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Conglomerate Chaos

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Cold rain pelted Chad as he ran for his life. He leapt over a large puddle and swerved to the right as a car kicked up a torrent of water. He checked his watch as he weaved his way through the scattered bystanders. 7:45 AM. 15 minutes to clock in. He ignored the complaints and calls, even dodged a paw as he rushed through. He cursed under his breath and apologized as he snaked past a lamia, nearly tripping over her tail.

The week had started so well. He had woken up to the feeling of sun on his face, feeling more rested than he had in months. That was when he realized his phone hadn’t gone off. In a furious haze, he downed some mouthwash, slipped into his suit, grabbed his bag, and ran. That was the moment the sun retreated and the clouds decided to let their contents loose on the city.

The familiar reflective windows of Typhon Tower came into view. The head offices of Typhon Incorporated. His home away from home for nearly ten years. He sighed. He shouldn’t have come in over the weekend. It felt like the last week hadn’t even ended. He’d grab his itinerary from reception. Answer emails while going through a cup of coffee. Skip breakfast for the morning meeting. Consultation after consultation with clients that couldn’t explain what they wanted. Scarf down a sandwich while writing client reports. 15 minute nap if he was lucky. Sit through the afternoon meeting. Finish consultations. Stay late finishing extra work from the Division Chief. Answer emails again. Coffee. And long after the sun had fallen, he’d have a choice between walking home through empty streets and occupied benches, or more realistically, taking refuge in his office and actually getting sleep. That was how it was supposed to go, if he could get through the front doors.

He tapped his badge on the scanner again. No dice. He glanced at his watch. 7:55. People didn't come to work late twice at Typhon. After what seemed like an eternity, a sheep girl slid to a stop in front of the door, her heels screeching as they grinded along the cement into a puddle. He felt his pants become even more drenched. She grumbled as she fiddled with her soaked jacket. The doors opened instantly with her badge. The girl barely noticed him as he slipped in behind her.

“You’re late.”

He stopped as he came face to face with a figure towering over him. Pointed ears sat atop smooth black hair adorning dark grey skin. A pair of orange eyes looked down at him and his wet suit. In comparison, her black suit was ironed to perfection, and barely contained her muscled form. He felt his eyes drawn to the tag on her chest, next to her white shirt and crimson tie. Zana, Internal Security. Fitting for a Hellhound to be guarding the gates.

"Morning to you too, Zana." Chad followed as the sheep girl scurried past.

A gloved hand pushed against his chest. He stumbled back, glaring at the woman standing next to Zana. Cruel blue eyes framed by matching hair stared at him. Her thin lips curled into a sneer. She leaned forward, clad in the same black suit as Zana, though hers appeared looser, as if it had been modified.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Sonia,” he added. He heard the sheep girl squeaked as she got frisked ahead. Of course it had to be Sonia today.

Her eyes sparked. “So stiff. Like you don’t even want to talk to me.”

Chad forced himself to smile. “Good morning, Sonia.”

The Raiju punched him in the arm, too hard to be playful. He held back a wince as the muscles in his arm locked up. Another bruise to add to the collection. “There! Was that so hard? You were in such a hurry I worried that you might’ve forgotten your place.”

His place was in his office doing actual work. Not being pushed around by fancy mall cops high on their own power, he thought. Stay cool. It was too early in the week to be provoking monster girls. Fear was like ambrosia to them, and anger their nectar.

“Of course not, Sonia.” He forced out a smile. “I’m a little late, may I please go up?”

Sonia’s ears twitched. She opened her mouth when Zana interrupted.

“Let him go.” Zana fixed a hard stare at her partner.

Sonia glared back at her for a moment. She looked away and spat. “Fine. Try not to choke on the strike they give you.” Her arm blurred, and she snatched the cup out of his hands. She glared back as Zana growled. “He’s gonna catch a cold in those clothes anyway, and coffee ain’t gonna help with that.”

Sonia took a swig and gagged. She spat out the coffee onto the tiled floor and coughed into her hand. “What is this shit?!” she said, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. “Why, I oughta-”

“Enough.” Zana placed a paw on Sonia’s shoulder. “We watch the door, not bully tardy workers.”

Sonia whirled towards her. “Someone’s gotta tell this bimbo to take his job seriously.”

“That is not your place,” said Zana. The Raiju winced. “Return his drink. Watch the door.”

He sighed as the cup splattered against the wall and slid down into the garbage can. “Tastes like shit anyway,” Sonia said as she stomped away.

Zana shook her head. She sniffed at him and frowned. He braced himself for the customary frisking. To his surprise, she let him pass unmolested. He heard her footsteps behind his own.

"I'll escort you."

He waved her away. "That won't be necessary."

"Wasn't offering." He stumbled as she overtook him. He followed her to the front elevators. The executive elevators were useless without a special badge anyway. Her bushy tail swayed behind her. He felt himself looking at it, then at the tailored black fabric framing her wide hips and even fuller ass. He tried not to look too hard as they rode the elevator, which was difficult since she took up most of his view. Something seemed off with Zana. Despite her cool demeanour, she looked as if she was about to take off swinging any second. She looked distracted, her eyes stuck to the display panel as it ascended the floors. Every so often her orange eyes flicked towards him for an instant and then back to the panel.

“I apologize for Sonia’s behaviour. She is...learning,” said Zana.

“Maybe tomorrow,” he said. If Sonia had any intention of learning, she would have done so already. There wasn’t a point in raising a fuss about it. HR wouldn’t touch security anyway. He thought about their mission statement. ‘Harmony for the Good of All.’ Management evidently thought that was best accomplished with a big stick.

He inspected his badge. A young man with dirty blonde hair stared back. His crooked grin shone, like he was sharing an unspoken joke with the photographer. The man’s eyes stood out the most. His clear gaze brimmed with energy, the look of an upstart employee that would give a hundred and ten percent. That man would have stormed into HR without hesitation.

Chad sighed and looked away from the picture. He brushed the smooth, semi-reflective metal with his thumb. The stylized T embossed in the corner had gone dark from its usual green sheen. It couldn’t have shorted out from the rain; it had survived a trip in his coffee months ago. Maybe it had run out of energy. Impossible. The IT rep practically foamed at the mouth as she bragged to a bored crowd about how this latest model drew on ambient mana, tracked locations, along with a hundred other functions he didn’t remember. What he did remember was that these were very expensive, and IT would react accordingly.

The doors slid open on the twentieth floor - Professional Intimacy Services. Or PISS, as some divisions called them. He was greeted with the familiar sight of crowded desks covering the floor. Countless employees milled about in office suits and blouses. Keyboards clacked as manicured fingers slammed the keys in a blur. Heels clicked against the floor as assistants and associates hurried around, desperately balancing the binders and papers in their overstuffed arms. Voices blended into an indistinct murmur as people talked on phones and at tables. He spied a few guys in the background trying to keep a low profile as they went to their desks. A group of employees gathered around a table in a meeting room, one of whom slammed their fist on the table, tipping over a tower of documents. A succubus screamed at her beleaguered assistant about misfiled reports, and threw her cup of coffee at her. He looked away as two security guards ran past him towards the fledgling tussle. Business as usual on Monday morning.

The girl at the front desk gave him a cautious wave. “Good morning, Mr. Thompson. Were you enjoying the weather outside?”

He walked up the desk. "Can’t say for myself, but I think it was enjoying itself just fine, Trish. I think my access card is on the fritz. Can you have IT send me a new badge?" He twirled his lanyard. “A cup of coffee too, if you’re able.”

She nodded and blushed. "Absolutely, Mr. Thompson. By the way, you smell nice today." She quailed under Zana's glare. “U-um, there's another letter addressed to you today.”

He recognized the logo printed on the crisp envelope. Euphorius again. He figured they would have taken the hint after the last three. “Shred it like the rest,” Chad said, looking into the pile of folders. His name wasn’t on any of them. He looked at Trish.

“The Chief took your itinerary. I’m sorry, Mr. Thompson.”

Of course she did. He nodded and walked into the atrium, trying to ignore the Hellhound on his heels. He was halfway in when he realized the background noise had stopped. Countless pairs of coloured eyes turned to him as he walked by. Was his wet suit that conspicuous?

“Lookin’ good, cherry boy!”

“You look almost as wet as I feel, Chad!”

“How’s it going, Thundercuck?”

He tried not to let his anger show at that last one. Pay them no heed, he thought. They were just monsters drunk off the lingering allure of the moon. They’d pestered him for his life details since the day he started. He’d tried his best to keep mum, but something had slipped. The rumor spread like vines along a wall, and before long many of the good workers at Typhon had latched onto this half-clever wordplay. Some days it felt like he was back in high school, only instead of being slammed against a locker for strongly worded invitation to hang out it was random obscure policies that he was getting singled out for.

At least something was different this time. Many of the onlookers and catcallers dropped their gaze as the massive Hellhound strode by them. He heard a few disparaging comments, but no one made a move. Despite her tailored appearance, Zana looked very much prepared to make an example of anyone dumb enough to try her. Just keep walking, he thought. Chin up, look forward. Don’t make eye contact. After an eternity winding through the desks and following the dark swinging tail in front of him, they came to the less populated hall containing the offices. He’d made it to his office. He tapped his badge against the scanner beside the door handle. It flashed red and let out a sad beep.

"You gonna be able to get in?" asked Zana.

He reached inside his suit and took out a silver key. He jiggled the key inside the lock until it gave. The gate to his sanctuary swung open and he hurried inside.

“I’m surprised you know where my office is,” he said. All he received in response was a shrug.

Zana scanned the passage they came from. “Frustrated crowd out there.”

He tossed his bag onto his chair and opened the closet next to the large rain-streaked window. His suit was soaked, but his shirt and tie were salvageable. He picked out a dark purple sweater vest and a pair of black, no, grey slacks. He cleared his throat at Zana, who was watching from the door. She crossed her arms and turned away.

“Figured it out yet?” said Zana as he finished changing.

He tightened his tie. “Help me out, Zana.”

“You stink. Your badge isn’t covering it up.”

He figured that was the case. “I’ve got something for this,” he said, rifling through his drawer. It wasn’t there. He’d seen it there on Friday. No one else had access to this office, not even the housekeepers after a maid broke his plant pot. He glanced at the donkey’s tail hanging from the wall, its hanging stems growing into juicy green leaves. It had taken a hasty transplant to save the poor thing. It wasn’t like the maids to be so clumsy. They left his office alone now, but that came at no small cost.

“That fox spray, right?”

“How did you know?” he asked as he checked the top drawer. Some of his clients were missing from his rolodex.

“Hellhounds don’t lose scents. Some bastardization of Inari, but at least you used a docile scent. The girls here would’ve pegged you as open season the moment you mixed scents. Other guys didn’t last a day when that happened, badge or not.”

Zana was unusually verbose today. He didn’t want to admit it, but she had done him a rather important favour. "Do you smell anything strange in here?"

Zana looped around the room. Her tail twitched, and her pointed ears flattened. "Just aged Inari.” She grabbed the donkey tail’s stems. “The fuck is this?”

“Careful, it’s fragile.” He typed his credentials into the computer. A box popped up. ‘This user has been disabled.’ "What the hell? Badge isn't working and I can't even get into my account."

"I'd worry about not coming out of this office smelling like a snack first."

He sighed. He replaced the can last week. He looked in the recycling bin in the corner. He felt a small cylinder inside and pulled it out. It sounded hollow. He sprayed the dregs on his wrist, then his neck. No more could be coaxed out. The can went back in the bin, its purpose fulfilled.

"It's faint, but it'll do." Zana opened the door to the hallway. “You use that often?” she asked, jerking her chin at the rumpled pink futon in the corner.

“Beats sleeping in the chair.” Far too few nights had been spent in the warm embrace of premium harpy down. It didn’t matter how well he slept if he didn’t have the time to sleep.

“Don’t treat yourself like shit just because they do.” Her tail flicked.

"I’ll keep that in mind," he said as she walked out. "Thanks, Zana."

Zana paused, her back to him. Her tail wagged just a bit. "Sort your shit out, Chad." And she was gone.

The room chimed as the PA system turned on. Was it 8:30 already? A soft, level voice flooded into his ears. “Good morning. We at Typhon Incorporated wish you all a productive start to your week. I trust that you all have weathered the full moon over the weekend. Complementary pens and inhibitors will be provided in the lobby at noon, free of charge. Today’s word of choice is ‘purpose’. Life is meaningless without it, and we are pleased to have so many individuals who have found it with us. A warning to all employees: please do not settle disagreements using force. Your nearest security member will be happy to assist in any and all capacities to reach an amicable resolution, or else. Thank you for your cooperation. Now, for our events today. Congratulations to Rebecca Einsdale, in Personal Intimacy Services. It is your birthday. A card has been left on your desk. In light of the upcoming merger, our boardroom will be in use, so please direct potential partygoers to the fifth…”

He fell into his chair and sighed. He rubbed his bleary eyes and leaned back as the announcements washed over him. They would continue for at least another ten minutes. He stared at the ceiling, the black ridges interlacing and blurring into each other, almost like a net coming down from the sky. He looked at his futon, then his computer. It beckoned for him to fall into its warm embrace. It was the perfect excuse. For a few hours, he could forget everything. Listen to the soft, droning voice. Repay his much overdue sleep debt. Ignore the commotion seeping through the walls. No Eliza, no stress, no bullshit. He smiled. Yes, he could.

He jolted up at the sound of something hitting the wall. Becky must have been having a good start to her birthday. Every dragon he knew had a ferocious temper, and she kept hers particularly well-oiled for her clients. Wait. He looked at his planner and groaned. No, he had clients to see today. Madame Bisset’s name was on that list. He had to work. He had to get to the bottom of this, even if it meant doing the unimaginable. He called IT.

“Sorry, Chad. It came from HR.”

His next call went there, where the intern transferred him to someone with presumably a higher pay grade.

"As per your employment contract, your employment has been suspended due to an excessive rate of turnover within your client group during the past quarter, in addition to complaints filed by a high value client." His grip tightened on the phone.

"Most of the consultants have a higher turnover than I do."

“That’s what’s written on the file, sir. I can send you the submitted reports if you wish.”

His anger deepened. “You can’t fire me without notice.”

“Your employment at Typhon has not been terminated as of yet, sir. Your position at Professional Intimacy Services has been placed on hiatus, with an offer to transfer to another branch.”

“Where?”

“Both the Calcidon and Markenem locations have offered to take you as a new transfer. Congratulations, sir. I hear Calcidon is very well-furnished. You should have received the offer in your company inbox on Sunday.”

“Since when do you work over the weekend?”

“Respectfully, sir. We at Human Resources do not make mistakes. It was sent on purpose.”

He sat there. Chalcidon was usually frozen over, and flooded when it wasn’t. Markenem was on another continent and hadn’t even finished being built last time he checked. He’d all his clients. This must have been a joke.

“Sir? Are you still there?”

“I...yea.” There was one part of his brain that nagged at him constantly, one that he worked for years to control in order to survive at Typhon. It was the part that sensed when bullshit was afoot, and it was going haywire. He swallowed his desire to scream at the girl at the other end. If he shot the messenger, he’d never get to the queen. “I haven’t been made aware of any recent complaints. I have records and emails from all my high value clients. I can send them to you right now.”

“I’m sorry, sir. The terms of your contract would have to be further discussed with the head manager.” At least she had the decency to pretend to sound apologetic. “I can schedule a meeting with her later this week.”

His answer was interrupted by the buzz of his phone. He hung up. In 5 minutes he had a scheduled consultation with one of those high value clients. Madame Bisset was one of the most skilled weavers in the city, responsible for bringing to life the grand visions of designers previously thought impossible. Of course, several lifetimes of dedication to her craft had left her lacking in other prospects. Her increasingly distraught sister had turned to them for assistance, but the Madam had disagreed. He was assigned to her after she burned through the previous four consultants. It had been a rough start, but they had gotten to know each other well over the years, to the point that their appointments often turned into hour-long tea parties. Her appointments came rarer than he liked; even with his help their services were in such high demand that even someone of her means and stature had to book months in advance. Missing it was out of the question. He took his briefcase out of his bag and looked for Madame Bisset’s folder in his cabinet. It wasn’t there. No matter. He didn’t need it anyway.

He walked over to the scheduled meeting room. He saw the Madame’s ghostly aura through the frosted glass. He knocked twice and opened the door. Madame Bisset sat to his left at the table, garbed in a black victorian dress with a dark bonnet enclosing her ashen hair. Her head turned as he entered, and her gloomy eyes crinkled while her black lips turned upwards.

“Good morning, Monsieur.”

His response died as he looked to his right.

Sitting across from the Madame was a Kitsune clad in a dark grey shirt and unbuttoned violet blazer, one all too familiar with him. Two shining golden tails waved lazily behind her back. A pair of large fluffy ears perched on top of her head. Her long blonde hair swung as she turned towards him. A small smile was on her face, right beneath her button nose. Long eyelashes outlined her perpetually closed eyes, yet he felt her stare all the same.

“What are you doing?” he hissed.

She tilted her head. “Meeting with my client, of course. And is that any way to address your superior?”

“I’ve had this meeting scheduled for a long time. Madame Bisset isn’t even your client, Eliza.”

Madame Bisset raised a gloved finger. “Miss Eliza, I in fact reserved this meeting with Monsieur Chad. I thank you for your eagerness, but I would prefer to consult with him.“

Eliza crossed her knees. In spite of the situation, he couldn’t help but note how the white pants and dark blue heels accentuated her legs. “It is unfortunate and untimely, but Mr. Thompson’s services have been furloughed for the time being. In the interim, I will act in his place as your advisor,” she said.

Madame Bisset wrung her gloved hands together and sent Chad a questioning look. “I am not so sure about this…”

Eliza’s smile twitched. “I assure you, Madame. As the Chief of Intimacy Services, I will provide service comparable to his.” She emphasized ‘chief’ in a sharp, clipped tone.

He walked up to Eliza. “This is going too far. She’s my oldest client. Haven’t you screwed with my client list enough?”

He stepped back as Eliza stood up, her heels clicking against the tiled floor. She stood almost a head shorter than him. Her voice whispered into his ear. “If she’s such an old client, then does that not mean you’ve been sleeping on the job? Should she not know the embrace of a loving man by now?”

He bristled. “She’s been happy paying for consultations all these years. There’s no good in forcing turnover like this.”

Eliza’s smile grew, and the smugness behind it. “Might I remind you that you have made a mess of my morning by making me take on your clients? I suggest you see HR before you make a bigger mess. Things might not be as wholesome then.”

He stared at her. Teach this smug bitch who’s really the boss. She was smaller, and he could get back at her for the past few- No. He glanced at his client, who looked bewildered. He couldn’t embarrass himself any further in front of clients.

“Take care, Madame,” he said.

“Thank you for your time, Chad. I suggest you spend the rest of it wisely.” She giggled as the door closed behind him.

He felt his legs carry him back to his office. He collapsed into his chair in a daze. His fists clenched. Eliza had never dared to do anything so brazen before. He could hear Madame Bisset laughing along with her as he walked back empty-handed. He took a deep breath. Clear mind, clear future. Okay. Before worrying about his reputation, he had to make sure he still had a job.

He was being pushed out, but there was always a more or less obvious reason behind it even in the most cutthroat divisions. As far as he could tell, there weren’t any major issues between him, his team, and the clients. He read through his reviews obsessively, and never noticed anyone particularly disgruntled. His sales revenue spoke for itself. It became chaotic after Eliza was promoted to Division Chief a few months ago, but she didn’t have the authority to terminate him without notice, not then and not now. None of this made any sense. He looked toward the telephone on his desk. To get to the bottom of this, he would have to reach the top of Human Resources.

Half an hour and 12 loud calls later, he found himself arguing with the Director of Talent Management. Yes, he was in fact suspended today. Yes, he had the details to prove it. No, he could not see the e-mailed documents. Yes, he had to talk to the Chief. No, he could not wait a month for an appointment. The voice on the other end grew increasingly distraught until the telephone rang. He changed lines.

“Ms. Smith will see you in her office.”

He tensed. This was the opportunity that he needed to get the truth from the horse’s mouth itself. Yet, he shivered at the thought of sitting before her after so long. If it was coming from her, it must have been serious.

Typhon expected everything and more from its employees. Saralynn Smith epitomized these expectations. Outgoing Division Chief of Matchmaking Services. Stepped up as COO only after the board stopped filling her office with gift baskets. Youngest CEO in Typhon’s history. The highest power at Typhon besides the Chairman herself. Probably valedictorian in high school. The only human on the board of directors. And before all of that, back when she was a simple fixer, his manager.

He knew from personal experience that Saralynn was relentless on the floor. She had to be, as she was a woman under siege. Many of the monster women hated Saralynn for being human, her very existence a slap in their collective faces. The other division chiefs hated her for outshining them, and many of the men hated her for being “too hard on them.” None of it stopped her as she carved her way up the ranks, leaving the tattered remains of her opponents’ careers behind.

He sat in her office on the twenty-fourth floor. It was smaller than he expected. The desk in front of him was bare except for a phone and monitor. Countless books lined the alcoves behind the desk. A plush sofa sat in the corner, next to a small fridge. The only indulgence he could see was the glowing orb above, suspended on strings as a jade serpent orbited it. Cut into its surface was the Typhon logo. He’d always wanted to see the Jewel of Typhon up close. Just not in this situation.

He shifted in his chair, the full grain leather gliding underneath him. He wiped his palms on his pants.

“Aren’t you lucky,” said Eliza. She sat beside him. “No other CEO would give you a meeting on such short notice!”

“I’d imagine most CEOs don’t have time to waste on their peons.”

Eliza gasped and covered her mouth. “Watch your words, Chad. You wouldn’t want to be audited, would you?”

“Between you and HR, I’m more than accounted for.”

Eliza’s tails wiggled. “I can’t go easy on you in front of the others, Chad. They’d get jealous. Oh, and in the future, make sure your client signs the dotted line before they pay up, okay?”

“Hey, nobody noticed until the quarterly review.” Accounting had thrown a fit. He sent a pallet of lava whiskey in penance, courtesy of a former client. Their wedding had ended on a premature note after an overzealous uncle spiked the refreshments, so by all accounts it was good stuff. His bank account was still smarting from that, even though he’d gotten a discount. He never heard back from accounting, but the error had disappeared from the system.

Eliza frowned. “Is that why paychecks went up in flames last month? Luna threw a fit at the last division meeting.”

Whatever Accounting did with his gift was out of his hands. Probably. “How’d it go with Madame Bisset, anyway?”

“I think she prefers me,” said Eliza. She gave an exaggerated sounding laugh. She frowned when he didn’t answer. “Look, about that...”

A maid appeared before them, a large silver tray balanced on one hand. A matching set of tongs held out a steaming white cloth. “Sir, Madam. Please refresh yourselves. ” The hot towel smelled of citrus, maybe lime as he pressed it into his face. He relaxed as he enjoyed the almost overwhelming heat. He had scarcely placed his towel on the tray when the door opened.

They both stood at attention as Saralynn strode in, trailed by a Succubus. Her green eyes pierced him, the same ones he had seen so often looking out from a magazine cover. She dropped into her chair as her assistant slipped a folder into her hand. She motioned at the chairs across from her.

“Sit.”

He looked around as he sat. The maid had disappeared without a sound. Eliza looked stiff as she sat, her lively tails now as rigid as stone.

Saralynn cycled through the documents in her hands at terrifying speed. Her voluminous jet black hair spilled over and out of her chair, a wave of midnight flanking her. Her bangs were parted to one side, obscuring her left eye. Her locks flowed on top of her lavender business suit, framing her generous bust, enough so that the frilled white shirt refused to button up all the way.

They both sat up straighter as a phone buzzed on Saralynn’s desk. Saralynn took the phone, her eyes flitting through the countless messages. Her emerald eyes moved to him. “Mr. Thompson. I hear you’ve been causing a fuss in our HR department this morning. I do not receive calls from them often, yet today I was inundated.”

He nodded.

Saralynn continued. “It was unnecessary. Your Chief should have adequately informed you of the circumstances. Am I correct?” Her eyes flicked towards Eliza.

Eliza almost jumped out of her chair. “Absolutely, ma’am,” she said.

He gulped. “That’s the thing. What HR told me didn’t make sense. Complaints from a client that isn’t even mine. Unacceptable rates of turnover within my client group, when Eliza knows I have the lowest in the division. Inappropriate conduct with clients. I’ve received no warnings, no feedback, and no chance to address these issues. I haven’t heard a word from Karen over my conduct with clients, so why now?” He yelped as he felt something slide along his leg. He looked down and saw a golden tail tipped with white winding around his thigh. The owner of the tail in question looked forward with a small smile.

He frowned and tried to regain his momentum. “Why was this done over the weekend? Where were the witnesses?” He felt comforted at finally being able to spill out these nagging details.

“Is that all?” said Saralynn.

“...yes.” He felt disarmed.

Saralynn tucked a strand of jet black hair behind her ear. She clasped her hands together. “Then I will speak. Whomever failed at what is irrelevant. As one of the team leads, it is your responsibility to address problematic occurrences within the floor employees. I specifically remember instilling that into you myself. You ask why your clientele was singled out. Did you not consider the possibility that you are the outlier? It says here your clientele has an average retention rate of one year, far beyond the average of 2 weeks. This extends to the employees under your purview as well.”

“It’s more effective that way.” His face flushed as he tried to ignore the tail rubbing his leg. “I’ve submitted several reports detailing the benefits of my approach.”

“You are red in the face, Mr. Thompson.”

“I’m okay.” He gasped as Eliza’s tail stroked his groin with surprising dexterity. Her tail withdrew in a blur as he swatted at it. Her tail did a little wiggle, one last taunt for the road.

“Be that as it may-” Saralynn’s eye twitched as her phone vibrated. “Eliza says that the division has accumulated a significant waitlist for clients. Clients that requested you by name. Clients that could be better served over your...extant group.”

“Our teams have been over capacity for months. Getting rid of me isn’t going to make that any better.”

Saralynn continued. “In addition, if our security is to be believed, you arrived several minutes late today.”

Was this for real? “There was an incident on the train with a Cupid. Meetings don’t start until 9. Besides, I was here on Saturday covering for Nancy.”

“And why would you do that?”

“She needed the time off. I didn’t feel the need to inquire any further.” Who was he to police how his team used their time?

“Hm.” Saralynn tapped the paper. “Lastly, the formal complaint from client number 18743, one Ms. Ashraf.”

That one sounded vaguely familiar. From somewhere dry, maybe. Ah. He looked at Eliza, who avoided his gaze. That haughty Apophis with the gaudy jewelry. One of Eliza’s long timers. “What about her?”

“She says she was ‘humiliated and blindsided’ by the treatment she endured during her last meeting. The one you...attended. I would ask you why, but it would not change anything.” Saralynn pursed her lips. “That you would extend this behaviour towards clients is of concern.”

Saralynn’s emerald gaze pierced into him. “This company was built on our customer service and the blood of its dedicated employees. By flouting our policies you disobey the rules written in stone and cause disarray within your division. I know of your struggles in controlling the behaviour of the employees under you very well. Through teaching them values and procedures conflicting with the existing culture, do you not cause a rift between the young and old, the enlightened and the illiterate?”

Old? The division was barely older than his career here. “That’s Eliza’s-”

“No!” Saralynn’s stilettos clacked against the marble floor as she stood. Her green eyes shined. “Typhon is a collective composed of every single working soul within it, all striving towards the greater goal! Have you forgotten our goal, Mr. Thompson?”

“Of course not.”

“Refresh me.”

“To create unmistakeable value for our clients and stakeholders, and therefore society.” The words felt gross leaving his mouth.

“Precisely! To have discordant voices within this magnificent collective is to distract and diverge from that goal. I do not know what kind of schools you attended, but surely you should know better than to use that kind of discourse here. You stand before me, so sure that everyone around you is wrong. Is that not the case?” She looked towards the fox sitting beside him with a rapturous expression on her face.

Eliza’s voice was an octave higher than it normally was. “Yes, Ma’am! I could not have said it better myself. Chad has been a consistent voice of dissent, and has been extraordinarily resistive with changes I have implemented.” Her twin tails twisted into a knot behind her. Her whole face might as well have been dyed brown.

Saralynn’s phone rang. She ignored it. “I personally picked Eliza to lead the division, and I will not have you undermining her. For the reasons I have listed, you are now officially terminated from Typhon Incorporated’s Professional Intimacy Services. The details of your severance contr-” She coughed into her hand. “The details of your agreement are to be discussed with the Director of Human Resources. I have informed them of your pending arrival. Do you understand?”

“Wait, he’s leaving?!” Eliza blurted out over the ringing. Her mouth hung open. Whatever she wanted to say died on her tongue as Saralynn turned her glare towards her. “M-my apologies.” Eliza balled her fists in her lap, and her tails drooped.

He felt himself nod, and a sense of resignation swept over him. “I’ve been here for almost a decade. I never had any major issues or complaints. I was even offered that promotion a few months ago. Why now?” He felt the words leave his mouth, the major questions that had brewed in his mind all morning. He’d never gone outside of this city before. “Where will I go from here?”

For an instant, Saralynn’s gaze softened. “I will not deny the good work you have done for the division, but clearly it is time to move your skills to where they are required. I have given you my judgement, Chad.” She sat back in her chair. “What you do with it is up to you.”

“My lady,” said the Succubus standing behind Saralynn. “The board requires your presence to continue the meeting.”

“I am aware.” A pained expression crossed Saralynn’s face as she rubbed her temples.

The Succubus frowned. “Shall I retrieve the-”

“I am fine.” Saralynn took the phone in her hands and turned her back to them. The CEO flicked her wrist. A pair of guards appeared at his sides, dressed in the usual black suits. He took the hint and got up. He glanced at Eliza. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes as she stared at the ground.

The elevator beeped as it descended. Security flanked Chad on both sides. The elevator chimed. Fifth floor - Human Resources. The Jinko said something. He didn’t respond. A paw pushed him out of the elevator onto the thick red carpeting of the HR floor. Presumably to hide whatever was left of its employees.

“Welcome back, Mr. Timmins!” The Succubus blinked at him. She squinted at her screen. “I knew you were coming in. She’s wearing the usual again!”

The Jinko laughed as he walked past the desk. "There goes another one."

He trudged down the corridor past countless closed doors. The floor was spacious and well furnished, but he heard nothing but his own padded footsteps against the flush carpeting. He wondered what went on behind the soundproofed walls. He came here often, and he felt unnerved each time. Livelihoods were crushed here, no matter what wallpaper they used to cover it up.

The office in question had a gigantic plaque next to it, emblazoned with an emblem of a scorpion looming over a frog. Below it was printed KAREN JONES, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES, along with a long list of awards and merits. In the center hung a small sign, reading “Come In, I’m Open!”. Classy.

He knocked.

“Come in, come in!” said the intercom. He opened the door, and flinched as the smell hit him like a brick wall. Behind the sturdy desk sat Karen herself, a prim and proper woman with her auburn hair tied into a neat bun. A large stack of legal paper rested in her paws. Predatory brown eyes stared at him through thin rectangular lenses. Her ruby lips curled into a wide smile. "I have been looking forward to this. I hope the awful rain outside hasn’t ruined your day, Chad."

“Not exactly,” he said as he took a seat across from her. He looked around her office, then at the crystal chandelier above. Extravagant like usual. A worn dart board sat just above his head. The center was littered with so many holes that the bright red was gone.

Her eyes widened. “Oh my. I’m sorry to hear that. If it makes you feel better, you smell positively divine.”

"You flatter me, Karen." Experience taught him not to accept compliments with anything more than mild disinterest.

"Not at all! You are the only natural smelling thing that has graced this office in days. This perfume party really wears on the nose." Her mahogany-shaded tail waved behind her, a long segmented thing capped off with a large smooth bulb. She was being nice for now, but her reputation preceded her. No matter the airs she put on, Karen was a Manticore, one infamous for butchering any name unfortunate enough to have crossed her desk. Around manticores, lock your doors, the saying went in school. And here he was, alone with her in a closed room.

“I had my monthly review here last week. Wouldn’t want to look like you’re playing favourites, would you?” His coworkers said he was crazy, that reviews were quarterly. He’d seen enough of Karen to know it wasn’t the case for him. He had a sneaking suspicion as to why, but it felt safer to play it cool.

“In any case, it is so good to see you again,” said Karen.

He swallowed. “Karen, I’d like to get to the contract.”

“They’re called pleasantries for a reason, Chad.” Karen sighed. “I’ll allow it because of how cute you are, though.” She flipped through the pages. “Now, I do believe Saralynn explained the ‘why’ of your termination. Are you clear on that matter?”

“Crystal,” said Chad. The word felt like glass coming out of his throat.

“This is the ‘what’ of your contract.” The Manticore placed the pages on her desk and turned them around for him to read. It was his termination notice, followed by the evidence of his supposed incompetence. All exactly as his CEO said. She had done her due diligence. He gritted his teeth as he flipped over to the next section.

“Is something the matter, Chad?” She blinked as he stared at the page.

“Karen, this is all a mistake. You have my workplace stats; I haven’t had a complaint in the past three years. If I can just talk to Eliza, get my work records from my office, and show the board, there’s a good chance I can appeal this. I just need some time.”

Karen rested her chin in her paw. “I am sorry, Chad. Since your termination came from the executive level, I can’t directly circumvent it. From one professional to another: they want you kicked down quite a few pegs, and they’ll get it. This is the offer as it stands. Stay here, and start over as a junior associate at a division of your choosing. You get to maintain your current benefits, but everything else goes. Salary, overtime, seniority. You can get away with more if you transfer to another branch, but then you’re back to where you started.”

"What is this?" He held up the sheet.

"A formal acknowledgement that you recognize your mistakes, and accept the appropriate disciplinary measures." Karen twirled her pen.

"I know what it says. This makes me liable for damages done to Typhon’s clients. I'm not signing that." This would follow him for the rest of his career, if he still had one. The courts here were notoriously hard on cases of relationship sabotage. All this would be the least of his worries if a powerful monster decided to take matters into their own hands.

"That is only if you choose to accept the termination rather than transfer. Look at the next section." It was his severance package, and it filled the page.

"Ah," he said. This would make him comfortable for the rest of his life. A part of him felt relieved that his years of labour were at least reflected in this contract. The colder, cynical part of him thought differently. A bribe to let the company dump its garbage on him. A lovely end to nine years of service. Material comforts wouldn’t do him any good if he had to live the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

He flipped the papers back towards her.

To his surprise, Karen didn’t look the least bit disappointed. “I consider our severance contracts quite generous! It is quite unfortunate that you find the terms disagreeable. You're in luck, however! Since you are such a dashing young man, there is an alternative agreement I hope we can come to.” She took off her glasses and leaned forward, giving him quite the view down her cleavage. Her tongue swept over her lips.

“And what would that be?”

Her eyes narrowed, a predator savouring the bait. “You transfer to HR, and start as an associate directly under me. That way we can continue our professional relationship without that pesky Chief of yours getting in the way. You will be compensated, of course.”

That took him by surprise. “Like an assistant? Don’t you already have one?”

Karen laughed. “Please, that girl at the desk? Since when have you seen her doing actual work?”

Wow, she really said it. He crossed his arms. “I appreciate the gesture, but why would you go this far for me? You’ve never been one to offer deals.”

“Consider it a whim of mine. You’re quite the topic around here, you know? The whole floor goes abuzz when you’re around. And here you are at my desk, after the darling Chief Executive herself orders me to expedite a process that takes months over these past two days instead. I had plans for this weekend.” Karen sighed. “You have that nice bachelor attitude, but you’re still so distant to everyone. I suppose that’s how you sweet talk all those desperate women into staying on for months. You are simply full of surprises, and I want to know them.”

“If you’re that informed, then you know I’m not for sale.”

“Heavens, no. This would simply be a token of appreciation, or affection, depending on how you want to see it.”

“Between getting sent to some other country, getting fired, and becoming your boy toy, I don’t see any good choices here.” He looked out the window into the cloudy grey skies, still pouring rain on the windows. Paws sandwiched his cheeks and forced his gaze back towards Karen.

“Look only at me when I am with you, Chad.” Karen’s words came out as a hiss, and for a second her face contorted before returning to its usual placid smile. “You are understandably hesitant. They are not treating you very kindly at all. Saralynn doesn’t know half your value. I won’t throw you away like she did.”

“I’m not going anywhere until this bullshit gets sorted out.”

Karen pursed her lips. “I expected something like that.”

"Sorry to make you waste all this effort."

"Not at all, dear. I've had it drawn up for months." Her pen tapped against her desk. “If it makes you feel any better, you aren’t being singled out. You’re just ahead of the curve.”

“My answer won’t change.”

“Please, reconsider my offer after you’ve cleared your head. My door is open to you, though my patience is not infinite.” Karen placed her glasses back on.

He got up to leave when she spoke again.

“Before you go, Chad. There is something I wanted to ask you. I received a tip stating that there is a particular name that some of our employees refer to you as. Do you happen to know what it is?”

He gritted his teeth. It seemed the whole building knew. “Why do you want to know?”

“It is my responsibility to monitor workplace morals, as contradictory as it might sound.” Her eyes were hard. “Have you heard of it?”

It couldn’t hurt his day anymore to say. “...cuck. Chad Thundercuck.”

Karen typed something on her computer. “Do you find ‘Thundercuck’ an appropriate moniker?”

“I’m not a cuck!” He stood up, sending his chair flying back.

She held up a paw. “I did not say you were. I asked if you found it appropriate.”

“Of course not! And I don’t see any reason to stay here if you’re asking crap like that.” He stood up.

“I understand that you see me as a cruel woman that delights in the suffering of others, but I take the integrity of our workplace morals very seriously. Not once have you submitted a complaint, despite my encouragement.” Karen tilted her head. “I expected a man of your temperament to be more outspoken.”

“I never expected HR to do anything about it.”

Karen sighed. “I can mandate harassment training, shuffle security assignments, even force transfers. But know that there is only so much I can do without a formal complaint.” She growled. “No matter how improper the aggressor might be.”

He looked up. “You did that?”

She scoffed. “You believed Sophia removed herself from your division out of her own goodwill?”

Maybe just this once. He scratched his head. “An Oni said it. You wouldn’t know her.”

“That is a start.” Karen smiled. “You have such low expectations for me, Chad.”

“Trust me, that’s from experience.”

She shook her head and pressed something under her desk. The pair from earlier entered the room. “Consider Mr. Thompson suspended for now. Take him up to his office to retrieve his belongings.”

“Don't pretend you're above this, Karen.” He snarled as the security dragged him off. The tip of Karen’s tail glistened as she waved at him.

“Bye-bye!” The secretary waved at him as they went past her and the other gawking employees.

The Jinko grumbled as he tried to free his arms from their grasps. “God damn, where did all that energy come from?”

“I can walk just fine!” In spite of his struggle, they advanced steadily towards the elevators.

“This building is private property. You are not a productive employee. We are well within our means,” said the Salamander. “Tell us the floor of your office. Cooperation ensures integrity.”

“Don’t think this one’s gonna get his stuff even if we throw him into the office.” The Jinko rolled her eyes as he cursed.

"Outside, then."

"Fuck no, I ain't getting soaked out there for this twink."

"Then the detention room will do until the trespasser is no longer belligerent." The Salamander elbowed the button going down.

Chad groaned as they dropped him onto the cold cement. The Salamander slipped a pair of handcuffs over his wrists.

"Someone must keep watch. I will inform Cindy." Even the logical one didn't want to bother with him.

"What about her?" The Jinko glared at a Kikimora standing across from the doorway. Where had she come from? The maid regarded them with a passive expression, the same way a cleaner would look at a speck of dirt on fine china. She held a steaming cup of coffee in her hands.

"No. The housekeepers no longer possess such privileges."

"What's that you got there?" The Jinko stalked up towards her.

"It was requested by Mr. Thompson." The maid stared up at her.

"Well, he doesn't work here anymore. Might as well give it to someone useful." She snatched the cup away. "Don’t mind if I do!" She downed the entire cup. "If you did this more often, maybe you wouldn't be stuck being janitors."

The Kiki let out a low growl.

He shook his head at her. Don't get yourself into trouble. It wasn’t worth it.

The Jinko held her paw up to her ear. "Did I hear something? Must've been the wind. I'd hate to tie you up with that adorable red bow of yours." She looked back at Chad. "I wanna have some fun with him, but it’s my break.” The empty cup tumbled to the floor, right next to the trash bin. The Jinko leaned towards the maid, who made no reaction. “Clean this up, will you?”

“Do not create more work for us,” said the Salamander.

“It’s what we pay them to do, don’t we? Fuck it, I'll find someone to cover."

"Mind yourself. Karen wants this one unscathed."

"Like hell pretty boy here is gonna break his wrist to slip out of some handcuffs." The Jinko's harsh laugh echoed through the bare room as the door swung shut. “How ‘bout the door clowns? It’s raining after all…”

He rolled onto his back. He tasted blood. He scanned the dark room, lit by only a single naked bulb in the ceiling. The floor and walls were barren, save for the drain in the middle of the lifeless grey concrete. A set of playing cards lay scattered next to a pair of dice. A single chair sat next to the door, a worn towel draped over it.

He had heard about this place. Somewhere in the dank recesses of the basement was a room where trespassers and other unwanted individuals disappeared into. Say the wrong thing or insult the wrong executive, and the goons would come out to play. Eliza had postulated that it was for employees sent by competing companies. That always seemed a bit extravagant to him. Disappearing someone into thin air couldn't have been worth the questions it would raise, or the mountain of paperwork kicked up from a missing person's report on company grounds. Legal was backed up enough as is. Whoever started that rumour must have been bored of their minds. It ridiculous concept, and yet here he was.

This wasn’t the Monday he had in mind. Why would Saralynn do this? Inappropriate conduct towards clients, please. She knew damn well the way hungry clients looked at him. He trained under her for years, and she brushed him off as if he was a lowly intern. And the complaint. If they actually cared that damned Apophis they wouldn’t wait months to act on it. This made no sense. They knew how hard he worked, knew he was more valuable than a client. And Eliza, just sitting there like a wet towel when he needed her. Had she conspired with Saralynn? No, of course not. She wouldn’t do that. Something wasn’t right.

For some reason, the anger bubbled away, leaving in its place a cold, clear thought. He would get this in front of them. Saralynn, the board, even the chairman if he had to. At least Karen had given him an option. She was a snake, but she kept her word.

He heard a soft knock at the door. "Mr. Thompson. Are you hurt?" The slot in the door slid open, and the maid's grey eyes gazed at him from below a frilled mobcap. He imagined her standing on the tips of her toes to see.

He bit back a sarcastic retort. "Just my feelings, I suppose."

"The wellbeing of this sanctum's inhabitants are of great concern to us, even the worthless disgraced ones." The maid paused. "And we missed your remuneration."

Of course that was why she was here. "I don't know if you heard, but I'm technically trespassing right now."

"I have heard no such thing, Mr. Thompson. The usurpers have no such authority."

That was an odd way of phrasing that. "I guess I'm a little roughed up."

"May I have your permission to assist you?"

"Why?"

She repeated the question.

"Yes. You have a key?"

"Not exactly." The slot slid shut. He turned away as the sound of metal scraping on metal screeched across the door. A click sounded.

A muted roar resounded outside the door. A yelp sounded, and a thump shook the door.

He heard a familiar voice.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

"The room requires cleaning." The maid’s voice was flat.

"What part of 'security personnel only' did you not understand?" A growl. "I see you here again, and you won't be able to use those pretty hands to clean."

"Tch." Footsteps faded down the hall.

He heard the jingling of keys, and the rusty door swung open.

"The fuck?"

They stared at each other.

"Hi, Zana."

The paper cup in her paw almost slipped before her other paw steadied it. She frowned. "Hades help me. What’d you do this time?"

"I got fired."

"About time, asshole." Zana straightened as she watched his expression. “Oh. What for? Don’t tell me you sold out to Euphorius or something.”

He shook his head. “Nothing of the sort. Bad performance, apparently.”

Zana blinked. “Didn’t think you were the type anyway.”

“Do you actually get spies? I thought that was just a story management made up.”

Zana took a sip from her cup as her tail flicked. "That why your badge screwed up?" she asked.

“What do you care?”

Zana huffed and dragged the chair over. “I’m not the one that threw you in here. I’ve got some time, if you feel like talking,” she said, dropping into the chair. Even through the black fabric, her enormous ass squished out from under her thighs.

Zana’s groomed dark hair was straight and smooth, styled as a bob cut, sticking close to her scalp at the back and lengthening towards the front, forming two sharp locks that hugged her face, ending just above her broad shoulders. Two large pointed ears of the same shade adorned the top of her head, lined with smooth fur, twitching and shifting at the slightest sound. He wondered how they felt to the touch.

Clear mind, Chad. He forced himself to look up.

Zana coughed. “Something on my face?”

“Your hair is really neat. Most Hellhounds I’ve seen keep it long.” And messy to the point they looked like dark jungles sprawling over scalps. Not that he would ever say it to one in person.

“Most hellhounds don’t have to deal with bullshit corporate regulations.” Zana grasped a lock of hair framing her face, ending just above her shoulder. “It’s longer than it should be, actually. Can’t have some asshole grabbing it. Think I should go shorter?”

“I think it looks good as is.” With how many security guards he saw taking liberties with their appearances, Zana was almost the exception.

“Longer, huh?” She played with the lock in her fingers as her tail swung behind her. “Complimenting me won’t get me to go easy on you. Out with it.”

He looked at her. He recalled the countless jabs and muttered slurs from monsters wearing the same uniform. But Zana was different. She’d listen. She would call him a dumbass afterwards, but she would listen. If nothing else, she wouldn’t laugh behind his back. Fuck it, what else would he lose?

He told her everything. He was hesitant at first, but it felt right as the words spilled out faster and faster. The bogus complaints. How Eliza stole his clients. Karen’s complete nonchalance. Saralynn’s ultimatum, and that damned pitying look she gave him. If she actually cared she wouldn’t have blindsided him. How security wouldn’t even let him walk on his own. He gasped for breath as he finished. He almost forgot he was talking to someone. He looked at Zana, who hadn’t interrupted once.

To his surprise, she scowled. Her dark tail stuck straight up behind her. “Here. You look like you need it." She squatted down and sat him up on the floor. She brought the cup to his lips, and hot, milky liquid filled his mouth. He tried not to burn his throat as he swallowed.

“How much cream and sugar do you put in that?”

“Not enough. You’d think a company this size would offer more than this pig slop at the break rooms,” Zana said, taking a swig. "You like it?"

"It's good," said Chad.

Zana snorted. "You're full of shit. Everyone else spit it out when they tried."

He shrugged. “I always thought you took it black.” The thought of a Hellhound drinking sweets tickled him.

“People think a lot of things about me.” The mirth disappeared from her face. Her orange eyes burned. “Lots of them think I’m here to bully people for a paycheque like the others. Like how you're thinking I don’t care because it isn't my problem.”

He blinked. “I didn’t-”

“Sounds like they fucked you, Chad. Kinda pisses me off.” Her words came out almost as a snarl. Keys jingled as she scooted behind him. The pressure on his wrists lifted as the handcuffs clattered to the ground. “I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again.”

“Thanks.” He rubbed at his wrists.

Zana spoke. “Why would miss CEO want to get rid of you like that? You used to be her boy toy, right?”

He spun towards her. “What? Where’d you get that from?”

Zana shrugged. “Cindy said everyone knew.”

“And since when do you take Cindy at her word?” Chad shook his head. “No, I was just her associate for a few years. We didn’t have time to flirt.” Not to mention her guard was always up.

“Just the two of you?”

“Yea.” It wasn’t easy having to constantly stomp out fires within the company, but in a way it was simpler, straightforward, even cozy. But those days were long gone. “Do you mind if I head up to my office? I need to sort some stuff out.”

Zana laid a paw on his shoulder after a moment’s hesitation. “I don’t think so.”

“Aw, come on.” He pouted. “Please, may I go up?”

Zana’s expression remained serious. “I saw that look on your face. You’re going to do something stupid.”

He pushed her paw away and stood. “You should make jokes more often. It’s cute.”

“I’m not joking. You need to take time and cool off before you do anything.” Her shadow covered him as she stood.

He narrowed his eyes. “Neither am I. Let me go.”

She stayed silent.

“Not you too, Zana.”

Zana looked away.

To hell with it. “For a moment, I thought you cared.”

Her ears flattened. “Don’t give me that shit. You think anyone else would listen to this?”

“You’re just like the rest of them. A thug in a suit. I don’t know why you bothered pretending, really.”

Zana carefully set her cup on the ground. She took him by the shoulders and pushed. Pain lanced as the concrete pressed into his back. “Forget your shit. They’ll pack it up for you. Forget the severance. Forget Typhon. Go home, Chad. I don’t know what you’re looking for here, but it sure as fuck won’t be happiness.”

Chad glared at her. “That’s easy for you to say. I can’t let this go that easily.”

“Why the fuck not? Other companies do the same shit!” Her face was so close her breath wet his face.

“Forget it. Just let me rot until your friends throw me out,” he said.

The Hellhound hesitated, and her paws loosened around his shoulders.

“Wow, really doesn’t take much for you to back off, huh?”

Zana’s face twitched. “Watch your fucking tongue before you piss me off.” He felt a pang of regret. She didn’t deserve this.

“You mean you aren’t already? You really are all bark. Did Typhon take your ovaries away as well? Maybe I should go find a girl with some actual bite. Maybe that Werewolf you work with.”

The room whirled as he flipped into his back. He groaned as Zana lay over him, pinning his shoulders and legs. His breath caught in his throat as he saw the look of rage in her features, the parted lips exposing bared fangs, and the now crimson flames sprouting from her eyes.

"Any more and the handcuffs go back on." Through the billowing flames, her eyes looked uneasy. "Why are you doing this? Didn't your mother teach you not to fuck with big scary Hellhounds?"

He struggled to his feet. There was one thing that would get any Hellhound going, even Zana. He put on an uneasy expression and took a step back. He looked her in the eyes, turned, and ran away. Not even a second later he found himself being pushed face first into the ground. Zana pressed herself down against his sweat-soaked shirt, her arms and legs locking down his. The heat was almost unbearable. He took slow deep breaths, as much as possible while being crushed. Ragged breaths spewed hot and moist against his ear. She pressed her nose into his hair and sniffed.

"You had your chance." He shivered as she licked his cheek. He tried to struggle, and she pressed down harder in response. Her eyes flickered red. Her body heat enveloped him, leaving him sweltering inside his clothes. The air swished as her tail waved back and forth. Despite it all, it felt nice. He gasped as his erection pressed against the concrete. Now, of all times? His attempt at keeping a clear mind fell apart as she pressed her face against his hair and drew in a long breath.

A paw slid under him and brushed his growing erection. He heard a feral growl, and the pressure lifted as she flipped him around onto his back. Her weight dropped onto his pelvis, as she mounted him. He felt her ass resting on his groin. Ebony claws tugged at his belt, fumbling with the smooth lock. She growled as the mechanism eluded her.

“It’s tamper-proof. Rated for Ushi-onis.” He tensed as the expectant Hellhound shifted her claws, ready to cut through his pants. “Wait, I like this pair." He’d already lost enough today. He pressed down on the hidden switch and twisted. The lock came apart with a click.

Zana shifted back and pulled his pants down to the ankles, leaving his briefs as the final barrier. She growled triumphantly as they too were removed, exposing himself to the cold basement air.

Orange eyes locked onto his half-erect member. She fell onto all fours and sniffed at it. The effect was immediate. She shivered. Her ears perked up. Her pupils dilated. Her tail shot up behind her, straight as an arrow. She leaned in and inhaled deeply, taking in the accumulated pheromones. Her long red tongue lolled out as she panted, her hot breath bathing his cock.

Zana poked at his soft penis, then grabbed it roughly with a paw. He gasped as her paw slid down, the warm fur rubbing against his shaft. Several more strokes followed, and he felt his cock further harden. Zana stared at it the whole time, unblinking. Despite being his arousal, he was absolutely, almost painfully tense. One wrong movement, one tiny lapse in control, and she could crush him like a soda can. Despite her growing excitement, her grip remained gentle as she watched him. He gasped as she went faster, her paw rapidly stroking him after finding the ideal pressure. Several minutes passed, the room filled with only the sound of fingers rubbing against slick pre-covered flesh. Her other paw had travelled between her legs, covering an increasingly wet spot in the fabric. Her ministrations stopped, leaving his penis standing proud and stiff in front of the expectant Hellhound.

Zana's eyes curled up, and a deep growl emanated from her, the kind of sound a starving beast would make upon catching a meal. A line of hot saliva dripped from her open mouth onto his chest. She drew herself up to mount him and only then seemed to notice that her trousers were in the way. She rose to her full height, tore her belt through its loops and flung them aside. Her claws furiously worked at the button and zipper, impatience making them sloppy. In an instant, she wrestled herself free, exposing her muscled ebony legs. Muscles rippled beneath the night-coloured fur. Her wide thighs travelled for ages, meeting at her glistening and thoroughly soaked crotch. A bead of sweat glistened on her matted pubic hair. The ring of keys jingled as she kicked the trouser off her foot.

Zana positioned herself over his aching member. Beads of excitement glistened along her bare nethers, free of even a single strand of hair. Her paw trembled as she aligned him against her pussy. His penis looked tiny against the Hellhound’s huge body. Her wild eyes met his own, and she plunged down.

He groaned as an inferno raged around his body, traveling through his cock and spreading inside him. He felt some resistance as Zana went deeper, who let out a low whine as he parted her quivering insides. With a grunt, she forced herself lower and lower until she hilted him inside her, covering his entire cock in hot writhing muscle. Cement screeched as her claws gouged into the floor.

She paused for several moments, panting. After collecting her bearings, she pushed upwards with her legs, sliding her up along his shaft. Her flesh gripped his cock tight, almost unwilling to let go. He shivered in anticipation as she reached the apex of his length. She slammed down and the room spun. It took every fiber of concentration to avoid exploding from that one motion. He cried out as she repeated it, desperately trying to keep a clear mind.

As awkward and unpracticed her movements were, he found Zana's persistence and fit body made for a pleasurable, if unnerving experience. Strange, crooning growls punctuated the slapping of her wet flesh against his. Her unblinking eyes glowed a harsh orange, coloured by the twin plumes of fire leaping from the corners of her eyes. It felt as if the room had risen a dozen degrees or two from the heat of their activity. Drops of sweat covered her dark skin, flying off her body as she slammed down on him, blotting his soaked chest and sizzling against the concrete. A wonderful warmth filled his lower body, a sensation he fought to delay.

Her tail brushed against his leg, and that was the last straw. He exploded into her for the first of many times. Her walls constricted around him, as if they sensed their victory. Zana threw her head back in a furious howl as she squeezed the thick cum out of him, every drop of his unspoiled essence being consumed by her ravenous womb. A torrent of wetness flooded from her, soaking their lower bodies. The light bulb popped, leaving the room dark except for Zana’s eyes.

He focused on the sensation of her huge, firm ass squish against his balls and thighs as her muscles sucked at his hypersensitive cock without reprieve. Lava hot saliva drizzled onto his face from the long red tongue lolling from her open mouth. After several agonizing moments, her legs buckled. He felt the air leave his lungs as two hundred and fifty pounds of heaving Hellhound leaned against him. They laid there for a while, sweaty pale skin against sweltering black. His cock slipped out of her, leaving a thin strand of cum connecting them.

Her arms lay against his chest, while her fuzzy legs were entwined with his own. The air moved as her tail swung lazily behind her. He felt like he was under a weighted blanket. An aggressive, willful blanket with twitching, fluffy ears. Against his better judgement, he reached for them. Zana gasped as he grasped the soft fur. She jerked her head clear of his hands and grabbed his wrists. Her expression morphed into a toothy feral grin as she hunched onto her unsteady legs. Black keratin claws yanked his ankles into the air, exposing whatever dignity he had left. Her drenched pubis rubbed against his shaft, instantly erecting it. The dark lips of her pussy slipped around the head of his cock, ready for another round.

"Wait, Zana! I need some time."

“No,” she rasped, and plunged down on him. He held in his groan as the warm basement air was replaced by scalding depths of her body. He wondered if Hellhounds burned penises. The question slipped from his mind as she gave him a welcoming squeeze. She grunted as she thrust down on him. Zana was a quick learner, and her previous experience served her well, keeping her movements strong and steady as she held his legs in the air like an Amazon would.

Zana looked comfortable, and that bothered him. He relished her gasp as he grabbed her thighs, fingers sinking into the bulging muscle. He thrust upwards into her, interrupting her rhythm. A deep growl rumbled from her throat, and she slammed down with increased fury. Every time she dropped herself down, she pulled up on his ankles, driving him even deeper into her. Her intense movements quickened as their back and forth dragged on, aiming to end the fight before fatigue set in. He felt his second loss coming, and tried to distract himself. He found his hand travelling up her firm waist and rubbing at her hard, toned abs that would put any man to shame. It was fortunate that she kept it covered with that stylish suit. His hands wandered over to her buttocks, the one that had pulled at his attention so many times over the years. Surely, she wouldn't mind. He gripped the supple flesh and squeezed as hard as he could. She jumped slightly, and let out a muted yelp. She shuddered as her insides squeezed him again, like lava flowing around and enveloping an unfortunate rock. She was so cute. He erupted inside her again.

This time, Zana gave him even less time. She bowled him over, pinning his ankles next to his ears. Her face was right over his, a mere centimeter from contact. Her furry arms wrapped around his back, pulling his sweltering body tight against her sweaty, hard figure. She had him pinned against the ground, the only movement being her hips slamming against his with ever increasing intensity. Her unblinking eyes started to glaze as they burned a blinding yellow. Her chest heaved as she took in great gasps of his scent. She panted as her tongue lapped nonstop at his face, painting it wet with her saliva. His overworked hindbrain noted her tongue looked a little lonely. He decided to listen to his better judgment, and kissed her warm tongue. He was rewarded with a surprised yelp. He liked hearing that sound. Zana's eyes widened as he planted several more kisses along her tongue before meeting her lips with his own. They were firm, and surprisingly smooth. She moaned into his mouth, savouring the kiss for a moment before pulling back. She jammed her lips into his with renewed vigor, teeth awkwardly mashing against his. Her tongue gingerly poked between his lips, as if it was afraid of whatever lay in wait. It slid along his gums and teeth, slow and gentle. How unexpected of her. He met her tongue with his own. They wrestled together, growing more confident in their movements.

In the haze of his mind, he noticed that her ears were again within reach. His fingers found her fluffy, perky ears. She groaned as he stroked them without restraint, his thumbs digging through the delicate grey fur on the pinna while his fingers scratched the thick black fuzz at the back. Gods, she felt amazing. Zana squeaked as his ministrations grew stronger, and deepened the kiss, her tongue slobbering all over his mouth. Well-mixed saliva spilled from their mouths, dripping from their chins and being flung around the room whenever she slammed her hips against him. He shuddered as she assaulted him from both ends, and the room grew fuzzy. She whimpered as he took a hand off her ear and slid it down to her hair, running his fingers through the smooth, dark locks. She leaned into his hand as he dragged it over her scalp. A massive paw pressed against his head and tousled his blond hair, making a mess of it before gently smoothing it back.

His lungs burned, but he couldn’t bring himself to break their kiss. Her unbelievably tight pussy slid smoothly around his slick cock, pearly white foam spilling with every movement. Her drenched body pressed into his against the warm concrete, hips ramming down with ever increasing frequency as she grew desperate to relieve him before she too ran out of breath. Pressure built up in his strained nethers, and the burning sensation became unbearable. Her tongue entwined itself around his own while insides constricted for the final time. Far more semen rushed from his drained balls than he thought possible, once again painting her womb and insides slick with his genes. Her thighs and abdomen tensed, and she howled his name into his mouth as her hind claws screeched, leaving deep troughs in the concrete. Her scream drowned out his own as his chest burned white hot, boiling, roasting, scalding, aching, freezing, then nothing.

At last, she ripped her lips away from his. He gasped and breathed in as deeply as he possibly could, trying to avoid choking on the saliva filling his mouth. Her chest heaved against his as she took deep raspy breaths. She placed a paw against his chest and rose with shaky legs to let his cock flop out of her, a thick bridge of semen still connecting them. She lurched and fell onto her side next to him, panting. His penis rested on her thigh as the last dredges of cum left him, oozing lines of pearly white cum against her coal-coloured skin. Her eyes were distant and lidded, and the flames had died to gentle embers. The room was warm, as if it had been turned into an oven. The smell of sex and brimstone permeated the air. He slid his hand across the cracked floor, and said a silent prayer for the abused concrete.

Chad winced as sensation returned to his body. Zana hadn’t held back. He had survived a one-on-one with a Hellhound, and he felt every bit of it. Dull pain registered all around his sweaty body, no doubt bruised from Zana’s vigorous movements. He felt his back and winced. He must have rubbed it raw against the floor. Thank goodness she hadn’t taken off his shirt. Dread filled him as he inspected his loins. Tomorrow would be hell, if he even got through today.

The ring of keys lay in her discarded pants, next to a bulky flashlight. His head felt clear, and energy flowed through his body. It was a different kind of energy, different from the hollow strength he got from coffee or energy drinks. For the first time in months, he felt anticipation. Monster girls really were something else.

He rolled the can of monster spray in his hand. It was the extra strength aerosol variant, concentrated tear gas infused with pepper flakes. A friend in manufacturing had let loose that realm silver particles were interspersed inside to disrupt monster mana, even if they technically weren’t included on the label. He didn’t have the heart to use it. It wouldn’t accomplish anything anyway.

He glanced at Zana. Her huge body rose and fell with her breathing. His cum dripped from her lips rolled down her coal skin in pearly white streams. Her matted tail brushed against his arm as it swung. Despite everything that had just happened, he felt his abused penis tingle as the furry appendage waved in front of him. Surely, she wouldn’t mind. He grasped her tail and stroked the sinuous length. It was firm and lined with thick black fur. He sighed as he placed his semen-covered cock against her tail. The strands of fur slid against him, warm and inviting and comforting, everything the real world was not. He wrapped her tail around him, and it seemed all too glad to coil around him. He pushed it in deeper, and gently thrusted. He moved slowly into her tail, enjoying the sensation as it gradually became slick with fluids. He spasmed, and his cum dribbled into the depths of her tail.

“The fuck?!” Zana ripped her tail out from his grasp. She twisted to look at her semen-encrusted tail. “You horny fuck.” She gave him a tired look.

He held his hands up in apology. “I’m sorry. Your tail is the best, Zana.”

“Shut up. I don’t need to know that.” Zana looked back at her messy tail. She bent down and drew her tongue through it. After a few passes, her tail was as neat and clean as it ever was. Somehow, the fur looked even glossier than before. Zana swallowed his collected semen with a gulp. Her face flushed, and she turned away.

They sat in silence. He tried not to stare as she cleaned herself up. She was whispering to herself. She looked like she was on the verge of tears.

"What's wrong?" He reached over to her. She flinched and grabbed his wrist. She glared at him before letting go. Undeterred, he reached again, brushing her ear. He began running his hand over her hair, and her eyes closed.

“I’m going to regret this,” she muttered. “Why did I do this?”

“Because of my irresistible charm, of course.” He smirked.

“You fucking wish.” She growled, but he sensed the playfulness in her tone. “It was just a moment of weakness.” They sat for a while.

“At least I don’t have to worry about getting jumped now,” he said. Zana let out a miserable whimper and covered her face.

Zana shifted onto her haunches and turned to him. Cum dripped from between her spread legs. “Did you mean what you said earlier? Or were you just trying to distract me to get at my keys?”

“You knew?”

“I’d be one shitty guard if I couldn’t see what you were trying. Thought I’d see where you’d take it.”

“Thanks for humouring me.”

“Forget it. About what you said earlier...” She picked at the floor with a claw.

He’d never seen her so vulnerable. He’d unloaded all his frustrations on her, and she had done nothing to deserve it. And here he sat with nothing more than a few bruises and a burn in retaliation. Not even a broken bone. “Zana. Everything I said to you was a load of shit. I was being pathetic-”

“Yea, you are.”

That hurt, and he deserved it. “I am, and because of that I said stupid things to you. Stupid, unfounded crap against the only person who bothered to treated me well. You’ve always been good to me. You don’t deserve to hear that, and I’m sorry.”

Zana leaned forward. “It hurts to hear that, even if I’m a Hellhound.”

“I know. Zana, in all my time here I’ve never known a better guard. You’re serious, responsible, and professional, even if you swear like a Cheshire off her meds. You care about the people around you, and everyone knows you’re the most reliable.” That was half-true. Most people complained about her being on their asses about regulations, but they obviously respected her enough not to do it again in front of her. “Even though I’m surrounded by monsters, I always feel safe around you.”

“I see.” Her voice was quiet, but her ears perked. “Thanks, I guess.”

He wasn’t done. She deserved to hear it all. “You’re really pretty too. You’re so well-groomed and stylish. Call me a liar, but you put all the businesswomen here to shame in that suit, and they know it. I like your fluffy ears, the way your bushy tail wags is cute, and you’re muscular in a hot way. And that ass, I could just sink into-”

“Alright, I get it, that’s enough!” He sputtered as she struck him in the chest. “That’s not what I want, though.” She looked shyer than he had ever seen her. Her cheeks were flushed a hot red, and her tail was going so fast he felt wind.

He kissed her, and she didn’t resist.

“Okay,” she said as they parted. She repeated it, as if talking to herself. She slid her paw over his chest, where an angry red burn had formed. It throbbed at her touch.

She looked at him with a determined glint in her eye. “You got fired.”

“Yea.”

“You won’t let that go, will you?”

“I’ll regret it if I do.”

She sighed. “Then you need to be cleaned up.” She started gathering up his clothes.

“You won’t stop me?”

“I’ll help with whatever you need. But this won’t end well. The people here, the things I’ve seen and done…”

“I’ll make it work.”

Large paws enveloped his wrist. “Just don’t go around pissing off monster girls. You saw how it turned out with me.”

“Only because I knew you’d go easy on me. I always knew you were a good girl, Zana.”

She turned away from him. Fortunately for him, she wore her emotions on her not-so-hidden tail. He resisted the urge to grab and stroke the wagging appendage. “And no more of that spiralling shit, okay? I get sad just watching it.”

He winced. “Yea, I know. Sorry.”

“You better be. I won’t tolerate my mate being that pathetic.”

Mate. That word sounded strange to his ears. A clinical term for a lover, one half of a pair that nurtured and supported each other, the kind he’d seen so many times in stories and textbooks. A person worthy of love. It didn’t feel right, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

He stared into her eyes and nodded. “Do you have any cloth?” He motioned towards his drenched lower half.

Zana tilted her head. “Hold still.” She took his limp penis in her paw. He almost jumped as her bulky arm wrapped around his butt. He grabbed onto her head to keep himself from falling over. Her eyelids closed halfway as she took in a deep gulp of their combined scents. Her rough tongue drew along his thighs, testes, and shaft, slobbering all over them as she cleaned off the fluids. He waited with held breath for the inevitable gnashing of canine teeth into his oversensitive penis. To his surprise, it never came. Zana’s movements were slow and hesitant as her tongue looped around his frenulum. Calling her technique even basic was a stretch, yet he found himself enjoying her persistent yet careful movements. He sighed and looked to the ceiling. This was nice.

He groaned as a claw dug into his thigh, shocking him out of his reverie. Her orange eyes glared up at him. Don’t look away, her gaze said. If she wanted attention, she would have it. He took hold of her ears and stroked them, and was rewarded with a muffled squeak. Her tongue poked back at him with increased ferocity, and dug into his urethra. She began moving her lips up and down his cock. He dug his fingers into the tufts in her ear. One of her eyes squeezed shut as he hit a particularly sensitive area. The flames at her eyes flared, lightly singing his abdomen. Her tail blurred as it shook back and forth. The seal around his cock tightened as her smooth lips wiped away the residue of their earlier sex. Her mouth left his penis with a pop, leaving his length clean and slightly wet with saliva. He felt oddly cool now that he had left her boiling embrace, despite the now-warm basement air.

"Wait, Zana. Just a little more," he said as she stood up with a wince. Her intense cleanup had left him hard again.

She turned away. "That's what you get for touching my ears." She stumbled to the tap at the wall.

So much for a clear mind. Chad once again found himself drawn to her plump buttocks and wide swaying hips, not to mention her sleek tail. This day was proving to be a strange one. Fired without notice. Mating pressed by a Hellhound in some dank forgotten basement. And now he had blue balls despite being wrung dry.

Zana turned the tap on with a rusty squeak. She tossed him a wet handkerchief. Silence overtook the room as he began the task of making himself presentable. He tried to ignore her ogling gaze as he restored dignity to his nethers.

"Cute briefs," said Zana, dressed in her prim black suit. Her expression was calm, as if nothing had happened between them. He looked at her ruffled hair and cracked a smile. Not so perfect after all. “I smell mint.”

"I learned after the first couple accidents on the job. Had to hide the smell somehow."

She smirked. "What kind of accidents?"

“I’m sure you’ve noticed, but there’s many beautiful women here, you included.”

“Consider me surprised.”

“Yes, and most of them are also pretty aggressive, and that makes it difficult to get anything done around here.” He tried to avoid using the word ‘hard’. “Mint won’t make things worse, at least.”

She eyed his body as he buttoned his shirt. “You still get accidents these days?”

“You’ll have to pay for that kind of information.” He winked.

She rolled her eyes. “Kinda pictured you as a chastity belt kind of guy.”

“Never saw the point.” It seemed more like a fetish to him than anything. “I’m already screwed if a tiny metal plate is the only thing between me and a jacked up monster. Like the one standing in front of me.”

“Fuck off.” Zana’s cheeks flushed just the tiniest bit. “There’s always goons around the men here, anyway.”

“Security? They’re half the reason guys would consider getting a chastity belt anyway. I don’t exactly think the new guards are our best and brightest.”

“It wasn’t always that bad,” said Zana. She looked down at the stained floor. “We lost a lot of people after the siege.”

“I always liked that Ushi-Oni,” said Chad. He remembered her friendly chatter betraying her grim visage. “She was nice.”

“That was Carla,” she said, smiling. “A real professional. They shitcanned her after she courted one of the accounting guys. I know Ushi’s that could do good work here, but management won’t take them on anymore. They didn’t ‘fit the company image’, whatever that means.” Her ears drooped slightly.

“I miss her.”

“We miss a lot of people here, Chad.” Years of coworkers and acquaintances flashed through his mind, many gone too soon. “But enough sappy shit. Show me the spray.”

She inspected the innocent grey can in her hands with an amused look.

“Is it that bad?” It was banned on paper, but there was precedence in its use for self defence.

"You got the aerosol version. This shit will get everywhere if you use it inside."

He shrugged. "I don't consider it my plan A."

"They’re not going to stand there and wait while you pull that out, ya know? "

“Are you afraid they'll hurt me?”

“They’ll want a taste of you, and I’m really not in a sharing mood.” She tossed the can back to him. "Keep it for now. But if you get any of that crap onto me, I'm throwing you back in here myself."

“You didn’t hurt me too badly.”

“Any monster worth their shit won’t hurt you, but some of the people here are worth fuckall. You fuck one girl, then another, and by the time you’re done there’s a big fucking rainbow over the building telling everyone you’re open for business. I won’t stand by, but if every pent up girl and her slut friends gets their gram of flesh from you, there won’t be anything left for me to save.” Zana pressed her finger into his chest. “Get it?”

“I don’t have to be a pain in your ass. Let me go alone.”

“No.” Her fiery eyes illuminated the dark room. “I gotta make sure you don’t do stupid shit, remember?”

He stroked her tail, perhaps a bit too hard.

“Stop that. Asshole.” She flicked her tail out of his reach, still wagging a bit.

She would be cuter if she was honest, but this was okay too. He looked into her warm eyes and for the first time in months, he felt warm inside.