Quesnel nibbled a muffin. “Although there are legends concerning shape-changing seal creatures in the far north of Scotland and parts of Ireland. I never gave them much credence but––”

Percy nodded sagely. “Indeed, the Silly.”

Quesnel frowned as though he might contradict. “Is that what they’re called?”

Primrose, less interested in speculation as to the nature of supernatural creatures not immediately likely to attend her evening gathering, stood and went to join Rue, looking over the rails at the shore. “Is everything in order, Rue?”

“I don’t know,” replied Rue honestly.

The distant city was lit up with torches, lanterns, and the occasional gas lamp. The decklings gathered near the rope ladder they’d deployed. They were unsettled in the absence of their leader. Spoo had come so recently among them yet made quite a lasting mark. Virgil joined them in their vigil, his small face set. Rue wished she could stand with them, but she didn’t want to betray to the others that anything was seriously amiss. Extended fraternisation with decklings would be too suspicious.

There was a jolt and a scuffle and a few startled cries from the assembled group of young persons. The decklings scattered as a great furry creature landed where they had been standing. A monster of myth, which apparently needed no rope ladder to board an airship. Nor did she require an invitation. The creature had leapt from the ground below to land gracefully on deck in one massive display of supernatural strength.

While Prim, Percy, and Quesnel gaped, Rue smoothed her skirts nervously. Then with – she hoped – captain-like dignity, she made her way to the lioness.

“Welcome back, Spoo. And Miss Sekhmet, I assume?” Of course Rue should have known, but it was like the Vanaras – she never considered that there would be other shape-shifters. British scientists only spoke of werewolves. A quintessentially imperial attitude, of course, to ignore native mythology. But if there were weremonkeys, why not werelionesses?

Nevertheless, in case she was wrong, Rue approached Spoo and the lioness with caution. “Glad you were able to escape your captors. Welcome aboard The Spotted Custard. Spoo, you had us worried.”

Spoo, sitting with immense pride astride the cat, slid off and moved away only to be instantly surrounded by decklings, the returning hero. They hustled her off in a nattering group, like a gaggle of excited geese.


The lioness looked up at Rue as if waiting for something.

Rue said, “I’d be delighted to offer you use of my quarters and a dressing robe. It is Miss Sekhmet, is it not?”

The cat tilted her head, whiskers twitching.

“The robe will be short on you, I am afraid. I am assuming, as our first meeting took place in the Maltese Tower, that you are not afflicted, like werewolves, with an inability to float? But I get ahead of myself. We have much to discuss that I am afraid requires you to be in human form.”

The werecat nodded her sleek head. Rue wondered if in this she was the same as werewolves. It was a mark of age and skill to possess all of one’s facilities while in animal shape. Oh, she had so many questions!

Quesnel and Percy, having stood at the arrival of their visitor, abandoned their tea to approach.

“Rue,” said Percy. “Are you talking to a lioness? Is that wise? Aren’t they hazardous to the health?”

Without batting an eye Quesnel said, “Of course – Miss Sekhmet, is it? That’s why you shrouded yourself in fabric under the direct sunlight this morning.”

“No wonder she looked so exhausted,” added Rue, trying to carry everything off with aplomb when inside she was now trembling with excitement: A werecat. I found a werecat! Well, she found me, but still!

“And too weak to fight off her kidnappers,” added Quesnel. “Or should I say, catnappers?”

The lioness looked displeased at that statement. She flattened her ears at Quesnel.

“Spoo, would you show our guest to my chambers?”

“My pleasure, Lady Captain. Right this way, miss.” Spoo trotted off, the lioness trailing behind.

They disappeared.

Percy said, “Is she staying? Footnote is not going to be happy.” And then, after a moment, “Where has my sister gone?”

Primrose, as it turned out, had fainted.

The decklings collected around her in a chattering worried mass.

Rue applied smelling salts and Prim revived relatively quickly. Her big dark eyes were smudged with concern. She sat up.

“I’m feeling better. I do apologise. Terribly silly of me.”

“It’s the heat,” said Rue, giving Prim an out and offering her a hand up.

“Just so I am clear, do we now have a werelioness on board?” Primrose rose slowly.

“Yes,” said Quesnel, helping her solicitously to sit back in a deck-chair.

“And did she take us shopping this morning?”

“Yes, she did,” confirmed Rue.

Percy, following at long last, said, “Werelioness? Of course. It fits perfectly. Do you think that’s what the Vanaras are? Hardly makes sense. That’s not how they are described in the text. Not cat-like at all. Do you think she’ll let me write a report for the Royal Society?”

Quesnel gave him a disgusted look. “Can’t you think about anything but your academic standing? This is a revelation of epic proportions! We now have proof that there are other shape-shifting creatures besides werewolves.”

“Exactly! The scientific community should know. I’m being altruistic. Selfish would be to keep this information secret.”

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