A half-hour of running and Rue burst through and out of the unnamed forest.

Only to find that she was at the edge of a steep cliff. Far below, a river cut along the gorge. The water was so far down her nose hadn’t warned her of its presence before her ears did. She skidded to a halt, turning up road dust and scrabbling for purchase with her paws.

She lost her passengers.

Percy, fortunately, weighed down by his book satchel, fell to one side, landing safely in the bushes with a cry of distress.

But Miss Sekhmet, already leaning forward, tumbled over Rue’s head and fell down into the gorge.

Rue’s instinctive reaction was to give the werecat back her immortality. If she could snap their tether before Miss Sekhmet hit the water far below, or worse, the rocks, she might survive. So Rue whirled and dashed back the way she had just come, leaving Percy alone at the top of the cliff.

Though tired, Rue could move a great deal faster without the burden of riders. Her only concern was to put distance between herself and the woman whose form she had stolen. Rue hoped against all hope she was not also in danger of stealing Miss Sekhmet’s life.

She ran with such speed even a vampire could not have caught her.

Abruptly, between one stride and the next, Rue found herself sprawled on the dirt road. She was naked, aching from the painful suddenness of the shift, shivering in the cool of the night. The vegetation around her sharpened into focus, greens she had not seen as a cat became vibrant even under moonlight. Individual smells were lost, replaced by a mild scent of dust and jungle.

Did it work? was her first worry. She had no way of knowing if her tether to the werelioness had been severed because Miss Sekhmet died, or because Rue had reached tether limits and lioness form rebounded, saving Miss Sekhmet from that brutal fall.

She had no way of finding out either, for now Rue was some distance away from that fateful cliff.


She stood, taking the scarf from about her neck and wrapping it around her body in a crude attempt to preserve modesty. She left the sparkler hanging in its lily reticule and turned, resigned to trudging back the way she had just come. She cursed herself for going so fast initially. For not checking with Miss Sekhmet as to the nature of the forest edge. For not making better use of her unfamiliar supernatural senses.

It was a much longer walk bare-footed and without supernatural speed. Stones in the path cut her feet where the pads of her lioness paws had felt nothing. She was more afraid that the scent of her blood would attract predators than she was upset by the pain. One lucky result of shifting to wolf form on a regular basis – if one could call it lucky – was that Rue could withstand pain better than most normal genteelly bred Englishwomen. She ignored her feet and walked, occasionally calling out in the hope that Percy would hear her. One never knew with Percy. He could have decided to move towards her, or he could be attempting to assist Miss Sekhmet, or he could be walking into Tungareshwar Forest alone, or he could be sitting in the roadway reading a book about swimming hedgehogs.

Three-quarters of an hour later, tired, dusty, bleeding, and tetchy with worry, Rue arrived back at the fateful cliff.

Percy was nowhere to be seen.

Rue hobbled to the edge and looked down into the gorge.

Miss Sekhmet’s beautiful form did not lie crumpled far below. Nor was she walking along the riverbank as a lioness, looking for some convenient way to leap up.

The werecat had vanished.

Rue straightened and took a long look all around her, feeling very alone. Behind her lay the vast reaches of the unnamed forest she had already traversed. It would take all night for her to walk back through it. Before her lay the gorge. Across that loomed another jungle, even larger, darker, and lusher than the previous one.

Rue set her shoulders. She still had the sparkler. She could signal for aid, as unlikely as it was that anyone would respond this far from civilisation. If Miss Sekhmet were somehow behind her and alive, she could follow Rue’s trail from the bleeding of her feet. Percy was a worry. But having come so far, Rue saw nothing for it but to continue on alone.

There were two bridges around the corner from where Rue had dumped her riders. On the left side was a railway bridge, which crossed and then veered away from Tungareshwar towards the coast. Above that stretched one of the sky cables. It headed straight into the forest, although admittedly high above it. Slumbering there, right before the crossing, was yet another of the great elephant sky trains. It hung partly suspended above the gorge, as though it had stopped for a nap mid-run. Its interior was dark, its necklace of lanterns unlit. Rue supposed it was under orders, like the rest of the country, not to work after dark. It swung gently, rocking its slumbering cargo and crew. Rue wondered if she could shout them awake and ask for aid. But what could she say? I’m an underdressed Englishwoman looking for weremonkeys? Oh, and I seem to have misplaced a professor and a werelioness. And how would she make that statement clear using pantomime, since she didn’t speak the language?

To the right of the elephant was a foot-traffic bridge made of slats of wood and rope, of the suspension type. It was designed for people, not animals or wheeled transport. Only pilgrims were permitted entrance into Tungareshwar.

Rue put a hesitant foot on the first board. The bridge swayed under her weight.

She was not afraid of heights. One could hardly captain a dirigible and be scared to look down. But Rue felt more in control of The Spotted Custard than this bridge, and without supernatural form it did seem a long way down and a shaky means of crossing a river.

Rue paused, considering her situation. She had nothing more to her name than a reticule shaped like a lotus, a flint and tinder, a sparkler, and an indecently small shawl. Her feet ached something awful. Best, she thought, to devise some means of locomotion and not walk if she didn’t have to. She looked at the elephant in the sky. She was no fit company for a crew of young steam jockeys.

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