He said something quite rude in French.

“We must follow them!” insisted Rue. “I was almost getting answers.” She pulled up her skirts, prepared, if necessary, to run the engine down on her own two feet.

Quesnel gave her a look that said he thought her unhinged. He was, perhaps, not wrong. For the flower cart had disappeared into the milling throng of a foreign city, with too many other steam engines and too much activity already hiding it.

Rue sighed. “Oh, very well.” She crouched down and looked about the area where the explosion had occurred. She did not quite crawl among the fallen flowers, but that was only because she had not entirely forgotten her upbringing. She used her parasol to poke among the heads of decapitated blossoms and fallen leaves. She wasn’t certain what exactly she was looking for but any clue was better than the nothing that currently befuddled her.

Quesnel came over and bent down. “What are we looking for?”

“Clues. Miss Sekhmet knew about the kidnapping and the dissidents. Someone didn’t want her to tell us what she knew. I should not have engaged in such a public conversation with her. She kept trying to involve my mother. I think there is something seriously political going on. And we do not have nearly enough information. Curse Dama, he could have said something.”

“Perhaps he didn’t know?” suggested Quesnel.

“That would be highly unlike him but possible, I suppose. Too focused on tea.”

Quesnel looked a little worried. “Are you in any further danger?”

“I don’t think so. Hard to tell. You know, she said Mrs Featherstonehaugh went with the dissidents voluntarily. Then she said it had something to do with an agreement.”

“The agreement that makes the Rakshasas the tax collectors?”


“That would be my guess. After all, the taxes were stolen too. Do you think we’ve stumbled into local economic hostility? How droll.”

“Perhaps those black-clad men were Rakshasa drones putting a stop to any information that might be relayed against them.”

“Or possibly these dissidents are setting the Rakshasas up to take the fall in an effort to keep the money themselves? From what Percy said, the locals are terrified by the very idea of vampires. Do they have the courage to undertake direct opposition? Who is Miss Sekhmet working with?”

The flowers yielded up nothing concrete. Rue did find a small necklace – a bit of stone strung on a length of cord. The stone was carved to look like a monkey. Rue popped it into her reticule, uncertain of its significance – if any – and whether it might be connected to Miss Sekhmet, her kidnappers, or merely dropped by one of the hundreds milling about the square.

Rue said, “We’d better find Percy and Primrose. We must get back to the Custard and we’ve no guide any more.”

They extracted Prim, laden down with bolts of cloth and packages full of embroidered shawls and scarves. “What happened? Where’s our lovely guide? A flower cart exploded? Oh, Rue, really.”

Quesnel said, deadpan, “Miss Tunstell, might I suggest in future that any time you hear an explosion, you check to see if our Prudence is involved?”

Rue objected. “It wasn’t my fault. Never you mind it now, Prim. I will explain once we collect Percy. No sense in telling the story twice.”

Percy was immersed in books and chillies. He was neither surprised nor worried to learn of the explosion, nor their lost guide. “I have a map of Bombay,” he said, as if that alone could safely get them through an alien city.

Rue said on a sudden realisation, “Percy, we need books that illuminate the nature of the Rakshasas, and anything to do with the Indian agreement to the Supernatural Acceptance Decree. Anything at all. That is the parliamentary act under which the agreement that made local vampires tax collections would fall, yes?”

Percy was easily distracted. “Nature of the Rakshasas? Analytical or mythological books?”


He dived back into the stacks all around him, emerging with various volumes and bound journals, a few rolled parchments, some looking quite old, and a string of dried red chillies draped about his neck. “It won’t be inexpensive.”

Rue said, “I shall put them on the ship’s account. You’re going to have a great deal of researching to do when we get back. None of the rest of us reads Hindustani.”

Percy gave her a look as much as to say tell me something I don’t know and could you please come up with something more challenging next time? He said none of this, however, only grunted.

They purchased the books and the chilli necklace because it was better to stay on Percy’s good side at the moment. Laden down with these, as well as Prim’s fabric, they had to move quite slowly through the crowded streets.

Quesnel refused to carry anything and insisted that Rue keep her parasol hand free in case of further attack. So the twins bore the brunt of the burden, with no little complaining. But their enemy, whomever they might be, seemed content having extracted Miss Sekhmet.

No small thing, as it turned out. Without her guidance, it took them over an hour to find their way back to the steam carriage. Even with Percy’s command of the language, it was another two hours to direct the driver back to the ship. All this despite, or perhaps because of, Percy’s map. They had to stop several times for more of the spiced tea, which Rue was growing to enjoy and find most restorative, even in the heat. Starvation necessitated a pause for luncheon at a street-side stand where chunks of some mysterious meat of a remarkably vibrant red colour were roasted on sticks over large clay pots. Rue, Quesnel, and Prim nibbled happily, finding the flavour delicious. Percy refused, for fear of chilli, and only ate some fruit.

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