The wind whipped off the high peaks, swirling down the mountains like a wave gathering speed before breaking on the shore. Sloughing his way forward, a young lad chanced a quick glance up against the wind to the signs overhead, rewarded by the swinging wood marked with the hammer over anvil sign of the smithy. Plowing through a waist high drift to the door, he tumbled inside with a rush of cold air.
"What took you so long?" asked Argentarge, "I sent you for that load almost two hours ago."
"Gee, maybe the waist deep snow accumulating in front of the door had something to do with it," retorted Daniel.
"So are you suggesting something?"
"Just that maybe someone should get out there with a shovel."
Less than five minutes later Daniel found himself back outside, staring at the door, shovel in hand. With every shovel full he threw though, it seemed as if twice as much was blown onto the drift.
"Remind me again why I'm out here doing this?" he yelled at the door, throwing another load.
"Because you said it needed doing," came the muffled reply from within the shop.
"And it builds character."
Sticking his head out of the door, ears still tucked under his working cap, Gordon barked, "And because you are my apprentice, I said so, and if you don't mind I have to try to finish adding a pair of boobs to a breastplate before tomorrow. That's why you're out here and I'm not."
"Finished yet?" asked Gordon as Daniel quickly shut the door behind him against the wind.
"Yeah." said Daniel through clenched teeth, "Brrr, by Eli it's freezing out there, my hands are bone raw."
"Good, you'll build calluses, and in this business that's a necessity." Voiced Gordon, wiping off the anvil. "By the way," he said reaching to the wall and holding up a breastplate complete with bosom, "how does this look?"
"Like you spent way to much time taking measurements."
"Ha ha, very funny," grumbled Argentarge, his tail flicking around behind him, putting down the armor, "Let's see those raw hands of yours."
Walking over to Gordon, Daniel presented his hands palm up. Taking them in his paws Gordon began to check them over turning them this way and that.
"How old are you Daniel?"
"I dun know. My real parents died when I was little, remember?"
"Right, well my guess is your hands aren't raw from the cold but from the curse."
"What," asked Daniel, his jaw nearly on the floor?
"Just that, you're developing paw pads like I did. I could smell it on you as soon as you came in from shoveling. Now, because I don't exactly have much experience with this nose, I can't tell you what you are changing into other than I think it's some sort of dog."
"What am I gonna do?" Daniel mumbled, staring at his hands.
"I suggest you just keep up with daily life. If you stop moving and sit around you'll probably have a much harder time of adjusting to your form."
"You're one to talk, Mr. Graceful."
"But I kept working through it didn't I?"
"Yeah I suppose"
"Good, now get to bed. You have work to do tomorrow."
Standing over the anvil, Daniel gave the arrowhead one final blow before flicking it into the water trough.
Reaching a paw down into the water to get the point, Gordon barely looked up from his lunch prior to throwing it back into the flames. "It's crooked."
"That's the sixth time you've told me that. Why don't you get up and show me what's crooked for once."
"Because," replied Gordon getting up, "I can't show you how to make it straight. That's something you have to feel." Grabbing a tongs off the wall, Gordon took the point from the fire, gave it one solid blow on each face, and threw it back into the water. "There, that's how to make the faces even."
Walking over to the trough, Daniel withdrew the warm metal and examined the edges. "So what else are you going to have me do before I can make something useful?"
"What's not useful about an arrow? They kill lutins."
"That's about all that they do."
"Daniel, it's not about the arrow." Sighed Gordon, "The head is just to teach you how to keep your hammer blows straight and even, and until you can get that down you wont even be able to make a decent door hinge much less a sword or armor. When I was an apprentice I felt the same way. It took me hundreds of points before my master deemed me acceptable."
"Yeah," said Gordon taking a draught from his maser and dumping half of it down his chest as he did. "Blast this damn muzzle. Hopefully you'll catch on faster than I did."
"With the hammer or the cup?"
Spreading up from his hands, Daniels arms were soon engulfed in thick sandy colored fur and his teeth began to shift and grow. Continuing to work on his hammer strokes he progressively got better and could soon make a perfect point. Pulling his latest attempt from the slack tub, Daniel brought it to Gordon for inspection, "How's this look?"
"Perfect," replied Gordon, "Do it again."
"Again? But you just said that it was perfect! Why do it again?"
"Because practice makes perfect consistently. Don't worry, your moving along quickly and soon you can start to work on other, harder projects." Replied Gordon nonchalantly. "You're progressing quite quickly, probably due to whatever training you had before I came."
"Well that's a relief," said Daniel grabbing another piece of scrap metal. "What else can I work on? Arrows are getting pretty boring."
"That all depends on what my next job is." Said Gordon mater-of-factly. "If it's something you can help with you will, if not than you'll probably get to make nails or something. Always gotta have enough nails on hand."
Over the next few days business remained slow and Daniel's change began to accelerate. By now the tan fur covered most of his upper body with a yellowish cream coloring on his stomach and chest. His muscle mass was also beginning to reshape and his chest had barreled out some. His ears began to move up his head and became pointed while his jaw and canine teeth continued to grow out.
Looking at Daniels face, which by now was only half changed, Gordon raised the question, "I wonder just what you're becoming, ya look like some kind of fox but I'm not sure."
Attempting to straighten a nail on the anvil and instead sending it pinging of the walls Daniel replied, "You're guess is as good as mine."
"Well whatever it is, your current coordination is going to pot and if you're not careful your going to brake something in here, so watch out."
Nearly a fortnight after it had begun Daniel's changes ground to completion. Running from his chin to the insides of his thighs was thick cream-colored fur merging smoothly with a brown tan on his arms, shoulders, sides, and the rest of his now digitigrade legs. His head and back were now coated in a smooth silver-gray pelt. His tail, poking from a hole slit into his old pants, was a mixed coloring of side and back hairs ending in a black tag.
Running his claws over his tail, Daniel turned to face Gordon across the anvil once more, "How do you get used to that huge tail of yours? Mine isn't even half as long and it's driving me nuts!"
"It gets in the way once in a while but for the most part it either keeps it self out of my way or helps me." Replied Gordon with a shrug.
"Your talking about it as if you don't have any control over it, and if you can't control it how can it help you?"
"O, I have control of it, it's just that I usually don't have to think about it. As for how it can help, I can use it almost like a third leg when I need to be steady with something, like my arbalest for example. Now are you going to help me weld this together or are you going to fondle your tail all day?"
Tuning back to the forge Daniel took one of the tongs clamped in the fire and pulled out the white hot metal. Laying it flush on the anvil, Daniel was thankful for his thick paw pads as the heat seeped up the tongs and Gordon began to weld the two pieces together.