New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!
Andrew peered into the dealer’s room as all manner of artists and their helpers scurried about trying to fit the contents of U-Haul trailers into neat 10 by 10 foot squares taped out on the dark red and blue patterned carpet. Ducking his head slightly to clear a low hung banner, the lanky young man scanned the area ahead of him, looking for the person he had so far only known through text messages and e-mails. Eventually he spotted the bright yellow “Feline Designs” banner and set out towards it, despite the intense feeling that he was somewhere he didn’t belong.
A young lady, easily a foot shorter than Andrew and with dyed red hair, was already at work unpacking boxes, relieving her visitor of the need to stand around waiting. However this apparent convenience soon presented its own problems as Andrew entered a simmering panic trying to decide if he should address the girl by her real name or online handle or even if it was the right person at all. As was so often the case, the problem solved itself as the proprietor looked up at boy hovering awkwardly over her table.
“Andrew, right?” she asked, wiping off her hand and then extending it in a business-like manner.
“Um, yeah, Hyper Kitty?” Andrew asked, almost apologetically as he limply took her hand in his own.
“Yup! That’s me!” she replied, smiling from ear to ear as she completed the handshake, “but you can call me Hyper...or just Jane. I could tell who you were from the measurements you sent and the lions on your shirt.”
“You also texted me to come down to the...”
“Yeah, I guess I did that too,” Jane smiled again. “Listen, I’m glad I was able to meet up with you in person. I looked at the art you sent me and...I think it’s going to be just a little too complicated than what I am going to have time for right now.”
“Um, ok?” Andrew stammered, a hint of panic rising in his voice. “Y-you said you can do a realistic style.”
“I can, but they take significantly more effort than my normal work so I like to space them out. Based on the references you sent me, I’m probably not going to be able to work on your commission until sometime next year,” the artist explained. “I’m sorry if I accidentally misled you when we first talked over e-mail. If you are still interested I can put you on my wait list and contact you when I have a slot available.”
Andrew was silent for a few moments, his six foot plus frame shrinking down as he looked down at the floor, running a nervous hand through his shaggy black hair. “I guess that’s ok. Just...just call me when something opens up.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Jane called out as Andrew turned and began to shuffle out of the room.
On his way to the door, the young man's attention was caught by a display case full of silver objects sitting on a vendor's table. Pausing for a moment, Andrew bent down to get a closer look at the assortment of pendants, belt buckles, meat skewers and even a pair of large silver bracers.
"You like that stuff? It's all vintage."
Andrew’s head shot up, discovering the source of the remark to be a heavy set clothing dealer who was in the process of stocking wire racks with printed T-shirts.
"Most of it's wolf themed, but I think I have a few lion pieces. If you give me a wink and a nod I can probably hold some things for you until after the dealer room officially opens for sales.," the man continued.
"Oh, that's alright, I wouldn't want any special treatment," Andrew replied, mostly out of a desire to avoid getting roped into buying something.
"I happened to overhear what your suit maker said. Tough break, but hang in there. Sometimes it takes a while."
“Yeah, you know...” he mumbled, starting to move back towards the exit.
"Do you mind if I ask how tall you are?" the vendor asked, seemingly out of the blue. "I think I might have something you would be interested in."
"Six foot six," Andrew answered warily.
“If you’re willing to take a second and come back to my trailer I think I might have something that could brighten your day a little,” the vendor continued.
“No thank you, I don’t think I’m...”
“Listen, there aren't many folks your size at these events and you seem to have an eye for antiques. If you come out to my trailer I'll show you what I'm talking about.”
Andrew eyed the man suspiciously, but the amount of merchandise combined with the general professionalism of the vendor’s booth eased any fears that he was being lead into a kidnapping.
“I’m really not looking to buy anything right now,” Andrew stated as the thought entered his mind.
“Just hear me out because I really think I can help you,” the man responded as he led Andrew out the back door and into the loading area. “As I drive between cons I hit up vintage clothing stores in some of the smaller towns and cities I pass through. Hipsters don’t tend to venture out much into the flyover states and with steampunk as popular as it is, some of those stores can be real gold mines.”
Andrew watched as the man walked over to a parked white metal trailer and lifted the unlatched padlock from the door handle, prompting it to swing free.
“I found this in an old coal town in West Virginia. I think it was is sort of theatrical costume,” the man continued as he walked inside
The dealer emerged carrying what at first glance appeared to be some sort of shaggy grey and brown sheepskin throw rug, however upon grasping the object from the shoulders, it's shape became apparent.
"That looks like some sort of giant wolf hide," Andrew pointed out, reaching out to touch the upper half of a muzzle and head that would fit over the wearer's like a hood.
"Good eye. I think it's some sort of monster outfit, maybe from the 1920's. There's no label so I suspect it was made by a local seamstress for a theatre or performer."
Andrew gazed into the wolf's golden eyes and felt a strange chill as they gazed back into him.
"The eyes and teeth are taxidermy quality, the lining feels like some sort of suede. It was made to fit someone of your stature which is why I thought you might be interested," the dealer continued. "I've been trying to sell it for months, but on someone shorter that you the bottom half just drags on the ground. The costume is so unique that I really want to sell it to someone who can wear it properly, but it doesn't really match my other goods so it's just been sitting around in the back of my booth. I was of half a mind to donate it to the charity auction, but since I saw you I figured we could make a deal."
Andrew ran his hand through the shaggy fur, finding it surprisingly soft. Instinctively he leaned in for a sniff to see if he could detect any strong musty odors or mildew. "You said it's vintage so I assume it's made out of real fur."
"That's my assumption, but I'm not an expert so I don't know what kind."
Andrew considered the strange wolf-cloak for a moment and then took a step back, the sales pitch making him feel awkward. "It's very nice, but I really don't think I'm interested. My character is a lion and this really isn't the style I was looking for."
"This realistic wolf cloak is good enough to get you into the costume parade and can work with any number of cosplay events or live action role playing games. You'd certainly be a hit at the renaissance faire. Why don’t you try it on right here and see how you look?”
Andrew took hold of the strange garment and swung it over his back, surprised by the weight of the hide as it pressed down upon him. Hooking two ends of a black chain and clasp together at his neck, the tall young man flipped the wolf hood up and over his own head and neck. Taking a few steps to see how the outfit moved, Andrew noticed a pair of dangling forearm sleeves with a clawed glove on the end to give the wearer’s hands a more fearsome appearance. Forcing his own hands into the gloves, Andrew felt a rush of power and confidence as he watched the lupine claws wiggling back and forth.
“I guess they can call you a wearwolf,” the man chuckled.
“How do I know the hair won’t fall out as soon as I take it home?” Andrew asked as he held up and arm to get a closer look at the fur.
The vendor pulled out and brush and began working it through the shaggy backside, eventually pausing to show the tines to his customer. “I don’t know what the tanners did to cure the hide, but the hairs are holding up as if it were brand new. “
Andrew tugged on a patch of fur on the limp forepaw sleeve to verify the fact for himself before turning to admire his appearance in a car windshield. “Well, how much?”
Andrew shook his head. “I’m sure that’s a good price, but I didn’t come here looking for a cloak, especially one that makes me feel as if I’m wearing a wet bath mat. You’ll have to do better than that.”
“How much better?” the man responded.
“What about 300?”
“Too low, that’s less than what I paid.”
“350, and that’s my final offer,” Andrew stated.
The vendor frowned a bit and then sighed. “Deal...but only on the condition that you don't go flip it at an antique store. I'm giving you this price so you can wear it. Go out, scare some people.”
“I assume you are looking to be paid in cash?” Andrew asked as he pulled out a wad of bills and began to count out the required amount.
The private office of Lord Commander Aurora looked as if it had been lifted out of a Victorian era palace and then magically expanded to fit his larger than human proportions. The ornate oak paneled walls matched the bright red plush carpeting with its decorative gold designs. The furniture was hand crafted from manner of exotic woods, dark stripes and swirls able to catch the eye and entrance the casual visitor. Aurora himself sat behind an imposing partner’s desk, his large equine nostrils twitching as they caught the aromas from the various dried components he was measuring for his afternoon tea. The Neocorn’s smooth metallic hide shone like white gold with light blue tinted dapples running down his flanks and rear. Clad only in a white cloth loincloth and an official looking black Sam Browne belt, Aurora added in the required amount of water and activated the heating element in the high tech electric kettle. Convinced that all was well he looked towards his office door with emerald green eyes and let out a sigh. A second later the door burst open and an angry looking palomino hued Neocorn mare pushed her way inside.
“What is the meaning of this assignment!” the mare snorted as she waved around a small digital tablet. “I’ve been stuck behind a desk for three months and this is job you hand me?”
“Please come in Lady Ethera, would you care for some tea?” Aurora replied as he calmly regarded her, clad from thigh to neck in a form fitting black tactical bodysuit.
“Depends if I can use it as an enema for whoever thought it was funny to send me on an ancestor-forsaken public relations junket. “
“Tut-tut, Ethera, such language is unbecoming a Guardian of your stature,” the senior Neocorn replied as he set out two ceramic cups. “After the situation in Wales you are lucky to be getting any assignments at all.”
Ethera tossed her head with another snort. “I completed the extra training you ‘recommended’ with top marks! I'm more powerful a mage than all the other younglings you have strutting around here in Guardian armour. There’s more than enough work available, yet I am stuck cooling my hooves.”
“Ethera, you have a reputation of creating poor mission outcomes. Yes you have the skills, but it’s like you're good at cracking eggs but terrible at making omelettes,” Aurora explained.
“It’s unfair to paint me as a screw-up due to a few isolated instances of bad luck.”
“If it were “bad luck” it wouldn’t be so predictable,” Aurora snapped back as the first hints of steam started rising from the spout of his teapot. “Now tell me, do you want this assignment or not?”
Ethera’s sapphire blue eyes glared down dominantly at her fellow Lord before she allowed herself to look away. “You’ll have to better explain what it is you want me to do. All I see are a bunch of dates and gibberish words.”
“The one area in which you have consistently excelled has been the recruitment of low-level operatives. The Earth we are sending you to is scheduled for amalgamation into the Federation and we need assets on the ground. To that end we have booked you into a number of events where those persons most inclined towards your offer tend to congregate,” Aurora as replied he poured both cups of tea.
“Is it really necessary for me to attend these gatherings in person? Those hewmans that frequent these events tend to have an offensive odor about them, the fake animal people especially.”
“Ethera!” Aurora exclaimed, a look of shock on his face. “Do I have to remind you how many times these ‘hewmans’ you consider yourself above have saved you from death or capture? As far as I am concerned you have no standing to speak ill of them. You will be attending these events yourself and you are not to hijack them for your own amusement. That includes not revealing yourself or your powers to mass audiences and not turning people who annoy you into horses.”
Ethera snorted, “Being turned into a horse would be reward.”
Aurora pinned his ears back and snapped at his subordinate so quickly that she stumbled backwards. “If you wish to do field work again you must put your ego aside and adhere to the mission parameters. That means proper attire and a flesh and blood human form. You’re there to observe first and recruit second. One never can be sure what a new Earth is going to serve up...especially when you’re around.”
Ethera grumbled inaudibly.
“What was that?”
“I serve the Guardians,” she choked out, acknowledging she had no other choice in the matter.
“Splendid, I look forward to your report. Now drink up, your tea is getting cold.”
Andrew felt the hallway begin to spin as he stumbled out of the elevator and towards his hotel room. Room parties had been a somewhat foreign concept to the normally introverted young man, but with his surprisingly realistic werewolf cloak it had been nearly impossible not to draw more invitations than any mortal man could hope to fulfill. Pushing past another attendee looking for a scary pose, Andrew fumbled with his room card and almost fell into his room as the door popped inward. Taking a second to finish off a bottle of water, he collapsed into the waiting bed without even bothering to pull back the hood of the wolf cloak.
Having been up for over 14 hours and with his eyes shut tight against the world, Andrew would have found it difficult to keep track of time even if he had been sober. Slowly, the feeling of dizziness retreated and after a bit more the background glow of nausea became less urgent. Lying on his stomach, the wolf cloak had come to cover Andrew completely, like his own personal fur tent. He felt warm and comfortable and soon enough he drifted off into a light sleep. Time passed. Eventually the rising pressure in Andrew’s bladder surpassed his body’s fatigue and the lingering effects of alcohol on his mind. Unable to will himself back to sleep Andrew rolled out of bed and promptly collapsed into a heap on the floor.
“Ooph! Sonofabitch, god damnit, fuck me.”
Grabbing a hold of the nightstand, Andrew managed to coax himself back up into a standing position. The lights were still on in the road, but the wolf hide was making it hard for him to see or breathe. Keeping himself steady with one hand he tried to lift back the hood with the other, but instead of relief all he was annoyance as his head was pulled backwards. Confused, Andrew tried to pull his hands free of the gloves, but they remained firmly attached. Growing more confused, Andrew felt his way to the bathroom, stumbling over bags and hotel furniture. He somehow managed to find the light accompanied by the non-judgmental whirr of the ventilation fan. Leaning against the waist high sink Andrew frantically pawed at his head and face to free himself from the costume’s grip.
All at once Andrew found himself blinded by the glare of the vanity lighting as if someone had pulled back a blackout curtain. However instead of seeing his own pallor complexion and bloodshot eyes, instead he saw a pair of lively yellow eyes staring back from the mirror. Behind them was a hideous monster, half human, half costume, half wolf. Andrew could only stare in disbelief as he processed how the cloak had somehow in the process of merging with his body. His hands were large lupine paws with dexterous fingers ending in thick black claws. The half muzzle of the cloak, had moved down to cover his face, while his own chin and lower jaw had pushed out to meet it. He watched the realistic taxidermy eyes blink and the rubber nostrils flare.
“Nooooo! Whathefuck, whathefuck!”
The hide was wrapping around him now, covering over his chest and crotch. He felt his legs go wobbly as feet and lower legs reformed, forcing him to stand up on his toes. He opened his mouth revealing a long wolfen muzzle filled with sharp white teeth and a long pink tongue. Half in shock, half enthralled, Andrew could only stand and watch as the changes neared their completion. His limbs and torso were now bulking up and there was a strange sensation behind him as the previously inert tail sprang to life, twitching back and forth. Then, Andrew was hit by an intense migraine level headache causing him to let out a strange whining howl. His ears pinned back as he grabbed both sides of his head with his hand-paws. The intense pain accompanied by a loud ringing noise and partial numbness that extended all over his body. His vision went white for a moment and then as suddenly as it had started, the pain, the transformation, was over.
The wolf looked into the mirror, tilting his head slightly as he tried to figure out what was going on. He was in a hotel room at some sort of human gathering. His name was Andrew… or was it? Andrew was a human name, and he clearly wasn’t human. The wolf lifted up one of his arms and watched as the figure in the mirror did the same. The wolf bared his teeth and snapped at the reflection, pausing to satisfy himself that he could intimidate, or dominate any potential challenger. Feeling pleased, the wolf turned to exit the confines of the bathroom, hitting his head on the door header.
“RRRAAAAAWWW! HOW DARE YOU GET IN MY WAY!” the wolf yelled, swiping at the ceiling with his claws, leaving deep gashes in their wake.
Lowering his head the wolf stormed out of the bathroom, looking around to reorient himself to his surroundings. Every so often one of Andrew’s things would flash a memory into the wolf’s mind, memories of an unexciting, mild mannered life. Memories of being alone, bullied, victimized.
“WEAK!” the wolf exclaimed. “YOU ARE WEAK, BUT I AM STRONG! I’M A SCARY WEREWOLF! ALL SHALL FEAR ME!"
The wolf had no use for time, no use for schedules, no use for room keys and no use for foul smelling con badges. Turning on his heels the wolf rushed for the door, taking a moment to figure out the locking mechanism before bursting out into the hallway. Finding himself alone, his powerful sense smell alerted him to the presence of food being carelessly wasted on used room service trays. Without any compunction the wolf helped himself and went on to lick the plates clean. His hunger temporarily satiated, the wolf continued on to the place that allowed escape from the warren-like maze of hotel hallways.
“So is there a free breakfast here?”
“Nah, that’s the other hotel.”
The wolf turned the corner to find two sleepy female eyed con-goers waiting for the elevator in Japanese style pajamas each holding soft plush animals. Not hesitating he jumped out, spreading his arms to make himself appear larger and more intimidating.
“Holy shit what’s that!” cried the taller one, jumping back in surprise.
“Oh my god you just scared the shit out of me! “ exclaimed the second.
“GRRRRRRR! RAWR!” the werewolf continued, slowly circling the two girls.
“That’s amazing, I have to get a picture,” said the taller girl as she went to pull out her phone.
“Hold that pose,” the second commanded, pointing at Vex as she got her own phone ready.
“YOU HAVE NOWHERE TO HIDE!”
“Wow, that’s an amazing voice. Totally matches the suit. Just hold it right there.”
The wolf blinked as the camera flashed.
“Wup wup, look this way,” said the second girl, also taking a number of photos.
“Oooo, I want to get a hug,” the first girl stated, rushing right up to embrace the seven foot tall beast without waiting for his acquiescence. “Oh my god he feels so real!”
The first girl’s friend was soon on the scene and the wolf found himself sandwiched between the two human girls.
“He smells real too. What’s your name?”
“MY NAME?!” the wolf looked confused as labeling himself by the human name Andrew felt demeaning.
“Yeah, you aren’t wearing a badge,” the taller girl pointed out.
The wolf’s mind started spinning. He needed a name, but the name had to be appropriate for a big scary werewolf like himself. Suddenly, a word from Andrew’s vocabulary popped into his head.
“MY NAME IS VEX! NORMALLY HUGGING A WEREWOLF IS NOT ADVISABLE, BUT I'LL LET IT GO…THIS TIME...”
With a ding the elevator doors opened revealing a moderately full elevator car. Vex turned and immediately announced himself to all those within.
“I AM VEX WEREWOLF! YOU HUMANS WILL MAKE WAY FOR ME OR YOU WILL BE BITTEN!”
“You heard the wolf, make some space,” quipped a man in a blue fox costume prompting laughter from the rest of the car. “We don’t want to get on the bad side of a big, bad wolf.”
As Vex forced himself into the car he couldn’t help but be confused by the human’s strange behavior towards him, but he felt reassured that all were properly afraid.
Ethera stood at the entrance of the vendor hall trying to keep a lid on her anxiety as all manner of humans, some in fake animal costumes, others with large plastic weapons, pushed by her on their way to vendor tables or the various art exhibitions. As instructed, she had used her magic to take on a fully human form, and in order to avoid unwanted attention she felt it was best to avoid the athletic physique and Hollywood-style good looks she typically relied upon to navigate mundane society. After reviewing the available open-source intelligence on similar gatherings, she decided on a pretty but not too attractive face with freckles and light brown hair tied back in a shoulder length ponytail. She wore an equine themed t-shirt and long pants that could mask the required level of fitness in addition to a comfortable pair of black leather utility boots.
Fumbling with a paper schedule, Ethera sighed, lamenting the lack of information awareness that came with her non-cybernetic body. She knew this was a junk assignment that was more to test her ability to behave than anything else, but her personal sense of honor compelled Ethera to take her mission seriously and identify at least a few good recruits up the impending amalgamation process that would bring another backward, low tech Earth into the warm embrace of the Federation. The exhibition hall was a poor location to either identify or approach recruiting prospects due to the focus being on the various activities and exhibits, but Ethera figured it was wise to get the lay of the land as she started to walk a search pattern around the space.
“Do you see anything you like?”
Ethera was caught off guard by the artist’s inquiry as she lingered a little too long looking at a booth full of traditionally painted equine themed works. “Yes human, your grasp of equine anatomy and proportions is distinctly above average.”
“Okay...” the artist replied. “Thanks...I think.”
Ethera went all tingly as she realized she had screwed up on her very first sentence.
“In fact, I would like to purchase...that one, with the white horse standing in the shallow water,” Ethera continued, trying to pick up the fumble in the best way she knew how.
The artist’s eyes bulged out as the ordinary looking girl before her proceeded to pull out a wad of 100 dollar bills and count out the required amount.
“Wow, Ughhhhh, l-let me wrap that for you.”
“Thank you, hew...I mean art person, that is much appreciated.”
Ethera quickly turned away, shocked by her intense desire to talk down to everyone she encountered. Equitable treatment of non-supernatural beings had been one of the focus areas of her required sensitivity training after Wales, but the more she thought about, the more she suspected her attitude was a product of having lived for over a century in the lofty social circles of Central Park West. As Ethera prepared herself mentally to be more civil, she became increasingly aware of a commotion towards one corner of the hall.
“Here’s your painting, all nice and wrapped up for you. I included my card in case you wanted to purchase anything else,” said the artist, handing over a bag.
“Thank you kindly fair painter. Say, do you perchance know what is going on over in that corner of the hall?”
The artist got a puzzled look on her face as she looked over towards the crowd. “Hmmm, might be some of the more popular suiters. They tend to hang out in that large open area.”
Ethera nodded and turned to walk towards the crowd, the bodies preventing a good view of whatever formed the center of attention. Suddenly the disguised unicorn’s nose twitched as it picked up an unmistakable scent. Ethera froze and watched intently as the crowd parted.
“Werewolf,” she hissed.
Vex stood in the center of the circle, monstrous arms spread, growling at anyone who happened to venture a bit too close for a photograph.
“RAWR!” Vex roared, charging at yet another performer in a brown otter costume.
“Aww, come on, how ‘bout a hug?”
“HOW ABOUT I RIP OFF YOUR HEAD AND FEED IT TO YOUR NECK?”
The crowd roaredback with laughter and side comments as Vex quickly turned to confront the next threat to his circle of personal space.
“That’s a werewolf!” Ethera exclaimed to no one in particular.
“I know, it’s amazing!” replied a girl with dyed blue hair, standing nearby. “I don’t think I’ve seen something more realistic.”
Cocking an eyebrow, Ethera edged away from the clueless human and towards what was clearly a real life werewolf as it growled and snapped at the bemused onlookers. Feeling for some sort of apathy or cloaking enchantment, the unicorn was baffled when she detected nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, it struck her - they honestly didn't believe he was real. Their suspension of disbelief was so complete they couldn't tell the difference between real life even when it was standing right in front of them.
A nearby attendee spoke up as he fiddled with his phone’s camera. “Oh man, my friends are going to flip out when they see this. What other place can someone go and just find werewolves wandering about.”
Ethera looked at the young man quizzically. “And your first reaction to seeing a potentially dangerous werewolf would be to take a photo of it? If somehow that wolf were real you could get mauled.”
“Oh yeah, that would be soooo terrible. Wait, are you saying that I need to be on the lookout for real monsters at a furry convention?” replied the young man, as he slowly backed away. “I really don’t think that’s anything anyone needs to worry about.”
“HA! YOU’RE ALL FROZEN IN FEAR!” Vex yelled at the crowd of onlookers. “I’M VEX AND YOU SHOULD BE SCARED!”
Ethera felt herself tense up as she instinctively readied herself to take down the potentially hostile were-animal, but it was too early in the mission for her to completely forget about her new training and fall back on her old playbook. Reaching into her shoulder-slung messenger bag she felt around until her fingers closed around a small spray bottle. Pulling it out she began to spritz copious amounts of wolfsbane extract onto her face and palms.
“At least I am not going to be the worst smelling person here,” she grumbled, wrinkling her nose at the pungent odor. Then, taking a deep breath she looked up and made eye contact with the hulking were. “Hey wolfie, I’m not scared of you. I think you’re going to have to convince me.”
The crowd let out a low “oooooo” as Vex’s head snapped around. “YOU’LL BE SCARED OF ME WHEN I MAKE YOU MY LUNCH!”
“Come here you big bad wolf. Let me see what big eyes and big teeth you have,” replied Ethera, trying to sound more humorous than seriously seductive.
Vex immediately stepped towards Ethera, but then stopped as his nose caught something in the air. Not wanting to give the wolf time to think Ethera stepped forward, placing her hands on Vex’s face before kissing him right on the nose.
“RAWRR!” growled Vex, shaking Ethera off his head. “PUTTING YOUR HANDS NEAR MY MOUTH IS A GOOD WAY TO LOSE THEM!”
Suddenly Vex blinked and shook his head. He let out a strange combination of a cough and sneeze before stumbling to one side. What had started as an intense burning on his face had quickly spread to include nausea and shortness of breath.
“Ooo, looks like you overdid things there Vex. Don’t worry, I’ll get you back to the headless lounge,” said Ethera, walking forward again and this time taking hold of one of Vex’s hand-paws.
Vex wanted to object, or at least bite the person who had dared touch him for a second time, but the room had begun to spin and he sank down to one knee.
“Come on Vex, let’s get you going, we can use one of the rear exits,” Ethera continued, selling her role to the crowd. “Sorry folks, show’s over.”
Ethera managed to coax Vex back onto his feet, rebuffing several offers of assistance with the implication that the person playing the strangely realistic suit desired their privacy. She then maneuvered the disoriented wolf out of the exhibit hall and into one of the staff corridors, eventually pushing him into a dimly lit corridor filled with stacked up chairs and tables.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!” Vex whined, his voice reverberating through the concrete passageways.
“Just a little neurotoxin. It’ll clear up once I get you into a species that can handle it.”
Ethera grasped Vex by the shoulders and summoned the spiritual energies that, despite her human form, still flowed through her body. As she watched the giant canine’s bright yellow eyes roll back in his head she pressed her forehead to his. There was a dull glow as the healing energies flowed into Vex, not only counteracting the effects of the Wolfsbane toxin, but also the lycanthropic curse itself. Slowly the werewolf began to shrink, shaggy fur retreating into light fuzz and then bare pink skin. The muzzle full of fearsome white fangs retracted leaving behind a flat human face. The hallway filled with the cringeworthy sounds of bones reshaping as Vex’s stance change back to that of Andrew, the spry tail melting back into nothingness. Her spell complete, Ethera stood back to admire her handiwork. The wolf was no more and in his place stood an inoffensively pale young man.
“Young man, can you hear me? Are you alright?”
Andrew’s eyes fluttered and then fixed on Ethera in shock and horror. “Who are you?! What did you do to me?!”
“I believe the proper English pronunciation is ‘Thank You’,” Ethera sighed. “Also here is a tablecloth. You might want to cover yourself.”
Confused and mortified, Andrew grabbed the cloth and wrapped it around his waist. “How did you do that?! How did you change me back!!”
“It’s maaaaagiiiic,” Ethera mocked, waving her hands and letting her carefully crafted persona slip just slightly, “and once again, you’re welcome. My name is Ethera, I am a Guardian from the United Federation of Alternate Worlds. Before we do anything else I’ll need to debrief you on how you became infected with lycanthropy so my people can follow up. Once I have completed my assessment I can banish your curse for good.”
“What? NO!” Andrew squeaked. “You can’t banish Vex….he’s…he’s part of me!”
Andrew’s response caught Ethera off guard and she paused for a moment trying to formulate a proper response.
“That he may be, but he is also a part of you that seemed quite content to push you you aside. You might think you are comfortable living in an existential void, but that’s only because you’re remembering what Vex did as if you had done it yourself. Take it from an expert, Vex will be the death of you, both philosophically and quite literally.”
“Vex is the best thing that ever happened to me and I won’t let you take him!”
Quick as a rattlesnake, Andrew launched the entire contents of a pepper shaker he had palmed from a room service tray directly into Ethera’s face. The spicy particles instantly blinded the human shaped unicorn, sending her crashing back into a stack of chairs.
“You ungrateful whelp!” Ethera bellowed, reaching out in a vain attempt to capture Andrew, who by that time had already darted past the Guardian and ducked inside a nearby staff service elevator.
Her vision blurred from the tears streaming down her face, Ethera stumbled her way back into the convention spaces, quickly locating one of the many water stations and then washing her eyes out over a nearby trash can.
“By the Ancestors, why do these humans have to be so unpredictable? First time in his life that little dunghead sees magic and his first thought is to attack the mage. Outrageous!” Ethera exclaimed. “He didn’t even have the common courtesy to properly introduce himself so I don’t even know his name.”
Ethera suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she realized that lacking that key piece of information would make it drastically harder to track her subject down before he once again summoned the wolf and became much more difficult to manage. Picking up her bag of artwork she slunk back to the exhibit hall.
Pacing back and forth in front of the convention information desk Ethera frantically tried to figure out how to track down an unnamed individual in a fandom she wasn’t apart of for a reason she couldn’t explain to people. Asking random people if they knew the name and room number of a six and a half foot tall mousy looking white male had proven to be a complete waste of time.
“Let’s see, I can trick one of the simpleton staff into revealing the location of the security office, then create a distraction that allows me to access the internal CCTV footage for the last couple hours. Then it would be a simple matter of...” Ethera paused as she caught herself walking down the same path that had gotten her in trouble before. “Or, I could just try some open source intelligence.”
Pulling out her mobile computing device, Ethera searched on the conventions social media tag and soon located photos of an attendee clad only in a table cloth trying to get back into his room.
“Toga party indeed,” Ethera smiled as she walked to the elevator line. “Oh, the benefits of spying in a surveillance society.”
A few minutes later, Ethera was standing outside room 423, claw marks on the door jamb confirming that this was indeed the room she was looking for.
“Housekeeping,” Ethera called out, knocking softly on the door and casually covering the peer hole with her hand.
“Um, can you come back later?” a small voice called out from somewhere inside the room.
“I clean room now?” Ethera replied.
This time she heard footsteps and the door opened a crack.
“Can you please...oh fuck!”
“Thought you could get away...um...wolf boy,” sneered Ethera as she barged into the room, bloodshot eyes giving her a look of demonic determination. “I think we got off on the wrong foot earlier. How about we try again? My name is Ethera Windchaser, what is yours?”
“Stay back! I can summon Vex again in an instant,” Andrew squeaked, his voice unsteady and unsure.
“Professional tip, when you want to transform it helps not to be wearing street clothes. I don’t know how many pairs of trousers you bought, but I’d be willing to wager you are running short about now. Also, when someone tells you their name it is considered polite for you to tell them yours,” Ethera replied, glancing over at the con badge sitting on his bed, “Andrew.”
“Who are you? What the hell is going on!?”
“I am a humble observer from another world and I believe that you somehow figured out how to turn yourself into a werewolf. Seeing as we both have secrets we would rather not have made public, why don’t we sit down and talk a little.”
Andrew blinked before slowly backing up and sitting down near the open the door to the room’s balcony.
“Alright, if you want to talk, talk.”
“Andrew, you need to be realistic about your new ability. There’s a reason lycanthropy is generally considered to be a curse, especially in cases where another persona takes control of the body. I know this must be a dream come true for a fake animal person like yourself, but being a werewolf on a world not equipped to handle them is a…”
“I’m going to stop you right there Ethernet or whatever you said you name is,” Andrew interrupted. “Do you honestly think I’m going to listen to you after you use a term like “fake animal person” to my face? Not only does it show a complete lack of respect, but it indicates that you’re just like all those other people who think me and everyone else in this community are worthless losers. If anyone here is faking something, it’s you.”
“I am not from your world,” Ethera shot back, “I find all you do here confusing. I honestly do not wish harm to come to you and I suspect your personal interests may have compromised your objectivity. I mean it’s not even your chosen fake animal species!”
“I’m not giving up Vex because I secretly want to be a werewolf. I don’t have a werewolf sex fetish or some desire to crush people beneath my feet. Vex lets me be the person I want to be. When I was him I had confidence. I could command people’s attention, make them laugh or even make them afraid. I can be the life of the party instead of the potted plant in the corner.”
“So what you are telling me is that this Vex persona has the same qualities as a number of illegal narcotics,” Ethera pointed out. “I hate to break it to you, but the results will be the same.”
“I’m not going to let you kill him!”
“No, you’d rather have him kill the first person that pisses him off.”
“If that were true, this hotel would be knee deep in blood!” Andrew snarled. “Vex is a good person. I trust him to do the right thing.”
“I’m not going to kill Vex,” Ethera tried to explain. “I give you my word on that. He will simply go into storage where he can be assessed at a later time. Who knows, we might even be able to give him his own body.”
“Didn’t you hear me?! I’m not going back to the way I was!”
“There are ways to remedy your other deficiencies that are more safe and predictable.”
“Screw safety! Live Dangerously!” Andrew yelled, his face sprouting a 5 o’clock shadow in a fraction of a second. “Oh..and for your information, I ALWAYS PACK EXTRA PANTS!”
“No...NO!!” Ethera yelled as Vex strode towards her, his body rapidly changing as Andrew’s clothing stretched and ripped to accommodate his new bulk.
“HEYA BITCH, DID YA MISS ME?!” Vex boomed as he clapped his hands together around Ethera’s human neck and lifted her off the floor. “DO I FEEL LIKE A FAKE ANIMAL PERSON?!”
Ethera, unable to form words, groped at the powerful paws that were choking her.
“WHAT’S THE MATTER? WOLF GOT YOUR TONGUE?”
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light and Vex felt his hands abruptly forced apart. When the wolf’s sensitive vision was able to recover he saw standing before him a shiny seven foot tall palomino unicorn, torso covered in a sleek, form fitting outfit that came down to the middle of her arms and legs.
“What’s the matter? Eyes bigger than your stomach?” Ethera stated smugly before accidentally sticking her horn firmly in the ceiling, immobilizing her head. “Erk!”
“TIME FOR DINNER!”
Vex lept at Ethera, grabbing hold and biting down into her exposed neck. However, instead of tasting blood and meat, Vex’s mouth was filled with a foul acrid taste that burned his tongue. Dislodging her horn, Ethera surged forward, crashing through the open balcony door before flipping over the edge and crashing two stories down onto the roof of the adjacent conference center, Vex landing on top. Looking down, the werewolf spit out a mouthful of glowing blue fluid matching that which was still seeping from bite on her neck.
“NOTHING ANGERS ME MORE THAN PREY THAT FAILS TO BE TASTY!”
Ethera snapped at the wolf then abruptly vanished with an audible pop of inrushing air, dropping Vex down onto the cold tar roof.
“EXCEPT PREY THAT ALSO FAILS TO STAY CAUGHT! RAWR!”
Suddenly Vex was grabbed from behind and thrown through the air like a plush toy, slamming into the side of a water chiller.
“I gave you every opportunity to do this the easy way Vex. Now we get to do it the fun way.”
Shaking off the impact Vex charged at Ethera, leaping as he came within range. Ready for his attack, Ethera ducked down, catching the werewolf by his arm and using his own momentum to send him flying into the wall of the main hotel building, cracking the concrete.
“A GOOD WORKOUT ONLY MAKES ME SCARIER” Vex growled as he picked himself up off the roof and ripped off the tattered remains of Andrew’s clothing to improve his mobility.
“Having six-pack abs that show through your fur is more strange that scary,” Ethera taunted.
“SHUT UP, YOU UMBRELLA-HEADED DONKEY!” boomed Vex, picking up a nearby can of roof sealant and hurling it at Ethera.
“Woah!” Ethera yelled, holding up her arms as she watched the can sail over the edge of the roof and down to the unseen ground below. “That could have hurt somebody!”
“THEN THEY SHOULDN’T STAND WHERE I’M THROWIN’!”
“You’re actions have consequences. If I were human, your little love bite back there would have created a rival werewolf.”
“HA! BITING DOESN’T CREATE WEREWOLVES. IF IT DID EVERYONE WOULD BE A WEREWOLF….TRUST ME.”
“It’s like arguing with a 5-year old,” she muttered before speaking up. “Fine! If I were a human, you would probably have killed me back there!”
“HUMANS ARE SO FRAGILE! IT'S SURPRISING HOW EASY IT IS TO BREAK THEM,” said Vex as he began to slowly circle Ethera. “YOU’RE LESS EASY TO BREAK, SO I’LL HAVE TO PLAY ROUGHER!”
“You want to know what happens when you break a human Vex? Police, capture squads, dissection. Of course I guess you’ll escape and leave poor Andrew to suffer the consequences.”
“I AM STRONG, ANDREW IS WEAK.”
“So to protect him you will kill him in the same way that he doesn’t want me to kill you?”
Vex roared and charged again at the Guardian. Without so much as a blink, Ethera vanished again, appearing directly in Vex’s path, arm outstretched, catching the massive were in the neck with a perfect closeline. Vex’s legs flew out from under him and he landed on his back, sliding for several yards on the roof membrane. Vex suddenly felt dizzy, unable to fill his lungs. His vision dimmed as he struggled for air.
“Yeah, that probably crushed your windpipe,” said Ethera casually as she looked down at the helpless beast. “It will be fun to see if your super healing is able to out race your need for air.”
Vex glared at his opponent, his eyes filled with rage.
“It’s clear that Andrew won’t do anything without your permission so I am going to make you a deal. First I’ll heal you so you won’t die. Second I’ll find a way that you can exist without getting put in a government lab and third, I’m going to get you a job where you can bite all the bad people you want and get rewarded for it. Sound reasonable?”
Vex glared, but nodded.
“Do I have your word that you you or Andrew will not try to abscond before the end of the convention and will allow me to enchant you as I just described?”
Vex was having trouble keeping his eyes open, but managed to nod again.
“Splendid,” announced Ethera, clapping her hand together as she lowered her glowing horn towards the werewolf. “Just relax, I’ll have you mended in no time.”
Gradually Vex’s breathing eased and he struggled back up onto his feet, pushing aside Ethera’s offered hand with a loud growl.
“I’ll see you again tomorrow. Please don’t maul anyone in the meantime.”
“THAT’S ENTIRELY UP TO THEM!”
Ethera, back in her human disguise, sidled up to Andrew on the mezzanine overlooking the hotel atrium.
“I didn’t expect to see you here. Don’t you have people to yell at?”
Andrew’s head sank down before he turned towards the human shaped unicorn. “If you’re going to make fun of Vex, do it to his face, not to me.”
Ethera clenched her hands into fists for a moment before she forced herself to relax. “I accept your criticism and I will...work to avoid offending you in the future.”
“Does that include referring to me as a ‘fake animal person?’”
Ethera’s eyelid twitched. “It just makes no sense to me! For centuries I have had to change my appearance so that I wouldn’t be hunted down and chopped up for body parts. The times when I could safely show my true form were few and far between, yet you humans go to absurd lengths to hide yourselves while facing no physical threats to your safety.”
“That’s the point Ethera, we all want to be ourselves, but unlike you the selves we were born with aren’t very special or exciting. When your regular life is dull and gray, sometimes it’s fun to be a character.”
For several minutes Ethera and Andrew stood quietly side by side looking down at the costumed performers as they entertained each other in the hotel lobby.
“I wanted to apologize to you Andrew. I am sorry I was disrespectful, but when you’re 600 years old certain habits are hard to break. I am glad to get a chance to explain to you what I had in mind because I am aware I really didn’t give Vex much of a choice.”
“Thank you, I suspect dragging an apology out of you is harder than dragging one out of Vex.”
“I also wanted to give you a choice,” Ethera continued. “If you come with me right now to my world there is nothing more that needs to be done. You can still have the job and I will help you locate and pay for housing and other necessities. In five or ten years this world will be amalgamated and you can return.”
“I can’t argue with potentially needing to leave. If I try to manage my condition here it’s only a matter of time before I end of like that skin the vendor sold me.” Andrew replied. “In fact now it makes sense what that was and where it probably came from.”
“Not to mention the possibility that you aren’t the only werecreature. I don’t see you relishing getting involved with werewolf politics and maintaining the masquerade.”
“And your other option would help me, I guess, hide better?” Andrew asked.
“Exactly. Instead of living as a lycanthrope, you would have a way to put Vex on ice when you aren’t specifically using him. That would also prevent you going nuts during a full moon or spreading lycanthropy via bodily fluids.”
“Do you mean something like stuffing the Vex magic into a ring or necklace or other trinket?” Andrew asked.
“An action similar to that, yes. I actually allowed myself to be inspired by all your friends at this convention. Instead of a cheesy necklace you could wear Vex as the realistic werewolf costume everyone assumes he is.”
“Vex might not like that. Being cute and huggable isn’t really his thing.”
“He allows himself to change back into you, this would be no different,” Ethera explained. “If someone ever calls you out for being real, which is bound to happen sooner or later, you would be able to quietly change and show everyone that it’s just a costume after all.”
“And you’re… qualified… to do this sort of thing?” Andrew inquired.
“Why would you think otherwise?”
“Why did you just evade the question?”
“I am an experienced magic user. This enchantment is challenging, but well within my abilities.”
“You’re really not inspiring much confidence in me you know, but given my limited options that seems like the best one,” said Andrew. “We might as well get it over with now. I’m hoping to Vex some more before the con ends and I’d like to make sure this works before you teleport away from here.”
The pair wandered back into Andrew’s hotel room and promptly went about changing into their alternate shapes. Ethera, still dressed in the one form fitting outfit she had happened to transform with, stood by watching as the technically naked Vex emerged from the bathroom.
“IF I HAVE CARTOON EYES I WILL RIP YOUR ARMS OFF!”
“You’ll look almost exactly like you do now Vex, just made out of craft products. You’ll only be able to notice it in photos people take of you.”
“LESS UNICORN JOKES, MORE UNICORN MAGIC!”
“Don’t you have an indoor voice?”
“PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR THE THINGS I SAY!”
“Touche,” Ethera sighed. “Alright, just try to relax. I assure you this won’t hurt one bit.”
Vex snarled softly as Ethera placed her hands on his shoulders and then gently touched the tip of her horn to his forehead. Three was another flash of light as magical energies flowed into the great wolf, permeating his body. This time the changes were mostly internal with that which was Andrew flowing into the center of the wolf and that which was Vex forming a shell around the outside. As the changes continues Vex’s tail stopped moving and his eyes became fixed, staring straight ahead. The slender digits of on his hand-paws puffed out, as did those on his feet. The fur became more uniform in appearance and the tongue stopped moving as it turned into silicone rubber. Finally separation points formed around paws, feet and head where Andrew would be able to remove the concentrated werewolf essence in costume form.
“Where we go, all done,” Ethera smiled, pleased her spell had not created some hideous monster.
Vex turned towards a mirror and posed, arms outstretched, body hunched over.
“RAWR! THIS IS TOLERABLE.”
“DO I LOOK LIKE A FAKE LION PERSON?!”
Flashing a look of alarm, Ethera reached out and yanked the costume head off Vex’s body exposing Andrew’s human head. “Please don’t still be Vex, I don’t want to be fired.”
“Oh thank the heavens,” said Ethera, breathing a sigh of relief, thrusting the Vex head back into Andrew’s grasp. “Be careful wearing that head. I think the enchantment had some edge cases I didn’t properly account for.”
“Fired? I knew it! You do suck at your job!” Andrew exclaimed, carefully placing the head down on a nearby table.
“I had a little trouble with an incident in Wales, it could happen to anybody,” Ethera said behind clenched teeth.
“What incident in Wales?”
“Not your Wales, a different Wales. Oh, and for someone who is poor at her job I appear to have gotten your lycanthropy under control and given you the most realistic wolf costume in your fandom. I’m still waiting for that thank you.”
“I’ll thank you for your help with Vex, but not for showing me any kind of respect, because you haven’t.”
“I should after your performance in that fight,” said Ethera, gesturing towards the scars still visible on her neck. “You have real potential and that’s why I wanted to offer you a position on my team. I lost some good people lately and I’m thinking you might have what it takes to replace them.”
“Lost? Lost how?”
“To more prestigious assignments,” Ethera glared. “I don’t get my people killed. I also don’t cut corners anymore so you’ll need to go through the training process. You and Vex will learn how to use your abilities as well as get brought up to speed on the technology and combat techniques of my world.”
“Certainly sounds better than my current job, which is none. Would also be a good way to have Vex work off some of his aggression.”
“Vex’s supply of aggression appears to be unlimited,” Ethera observed before handing Andrew her business card. “Here, the number should would in this reality.”
Andrew took the card, feeling it between his fingers as his eyes followed the design. “What the hell is this made out of?”
“I don’t think the material exists on your world, try not to lose it. Anyway, I should be going. Thank you for making my mission less monotonous,” said Ethera as she prepared to resume her human shape.
“Hey, Ethera, remember what you said about wanting to be yourself?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t have perfect recall in my meat body.”
“If you’re looking for a place to be yourself, you’re at one. You don’t need to disguise yourself as a human at a con like this. Everyone will accept you for who you are, just like they accepted Vex.”
Ethera visibly brightened as she stood up straight and tossed her mane to one side. “You know...I will go out there like this. I think what annoyed me the most when I first saw you was that you were the center of attention and I was stuck in some mundane disguise.”
“There you go,” said Andrew.
Ethera smiled and continued. “I’ll have the best unicorn costume at this convention hands down.”
“You could also provide good experiences for other people, but it can be all about you as well,” chided Andrew.
“Farewell for now werewolf Andrew, the convention awaits me!”
With a dramatic flourish Ethera turned on her hooves and strode out into the hallway.
“Well I’ll need to get an action packer for the suit and a pet brush for Vex. Hmmm, it’s probably also easier if he takes the showers instead of me trying to put the suit in the washer,” Andrew mused as he looked at the Vex fursuit all laid out on the hotel bed. “Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I wore the suit as a partial…”
Where was a rush of air and a small flash of light as Ethera, in all her glory, suddenly appeared in the middle of Andrew’s room.
“It didn’t work! They made me instantly,” Ethera panted. “You’d better get out of here before the military locks down the hotel”
“Goodbye Andrew, until we meet again.”
As quickly as she had arrived Ethera vanished leaving Andrew alone in his room, the sound of sirens wailing in the distance.