Rue had no time to dwell. The Ganesha head was still creeping relentlessly towards the end of the cable, and the embers she had brushed out of the firebox were beginning to find fallen bits of fibre and other combustibles, flaming to life on the floor of the cabin.

Acting on instinct, Rue did as the Vanara had attempted mere moments before. She grabbed her metanatural victim with her amazing tail and ran to the doorway, carrying him behind her.

The man cried out in fear.

Rue stumbled slightly. Her legs did not work quite the same way as in human form. Her large dextrous hands found purchase on the doorframe. She was incredibly strong as a Vanara. It was delightful – like a particularly well-brewed tea.

The pole top was now in front of her. The Ganesha was definitely going to overshoot it. No time to think, Rue leapt onto it, using her extra-long arms to grab down and stabilise her landing. The man clutched in her tail acted as a counterweight. It was unexpected, that weight, and Rue rocked back and forth, nearly falling. She modified her stance a split-second before they both tumbled over the edge, then held herself down and relaxed into the sensation of a man in her tail. The Vanara stilled in her grasp, sensing the danger in this newly made weremonkey’s shaky understanding of her own agility.

With a climbing speed unequalled by any other form she’d stolen, Rue made her way down the scaffolding to the ground. There she placed the man carefully on his own two feet and stood before him, feeling guilty. She had tried to warn him. She wondered if she could formulate words with her monkey face and explain herself. Nothing to do but try.

Her voice came out, slurred and much lower than before, but functioning.

“Ruehh,” she said, gesturing to herself.

The man babbled at her in Hindustani.

Rue shook her head. “Englisssh,” she said slowly, trying to enunciate.

The man had gone from fear to anger now that he was safe on land. He began yelling and pacing, and pointing at her and then him as if trying to instruct her to give him his shape back.


Rue shook her head. It doesn’t work like that. I can’t control it. And now I intend to keep it. It’s much warmer and my arms don’t hurt any more. I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to steal from you. She said, “I thhried to warn you not to toucsssh me.”

The man continued yelling. Then in one furious move, he reached forward and yanked the monkey charm from around Rue’s neck.

Above them, the head of Ganesha reached the end of the line. At the same time, the fire inside made its way to the oil reserves that lubricated the engine’s gears. It roared into an inferno. A massive elephant head fireball slipped off the cable and fell down into the forest with a tremendous crash.

The man in front of Rue jumped and whirled. Realising what must have happened, he turned back, yelled at her some more – apparently this was also her fault.

Rue shrugged at him.

He finally realised that there was nothing she could do about having stolen his shape. Or he determined she wasn’t giving it back. At least she had not run away. He made a rude gesture and turned, striding into the thick foliage, holding his loincloth up with one hand when it threatened to slide off his now lean hips.

Rue checked to ensure that her modesty scarf was secured. Her monkey chest was a good deal wider than her lady chest, but her endowments were smaller, so that section had stayed in place. During the course of her climbing adventures the bottom part had loosened, but that meant it fit her now wider, muscled hips. Her legs and arms were covered in the brown fur. Rue wasn’t certain how she felt about that but she supposed it might count as a modesty covering. The society madams would have had something snide to say but Rue strongly suspected that, should she encounter one roaming the Indian jungle, arm hair would not be high up on the list of complaints.

She shuffled after the indignant man, realising that her legs were bowed like a sailor’s when not climbing. Rue hoped that he would lead her to someone who could interpret English or this was going to be a very long night indeed. She considered ways she might pantomime the meaning of metanatural as a monkey. It seemed nigh on impossible.

Tungareshwar from within was a great deal different than Tungareshwar from above. The undergrowth was mostly made up of thick plants with large wide leaves and a few bushes which looked like sage. Trees of all sizes stretched upwards – Rue recognised palm and banana – and vines grew over everything. It was delightfully tropical. She was no horticulturalist but she spotted a few orchids – her night vision seemed quite decent in weremonkey from. Occasionally they crossed a small stream, its embankment covered in a thick carpet of maidenhair fern. Rue would have enjoyed a stroll through Tungareshwar during the daylight. It must be stunning, everything verdant and lush, green broken only by the black of tree trunks and bright splashes of exotic flowers.

Then her ears started roaring. She thought it might be a weremonkey thing and tried surreptitiously shaking her head.

Eventually, she realised they were heading up the side of one stream into a valley and the sound was coming from a large waterfall. They rounded a bend in the river and there it was ahead of them, extraordinarily picturesque. The moon hung in three-quarter glory directly over the white falls, trees dipping in all around. To each side of the falls built out of – but also part of – the cliff was a massive sandstone temple. Rue assumed the stones ranged in colour, although at night she could only see shifting shades. It was clearly very old – the dominating motif was one of steep arches rather than spires or onion shapes. It was naturalistic, modelled on leaf shapes, its doorways like open flowers and its columns like tree trunks.

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