“Were you going to stab me?” she asked.
“I still might,” Ophelia replied, but pressed the button on her parasol to conceal the blade once more. “What do you want, Ariadne? I know this is not merely a customary curtesy call to welcome me back to the city—I’ve been here four months and you never once bothered to call by my house in Belgravia.”
Ariadne looked her over, eyeing the beaded detail of her scarlet dress and the neat curls of her white hair. She did not answer Ophelia’s question, but instead asked one of her one: “How many lovers do you take the arm of now?”
“Only one at the present—a young lord,” she answered. “I must say, he is exceedingly generous, gifting me with dresses and furniture in abundance.”
Ariadne rolled her eyes. “I am delighted to see that you have not changed your ways.”
“I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle,” said Ophelia before she took a seat on a bench nearby. Her patience wore thin. “Now, tell me why the banished princess of Hell is concerning herself with an exiled siren? If you are about to ask me whether I have reconsidered the offer you have proposed to me a dozen times over the last two centuries, the answer remains all the same: no. I have no care for joining your Society.”
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 molten gold eyes narrowed. “I have been exiled for over four-hundred years, I have taken over a hundred lovers, and my secret has always been safe.” The ‘always’ was a lie; there had been one time, and the consequences would forever mare her body and mind, but she had become skilled in avoiding thinking about it. Ariadne did not, and would never know, the reason for the scars on her back and the reason she wore a ribbon of red velvet around her neck; no one, ever again, would.
“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 of 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.”
Those 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.”
“Out with it.”
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.”
“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.”
Ophelia’s face was impassive. “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—”
“I know who she was; we were acquaintances, she and I.”
“Were you aware she was a witch?”
“Yes. Elizabeth made me healing salves and potions; I often turned up at her door with scrapes and bruises from pub brawls. I currently have one of her charm bags over my bed to help me sleep when whiskey just won’t do the job.”
“And were you aware she was a member of the Society?”
The siren blinked. “No.” She took a hold of the photo and examined it for a brief second, her fingertips brushing over the surface, nails scratching against Elizabeth’s face. The two of them hadn’t exactly been friend’s, and Ophelia hadn’t taken the time to know Stride, had instead viewed her as simply a dealer of portents and charms. She’d met the witch through Mary, who was a dear friend of the siren, and whilst she had been surprised to read of Elizabeth’s death in the newspaper a few days ago, she hadn’t been moved. She hadn’t cared; she’d merely thought of the inconvenience of having to track down a new herbal witch to pay. “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. She dropped the photo back into the book. “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 countless consequences. Her back ached at the thought of 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.”
“—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, 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.”
You have no idea how important that house is to me. “The only home that I want is my sea cave, but 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?”
“To remind me that I am powerful.” A pause, long and silent, before Ophelia stood and 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.
Ariadne studied her out of the corner of her eye, before deciding 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 pressed the heels of her palms into her eye sockets.
“Who was this person?”
Ophelia let out a laugh and lowered her hands. “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, or you need help,” Ariadne murmured as she started to walk away into the shadows. After a second, however, she stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “Do you not?”
“Six Bedford Square. If I need your help, though I doubt I ever will, I shall send an urchin your way.” The siren made it her business to employ the children of the streets; they were fast, agile, and reminded her very much of herself.
Ariadne nodded. “Think over my offer, please.”
The siren merely scoffed.
“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.