Quesnel took a strange sort of pity on Percy. “Are they always like this around you, old man?”

Percy was morose. “My whole life.”

Quesnel said, “No wonder you’re so deranged.”

Percy sniffed. “Thank you very much.”

“It’s a wonder you don’t drink more cognac.” Quesnel didn’t bother to hide his grin.

Percy sighed. “Yes, well, if you’ve all had enough fun teasing poor old Percy for one evening?”

“It never gets old,” answered his sister.

The tide had progressed inward, causing The Spotted Custard to tie in closer to the promenade, making their walk back shorter than their walk out. The hot evening had become almost temperate, quite bearable. Rue was enjoying herself – she’d met Dama’s contact, received a code, uncovered possible scandal from her parents’ past, and encountered long-lost relations. Not to mention the fact that there had been a kidnapping recently. India, she thought, was turning out to be a delightful place.

Unfortunately, when they arrived back at the ship things took a turn for the worse. They could not board, for the gangplank was hauled in. Arranged up on the main deck was a row of fierce-looking sooties, decklings and Greaser Phinkerlington, all armed with slings and other projectiles. Down below, standing on the shore, trying to look like he didn’t care, was a man.

“’Ware, Lady Captain,” shouted Spoo, the moment they were within earshot. “We got us an uninvited vampire.”




The vampire turned to face them. Rue expected him to look like any other vampire, only Indian in appearance. Mostly, he did. Mostly. But it was in the vein of how a broad bean looks like a runner bean – different, but both still beans. He had thick dark hair, a straight nose, high cheekbones, and a dark complexion combined with the clear smooth skin indicative of immortality. His facial topiary was questionable, being one of those large thick moustaches that curved down and around below the cheeks before connecting to the hair above the ears. An unflattering statement at best, but not one he could really be blamed for selecting. It was probably the height of fashion when he was metamorphosed. Poor vampires – so obsessed with style yet often cursed to look decades behind the times.

The crew of The Spotted Custard had, at least in part, been assembled by a vampire. One might expect them to be amenable to a visit from the supernatural. However, it was clear why they stood arrayed against this vampire, for he was too different a bean.

This was quite possibly the most unpleasant-looking creature Rue had ever had the misfortune to meet. His fangs were larger than those of British vampires and closer to the front of his mouth so that they protruded, and could not be tucked respectfully away under the lips. And those lips, while well-shaped, were red and moist and curled at the edges. His eyes appeared sunken into his skull with circles so dark that the skin looked black. His fingernails were long and wickedly sharp and shone with some oily substance in the moonlight. He smelled of carrion.

All vampires smell of rotten meat to werewolves. Rue was not in wolf form, yet her inferior human nose wrinkled in disgust at the powerful odour. Vampires at home were not as obvious about what they were and how they ate. Dama, for example, always smelled of lemon pomade. He also had no moustache to speak of. This creature showed outwardly that he was a bloodsucker, with no pretence at anything civilised. The lack of artifice was off-putting, not to say embarrassing, and explained the crew’s reaction.

The vampire had an unctuous way of moving. His eyes were so full of malevolence that Rue actually thought he might charge and bite without even the courtesy of a greeting, let alone an introduction.

Rue stepped to the front of her group and pulled off her gloves. She was repulsed by the very idea of touching this creature. She would not want to turn into such a being, even as a lark, but she had better be ready in case it became necessary.

Quesnel took position on her left, pushing back his coat and shirt sleeve to expose the dart emitter strapped to his wrist. She knew without having to check that Percy had extracted the long sharp wooden cravat pin he always wore and that Prim had pulled out the tiny little crossbow she carried in her reticule and armed it with a wooden dart. All four of them had parents who saw no harm in training children to protect themselves. And all of those parents – whether supernatural or not – knew what form that protection should take when faced with a vampire.

The creature drew back his lips further and actually hissed at them like a rat.

“Pardon you,” said Rue. If one already looked as ugly as he did, there was absolutely no call for hissing.

He darted at her. Rue raised her bare hands. Her best threat to any supernatural was her metanatural state. Few immortals could face the idea of being mortal, even for a short space of time. It was what made Rue’s preternatural mother so universally despised. The idea that not only would he lose his form, but someone else would have access to it, was adding insult to injury. Where a soulless was merely the enemy, a soul-stealer was dishonourable, a defiler of the supernatural state. Rue was not just despised, she was vilified.

It was pure instinct which caused Rue to raise her hands in defence. And it was that very instinct which gave her away.

The vampire turned all his attention on her and spoke in broken English. “Soul-stealer. Go home. The Rakshasas do not welcome you here.”

It was so reminiscent of Sekhmet’s first approach that Rue wondered if this was the contact she was supposed to have met at the garden party. “Quite the unoriginal sentiment, I’m afraid,” she said.

Most Popular