Warren stepped down from his wagon. Geeser had built a stone ring outside and was preparing Warren’s dinner. The little goblin acted much like a manservant to the werewolf.
He originally stowed away on one of the wagons when they passed through Cruw Thicket on their way to Midhorn. It wasn’t difficult to blackmail him into serving the manager of the circus over the alternative of being left in Midhorn with the dwarves. He kept the wagon tidy, made up the fire each night and did all the cooking. Warren wasn’t difficult to feed, red meat, lightly seared.
Warren picked up the heavy metal poker by the fire.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he told Geeser.
Geeser cringed, but said nothing. He only crossed Warren once. That was enough. He learned his lesson. The little shape shifter was not worth taking another beating from the werewolf. Geeser could rationalize his non-interference. Warren wouldn’t kill the boy. He spent too much money on him. He merely wanted to torture him a bit. It was part of Warren’s personality to make everyone uncomfortable and aware, that at all times, he was the boss.
Warren stalked over to Duurun’s cage.
“Well, well,” he said with a toothy grin as he ran the poker along the bars of the cage. “Your protector seems to have deserted you again.”
Duurun moved to the back of the cage. The werewolf barked a laugh. He could still reach Duurun with the poker. Warren poked him in the ribs. Duurun tried to curl up in a ball to protect himself. Warren jabbed him in the back. The boy shifted into a western dragon and spit fire at the werewolf. It stopped at the cage bars. That was the trouble with the warded cage. The bars stopped him from doing anything to Warren. However, from the outside, Warren could do as he liked.
The werewolf used a powerful water hose yesterday, when Nadia left him alone. It had been raining, so she didn’t think anything of it other than she chided herself for not putting down the flaps on his cage to protect him from the elements before she left. The day before that Warren practiced his pitching arm by seeing how many rocks he could pellet at Duurun through the cage bars. He gave himself two points for everyone that found its mark.
“Come on,” Warren taunted. “Give me something bigger and meaner. I have two dragons already.”
The werewolf brought the poker down hard on Duurun’s dragon paw. He roared in pain, shifted into an armadillo and curled up to protect himself.
Warren smacked him with the poker and sent him flying into the other end of the cage with a heavy thud.
The impact made Duurun unfold and shift back semiconscious into his human form. Warren came after him again with the poker.
The torment was always limited in time. If he could just hold on, Warren would move on. He was always afraid Nadia would catch him.
The werewolf poked him in the butt and snarled, “Shift!”
Nadia was smiling to herself. She was clean and had hot food ready to eat in a bag. A Clurichaun, a wine loving cousin to the leprechaun, from the local village had a food cart set up down at a pool on the lower part of the stream. She picked up burgers and fries for Duurun and her dinner. Any night she didn’t have to cook was a good night as far as she was concerned.
She emerged from the woods just as the sun was setting. The clearing the circus was camped in had a smattering of fires built. When they traveled, everyone fixed their own food. It was only when they came to a town where they were booked that they took the trouble of setting up the mess tent where the goblins would cook for everyone, including the animals.
She went to the cage and unlocked the door. Duurun was in a furry lump curled up in a corner with his back to her.
“Come on, Duurun. I brought supper,” she called.
When he didn’t respond, she crawled into the cage and made her way over to him.
“Duurun?” she whispered.
Maybe he fell asleep. He did a lot of flying today. She reached out to stroke his back. As soon as her hand touched him his head came up. Snarling, he snapped at her with a muzzle full of very sharp teeth. She crawdadded back on all fours away from him. Duurun’s red eyes pinned her. There was blood dripping from his nose and one ear. He didn’t appear to be any animal she could identify. It was like he had tried to shift and not made it all the way. He was a frightening hodge-podge of creatures. His ears were tall and pointed like a Pharaoh hound, his muzzle was shorter and wider like his lion form or a bear, but his body hair was a mottled grey. His arms were as long as his human self and jointed the same way, but with paws at the end. His legs were those of a four-legged animal with hooves, and his tail was that of a scorpion.
She held her ground and did not move. She learned early on, while working with the dragons, you didn’t want to show you were afraid. She didn’t even consider reaching in her pouch for the ball that controlled his collar. She thought for sure that action would provoke an attack.
“Duurun? What’s going on?” she asked softly. She held her hand out palm up. “It’s me, Nadia.” She reached behind her to get the bag of food she dropped. “I bought supper.” She slowly reached in and pulled out a burger. “Burgers and fries,” she said temptingly.
Duurun sat back on his haunches. He lowered his head and rubbed at his face with a paw that looked more like a werewolves than anything else. He whimpered and a tear slide down his furry cheek.
She put the burger down. What had happened to him? Was he sick? Could he get this sick so quickly? She didn’t know enough about shape shifters.
She slowly scooted closer to him - her hand still out in offering. When she got close enough she cupped his muzzle in her palm and stroked it with her thumb. He was obviously in a lot of pain. When she touched his muzzle his eyes squeezed closed and he flinched as though she had hit him.
“What’s going on?” she asked softly. “What can I do to help?”
She moved even closer and brought her other hand up to gently pet the side of his face.
Duurun began to shift. It started with his eyes. They faded, ever so slowly, to the golden color they were normally. His muzzle began to shorten and pull into his face. His ears drooped and then began to curl slightly as they started to form his human ears. He trembled under Nadia’s hands. This was unlike anything she had ever seen before. Usually Duurun’s shifts were instantaneous. In the blink of an eye he changed from one being to the next. This looked painful and sounded as though it was too. He would moan and catch his breath as though he were a runner with a stitch in his side.
It took him at least five minutes before he was totally back in his human form. He lay panting in pain on the floor of the cage. Nadia saw that he was a mass of bruises before he covered himself in the clothing he could manufacture as a shifter. Even then, he only managed to create the semblance of a pair of jeans. He didn’t create a shirt or shoes as he normally wore.
Nadia was startled from her concentrated observation of Duurun by Geeser, as the little goblin’s head popped up from under the wagon type cage.
“It was Warren,” Geeser whispered. “He’s been after him when you’re not around. Hurting him. Making him shift over and over again.”
Nadia frowned at the goblin. “Where is he?” she demanded.
“In his wagon, but he’s been drinkin’,” Geeser warned. “He’s in a foul mood. I wouldn’t go near him without dragon back up.”
Nadia didn’t need a dragon. She was going to kick some werewolf butt.
“Will you get Angel to look after him?” Nadia asked the goblin.
Angel was the circus vet and the closest they had to a doctor.
Geeser bobbed his head. “Be careful,” he said before he took off toward Angel’s wagon.
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