“If you say so, Lady Captain.”

Rue glared. “We are trying to stop a major international kerfuffle here. This isn’t for larks. I want the two leaders netted before the floating reinforcements get here. Which reminds me – Quesnel, Percy, we need to make aether and outstrip that floatillah if possible. Both of you prep your stations. Percy, I want due notice. You keep an eye to the incoming puffs and let me know with a countdown before we lose our window to outrun them.”

Percy and Quesnel didn’t bother to answer. They both ran off to do as ordered – Quesnel for belowdecks and Percy for the navigator’s station on the poop deck.

Prim and Rue took up position on the main deck, ship’s centre, one on either side, looking down over the railing to watch the action below from two different angles.

“Percy, take us in and down,” yelled Rue.

“A little to starboard,” added Prim.

“And a little more,” said Rue. “Spoo, how’s it coming?”

“Nearly there, Lady Captain.”

Below, Rue saw the Kingair Pack materialise from the trees. Lady Kingair was at the front, Professor Lyall, the sandy fox-like one, close to his Alpha. The rest of the pack followed in formation.

The sound of the battle below was almost deafening but, nevertheless, Rue leaned over the edge and yelled down to her kinsfolk. “Yoo-hoo, niece of mine?”

Lady Kingair looked up, yellow eyes flashed once.


“I’m trying to steal this war. Give me some time?”

Lady Kingair nodded and, with great elegance, she sat, right there at the edge of the jungle. As one, all the pack sat with her – refusing to participate in the fight.

Fortunately, the brigadier had not yet seen them. So far the werewolves could only be accused of desertion, but if he saw them and ordered them to participate, they could be accused of wilful disobedience or even mutiny. Pack attachments could act with a certain amount of autonomy, but not that much.

Just then a shout came from one of Rue’s deckhands. They’d managed to net the brigadier right off the back of his surprised horse.

Rue saw him dangling, struggling in his net, trying to cut his way free with a hopelessly tangled sabre. His hat had fallen off and he looked much less imposing without it. She changed her orders. “Pull him in and bring him on board. He might get out otherwise.

“Yes, Lady Captain.”

“Spoo, how are you doing with your Vanara trap?”

“He’s a fast one, Lady Captain. A little help wouldn’t go amiss.”

Rue went over to see if she could assist, but just as she came up, Spoo gave a cry of victory.

“We netted ourselves a weremonkey!” she crowed.

Rue blessed the element of surprise. Whatever else they had been expecting, the Vanaras were not prepared for an attack from above. Not that she wanted to think of herself as attacking. She leaned over the railing and there he was – all monkey anger, gleaming gold and rich silks, struggling in a silver net. It burned his exposed skin, palms and feet not protected by fur. He tried to rip his way out but the silver not only burned, it sapped supernatural strength. His own net defeated him.

At that moment, the deckhands reeled in the brigadier and dumped him unceremoniously on the deck, as if he were a load of fish. He flopped about trying to unwind himself – no one bothered to assist him. Rue didn’t have any militia on board to keep him controlled. Now that he was her prisoner, there was nothing else for it but to rise high and fast so he couldn’t jump overboard safely, even if he wanted to.

Of course, she had no idea what would happen to a Vanara in the aetherosphere. To the best of everyone’s knowledge, supernatural creatures and aether did not mix. Werewolves got violently ill. Vampires went mad or worse. No one wanted to talk about that one test, back at the beginning of aether travel, when a rove had fallen from the skies like Icarus. But Rue had read the reports. Then again, Miss Sekhmet had been perfectly fine in the Maltese Tower.

There was only one way to find out. “Percy, take us up.”

“Yes, captain.”

Even as she gave the order, Rue had a sinking suspicion that Vanaras were like werewolves, linked to pack. She didn’t want to damage their inadvertent guest permanently. She only wanted to give everyone time to calm down. Perhaps serve tea. Tea was very soothing.

So, even as Percy began to puff up the Custard, Rue said, “Hold position for one moment.”

Behind her on the forecastle, the brigadier shuffled off the net and cast around, looking for someone to blame. He spotted Rue and made for her, murder in his eyes.

Spoo was shouting something about not being able to hold on to the Vanara Alpha much longer.

Rue leaned over the railing and yelled to the wolves, still sitting patiently on the sidelines.

“You ever consider hunting monkey, auntie?” Lady Kingair put her muzzle up in the air and barked. “I don’t mean you to hurt them – simply bring them along, track us on the ground.”

Lady Kingair cocked her head as if considering the situation.

Percy said, “This is your warning, Rue – incoming floaters are nearly on us.”

Rue had inherited many things from her parents, but she hadn’t any of their pride. She was not above begging. “Please, niece. Please, I need your help.”

Lady Kingair barked again.

At which the werewolves waded into the fray.

Rue didn’t wait to see which side they were on. “Percy, take us up, fast as you can. But don’t go into the aether, we need to be seen from the ground. And take us out, away from the floatillah. Hopefully, they’re too confused down there to realise we netted us a brigadier. With any luck, the floatillah will go down to liaise with the troops before they realise they should be chasing us instead.”

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