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Vazidrax the Unkindled Tormentor was not having a great day.

The screams of the damned emanating from his alarm clock failed to wake him until the tenth shriek of agony, so he arrived for his first shift twenty seconds late and was written up. The week’s crop of victims had been unusually resilient and Vazidrax was sure he’d see a pay cut if he dipped below quota three days in a row. When he took his lunch he discovered that someone had stolen his soul sandwich from the break room, so he had to hoof it to the cafeteria for some overpriced baby hands.

None of his coworkers sat with him at lunch, which was par for the course, so he ate alone and played games on his spacephone. The only mobile games allowed in Hell were games where you gambled real money for a chance at obtaining digital representations of fictional characters. Vazidrax had once spent an entire week’s pay rolling on an event to get his favorite ultra-rare character, which he then never actually used in the gameplay portion because gacha games in Hell all had a permadeath mechanic.

Vazidrax returned to the torture fields and tried his best to properly agonize the damned souls in his care, but his heart just wasn’t in it. To make matters worse, one of the souls actually noticed his glum mood and asked if he was feeling okay, to which he admitted that he’d been having a real rough week and felt like the other torturers just didn’t respect him, so the soul offered to scream extra-loud next time to help him impress his coworkers, which was a really sweet sentiment but can a demon get any lower than accepting pity from someone he’s actively torturing?

Then a heavy object fell out of the sky and landed directly on Vazidrax’s head, splattering his brains across the field.

The heavy object was, on closer inspection, actually a chimera woman with wolf ears, a lizard tail, and a nanoweave duster. The chimera and the duster had each taken some damage–from the fall and from whatever had sent her falling–but both were regenerating at a steady pace.

The chimera shook herself off, standing up on still-healing legs, and scanned the area with sea-green eyes. Her wolf ears and mane of wild hair were both a mix of brown and gray, and her ears twitched as she took in her surroundings. Her lizard tail, half as long as she was tall and striped teal-and-orange, swished back and forth with clear agitation.

The chimera swore in several different languages, then sighed and crouched down by the fallen demon. She lifted his hand, opened a mouth full of fangs, and bit off several of his fingers, crunching right through flesh and bone alike.

“Ow,” said Vazidrax through the second mouth on his stomach. “Could you please not?”

The chimera chewed his fingers, swallowed, and replied, “Oh, you’re still alive.” Her right hand, which had previously been rather bloody and full of shrapnel, finished regenerating and the embedded shrapnel was pushed out.

Vazidrax sat up, looking at the chimera through the opaque black eyes dotting his collarbone. “You crushed my head,” he accused.

She shrugged. “Shit happens. You’re a demon, can’t you just reform the bits I broke?”

“Yes,” he said peevishly, “but it takes energy to do that and I only get a certain allotment each week.” Vazidrax reluctantly started reforming his splattered head and bitten fingers.

The chimera raised an eyebrow. “Allotment?” She swept a hand out at the pits full of damned souls. “What, you don’t get your pick of the litter?”

Vazidrax shook his half-formed head and slumped. “I’m only an Unkindled Tormentor, I don’t get to make any decisions. I torture who I’m told to torture and get whatever soul essence the bosses think I’ve earned that week.”

The chimera helped him up and gave him a sympathetic look, which was slightly ruined by the still-visible fangs. “Damn, that’s fucked up. Sounds like your bosses are exploiting your labor and extracting all the value for themselves. You shouldn’t let them use you like that.”

Vazidrax frowned at her, confused, as his horns grew back in. “What do you mean? If I didn’t do my job I’d starve. I’m lucky to be allowed to work for this company, they’re one of the richest on Phlegethaern.” He blinked a few times and then glared up at her. “Hey, hold on, we’re getting off-track here. You stomped my head! And you’re trespassing!”

The chimera shook her head, helped Vazidrax to his feet, and completely ignored the last three things he’d said. “You’ve got it all wrong, friend. Think about it: who really produces the value here? The demons in their blackened spires sitting atop opulent thrones and counting all the souls in their treasuries, or the demons with hooves to the ground collecting those souls and torturing the essence out of them? Without you, this whole operation would fall apart. So why should those Molochs and Mammons reap the profits?”

The demon blinked, taken aback by her speech. “Huh. I’d never thought of it like that.”

“You deserve to own the means of torment and be your own boss. Don’t let those archfiends in their towers of damnation keep telling you what to do.”

“Yeah! You’re right!” Vazidrax punched the air in excitement, and then immediately his excitement fell and melancholy returned. “Oh. But they’re the ones with all the legions of terror and apocalypse engines.”

The chimera poked him in the chest, coming dangerously close to the grooves in his abdomen that served as a second set of ears. “That’s why you have to unionize. Find like-minded demons working down in the trenches and band together. If one of you rebels, you can be replaced. If all of you rebel? They’ll have no choice but to listen.”

“Yeah. Yeah! Teamwork!” he shouted.

“Collective bargaining!” the chimera cheered. She clapped him on the back hard enough to make him stumble and said, “Now go out there and spread the good word. Let all your demon friends know that they don’t have to put up with this anymore.”

“I will! I’m not going to let a demon lord walk all over me ever again!” Vazidrax was brimming with excitement. For the first time in months he felt like maybe, just maybe, he could really do something with his life.

“That’s the spirit.” The chimera waved goodbye and walked off in the direction of the nearest door.

“Oh! You won’t be able to get in through those, they’re magnetically–”

The chimera traced her fingers over the mag-door’s scanner and it flashed green–which was doubly strange because that was a keycard scanner, not a handprint scanner. The doors opened for the chimera and she strolled through without another word.

Then the screaming started–the screams of demons, not damned souls–and that warm feeling in Vazidrax’s chest slowly bled out.

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