Rue said, “Time moves differently for immortals.”

“Just so.” Miss Sekhmet nodded. “Nor did we think England would let you out of the country.”

“I am not a prisoner because I am metanatural!”

“No, but you are, as your father put it, a national treasure.”

Rue frowned darkly. Overprotective, interfering Paw!

The werecat laughed. “Child, you don’t have to explain to me a love of independence.”

Rue moved them on. “Let us be frank, Miss Sekhmet. These people you keep alluding to – the ones who have Mrs Featherstonehaugh and the taxes – are they indeed some form of weremonkey, or are we merely dealing with nationalist dissidents?”

Rue was reminded of that old saying: trying to get a straight answer out of a cat is like trying to find the soap in the bathtub.

Miss Sekhmet swallowed her mouthful of kipper and looked smug.

Percy said, “The agreement, SAD. Of course! Things could get messy, politically, if Vanaras do exist. The Rakshasas would have to share power.”

Miss Sekhmet tried hard to hide her surprise. “Your government would acknowledge them legally?”


Percy sat a little more upright. “My good woman! The British have always dealt fairly with the supernatural. It is tradition.”

Miss Sekhmet’s lip curled. “But not with the natives.”

Percy looked surprised. “We bring civilisation and enlightenment to all the empire.”

“Is that what you call it?” The werecat finished her kipper and leaned back in her chair, sipping tea. “Mrs Featherstonehaugh believes similarly. The Vanaras are not so sure. And then when you refused to talk…”

“I didn’t refuse!” said Rue. “I didn’t know.”

“And now we are at an impasse. For I am no longer speaking for them and you have yet to ask me the right question.” Miss Sekhmet put down her cup.

Rue frowned. “Werelioness, are you aware that I have been made sundowner?” That little bit of information managed to shock the werecat. So she doesn’t know everything.

“Chérie!” Quesnel’s voice was gruff with warning.

The werecat inclined her head. “A threat, little bird? I comprehend. Then they do not treasure you as much as they think you are useful. Very interesting.”

Rue laughed. “That would appear to be the case.”


“So can you take me to the Vanaras?” They want me to negotiate in my mother’s name and Dama wants me to find the tea. Only Mrs Featherstonehaugh knows where it is. I suppose I am going into the jungle whether I like it or not.

“Very good, skin-stalker. That is the right question. And yes, yes I can.”

At which Prim, Percy, and Quesnel all started talking at once.

Prim and Quesnel thought this a terrible idea. Percy thought he ought to accompany Rue for research purposes. At which statement Quesnel said no, he should come along, for he could help defensively as well as scientifically. Prim said if Rue had to go, they should take The Spotted Custard and crew into the forest en masse.

Rue held up a hand. “Do you think the government would not have tried to find Mrs Featherstonehaugh by air before now? I suspect this forest to be overly lush. No, the hunt must be conducted on foot. Or more precisely, on paw.”

Quesnel and Prim protested this vociferously. “It’s too dangerous!”

Rue considered. “In lioness form, I can carry two easily.” Only Prim had any idea how thrilled she was to say that. Oh please, oh please, oh please.

Miss Sekhmet looked thoughtful, rather than objecting outright.

Rue was delighted. She felt compelled to explain. “Not by weight. I could take more. I’m as strong as any normal werecreature. At least I think I would be. I’ve never done cat before, but by size —” She gestured expressively at her short curvaceous figure. “As you might have noticed, I did not benefit from my parents’ proportions. Two is the most that will fit on my back.”

Quesnel said, “I do not like where you are going with this.”

Rue said, “It has to be me in shape. If I’m riding, the risk is too great of a skin slip-up. I will be safe as a lioness. It is Miss Sekhmet here who will have to take the risk.”

The werecat, following her plan, nodded. “I am old enough not to fear a second death. And you are my first skin-stalker. It should make for an interesting experience. I am also old enough to rarely encounter interesting experiences any more.”

“Curious as a cat, Miss Sekhmet?” suggested Primrose rather daringly.

Said cat gave her a little smile of approval.

Primrose blushed.

Quesnel stood up from his deck-chair and began to pace. “You expect the rest of us to stay behind?”

Rue ignored him and asked Miss Sekhmet: “Have you studied the British policy on supernatural agreements in any depth?”

The werecat shook her head.

“Very well, Percy will make up the third of our party.”

Percy looked part delighted, part terrified to be included.

Primrose blanched. “Rue, Percy’s not accustomed to adventure. Or forests. Or the outside world, really.”

Rue said, “I know, but he did some wolf-riding when we were little. At least I know he can stay astride. And he’s pretty deadly with his cravat pin.”

Quesnel said with a cheeky smile, despite obvious tension, “Mon petit chou, any time you want me to ride you again, I would be happy to learn how to do it properly.”

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