Owls should not fly in the daylight. Donovan knew this, and the form he took knew it, and was fighting as he soared in to land on the very peak of the Big Top. It wanted to sleep, and as every shapeshifter knew the body was not just a costume you wore. The body had needs and wants of its own, and the longer the mind stayed the more the mind absorbed those needs and shared them. At that hour only Donovan's willpower kept the owl-shape awake, and it was beginning to flag. He must be quick.
Orange eyes scanned the circus grounds, sharper than any human's. He located what he wanted in seconds, but there were too many people there for his liking; he would have to wait. Impatiently, he began to preen his snowy feathers, picking at the blood that matted them around his wound. That idiot of a soldier, if only he knew, had got in but one wounding blow; and Donovan, always the actor, always the cautious one, had tumbled to the floor and pulled an illusion over himself, becoming the owl once again. He did not want to die. It had been a good illusion, he thought with a tinge of pride; the solider had been fooled completely. But the wound niggled. It interfered with flying.
The men surrounding his target had dispersed. The owl dropped awkwardly between two tents; a young man with silver hair walked out, one hand clamped over his shoulder where blood showed on his tunic.
The bearcub in its cage snarled at him as he approached. He gave a wolfish grin at its halfhearted defiance; for all its show it was almost as tame as big Marron, lying asleep, chained to the ground, nothing but a toothless teddy bear. He put his hand between the bars; it went to bite him, but he gripped its muzzle tight and smiled at it. It whimpered and tried to back away; he laughed and released it, chuckling as it cowered away. The lock on the cage was nothing to his nimble fingers, and the cub did not dare fight as he picked it up.
What better to bribe a bear with than a baby bear?
The cub was heavy, and his wounded shoulder shrieked at him; but he ignored at as he slipped away, quick and adept at hiding himself. He would take the cub to the forest, and he would find the beargirl, and then he would find his sister and her tame soldiers. And then...there would be a reckoning.
Back by the cage, big Marron opened one eye and wrinkled his nose. The smells were wrong; there was an unfamiliar, hostile one, and it smelled as though the little cub was gone. The old performing bear got to his paws and swung his head in anxiety; and then anger overtook the worry, and he exerted the strength that he had for years kept in check, and snapped his chain. He would find the cub, and he would kill the possessor of the strange smell; and then maybe he would come back.
The heavy brown bear broke into a lumbering run, and followed Donovan's scent through the circus. He was vaguely aware that some people tried to stop him, with whips and sticks, but he ignored them; they scattered before his bulk.
When he caught up with the cub-thief, there would be...a reckoning.