Must calm down, I thought to myself as I pulled up outside of Chain & Sprocket. As a concession, he had agreed that the interview could take place in his office at the workshop. That was a concession? It could have been loaded with stereotypes: dirt, grease, tough and scary bikers, not to mention the other members of his Pack. Instead, the place was almost surgically clean, the floor scoured. The door opened into a showroom of sorts, with the British classic bikes on display, each one lovingly surrounded by a protective rope. Perish the thought that anyone might touch them, clearly. Pride of place went to a Vincent, and I had to admit to drooling over this thing of beauty. This was THAT BIKE, the one that Fane's former Queen had given him when he had first become Alpha. It seemed strange in some respects that he had kept it, but then again, it was a thing of beauty ... Did I mention that I was nearly drooling?
Approaching the counter, I was met by the smiling visage of Bhavita, herself almost a myth. This was the woman whom Fane had hired as the business' desk jockey, at the time when he was a confirmed hater of humans. She was the face of the business. She had stood up to some fairly formidable individuals. Fiercely loyal to her employer, she had been responsible for his changing attitude to humans.
According to all the books, Hellhounds see humans as little more than a food source; they are prey, and little more than that. Yet this individual had changed that, at least as far as Fane was concerned. The question was would I meet the human hater, or would I meet the reformed Hellhound? I had been asked to submit a list of the questions I wished to ask. No problem there, but what I didn't know was which questions off my list he would deign to answer. And make no mistake, when Bhavita showed me through to his office, 'deign' was the correct word. Standing 6ft 7in tall, dressed casually in leather trousers, bike boots and a grey cotton t-shirt, there was no doubt about him being an Alpha. I could not help but wonder how anyone might be deluded into thinking that he was subservient to anyone, even if she was a former Queen of Hell. Well, let the fun and games begin.
The grin was all predator as he waved me to a chair. Bhavita shut the door behind her. To my surprise, Fane made me a cup of coffee. He didn't bother asking how I took my coffee. It was a case of drink what you are given and be glad of it. Just as well I drank black coffee then.
Taking a seat, he stretched his legs out in front of himself. That'll be a 33" or 34" inside leg easily, I thought. He had a half smile on his face. He knew I was nervous. Damn him. Okay, I could do this. I have been in sales for nearly 20 years. Asking questions is my job. Eliciting information is my job. So, how bad could this be?
"I hope you brought your list of questions with you."
Damn, even his voice rippled with the sort of power that made it clear that he was the boss, the one in control.
"Unsurprisingly, I won't be answering them all." He gave a bark of laughter. "You honestly expected to ask me if I believed in God?"
He shook his head, clearly thinking that I had given an excellent example of the idiocy of the human species. "I am a Hellhound, or did you forget that little detail? Your Christian ideal of God is nothing, a neophyte in comparison to those with whom I must interact."
He took a sip from his own mug of coffee. "So, you may ask your questions. I will tell you if it is one I have chosen to answer." A raised brow was all the indication he gave of his readiness.
I indicated the bikes out in the showroom. “So, are the British bikes an indication that you have changed Chain & Sprocket to your preference, rather than your sister’s choice?” It was sort of one the questions on my original list, but not the exact wording.
The mug of coffee slammed down. “That was not on your list of questions, human.” The attitude took a downhill slide very abruptly. “That was the deal. I would answer a selection of questions from your list.”
“So, is this reaction part of the impression that you wish to make on people when they first meet you?” Hey, what’s the worst he could do to me, I asked myself? Well, other than kill me.
Fane stood. Standing upright he was intimidating. The step forward towards me made him even more so. “You really seem to struggle with this concept that I … am … a … Hellhound.” He smiled. A cold smile. A killer’s smile.
“I could lose my temper, but that would mean that I would set the smoke alarms off. Humans do make a lot of smoke when they burn, you know?”
From snarling to a pleasant conversational tone. Jekyll and Hyde much indeed, I thought, recalling how Stefania had described him in “Fane”.
“Clearly you like to intimidate.” I was recalling the way I had stood up to one of my teachers in school, when my class-mates thought he was going to tear into me. I may have been shaking inside then, just like I was now, but damned if I was going to show it.
“Do you maintain that attitude once someone knows you more?”
For a moment, Fane glared at me, before he resumed his seat. He took another long slurp from his coffee mug. “You are ballsy; I will give you that.” He commented. “So, yes, in answer to your question. I like to push people on a first meeting. It is interesting to see how they react. Do they expect a stereotypical Hellhound Alpha, or do they know that I am playing them? You know a bit like a cat plays with a mouse.”
He scrunched up a sheet of paper into a ball, tossing it from one hand to another. “You know, bat you around, a bit like this paper, until …” The ball of paper was dropped to the floor, and the decidedly large biker boot landed on it with a resolute thud. “… until bam! Squashed.” He smiled, that predator’s smile. “Or maybe not. Maybe I will be nice. Maybe I will let you walk out of that door.” He picked up the squashed paper ball, and tossed it into the bin. “Next question.”
“Right.” I nodded. “So, what’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? What did you learn from it?” I tapped the stylus on the top of my iPad. “I am going to take a guess it was something to do with your sister.”
“Very clever, human. You are right. The worst thing was the realisation that I didn’t have to swear myself into the virtual slavery of being an Alpha in service to a former bride of the Hunter.” Another pause as he drank from the coffee mug. “My dam raised me in the expectation that I had what it took to be an Alpha. She knew that much. But, she believed that the only way for me to be an Alpha was to swear my oath the our now former Queen. Until Roxana died, that was my belief also. But, what I didn’t allow for was that my sister was also a Hellhound. We are not some pathetic Hollywood wolf-shifter species. We are Hellhounds. My sister was more than capable of protecting herself. The question is whether I would have learnt enough without the Queen’s training of me to beat Aurelija and take the title of Alpha?”
“And the second part of the question? What did you learn from it?” I was dogged in my determination. “What did I learn from the experience?” I learned that I must know my Pack. I must know their capabilities and I must be ready to trust that, with the correct encouragement, they will act in the way that I need them. Then again, if Roxana hadn’t made her opposition to my former Queen so clear, would the bitch have killed her?” He gave another bark of laughter. “I might still be in service to her. Now there’s a thought.”
The last response from Fane made me think that perhaps he was willing to reveal more about himself. After all, at the end of Fane all that we knew of him was that Roxana had died, and he had split his Pack from his former Queen, binding them to himself instead. Surely there was more to come. The change in Chain & Sprocket hinted at that much. So, it led to the 'obvious' question off the list which I had submitted to the Hellhound Alpha.
"My final question ..." I was not willing to admit that I felt I had managed well just to reach this point. I cleared my throat. "My final question is this. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?"
I told myself that the last thing I could show right now was fear, but then I forgot one key thing. Fear is what Hellhounds can scent from their prey, and the way that Fane's eyes narrowed, that infinitesimal flare of his patrician nose, and that slowly, so slowly, growing smile, all of them told me that I could try all that I wish, but the Hellhound Alpha sitting in the really quite small office with me could not only smell my fear but he relished in that scent. Nectar to a bee. That would be it.
“What the fuck are you? Some kind of agony aunt? Or do you just have a fucking death wish, human?" The smile was more than just a hint now. "Do you appreciate what it means that I have broken my oath of loyalty to my former Queen? Let me explain Hellhound politics to you. If you thought human elections could be cut-throat and full of vituperation, you have never seen the Hellhound version."
“Well, I know it was an oath, so does that make you some kind of oath-breaker and thus a sort of outlaw?" I was taking a guess, if he said it could be worse that some of the anger and hatred generated during a political campaign.
“Hellhounds are created with one purpose and one purpose only: we exist to serve our Queens. We are their bodyguards and we are the ones who provide their food in the negative human emotions. The Queen's Alpha conveys that 'food' to her, and in return, either she will share some of that bounty with her pack, or ... other things might happen.”
I had heard rumours of those 'other things', and certainly, Fane showed no signs of impairment. Then again, after nearly six months since seeing his Queen, it was not surprising that he would have healed. "I tore my Pack from our former Queen. Not just said, see you later. I tore us from her service. The Pack is now bound to me, through my use of blood magic: my own blood and that of my late sister, Roxana."
Fane's voice had taken on a patient tone, almost like he was explaining to a child. I was too fascinated to take offence that he might consider me as such. "With the energy that my Pack generates now flowing into me, I am the sole beneficiary, but it is a positive feedback loop. What they generate, I refine and feed back to my Pack. You humans might say "You scratch my back, I will scratch yours". So, how do I feel abut my life right now? Pretty fucking good."
I had the impression that there was more.
“I will give you this much, human." Fane leaned back in his chair, the leather squeaking under him. I jumped when a cat, incongruously wearing a leather vest, jumped up on the desk, before I recognised the workshop pet, Thing.
Fane laughed at the visible sign of my tension. "It's only a fucking cat, human." He seemed to find this more than just amusing. "I will admit that there are things I wish to change. But ..." Again there was that smile. "... the point of this interview is that you find out about me, and I reveal just enough that it might tempt someone to read more about me. Am I correct?"
Fane sat up, leaning towards me, steepling his fingers, elbows on his knees. "Suffice it to say, there will be a couple of fairly major changes to the Anghelescu Pack in the very near future." Again that smile. "Some fairly major changes." He repeated. "They will involve all my Pack, not just me. Also, you may be certain that my former Queen is not going to just give up on my being her Alpha. She needs me as much as I might have needed her in the past. Roxana used to call me the 'fucking Energizer Bunny', and that is at least part of what I am to her. But I have also set a dangerous precedent. I broke free from my Queen, and my Pack thrives despite us not having a Queen to lead us."
He smiled. The smile was wider. "Think about that, human. My Pack is thriving. We will continue to thrive and our former Queen will not enjoy any of that power. Do you really think she will let bygones be bygones." He sat back in the chair again, watching me, waiting for my reaction.
The swallow was inadvertent, I swear it was. "I suppose when you put it that way, no, I doubt she will let you just continue on your merry way." My voice was quiet. From what I knew, his former Queen was beyond vicious, and in breaking away, Fane had harmed both her power base and her reputation. Shit hitting the fan was an understatement.
There was also the unknown of his relationship with Stefania, whom I understood had been appointed temporary Pack Beta following Roxana's death. "She's going to come after you, is that what you mean?"
“State the bleeding obvious, why don't you, human." Fane's tone was derisive to say the least. "Of course she will come after me. She will want me back in service. More than that, she will want me to be her obedient slave. If she succeeds, anything she did to me before will seem mild in comparison." Again that smile, the relish in the challenge facing him. "Having enjoyed six months of freedom, I have no intention of becoming a slave again. Of that you may be certain."
Standing, he moved to the door. "Interview is over."
Jo Pilsworth is the lead author of the name 'Katie Vincent', a group of friends from around the world who met through a mutual love of Sherrilyn McQueen's Dark Hunter series. The concept of the "Diaries of the Cwn Annwn" was born from the Welsh legend of the Cwn Annwn, spectral hounds in service to the Welsh Goddess of the Underworld, who are tasked with bringing her the souls of those who do evil.
After two decades in the medical sales industry, Jo switched careers to retail management. Home continues to be a small village north of Cambridge, U.K
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”