These mountains were not like the ones from home. They didn’t look the same. They didn’t smell the same. They didn’t feel the same. But they did feel good, like the spirit of these mountains knew what she was and accepted her, welcomed her, even. Anoushka took a deep breath and held it, enjoying the sharp sting of the chilly wind on her face. She could see why the master brought his family to Montana. This place felt like a heaven to shifters. There was room enough to run wild but society enough to still make a good living.
Once the villagers got over their fright of her in her half-changed form, they had been very willing to help. These were good but simple people and a woman wearing the pelt of a tiger for skin looked like a goddess to them. The master had a very bad reputation back home and, typical for a superstitious people, they had assumed the Shere Khan had trapped her there because she had tried to stop his evil. They also assumed that, because she had called on them for help, she was their personal goddess. Anoushka had done nothing to dissuade them of that notion. They were happy with the idea of having some divine attention and she needed their help to get herself to the master’s new base of operations. Using her magic to clear the village of a nasty cholera epidemic was simple, if time consuming, and something she would have done anyway. Doing little things for others made her feel good.
Of course, she was still partially trapped by the curse. The presence of mortals meant she could leave her mountain top jail, but she was still half changed. Her magic was strong but only in the healing arts. She needed someone versed in curse-breaking to finish the job. The trip to Montana had not been easy but with the help of her new found “people” it hadn’t been impossible. They crated her up and forged papers that she was an exotic pet being returned to its native environment in the Rocky Mountains. They send along a local gamekeeper to free her from the crate and serve as her servant—and to make sure she returned to them when her “holy mission” was done.
The gamekeeper, Rafiqi, knew full well that she was no goddess, but he played along. Once she realized he was worldlier than the other villagers, Anoushka confided in him. He rather liked her plan to steal Khan’s son as recompense for punishing her for another’s transgression. Apparently Khan had been well known for stealing other men’s wives to use as whores. Khan had taken Rafiki’s wife, in fact, and he was excited to help her if it meant a chance to get Shar back from him. What an odd pair they made.
Anoushka stretched her cramped muscles one last time and took a final look around the clearing behind the cabin Rafiki had found to stage her “release.” Enough reflection. Time to get started on stealing her intended mate.