Reflections of a Runner Bonus Content | Behind The Scenes | Published 21 March 2021

As a reader, I love to read a story from multiple view points.  Some of my favorite examples are from Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels world.  Kate is the only viewpoint character since the books are told in first person, but occasionally the husband and wife author duo wrote some of the funniest scenes in that series again from the perspective of other characters, most notably Curan, Kate’s love interest in the series.  Curan’s version of events is, if anything, even more hilarious than Kate’s and I was so glad they published the collection of scene out-takes so that I could have them on my Kindle for more convenient re-reading.

In my own series, the Hounds are a very popular group of characters that my readers always want to know more about.  That’s awesome for me, since I love them too and will take any excuse to dive into Underhill and share more of their secret lives with others.  This post covers the scene in the kennels where Aneirin is telling Danny what fate awaits for the two women who attempted to betray Danny to her family’s enemies–only this time it’s seen through the eyes of Keezheekoni, Danny’s cousin and the person who sold Danny out.

Reader be warned: There is adult content and graphic violence in this scene.

~*~*~*~

My name is Keezheekoni O’Ryan Ó Griohtha.

I am human.

I am woman.

I am Gifted.

I am strong enough to survive this.

I’d been repeating this to myself for hours as a distraction, but also to remind myself of what was true, because at the moment I wasn’t a human or a woman.  I wasn’t able to access my gift, and I wasn’t at all sure if I was strong enough to survive what had happened in the last few days or what was to come.

The deep breath I drew as part of my self-affirmation ritual threatened to swamp me with the stench of the dog kennels that was my prison.  Unwashed dog.  Shit.  Piss.  These were the most disgusting and most readily identifiable stinks but not the worst of it.  The worst was that I could smell so much more than I wanted to of the layers that made up the shitpissdog fug that clogged up the air, along with a whole world of other smells.

Dust.  Wood.  Metal.  Stone.  Mold.  Old dog food.  Mice and Rats.  Raccoons, skunks, and squirrels.  Grass and all manner of other vegetation.

It was too much.

And yet not enough to keep me from reliving the same nightmare over and over again.

~*~

The Hound bitch is standing behind me, one hand fisted in my hair to crane my head back, forcing me to look up at her.  She has a knife to my throat, her burning green eyes boring into me from a face set in cold hard lines.

“Yield or die,” she says to me, her voice low and unnervingly calm.

Tears are pouring down my face and my lips are numb.  “Wh-what?”  My voice is trembling, hardly my own.

Kindra’s expression remains unyielding, her knife-hand steady as a rock.  “You must choose; return with me and submit to the family’s judgment or die here.”

I don’t want to die…I don’t want to die…

I can’t help but cast my eyes to the side, not moving my head.  I see Sequoia.  She’s staring at me, her beautiful dark eyes stretched wide with fear.  I don’t want this to be the last time I look upon the face of my beloved.  This can’t be our last moment together.  Facing the family’s wrath would be better than dying here, like this, on my knees, my dress clinging to my legs from where I pissed myself.

I don’t want to die!

Swallowing carefully against the sharp blade, I rasp out, “Yield.”

Kindra doesn’t so much as nod.  She takes her knife from my throat, her fist releases my hair, and I am left hollow and swaying, wondering how I got here. 

Kindra moves on.  She passes Cynthia to set her blade against Sequoia’s brown skin, but before she could repeat her question, Cynthia speaks, her tone sneering.

“Not going to offer me a choice?”

Kindra didn’t look at Cynthia as she says, “You are not Family.  You will have no say in your fate.” 

To Sequoia, she says, “Yield or die.”

My love is terrified.  I can see it in how she struggles to control her breathing and the white knuckles of her two bound hands clenched into a single fist in her lap, but there is also a resigned quality in the stillness of her features.  She stares up at Kindra a moment, then her gaze drops to Danny.  Our Conduit cousin’s eyes are white with cataracts, her once youthful body shockingly ravaged and starved, as she lay exhausted in Aneirin’s lap.  Sequoia’s eyes fill with tears and remorse. 

“I wanted a life of my own, but I would never have bought my freedom at the expense of yours, Danny.  I cannot tell you how sorry I am.  Can you forgive me?” she says and a great wave of shame crashes over me.  I cover my mouth and look away from the young woman whose life I’d been only too ready to trade for our independence from the family.

I hear Danny’s reply and she sounds terrible, her voice roughened by deprivation and clogged with tears.  “There is nothing for me to forgive.”

I look back in time to see Sequoia give Danny a small watery smile.  She takes a deep breath, lets it out, closes her eyes, and says, “I do not yield.”

Kindra slits Sequoia’s throat in a smooth practiced motion.  Blood sprays out in a geyser, spattering Danny’s shocked and ashen face with crimson rain. 

Just that suddenly, my world ends. 

My denial tears out of me in a ragged scream and I throw myself over Sequoia’s fallen form, yanking uselessly at my bonds as I try to bring my hands around to stop the tide of blood rushing out of my love’s neck. 

There’s commotion around me as Cynthia lunges upwards, attempting to drive her shoulder into Kindra and bowl her over in a moment of distraction.

Too late.  Useless.  My love, my world, is dying – is dead.  Sequoia’s dead on the floor before me and everything else is happening through a fog of horror and despair.  I can’t stop screaming.

Kindra sways to the side, quick and graceful as a willow switch, and brings the hilt of the knife down on Cynthia’s temple.  Eyes rolling up into her head, my co-conspirator crumples to the ground in the spreading lake of blood in front me.

Abruptly my screams are cut off and I stare up at Kindra, frozen in terror.

Her eyes flickering with cold green flames, Kindra steps over both prone bodies and grips me by my arms.  I’m hoisted to my feet, then she’s hauling me over to the mirror where she makes me kneel again. 

Without a word, Kindra returns to Sequoia’s still form and rolls her over onto her back.  With businesslike swipes of the knife, she’s slicing open Sequoia’s shirt, exposing my love’s bare chest.

As the Hound bitch begins to carve out my love’s heart I begin to keen shrilly, my hands, covered in Sequoia’s blood, press against my mouth, drowning me in the taste and smell of hot copper…

~*~

A low rumbling growl dragged me back to the present and made me aware that I was whimpering.  It was an effort to make myself stop, but once I had the growling stopped as well.

I cast a furtive glance in the direction the growls had come from to see Cynthia glaring at me over the basket muzzle Aunt Moira and her kennel brutes had strapped to her head.  They’d had to knock her out with a stunning spell to put it on her when she went wild and attacked them as soon as the transformation that turned us both until wolfhounds had taken affect.

With a dog’s sight, I could see better in the dark to a point, but fine detail had degraded and all the colors were off or gone entirely.  Still, I could easily catch the flash of white as my former ally bared her teeth at me.  I shivered and squeezed myself into a tighter ball where I huddled in my corner of the kennel, the chain linking my collar to the bolt in the wall clinking quietly with my movements.

My name is Keezheekoni O’Ryan Ó Griohtha.

I am human.

I am woman.

I am Gifted.

I am strong enough to survive this.

I’d repeated my mantra several more time when I heard footsteps approaching.  At least two people.  I turned my face more fully into the wall.  It was probable a couple more people come to see the traitor who’d gotten one of their number killed and tried to sell their most prized Conduit to their greatest rivals brought low.

Since returning with Kindra through the mirror, I’d been smacked, spat upon, and condemned in the strongest words my family knew this side of an actual curse.  Once made into a wolfhound, I’d been mocked and jeered ceaselessly by those who had always been jealous of my talents, those I’d derided or blithely slighted, and those who had always condemned my drive and ambition for the finer things in life.

I should have gone with Sequoia and let the Hound bitch take my heart too.

But I’d been a coward, too afraid to die, and now I faced a fate that was far worse.

It had been a relief when night had fallen and most of the family had gone to bed.  I’d thought I might have a few hours without ridicule and vitriol.  Apparently, I was wrong.

Like my sight and sense of smell, my hearing was now a great deal more sensitive and strange.  I heard them coming from a lot further away than I was used to so it was a bit more of a wait for them to arrive than I had been expecting.  When a lantern was raised and I was able to see the faces of my late-night visitors, they weren’t who I was expecting either.

It was difficult to tell with my poorly detailed sight and diluted perception of color, but Danny looked somewhat recovered, though still frail.  Guilt stabbed me and shame twisted the blade.

I’d sold Danny to the Eriksons to buy their help in getting Sequoia and me out from our family’s thumb.  I’d hesitated, but not all that long.  They’d told me it would be for the Conduit’s own good if she, too, were liberated from the family.  Don, an immensely old Conduit himself, promised me Danny would be free to not only live but thrive out in Maidu Province, where Conduits are recognized as citizens and not exploited as they are in most of the other provinces.

It didn’t look like she was thriving now.

Danny moved closer to the door of my kennel and she gripped the bars of the upper half with hands that still suffered from stiff and swollen knuckles.  “How long will they keep them like this?” she asked of Aneirin.

From where she was chained to the wall opposite me, Cynthia pulled back her lips and snarled, giving them the Evil Eye.  But I felt a timid flare of hope in response to the uncertainty in Danny’s tone and rose, taking two tentative steps toward her.  I didn’t deserve it, but maybe Danny would speak for me.

“That depends on them,” Aneirin said.  He stood a little off to Danny’s side, staring in at us with his freakishly flaming eyes.

This was the first I’d ever seen the male Hound in human form.  Oh, I’d heard plenty about him, because Danny had always insisted in keeping company with him despite all common sense or admonishments from the rest of family, but I’d yet to meet him in person.  He was huge.  Not fat by any means, but so unseemly tall, with long lean limbs, a thin waist tapering into narrow hips, but with a disproportionately deep chest and broad shoulders.  His face wasn’t at all what I would call handsome.  His rough-hewn features matched the rest of him, long and lean, with flat cheekbones and a narrow angular jaw, all dominated by his deep-set eyes that flickered and flared with unnatural green fire from lid to lid.

As those eyes bored into me, I saw no mercy or pity.  The ice in his voice made me flinch and I returned to my corner where I lay down again with a clinking of chains, my back to them, my face averted.  That didn’t keep me from hearing the rest of Aneirin’s reply.  “They are to accompany M-mother on her journey to One A.”

“Why are they going to One A?” Danny asked with curiosity.  I felt my own ears prick.  No one had told me what they planned to do with Cynthia and me.  They’d simply slapped the collars on us that transformed us into dogs and chained us up in this kennel.

“The Chieftains have decided the Hound bloodline needs renewing.”

Oh sweet merciful Lady.

“And there has been talk of increasing our numbers.  The Wardens have shown interest in hiring our services occasionally, but because there is only M-mother and me, the Chieftains have been reluctant to loan us out.  They’ve been in contact with some of the Tuatha de Danann in One A, who have agreed to grant us breeding rights with their Cù Sìth.”

I couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped me.  Across the way, Cynthia growled deep in her chest.

I’d never spared a thought for the Hounds, beyond a general sense of disdain and revulsion.  I’d never bothered to wonder where they’d come from but instead, if the topic came up, would express my irritation and frustration that our chieftains would put in place such stifling barriers to prevent enterprising people from seeking their greater fortunes in the wider world.  Now that I was forced to consider the Hounds’ origins, and given my current circumstances, I could feel dread welling up in me as I listened to Danny and Aneirin’s conversation.

“What do you think about that?”

Aneirin sighed.  “What do I think?  It’s complicated, you know?  If I wanted to make this about me, I could take it to mean the Chieftains don’t think that I’m good enough or that my own M-mother really does think my blood is too thin and that I’m a born failure.”

He laughed then and it was bitter.  “I used to think that all the time.  That my thin blood was why I stammered so badly and I struggled with so many other things M-mother insisted should have been instinct.  Every time I messed up or fell short of M-mothers expectations, I felt worthless.  I was worthless and friendless and I would always be alone, exiled to the fringes of our lands because I was of no use to the Family but never allowed to leave and find a different path.

“Then I met you, Danny, and you helped me prove to everyone, myself most importantly, that I was good enough to serve the Family.  You gave me confidence in myself when I had none.  You were my friend when no one else would even look at me.  You trust me and you value me just for being me.  You treat me like I’m a person.  You don’t recoil from me or fear me, even after what you saw last night.  You are priceless to me, Danny, and not because you’re the greatest Conduit this side of the world has ever seen.”

There was a pause in which I heard fabric rustling and the sound of tears being sniffed back.  I stole a glance over my furred shoulder to see Danny, normally so aloof, hugging the Hound.

Aneirin stiffened slightly then hugged her back, smiling down at her crookedly.  The smile didn’t last, though, as he looked back at me.

“Then they tried to take you away from me.  Cynthia put you in danger that could have cost you your life.  Keezheekoni did lead Sequoia to her death and betrayed the Family to our greatest enemy.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no punishment too harsh.  And in this case, I can think of no more fitting sentence.  Puts me in mind of the Three-Fold Law, you know?”

Cynthia snarled at that and flashed her teeth.  I knew exactly how she felt.  I refused to believe that the punishment the chieftains had brought down on me was just or balanced.  It was a horror and a crime.  And yet…

And yet, Sequoia was dead.

Her slit throat spraying blood in arterial bursts flashed before my eyes and the screaming grief that echoed in the terrible hole her death had opened in me shook my very bones.  I hated the Hounds for killing her, but I wasn’t so lost in arrogance and delusion that I could ignore my role in her death, much as I desperately wished to deny it.  She’d had a vision of her death but I’d refused to listen.  I’d pushed and pushed her to turn runner with me.  I’d promised to keep her safe and I had failed her utterly.

I hated the Hounds – but I hated myself more and the same part of me that cursed my cowardice back on bluffs now agreed with Aneirin.  I deserved everything the chieftains had done to me, everything they were going to do, and so much worse.

While I wallowed in self-loathing, Aneirin carried on with his reply to Danny.

“As for what I think about increasing our numbers…”  Aneirin shrugged.  “Part of me thinks maybe it would be nice if there were more than M-mother and me.  It might even be like having a real pack.  You know that dogs are not really pack animals, right?  They can coexist with each other, sure, but they would be just as happy on their own.  M-Mother and I are different.  We come from Cù Sìth and in some ways they are more like wolves than dogs.  We’re also human, and humans need a community.  We never really talk about it because there’s nothing we can do – M-mother’s tried – but yes, it would be good if there were others like us.  I wouldn’t be so alone, you know?”

Danny nodded then asked, “Just how long does she plan on being gone?”

“As long as it takes,” Aneirin said, running a hand back through his hair to get it out of his eyes.  “You know how it is.  The more magical someone or something is, the longer they live and the harder it is for them to reproduce.  The Gifted are lucky to have two to three children and that’s if they are really trying.  It’s a minor miracle for a Conduit to have a single child in all your life.  The Cù Sìth’s magic is potent and very similar to Conduits – you know this – but luckily, it’s not so hard for them to conceive as for your people.  Still, it might take these two several years to become pregnant.  Their sentence will be met when they have whelped and weened their pups.  After that the collars will come off.”

Oh God!  Oh sweet merciful Lady, no!

Years?!

Years living as a dog in some foreign world, raped over and over again by Cù Sìdhe the size of small bulls–the nightmare only over once their demon seed had taken root in me?

This wasn’t punishment.  This was cruel inhuman torment!

I whimpered, shivering at the thought of my body blowing up massive and grotesque with a whole litter of parasites, then being wracked by agony as I expelled the little beasts… letting them suck on my huge fat udders that waddled and knocked between my knees when I walked, their huge toughened nipples dangling and wobbling…  I’d seen one of Moira’s pregnant hound bitches before, not to mention all the pregnant women, with their bulging bellies and their protruding belly buttons and ugly stretch marks, their big pendulous tits sagging and leaking through their clothes.

God, how repugnant!  I used to swear to Sequoia that motherhood was not in my future, no matter what Moira said or did.  I was never going to let that be me.  I was never going to let my body be violated and deformed like that to pop out brats I did not want.

This had to be a nightmare.  I was going to wake up any minute in the bed I shared with my love.  Sequoia would be there, alive, her face flushed with sleep and she would smile that beautiful smile that was only for me.  I would tell her about the horrible dream I’d had and we’d laugh ourselves sick over it.

Any minute now…

“What happens if someone else turns runner while Kindra’s gone?” I heard Danny ask, bringing the reality of my circumstances crashing back down on my head.  Of all things, she was worried about that?  What about me?

Aneirin shrugged as though it was of no consequence, but his neck and shoulders were stiff.  “I’ll be sent out after them.”  He looked at Danny then and gave her a mordant smile.  “But do you really think anyone’s willing to pull off this stunt again so soon after seeing how it turned out for these two?”

Asshole!

“No, I guess no one’s that stupid.”

He snorted and straightened up from the kennel door, hooding the lantern again.  “I never estimate how stupid some people are, Danny.  But in this case, maybe they’ll smarten up long enough for M-Mother to conclude her business in One A.  Now come on.  I’d better get you back to bed before Auntie Lina finds out we went for a midnight stroll against healer’s orders.”

After they left I lay there, curled in on myself, unable to settle my churning thoughts.  I was glad I hadn’t been able to choke down the offal Moira’s thugs fed all of the dogs in these God-forsaken kennels, because I surely would have hurled it all back up as my thoughts see-sawed between flashbacks to Sequoia’s death and my horrifying fate.  That night I learned something I hadn’t known before.

It turns out dogs can cry.

2 thoughts on “Stories of the Hounds: The Fate of the Fallen”

  1. I truly enjoy many of the ancillary characters in your book, so I loved learning more about the hounds! Thank you. If there are any other shape-shifters or creatures you want to elaborate on ~ please DO!
    Thank you Ms Collins
    Waiting for MORE

    1. Tiffani Collins

      So glad you enjoy the other characters in my world! As it happens, I will have another snippit for you soon! It’s about a character we’ll meet in Reflections of a Tigress, the second book in The Traveler’s Journal series. This short story will give you a glimpse into how the Hounds of Underhill recruit people to help them prepare for what is coming.

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Reflections of a Tigress

Main Series Novel

The Traveler's Journal - Book 2

“Cheater” is a word only used by those who’ve lost the game.

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