Rue endured it while directing Percy to continue.

“Whash been happening sinsh you were captured?”

“They realised I could speak their language – although theirs is an exotic dialect, I’m thinking perhaps quite ancient, very exciting––”

“Pershy, pleash don’t get dishacted with minutia.”

“They had me sit, gave me this odd tea to drink. They are very fond of tea. Value it above all things. Collect it as tribute, I understand. Where was I? Oh yes, they won’t let me talk unless it’s to answer one of their questions. So I haven’t been able to discern much. Besides which, I don’t quite know what I’m permitted to reveal to them. Officially, or, erm, militarily, as it were. There have been a number of awkward silences. Reminds me of an opera.”

“Oh, really, Pershy.”

“Well, what can I do?”

Rue tapped her foot. Then was forced to engage in a rapid exchange of small bows with one of the Vanaras. “Have you learnt anything of ushe?”

Percy frowned. “Culturally? Vanaras are accustomed to being considered beneficial sacred beings – even gods. They expect reverence, gold, and tea. They openly and understandably resent the very idea that we British purport to bring enlightenment to the locals. They think of this as their role. They blame us for the fact that they must hide here in the forest. They like Tungareshwar well enough, but this is their offering temple and retreat, not their home. Before the British arrived, they spent the majority of their time closer to cities. They have been hiding here for nearly forty years.”

Rue was frustrated. “Why? We are a progreshive empire. We have alwaysh made contact with the local supernaturals and recruited them to our cause. We have alwaysh tried to passh on the ideal of incorporating supernaturals into society.” In her frustration, Rue was learning to control the shape of her new jaw. Her speech became clearer. “If they already were an accepted part of Indian society, why didn’t they meet us openly at the start? We might have treated the entire country differently, if we had known of their existence. The fact that they were already progressed would have been taken by Queen Victoria as a sign of enlightened thought. Wars might have have avoided.”

Percy cocked his head and, strangely, defended his captors. “My dearest Rue, have you forgotten who first made contact here in India?”


“Oh dear, of course. Bloody John.” The East India Company was a vampire concern. Rue’s monkey face crinkled up. Her tail switched back and forth in irritation, like a cat. Her forms were getting confused. “Are you telling me that we inadvertently allied with one side of an ongoing supernatural civil war?”

“That might indeed be the case.”

Turning to Percy, one of the Vanaras gesticulated at his own furry throat. Then he said something his native tongue.

Percy replied in stuttering Hindustani before explaining to Rue. “They want me to interpret.”

“Please do.”

This particular Vanara was the most important – if one were to judge by the quantity of gold draped upon him.

Rue was taken aback by the sheer number of gold bangles he wore. Among London’s fashionable set such an amount of jewellery was the height of vulgarity. However, barring any other indication of authority, she curtseyed to the speaker deferentially. It was awkward to curtsey in bowed monkey legs with no skirt. She thought it quite the achievement – not falling over.

Percy spoke for the Vanara. “Foreign Devil Woman, why have you stolen our companion’s monkey self?”

“Foreign Devil Woman? Really?” said Rue.

Percy replied, “It’s the best direct translation I can think of, unless you prefer Alien Daughter of Evil?”

Rue ignored this and said to the Vanara, “Apologies. I tried to warn your friend not to touch me. This is not something I can control.”

“Lies, White Devil Female.”

“Percy, must you repeat that particular part?” hissed Rue, and then: “I do not lie.” She decided to risk her own safety for the sake of negotiation. “Your fellow can get his monkey shape back by moving away from me.”

Percy paused before translating. “Rue, you risk yourself unnecessarily.”

“If all else fails, I’ll dive in and touch another one.”

“You’re sure?”

“Repeat what I said, pleash, Pershy.” Rue once more found her jaw disobeying her. She wondered if English was ill-suited to monkeys.

Percy did as she asked.

The Vanara responded with a gesture at Rue’s victim. Without comment, the handsome man turned and trudged away.

“He’ll need to go further than that.”

He kept up his steady pacing until he was lost around a bend of the stream, back into the depths of the forest.

Eventually, Rue felt a tell-tale initial tremor and then her bones and muscles were re-forming. The pain made her wince but she managed to keep from moaning. Her tail vanished and she mourned its absence. The fur retreated back up her body, becoming her own tangled brown hair once more – that, at least, was gratifying. Rue was vain about her hair. She fluffed it forwards to cover as much of her torso as possible. She felt unmistakable physical loss as her monkey strength dissipated. This was so annoying that she was forced to consider seriously doing more physical exertion in the future. If I am to continue this new life as an adventuress I may have to train for it. The very idea! Her orange modesty scarf loosened about her waist and she quickly grabbed it and re-tied the side.

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