“You are not invited to India.”

Rue sucked her teeth in exasperation. “I do not have to be invited. I am not a vampire.”

“Go home to your tiny island. Or we will consider this a breach of our agreement with your queen.”

Percy said, “There’s no mention of metanaturals in that treaty.”

Of course. Rue was pleased. Percy read it before we arrived.

“No, but she is like soulless. Like muhjah. And muhjah is forbidden.”

“I must say, like most daughters, I resent being accused of emulating my mother.” Rue jerked forward, pleased when the vampire lurched away. “Come a little closer, bloodsucker, and you’ll see how unlike her I am.”

The vampire only repeated, “Go home, soul-stealer.”

Percy said, taking a risk, “Actually, you yourself are currently in breach of the agreement. Local vampires are empowered by the crown as tax collectors, are you not? And we recently learnt those taxes have gone missing.”

The vampire hissed again. “Soon. We will find the thief and return your taxes.”

“Very well,” said Rue primly, “After you have done that, I will go home. That seems a fair bargain.”


The vampire growled something in his own language and slid off, moving as if he were skating on the promenade. He wore garments very like those of Sekhmet earlier that day, but dark in colour. As he slithered away, supernaturally fast, he seemed to fade into the night.

“What a pestilential gentleman,” said Prim, putting her little crossbow back into her reticule. “Not at all like Queen Mum’s vampires, I must say.”

“Although equally responsive to threats of paperwork and legal action, thank you, Percy.” Rue was grateful for Percy’s keen interest in local bureaucracy.

“The Rakshasas,” said Percy pedantically, “are a different breed altogether from our vampires. Much in the way that poodles and dachshunds are different breeds of dog. Rakshasas are reviled in India. Their position as tax collectors is an attempt by the crown to integrate them in a more progressive and mundane manner.”

Rue said, “Oh, how logical. Because we all know ordaining someone as a tax collector is the surest way to get them accepted by society.”

Prim said philosophically, “That’s the government for you.”

Quesnel seemed drawn out of his dislike of Percy into the science of the business. “Like Mr Darwin suggests? Vampires, like other creatures, evolved differently in different parts of the world?”

Percy was only too happy to elaborate. “That’s one theory. They are, after all, the terminal predator. Perhaps in this part of the world, to feed on humans vampires needed more fang and darkening around the eyes. Who’s to know for certain?”

“Very attractive,” said Prim.

“Some reports claim the Rakshasas eat living flesh as opposed to merely sucking the blood,” Percy continued.

“Like a moon-mad werewolf?” suggested Rue.

Noticing his sister’s repulsed expression, Percy added, “There are also stories of Rakshasas desecrating the dead and feasting on rotten corpses, but these may be more like our own early legends of vampires as monsters, before we got progressive and learnt the truth.”

Rue considered the way the Rakshasa had smelled. “Or maybe not.”

“Regardless, darling,” said Prim to Rue, “you are clearly most unwelcome.”

“Evidently. Shall we stay a while?” The two exchanged mischievous grins.

Quesnel rolled his eyes. “Lord save us all from beautiful young ladies too accustomed to the supernatural for good sense. You are pigeons in front of a hawk.”

“Poppycock,” said Rue. “I’m not beautiful.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Prim at the same time. “Pigeons have no natural predator except Rue.”

Rue added, “And hopefully Footnote. And, frankly, I resent being compared to a pigeon. Nasty dirty chubby creatures. Are you saying I’m nasty, dirty, and chubby?”

Quesnel smiled. “Nope, I’m saying you are delicious and fluffy and squawk all the time. Perhaps I should call you ma petite pigeonneau.”

Rue refused to dignify that with an answer. Instead, she called up to her crew, who had been watching the entire interchange with interest and were still fully armed. “Permission to come aboard?”

Aggie Phinkerlington, much as if the ship where her personal property, said, “Permission granted.” The redheaded greaser shouldered her crossbow. Hers was larger and more deadly-looking than Prim’s and it was interesting to note that she owned one. Rue would wager on Greaser Phinkerlington being an excellent shot. Rue had no concrete reason. Aggie simply seemed the type of female mean enough to be good with a crossbow. Aggie disappeared belowdecks, presumably before anyone could engage her in civilised conversation or attempt to be nice to her or anything revolting like that. The sooties followed. Rue had intended to commend them for managing the Rakshasa situation. Too late now.

“Lower the gangplank, please,” requested Rue politely of the decklings.

Spoo’s voice called out, “Aye aye, Lady Captain.”

The gangplank cranked down in a massive puff of steam, the decklings chattering and groaning with collective effort.

Rue’s party climbed on board. Rue ensured the gangplank was pulled in and locked closed, and that the ship was belayed to float as high out as possible, beyond the leaping distance of even the most powerful werewolf. Primrose settled the rattled nerves of the youngsters with soothing talk and profiteroles. Percy slouched uncomfortably, and Quesnel took a moment to ensure everything was in working order.

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