"What am I even doing here?" Sol muttered, watching the man in the wolf suit walk by. "I don't have anything in common with these people."
"These people happen to be our most faithful customers, man," James said. "It's a big hit among furry audiences."
"I know," Sol sighed. "I've seen the fanart. It's not like anyone gives a crap about the writing, anyway, they just want to see the guy who draws the sexy animal girls."
"Not true! The comic gets twice the number of hits that my art does. People come back for your writing, man. We're a team, remember?"
"Whatever, dude. All I know is I'm down the cost of a plane ticket and hotel room, and no one's buying shit."
James rolled his eyes and grinned. "Hey, don't worry, man, we'll at least break even before the con's over. Tell ya what: let's go clubbing after this. Grab a couple of beers and forget about this whole thing. You'll be happy again in no time, man."
"Is it going to be a normal club or one where everyone wears fursuits?" Sol griped.
"It's going to be a furpile. We'll all yiff and scritch each other, then lick each other's fursuits and die of poisoning like in that one episode of CSI."
"Damn, you got my hopes up."
"Sorry to disappoint you." He glanced down at his watch. "I've got an artist meetup to go to. Hold the fort, try to sell a few books, kay?"
"See ya." Sol gave his friend a lazy wave and leaned back to watch the freaks. Most of them were clustered at the other end of the artist's alley, where the more risqué artists were hawking their wares. He sighed and cursed the day that James had ever convinced him that, "We should totally do a comic together, man." On the whole, he would much rather be sleeping in.
He was startled to realize that someone was standing at his booth, flipping through Volume 1. Her brow was furrowed, and her lips were pursed together as she scrutinized the pages. "You are the writer?" she asked.
"Yeah, that's me. SolKid."
"A strange name."
"It's my internet handle. My friends call me Sol. My parents call me Solomon."
"Mmm." The girl frowned and held the book up to the light, shaking her head. "And so, this is what we've been reduced to," she said. "Masturbatory fantasy fodder."
"It's what the people want. You gonna buy that or not?" Sol asked.
"No," the girl said, putting the book back down in its wire stand. "I think I shall give you something better." She smiled, revealing long, sharp canine teeth: a feral, animal grin. "I think I shall give you something better to write about."
It was only then that Sol realized that the girl was naked.
She had vaguely Asian features: almond eyes and long straight black hair stretching to her knees. Her eyes were yellow, and their pupils were thin slits. Her fingers were tipped with sharp, hooked claws. Nine red, foxlike tails flared behind her.
There was a brief hush. Everyone turned to gawk at her. A few camera flashes here and there. She stood silently, her head tilted back, eyes closed, hands clenched tightly at her sides.
Then an overweight man in a red vest ran up, yelling, "HEY HEY HEY, NONE OF THAT, THIS IS A FAMILY CONVENTION!"
Her hand flashed out as he reached to grab her, plunged into his abdomen with an unpleasant squelching sound before he even touched her, stepped aside and kicked at his shin, sending him sprawling to the ground screaming and grabbing at his spilling entrails. She opened her mouth unpleasantly wide and swallowed the gory thing clutched in her hand in a single gulp.
Then the screaming started.
Once, when he was a kid, Sol had taken a trip to the Holocaust museum with his high school class. They had seen an image of the inside of one of the gas chambers, where the prisoners had been executed. There were deep gouges in the walls where the desperate people had clawed at them to try and get out, places where they had trampled each other to death trying to crawl over each other to climb higher, in a blind panic. It had been terrifying enough to imagine that happening to emaciated, shaved-head prisoners in a Nazi death camp.
It was even worse when happening to a bunch of brightly dressed fans at a convention.
And then the madness began. He saw a skinny girl wearing cat's ears and a bodysuit screaming and pounding at a wall when an unlocked door was a few feet to her left. He saw a big, tough-looking guy wearing a black t-shirt go berserk and beat a teenage boy to death with a steel chair. A chubby girl walked up to him with empty eye sockets, her crushed eyes weeping blood and fluid. "Maggots in my eyes, get them out, maggots in my eyes, get them out," she wailed.
And while this happened, the girl with the yellow eyes stalked through the crowd like a shark through a school of fish: never stopping, always killing. Here she tore a man's liver out and ate it whole. There, she tore a girl's throat with her teeth. Then she was no longer eating, just killing in a berserk frenzy, screaming mad, animal cries as she curbstomped a slightly overweight guy with bad acne to death against the concession stand counter.
It was the most beautiful thing Sol had ever seen.
And then it was still. The doors of the hall swung back and forth on broken hinges where the panicked crowd had smashed them down in their mad, panicked exodus. A few unfortunates, trampled under the crowd, lay groaning in pain on the hard concrete floor. She stood in the center of the circle of gore, skin stained scarlet, and she looked up at the hard, stark light of the fluorescent tubes, and said, in a voice made low and harsh with anger and frustration: "It doesn't help. Nothing helps."
She turned to Sol, and there was murder in her eyes. "Go write about this," she said.
And then she left.
"And that was when I understood the truth," the man said. "Just as humanity has tried to sterilize our cities of wildlife and our lives of germs, we've tried to sterilize our minds from the supernatural. The hard light of science has tried to drive the things of myth out of our lives and into the corners of the world. And just like any cornered creature, they are fighting back."
"While this continues, there can be no peace. The only solution is peaceful coexistence with the supernatural, as in the old days before the rise of the worldwide global scientific conspiracy, but as long as organizations like this Foundation exist, there can be no peace. For the sake of peace, they must be destroyed."
"The Serpent's Hand tries, but they are bound by the shackles of their own morals: they are useful to us, in a way, but they have not the will to do what needs to be done. The C.I. is content to lord over their Third World backwaters: like Mengele, they are interested only in their own grotesque experimentation. The Church is interested only in rescuing their "Broken God" from this Foundation. Only we of the Freemind Nation are willing to put our lives on the line for the sake of peace."
"Will you help us?"
The man stared intently at the girl sitting across the table. She had vaguely Asian features: almond eyes and long straight black hair stretching to her knees. Her eyes were yellow, and their pupils were thin slits. Her fingers were tipped with sharp, hooked claws, which she tapped against the hardwood table, where a plate with a liver from a freshly slaughtered, grass-fed, organically raised cow lay on a clean white plate. Nine red, foxlike tails flared behind her in a peacock's fan of swaying reddish fur.
She reached out one hand and, without a word, swallowed the gory chunk of meat in front of her in one gulp.
The man smiled. "Let me tell you about our plan, then…"