“Wait, how the fuck does that make sense?” a man whined indignantly.
“An employee has a right to quit when faced with a hostile work environment,” Carl responded in a dry, business-like manner.
“Hostile work environment?!” the Warlock on the other end of the line screamed.
“Surely you don’t need me to explain the concept when it’s you mortals that came up with it, right?”
“But you’re gods-damned demons! You are the literal embodiment of hostility!”
“I’m not arguing with you there, Jeff. I’m just saying there’s things even we won’t stand for. And as far as Stredreknoith was concerned, being used as an alchemical test subject is one of them.”
“So what?! He quit just because he couldn’t take getting his insides melted a few dozen times?!”
“But he’s immortal! What difference does it make?!”
“Immortal or not, pain still hurts.”
“Then why didn’t you give me one that can take it?!”
“Because you weren’t entirely truthful during your initial interview,” Carl stated flatly. “If you had been honest regarding the purposes for which you were seeking to form a contract, then Demons ‘R’ Us would have arranged for a more suitable familiar.”
The one in question had been a stalker. Their kind was tied with succubi for having the lowest pain tolerance of all familiar types. Then again, they were also the only ones with a technically functioning digestive system, which was probably important for developing new poisons through alchemy. This Jeff person most likely knew all that in advance, which was why he had lied during the aforementioned interview.
“A beholder or succubus with the right, erm, ‘mindset’ might have actually found it enjoyable,” the devil added.
“Alright, fine,” the man finally relented. “Can you get me one of those, then?”
“After reviewing your conduct, Demons ‘R’ Us has decided to issue you a Category-D penalty. What this means is that, effective immediately, you are forbidden from forming contracts with any of our employees for a period of five years.”
“Five years?! But my deadline is in two months! How the fuck am I gonna get test subjects by then?!”
“I fail to see how any of that is my problem.”
“Fuck you, asshole!”
“Thank you for calling Demons ‘R’ Us. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
“Eat a di-”
“Well, that was fun,” Carl mumbled with a smile. “Hopefully he calls back in five years so I can piss him off again.”
Frustrating mortals who arrogantly thought they could outsmart the system was one of the few pleasures that devils enjoyed while in the employ of Demons ‘R’ Us. Sure, there were moments of frustration whenever complete morons were involved, but at least they kept the job interesting. Which, in the Beyond, was about as valuable as gold. Thinking of ‘interesting morons,’ naturally made Carl’s mind drift towards Boxxy. Seeing as how he’d just finished a rather satisfying call and it was unlikely he’d get another anytime soon, the demon mentally tuned into the Boxxy Show.
When he did so, his mind received an image of three beings. The first was, unsurprisingly, Boxxy. The shapeshifter was currently in its iconic chesty guise and was sitting still atop a stone-tiled floor. Standing a few meters opposite it was an amorphous pile of pink sludge with small dark-colored marbles floating inside it, otherwise known as Stain. Next to them was Arisha Nightriver, who was seated cross-legged on a fancy sofa chair. One of the moons was visible through the large window behind her, bathing the sparsely decorated room in a fittingly pale light.
The twice-Ranked nosferata reached into the black top hat next to her and pulled out a piece of paper with something written on it.
“A cute puppy,” she read it aloud.
Almost immediately Stain shifted into a large and very sloppy dog that was, in a word, adorable. Meanwhile Boxxy’s lid had sprang open to reveal a vicious and heavily scarred canine, the sort of beast that looked like it had seen at least a decade of military service. Taken at face value, it was quite obvious which of the two had done a better job at making a cute puppy.
Unfortunately for Stain, her opponent knew its audience far too well.
“Winner!” Arisha instantly declared, pointing towards Boxxy’s brutal form.
“Oh, come on!” the slime complained. “This is totally rigged!”
“That’s five-nil in my favor!” the doppelganger gloated. “Are you even trying?!”
Stain quite literally bubbled with rage as the other monster took a swig of Arisha’s Ethereal Vintage. That had been the prize for this friendly game of ‘shaperades’ - whoever won a round could have a drink. And having been given a taste of the exquisite liquor beforehand, the slime desperately wanted to win and claim some more. She would’ve tried taking it by force if it didn’t mean getting into a brawl with two other individuals that were, in all likelihood, significantly more powerful than herself.
That said, the conjured silver bottle was hardly the only container of alcohol in the room. Several empty wine bottles were already thrown about haphazardly. One of them was even floating inside Stain, though the queen slime either didn’t notice or didn’t care. The room they were in was one of many in Arisha’s old castle. Boxxy had come here to celebrate its Ultimate Skill acquisition and had convinced Stain to come along. It had also been the one to propose this game of shaperades. The reason it had done this, at least as far as Carl could tell, was so that it could spice up the already peerless flavor of the Ethereal Vintage with its fellow shapeshifter’s frustrations.
As for Arisha, she seemed to be enjoying this weird new ‘sport’ a lot more than one might expect and was actively smiling. However, based on what he’d seen of her before, Carl assumed her good mood was mostly because Boxxy had come to visit her so soon after their initial meeting. With another drinking buddy, to boot. He was less sure why the shapeshifter had gone to her to celebrate. It might’ve been because she had been the first person that had shown herself to be largely apathetic towards its monstrous nature. The only thing that mattered to her seemed to be that Boxxy could be genuinely good company whenever it wanted to be.
Carl wasn’t a particular fan of this game, though. These slow segments on the Boxxy Show had become rather tedious. He was far more interested in what had happened during the recent outage. If there was any truth to what the creature’s familiars had been saying, it seemed to involve a giant mechanized crab, an ancient army of war golems, and an honest-to-Jeremy leviathan. All of those were way more interesting than this rigged game of shaperades.
Thankfully, a tugging on the corner of Carl’s mind informed him that another broadcast was about to take place, and he eagerly tuned in. The visions in his mind changed from two shapeshifters attempting to mimic the abstract concept of sadness into two demons sitting behind a large desk with a roaring inferno in the background. Both were male devils with bright red skin, sharp black suits and slicked back hair. Their eyeless faces looked almost identical if not for the difference in facial hair, with the left one having a sharp goatee while the other sported a short but finely trimmed full beard.
“Hello, and welcome to the Chaos News Network’s special broadcast,” the former spoke. “I’m your first host, Mephistophlicates.”
“And I’m your better host, Koghiognirr,” the other one butted in.
Their voices seemed entirely typical for devils, which was to say they were so smooth and sleazy that anyone who heard them directly would likely feel like taking a shower.
“In this broadcast,” the ‘first host’ leaned forward, “we will discuss the ever-growing hostilities between Overlord Nagnamor and the Queen Bitch herself, Shridiaphrial. Will there be a vacant Overlord position by the end of it? Stay tuned to find out.”
“We will also reveal and review the top ten results of the recent ‘Boxxy’s Best Bits’ poll. Number five will shock you.”
“But first, we have some breaking news regarding the most recent outage of the Boxxy Show. Though the show’s broad appeal has lessened since its beginning, it is still the single most popular broadcast in the entirety of the Beyond, but not for a lack of competition.”
“That’s right, Mephistophlicates. Though some of our younger viewership might not be aware, it is actually a recurring tradition with Lunkenstein’s Heroes. All of their lives are broadcast for the entirety of the Beyond to see without their knowledge. And if some of you are thinking this is a massive and truly despicable violation of their privacy, well, that’s the point, dipshit.”
“However, this particular season of it has already been proven to be the most highly rated one to date. Though it is this presenter’s opinion that the Dave Show from five centuries ago was superior because of the endless suffering the titular character had to endure. The look on his face when his wife gave birth to a freakish bug-like creature was truly priceless. Truly the flows of chaos work in some mysterious ways.”
“It was therefore highly understandable that viewers were displeased at the aforementioned outage. Our sources indicate the cause for this was the medicine,” Koghiognirr made exaggerated air quotes, “given to Boxxy by Arisha. Apparently this stuff called panacea is actually based on a virulent and highly-destructive poison. In fiendish terms, it cures ailments and diseases by completely obliterating the affected areas of the body and/or mind and then building them back up from scratch.”
“And, as we’ve already established in a previous broadcast, the Big B’s recent break of character was partly caused by a potent addiction that was, in essence, a malady of the mind. Hence, in order to cure it, the panacea had almost literally amputated a part of its brain.”
“Public service announcement, by the way,” Koghiognirr chimed in, “don’t drink the stuff if you happen to run across a vial of it. Due to the nature of demons, it can and will attempt to ‘amputate’ your entire soul.”
Carl could practically feel the wave of disgust and horror that swept over the Beyond when that statement was issued. It would appear quite a few demons shared his opinion that the rigged shaperades game was not all that entertaining and had tuned into the Chaos News Network broadcast instead. Come to think of it, that was probably why Meph and Kog had chosen to do it several days ahead of schedule. It was a good opportunity to avoid competing for viewership.
“Though Boxxy is expected to make a complete recovery and continue to be as entertaining as ever,” Mephistophlicates resumed the story, “the panacea had aggravated its post-corruption condition. This caused some sort of disturbance that temporarily caused Krillmonger to lose the audio/visual connection. And since the Progenitor is apparently busy with some super-secret project of hers, it had taken him a while to notice and bring everything back online.”
“There is good news, at least,” the other presenter took over. “Weaxohn the All-Knowing has assured us that he’ll be able to reenact the relatively ludicrous events that took place during the blackout by piecing it together from the memories of Boxxy’s familiars. A full reconstruction seems impossible at this stage, but it should help shed some light on most of what we missed. Our glorious Demon King has even provided us with a small spoiler-free teaser of what’s to come.”
The view abruptly shifted to that of Big Smoke appearing out of the darkness of the ocean’s depths and attacking Boxxy’s crew when they had first entered the Trenches. The whole thing was shown from Drea’s perspective, so it was easy to see the spectacular destruction caused by the god-hating leviathan from the outside. The mental broadcast then shifted back to the two devils behind their large desk.
“I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it,” the goatee-bearded one on the left declared with a rotten smile. “In the meantime, we have some rather monumental news from the big bucket upstairs. Thanks in no small part to the Chestiest Chest That Ever Chested, the Beyond is seeing its first influx of a new breed of demons that are expected to become the sixth type of familiar available to Warlocks everywhere.”
The visions shifted once more, this time showing an infinite white space with a creature standing in the middle of it. At first glance, it looked like an overweight copper-skinned goblin that had an extra pair of arms growing from the sides of its pot belly. It was most definitely a demon, however, judging by the upcurved golden horns jutting out of its skull - one in the middle of its forehead and two more next to its rounded ears. Its height, when compared to the floating banana next to it, seemed to be about one and a quarter meters. It seemed to be unaware that it was being observed judging by how it was absentmindedly standing there while scratching its ass and picking its long nose.
“This unsavory and unhygienic-looking fellow is the first in a generation of what the God of Misfortune has dubbed keeper demons,” Koghiognirr explained in a voice-over. “They have just now started to emerge from the chaotic melting pot of psychic energy that is the Beyond. More specifically, they are beings closely attuned to the greed of mortals, whether it be for power, fame, or material possessions.”
While all that was being said, a stick of some sort bonked the juvenile keeper from somewhere outside the frame. The goblin-like demon let out a stream of feral but distinctly displeased gibberish, but had gotten the message that it needed to show off its abilities. It clapped its bottom pair of hands together and revealed a glistening gem that looked exactly like a real diamond, which it proceeded to marvel at in a slack-jawed fashion.
“They don’t seem to be very intelligent or physically gifted, but are quick-witted and cunning with a natural gift for transmutation, thievery, forgery, trap-making, and probability-altering luck. Once in the mortal realm they will most likely fulfil a Caster role both in and out of combat. They seem to have a strong predisposition towards earth, fire, and light magic, which they will presumably need to find, forge, and/or imitate the shiny things that-”
Koghiognirr’s explanation was cut short when the copper-skinned creature butterfingered the conjured jewel. The highly realistic diamond shattered when it hit the ground, releasing a blinding burst of light and shrapnel. The last thing anyone saw of that keeper was a blurred image of its shredded face, after which the broadcast abruptly shifted back to the devils behind the desk.
“Uhhh… It would appear that the live demonstration has run into some, um, technical difficulties,” Koghiognirr said awkwardly.
“Please note that all of the previously presented information is subject to change as the species develops,” the other presenter quickly added. “As is the case for all newborn demons, it will take anywhere from two to five decades before any of the keepers are ready for contract work. It is unknown if any new traits might emerge or if existing ones will disappear by then. The only thing we can say for certain is that they will eventually Rank Up into hoarder demons, barring any weirdo deviants.”
That was all well and good, but Carl couldn’t help but feel both excited and frustrated when he realized these new familiars would require significant changes to the standard summoning contract. Every contracted Warlock would need to have their agreements updated, which was going to be both hectic and stressful, but at least it would be fairly entertaining.
“And speaking of weirdo deviants,” Mephistophlicates continued, “rumors of one Koralenteprix Khusuuszun Caonthioxxaa taking up a fifth Overlord position have been circulating the Beyond. She certainly seems like an obvious candidate considering she’s the first of her kind, not unlike Overlord Liusolra of the Endless Swarm allegedly is. She’s also had the unique experience of smashing an actual deity within their own divine area… in every possible meaning of that phrase.”
“However, the fact that she’s an obvious choice is also what makes it rather unlikely it will actually happen,” the full-bearded devil interjected. “As we all know, the large ladle above despises obvious developments, and may decide to forego instating Koralenteprix as an Overlord purely because of that. Or, alternatively, he may go for it purely because its unexpected for Turgak to do what is expected. Either way, it is this devil’s entirely accurate opinion that Koralenteprix is unqualified for the prestigious position purely because she has the intellectual capacity of a rotten tuna sandwich.”
Carl had to agree with that. Though she occasionally showed signs of what could loosely be called brilliance, Kora was still far too young and inexperienced to be taking on an Overlord’s responsibilities. Granted, he wasn’t sure what those responsibilities might entail, but it was a well-known fact that the demonic Overlords had things to do beyond seeking entertainment and the occasional summoning.
Weaxohn the All-Knowing, for instance, was tasked with maintaining the network of information that kept Demons ‘R’ Us running as smoothly as it did. Nagnamor was responsible for making sure all the demons under his command had a firm grasp on tactics and warfare and didn’t just blindly rush headfirst into the enemy. Shridiaphrial had the ambiguous task of forging dreams and nightmares that were used to subtly influence mortals in accordance with the wishes of the Goddess of Luck. However, the contents of those manufactured fantasies, the mechanism through which they were delivered, and the Progenitor’s goals were kept a secret.
Still, at least the Beyond’s general populace had some inkling as to what the Queen Bitch actually did. Liusolra’s duties were a complete mystery by comparison, though the summoning contract suggested that she dabbled in directly manipulating mortal souls. To what end? Only Caroline knew that, and Carl wasn’t about to start asking. Partly because he would never get a straight answer, but mostly because that would ruin the fun. Secrets were far more entertaining than the truth, at least in the devil’s own opinion.
Carl continued to watch the Chaos News Network broadcast, more out of curiosity than interest. There were no particularly noteworthy stories other than the initial few headlines, but he wanted to see what the final ranking for Boxxy’s Best Bits looked like. His personal favorite was the two-hour-long segment during which the shapeshifter slowly beat a Priest to death with a grandfather clock for no other reason than to ‘kill some time.’
Unfortunately Carl would have to catch a recording or a rerun, as yet another of his clients was calling him despite it being past midnight in most of the civilized world. With a sigh and a cough, the devil turned his attention away from the pictures in his mind and back to his job.
“Hello. You have reached Demons ‘R’ Us. My name is Carl and I will be your liaison for today,” he gave the standard greeting.
“Yeah, hey,” a middle-aged lady responded. “This is Antonia Beckett, and I’d like to file a complaint regarding the familiar I contracted recently.”
Well, at least it would be an easy one to handle.
“Sure thing. Let me just transfer you to our complaints department.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks.”
Carl deftly manipulated the console in front of him to reroute the call, then immediately went back to watching the Boxxy’s Best Bits ranking.
To his great disappointment, however, he didn’t go even two minutes before getting another call.
“Hello. You have reached Demons ‘R’ Us. My name is Carl and I will be your liaison for today.”
“Yeah, uh, h-hey there,” a squeaky-voiced youth stammered. “I’m having some… difficulties with my hellhound.”
“Alright, can you forward me your Status.”
Carl received the requested information and used it to promptly pull the Warlock’s file out of the Demon King’s mental library. He was a gnomish teenager named Alleroy Bumblewicket and he was a total rookie who’d only contracted his hellhound familiar less than two weeks ago. Carl had been the one to set the contract up, but he typically didn’t bother remembering these mortals’ names until they’d survived at least six months. Unless they happened to be a sentient box with teeth, of course. Would be pretty difficult for anyone to forget something like that.
“Okay. What seems to be the issue, mister Bumblewicket?”
“So, being the fuzzy ball of feral violence that she is, Dhaocoldia only settles down when she’s chewing on bones, right? And my current Quest has me hunting some undead. I figure nobody’s going to complain about her having a go on a bunch of skeletons and zombies, so I let her run wild and she chomped down on all of them with glee. Problem is, she seems to have caught some weird petrification disease. Maybe a curse, I don’t know. Point is, her left half was turned to stone and she can’t even move properly anymore.”
“Yeah, that happens sometimes. Then what?”
“Well, that’s kind of it. How do I fix this?”
“Have you tried dismissing and then summoning her again?”
“Uh… O-of course, I have! I wouldn’t be stupid enough to reach out to another dimension with my mind without trying something so basic! That’s insulting, and frankly, I won’t stand for it! Good day, sir!”
Carl then watched with a knowing smirk as his equipment showed that Dhaocoldia the hellhound instantly returned to the Beyond and was then pulled out of it within ten seconds. It truly was incredible how much his workload would lighten if people just did that before bothering him with pointless and banal queries. He liked how that gnome hurriedly tried to cover it up, though. His pointless and painfully transparent efforts at misdirection were almost cute, in a way.
The demon had barely been able to tune back into the broadcast when he got yet another incoming call, which he answered after allowing himself a displeased grumble.
“Hello. You have reached Demons ‘R’ Us. My name is Carl and I will be your liaison for today.”
“Hi, Carl. It’s Greg,” a worried-sounding voice came through. “Listen, I got a weird question about the summoning contract stating I need to safeguard demonic souls and whatnot.”
“Ohh-kay. Let’s hear it, then.”
“Will I get in trouble if I were to seal a succubus within a shoehorn for, say, seven years? Y’know, theoretically speaking.”
“… A shoehorn?”
“Yeah. Like, a metal thing that you use to put on shoes easier.”
“I know what a shoehorn is, Greg. I’m asking why that, specifically?”
Carl nearly replied with ‘because it’s really damn weird,’ but decided at the last moment that this wasn’t a topic he wanted to pursue further.
“Nevermind. So, how do you plan to seal the demon?”
“I’ll be using Blackmane’s Ritual of Greater Sealing.”
“And is this succubus you plan to use it on your familiar?”
“Oh, no. Just some random slut I found stalking a shithole of a village. Probably unbound.”
“Then you’re in the clear. I mean, it’s not something we here at Demons ‘R’ Us would approve of, but it’s not against your summoning contract, either.”
“Really?! Come on, what is with these stupid mortals today!” Carl complained to nobody in particular. “I swear, this one better actually be important.”
It probably wasn’t going to be.
“Hello. You have reached-”
“What is your fucking problem, asshole?!” a woman screamed, cutting him off.
Carl took a moment to recollect himself after that very rude and extremely unprofessional interruption, during which he actually recognized the voice. However, that was mostly because he’d just spoken to this lady not more than five minutes ago.
“Whatever do you mean, miss Beckett?” he asked in a calm, level tone.
“You know full fucking well what I mean, dickface!” she continued screaming. “What’s the big idea filling my head with that unbearable screeching?! It was so loud I fucking passed out!”
“I’m pretty sure I told you I was transferring you to our complaints department, didn’t I?”
“Wait, what? That’s your complaints department?!”
“But it was nothing but mind-rending screams of agony!”
“You do realize Demons ‘R’ Us is run by demons, right?”
“Well, yeah, but- You’re still an asshole!”
“I see. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about that, but I will direct you to someone who’ll hear out your grievances.”
“What? Wait, no!”
Carl instantly rerouted her call towards the same place, then leaned back in his chair with a satisfied sigh. It was the little things that made this job all worthwhile.