Rue gasped appreciatively. “It’ssh beautiful!”

Her unwitting guide did not turn when she spoke, merely continued marching up the right side of the waterfall. This side of the temple was lit by a large bonfire in the enclosed front courtyard. Around this was a group of shadowy figures. Some crouched, others perched, a few sat in proper formal fashion on top of strangely modern large spheres. The figures jerked and twitched in a frenzied manner, unable to keep still. They all wore a quantity of gold plate which gleamed in the firelight. They were all quite furry.

The newly made mortal man marched through the wide entranceway towards the group, trailing Rue behind him.

The assembly was engaged in some manner of civilised discourse, sipping earthenware cups of spiced tea. It comprised a dozen or so Vanaras, Miss Sekhmet, and Professor Percival Tunstell.

Behind the group and up a level was a beautifully ornate silver birdcage – many times larger than a normal birdcage – in which Miss Sekhmet’s lioness form sat, looking disgruntled but unhurt. Rue wondered if the silver cage kept her from turning back to human shape or if there were some other reason she remained a cat. Piled next to her and around her was more gold. The Vanaras were obviously fond of the stuff.

Percy sat in the centre with silver manacles around his wrists chained to a matching set around his ankles and from there to a ring in the stone floor.

Rue and her escort took up position near Percy in front of the weremonkeys, who all stopped talking and stared at them.

The spheres they sat upon proved to be transport containers, brass-made and slitted open on the sides in wedges like a sporadically eaten orange. Each one held a quantity of dirt and a selection of healthy-looking seedlings, suspended above which was a series of tubes and bulbous bladders that could only be an automated watering system.

Dama’s missing tea!

Upon registering that one of their number was apparently involuntarily human, the Vanaras all stood up and began talking at once, in Hindustani of course. Rue’s mortal victim threw the monkey charm at the feet of his fellows in evident disgust.

At the same time Percy, who could not stand, leaned forward squinting in the firelight and said, “Rue, is that you?”


“Of coursh ish me. Pershy, what ish going on?”

Percy blinked at her myopically, having lost his spectacles at some point. “Aside from the fact that we just watched the head of Ganesha emit a fire sparkler, catch fire, explode, and fall into the forest?”

“Ah, yesh,” said Rue. “That would be me assh well.”

Percy’s expression said he found this utterly unsurprising. “Our hosts thought it a sign from the gods.”

Rue nodded. “I sheem to be reshponshible for a number of those thish evening.”

Percy evaluated her newly fuzzy form. “Interesting outfit you’re wearing for an evening call.”

“Yesh, well, Primrosh did insisht I bring the scarf. It would be churlish of me not to wear it.”

“That wasn’t what I meant to imply. Are you covered in hair?”

“Pershy, you’re as blind as a billiard ball. I’m a weremonkey.” She cocked her hip out and flicked her tail. “The tail ish remarkably useful. Even better than the cat one. You know, I should like a tail as a rule. Difficult in skirts, I sushpose.”


Rue decided they’d engaged in sufficient banter for the moment. “Enough of thish, Pershy. What’s been happing? How did you get here? Why ish she still a lionessssh? And mosh importantly, what are they saying?”

Percy made as if to push his non-existent specs up his nose. Finding them gone, he lowered his hand awkwardly. “That’s a number of questions to answer all at once. Where should I start?”

“Begin at the beginning. Ish very becoming, not to mention organished.”

Thus, while the Vanaras argued with one another, apparently questioning the veracity of everything their mortal compatriot was telling them about Rue, Percy explained.

Rue had, indeed, managed to race away fast enough so that when Miss Sekhmet hit the bottom of the gorge, she was a supernatural and unhurt. She’d climbed out and found Percy waiting at the top. She’d changed into lioness form so that Percy could ride. They had been about to go looking for Rue when they were assaulted from above. The Vanaras had dropped down out of the trees in a coordinated attack, and thrown a silver net over Percy and Miss Sekhmet.

“But I thought she was allied with them?”

“Not close enough to be forgiven for bringing me along, I guess. And there was something about a missing necklace. She could hardly explain. She’s been stuck as a cat ever since. They trussed us up as if we were a loin of pork. Then wrapped us in a thick blanket over the net, presumably to protect themselves from the silver. One of them carried both of us through the forest, Miss Sekhmet struggling the whole while. They must be very strong. Once here, they put Miss Sekhmet into that cage and manacled me. Silver” – he pointed to his feet – “or silver-plated, so I think they may believe I’m a werewolf or something. I tried to explain I wasn’t, otherwise why would I ride when I could run? But they ignored me.”

Occasionally, one of the Vanaras would walk over and circle Rue, staying well out of tail reach, but clearly curious.

“How do you do?” Rue would say politely, examining each in return before returning her attention to Percy.

There were no females among those assembled so they must have the same issue as other supernaturals with metamorphosing women. Or perhaps female Vanaras assembled separately, like after supper in England? Still, given the Vanara interest, either Rue herself as a female was an oddity, or the story that the mortal Vanara was telling about Rue was sparking intrigue.

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