Their parents died young and in pain, but she never knew that, because her brother never told her. Instead, he told her that it was all right, because he loved her, and their parents had, too. "They even named you after a rhyme that says it," he said. So he taught her the rhyme, and as she grew up, she chanted as she played:

The serpent lies around my heart.
The serpent has a name.
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
Count with me to learn it and you can win this game.

The serpent lies around my heart.
Four times around she lies.
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
Once around to make me wise,
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
Twice so that my joy will rise,
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
To keep me safe is number three,
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
The fourth is what she feels for me,
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
Four breaths to spell L O V E.

The serpent lies around my heart,
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.
The serpent fits it like a glove.
One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, love!

Ophelia used the rhyme to count her steps when she skipped. She wanted to use it to count out who was it in games with the other children, but they didn't want to play with her. Her father had died before she was born, and her mother had died giving birth to her, so she was unlucky. That was how it went. She decided that she didn't mind so much, because she could play with her brother instead. To him she recited the rhyme until it lost all meaning, like sharp rocks being rounded to pebbles by the sea, so that when she finally asked him what it meant after all, he looked at her in surprise. Even he didn't know.

Later that day, though, he put down the only book in their little house and said, "It means that you're loved and you love back," he said. "It means that whoever you love will be wise, happy, and safe."

"One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, love," she said. "So you're happy, brother? I'm happy, too."


After the Awakened Being slaughtered the village, the Organization sent agents to comb it for any surviving but orphaned girls they could gather up. They only found one, who'd been able to run far enough away to escape Priscilla's fickle attention.

She was repeating an old counting rhyme and babbling to herself. "The serpent lies around my heart, one Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start. The serpent lies around my heart, one Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start. I'm having trouble remembering the rest, brother, so you'd better come back and tell me. Where are you, brother? That's right, you're dead. The one-horned monster killed you. But that means the song was wrong. That can't be right at all."

The Organization took her in. No one was there to stop them.


Their bodies changed, day by day. Ophelia tried to count out the days in sets of four. One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start.

"This is a boring game, I think," she told one of the other girls. "Let's make it better. Whoever bleeds the most and survives wins. I like that game."

The others didn't like that game, so Ophelia started trying others. "How many times will the girl in the next cell scream today? One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start. If it matches, if it can be divided by four," for her brother had taught her about division when the school stopped accepting her, "then I win." But nobody liked that game, either. They were no fun.

After a while, when Ophelia had really gotten going with ideas for games, men came and took her out of her cell. They put her in one by herself.

"But there's no one to play games with here," she said. It didn't matter, though, because the others hadn't wanted to play her games anyway. She would get stronger. She would survive the changes, and then the blood that ran away from her like water fleeing a drought would be that of Awakened Beings, not her own. Never her own. She was a creature of rhyme. She did not bleed.

Or at least, she would stop bleeding soon.


Some of the Organization's warriors feared number four more than they feared the monsters they fought. They were the ones who knew her.

Occasionally, one would wonder why, with her skills, her thirst for the blood of Awakened Beings, and the speed with which she slaughtered all who stood in her path, Ophelia was still only number four. They would never find out. It was only in her head that she recited, One Ophelia, two Ophelia, three Ophelia, start, and wondered about the lines she had forgotten.

Number four is a good number to be, Ophelia thinks to herself as she waits for her next assignment. There are many four-letter words that she likes. Kill. That one is good. It's what she'll do to the monster that slaughtered her brother, that slaughtered the only other person who knew the rhyme.

She takes her sword from its sheath and holds it out in the sunlight, watching the light gleam across it. She's come up with a new move for it, one that makes it shiver and swerve like a snake. Like the serpent that lies around her heart. She hasn't forgotten that much. The serpent around her heart keeps her going, doesn't it?

Ophelia practices. She counts more swiftly than usual to mark the rippling of her sword.

Wasn't there another word there, once? Didn't her breathing mean something more? Is there another four-letter word she's forgetting?

No matter. She knows enough. Surely, the lost words will come to her when she's killed the monster. And with her sword and heart both surrounded by the serpent's hate, she knows that will be soon./lj-cut