Hades, the Greek god of the dead had a dog named Cerberus. Cerberus was the latinization of the Greek word kerberos. Kerberos means spot. Dad figured that if "Spot" was good enough for Hades' hell hound, it was good enough for his daughter, who was a wolf. Not a were wolf, either. Kiko, who's name just happened to mean Spot in Polynesian, had been born a wolf.
She had no memory of it, but the first three years of her life had been spent as a wolf pup, tottering after her father's heals. Her father was a shifter lord. This was only relevant because her own son was now three but having been bore in human form, could not yet take the form of a wolf. It would have made it a lot easier to run like hell and escape the man who used to be Ned's father if the two of them could shift into wolf form. This would be a good time for Ned to discover the ability, but Kiko didn't think her luck would extend that far.
"Shhhh, baby," she murmured in her small son's ear. She didn't whisper, knowing that the sound of a whisper could carry much father that a very quiet murmur. She had found a hollow tree trunk hidden behind a thicket of brambles off the side of the road to tuck him into. Darr had beaten both of them badly in his last fit of rage and she couldn't keep running like this. She needed to hide her son and lead Darr away. Once she was sure Darr was a very long way from Ned, she could shift into a wolf and circle back to Ned. It was a risky plan but she didn't have any choice.
"Mama will be back for you before you know it. Stay here and stay quiet, ok?" She smiled down at her son, trying to hide the fear and anger in her heart at seeing her beautiful, lively boy laying so listlessly on the pile of leaf litter. Darr had beaten the toddler badly, yelling something about Ned having stolen his face and his wife. Kiko took off her clothes and stuffed them in the tree before covering the hole with a large clump of brush. She glanced down the road in the direction they had come and turned to run the other way, being careful to leave a clear trail for Darr to follow.
After a good mile, Kiko rounded a sharp bend in the road. She looked back and realized she could not see the tree Ned was hiding in, though the road had gained some altitude as it wound up the side of a hill. This was a good spot, she decided. She stepped into the thin stream trickling beside the road and made her way to a rock outcropping. She began her change, leaving the water on human feet and stepping onto the rock on wolf paws.
Her return trip didn't take nearly as long, partially because she was running cross country and down hill this time, but also because the change had healed some of her injuries, especially her cracked ribs. It left her even more drained but running was easier for the wolf.
She slowed and carefully checked her back trail--both the new one and the old--before changing back into her two-legged form. She pulled her clothes out and began dressing. There was nothing more she could do. She was too tired and hungry to resume her flight. She crawled into the tree hollow and curled around her sleeping child, hoping it had been enough.
Her first sign that her attempt to hide their resting place from Darr had not been successful was Darr dragging her out of the hollow tree by her hair.
"Run, Ned!" she screamed when she saw Darr turn to reach back into the tree. Kiko grabbed at his legs, throwing her slight weight around like a trout on a line, heedless of the ripping pain on her scalp as hunks of bloody hair were pulled free.
"Where is he?" Darr screamed in her face as he shook her. "Where's that little bastard that took you away from me? I'll get my face back from him and I'll get you back from him, too! I'll leave him dead in the road for carrion to feast on!"
Kiko managed to grab a hold of Darr's leg again. She wrapped her arms around it and bit the first bit of Darr's flesh she found. She bit as hard as she could, bile rising when her mouth filled with blood, but she didn't let go. She had to give Ned time to run, even if it cost her her life. Living if her son died would cost her much more.
"You bitch!" A fist came flying in, hitting her temple hard enough her vision swam. She still hadn't let go so when she was knocked off, she took a bite of Darr with her. A kick to her ribs undid all the healing her two shifts had managed and another kick quickly followed. She couldn't move away and she didn't try to. That was fine, she decided half hysterically. So long as Darr was pounding on her, he wasn’t following Ned. She had to give her precious son time to run and hide.
Darr kicked her over onto her back and she prepared to jump up and tackle him. But no more kicks came. As she lay watching, a long, bloody white arrow tipped with a bodkin head erupted from Darr's throat. He wavered for a moment before collapsing.
Kiko blinked, shocked.
A new head appeared in her line of vision, back lit by the setting sun so she couldn't make out any features. All she saw was a dark outline and a silvery gold corona of hair.
* * * * * * * * * *
Cian, chieftain of Clan Hawk in the frigid northern forest belonging to the mountain elves, had been taking the slow road home from court when the sound of a woman's hysterical screams split the late afternoon calm. He jammed his heals into his horse's flank, driving the large animal into a ground-shacking gallop. His companions did the same and the party of eight elfin warriors sped up the winding road as fast as their horses could safely traverse it.
They rounded a bend to the haunting sound of the woman screaming for someone to run. Down the middle of the road, Cian saw a child standing still as he watched a man beating a woman, probably his mother. Cian nodded at the child and Angus, riding to his left, leaned over and scooped the child up. Cian drew an arrow from his quiver as he unslung his short equestrian bow, saying a silent prayer of thanks that he always traveled as if he was passing through hostile territory. Which he usually was, but that wasn't salient at the moment.
"Cease your abuse or I'll shoot!" he called out as soon as he had the arrow nocked. The man looked back at him, his filthy face a mess of rage. Cian saw the tall pointed ears of an elf peeking through tangled brown hair. He sighed with disgust and loosed his arrow.
It flew true and caught the deranged elf in the back of his neck, crushing vertebrae and severing the spine, killing its target instantly.
"Your suffering is done now, brother," Cian muttered quietly as he reigned his charger in. "Now to ease the suffering you caused to others, if I can."
Cian knew all too well the signs of battle dementia exacerbated by the effects of amphetamines, which some took to in an attempt to ease the nightmares. It not only didn't help, it sometimes made them worse, sending the warrior in an out of control downward spiral of substance abuse and violence. He looked at the tear stained face of the small boy, a child of no more than three summers, then down at the face of the elf he had killed. The resemblance was uncanny, though not surprising considering the words the elf buck had been screaming as he attacked his wife.
He slowly approached the badly beaten woman, not wanting to startle her. Her clothes were ripped to shreds but still covered enough of her small body to preserve her modesty, mostly because she had had the foresight to dress in thick hoes and a long knit tunic. Most females would not have thought to don male garments.
He knelt down beside her and carefully moved the blood soaked mass of her hair away from her face so he could look at her properly. He found himself ensnared by large yellow eyes, wild with pain and fury her battered body would not let her spend.
"He is safe," Cian murmured as he carefully began checking her injuries to see if any was life threatening. "We found your little one. He is safe and unharmed."
Tension melted from the woman's body as she registered his words. Cian had suspected that all of her remaining strength had been devoted to her son's safety. That was why he had told her the child was safe, rather than trying to reassure her that she was now safe. It required no foresight to realize that she had let her enraged husband beat her so that her child might escape. The hollow, sick feeling in his stomach grew. So much death and pain. All for the grain of a few petty tyrants who never had to suffer first-hand the cost of their greed.