“Can I help who’s next?” the bank teller asked.
A short, dark-skinned woman in her early thirties wearing a dark business suit walked up to the counter.
“Good morning, my name is Rubina Saanvi I’m with the SEC I think you’ve been expecting me,” Rubina flashed the teller her SEC ID badge.
Blood drained from the teller’s face. He was a skinny man around her age dressed in a dark suit and tie. He wore glasses in front of an oval-shaped head that had been shaved to ironically avoid looking like he was balding. The other bank tellers to the right of him looked on anxiously as if they too had been dreading this moment.
“Oh I-I’m sorry. Yes, you’re absolutely right we have been expecting you! Welcome to Sun Hammer Financial Center! My Gary is name I mean my name is Gary! Sorry, I’m a bit of a spazz today. Long weekend!” He laughed anxiously.
“Nervous about something?” She asked.
“What? Nervous? Me!? I’ve never been calmer in my life! Come right this way I’ll show you around and we can get this audit started.
The vaults of Sun Hammer Banking weren’t anything too imaginative. They were typically the kind of metal vaults used by nearly every bank in the country and outside. All along the corridor of the back office were giant chrome metal boxes that stored thousands of dollars, bonds, and stock shares.
“As you can see our vaults are composed of solid titanium steel and very secure. So secure, in fact, that there hasn’t been a single attempted robbery in the entire history of Sun Hammer’s operations,” the teller smiled proudly.
Rubina walked down the hallway peering into each room and gave each of the metal vaults a quick glance. Looking on, the teller appeared to relax as he watched the SEC agent smile and nod in a satisfactory manner at each vault.
“Impressive display. I know that I wouldn’t be worried if I stored my cash here,” she said.
“I know right? Actually, hold on. You know what? I really am a spazz, I totally forgot I had something to give you!”
Spinning around, the teller beelined to an office at the end of the hallway. A moment later, the teller emerged holding a large manila folder in his hands. After running back down the hallway with an eager smile on his face, he handed the folder over to her.
“I understand that a large part of this audit is due to some inconsistencies made in our annual reports. Wouldn’t you know it, that that lousy financial calculating software we installed still has some bugs in it? If you read this new report you’ll find that all of our receipts and finances have been corrected.”
Flipping through the pages, Rubina skimmed through the new documents. To the best of her knowledge, the errors in the original report had indeed been remedied. Any financial advisor worth their degree would see the report and tell you that it was a lucid detailed account on the earnings of any successful bank. Unfortunately for Sun Hammer, she knew the horrifying truth. Closing the folder, she placed the document into her purse.
“Well then, perhaps my trip to the Catskills may have been for nothing,” Rubina said smiling.
“It’s perfectly all right. Everyone here at Sun Hammer is always happy to cooperate with the SEC,” the teller said.
“I’m happy to hear that. Let’s see now, I have almost everything I need to mark this audit complete. I just need two more things then I can go on my way.”
“Excellent! I have everything you need ready and available.”
“Good, then first I would like to see the rest.”
The teller’s smile cracked.
“The rest? I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“I think you do. In all fairness, you and the rest of the staff should be commended on the vaults, they really do look authentic. Good for drawing attention away from the real valuables that are under our feet.”
“I-I’m not following you.”
“Do not patronize me, sir. If you want to make this audit disappear then you’ll need to lead me to the rest of the money. Otherwise, I’ll come back next week with a subpoena. It’s your choice.”
“W-wasn’t there a second thing you wanted?” Gary was tugging at his tie, he had begun to sweat.
“I’d like to have a word with your boss.”
“Oh, did I not mention? I am the manager.”
“Yes, I’m sure you all worked out quite the little arrangement. You or one of your co-workers play the face, handle the customers and take home some golden coins all while he pulls the strings from down below. My point is, we know Gary. Everyone at the SEC knows about what really lies beneath this building.”
There is a brief but sublime moment when someone’s face changes to pure dread. When the listener hears the absolute worst thing they could hear and all pretenses of decorum have been discarded and all that’s left is a vaguely human-shaped mask of primal fear. That mask was now on Gary and it stared directly at Rubina
“Y-you’re crazy! I don’t know what you’re high on but I’m going to call and report you to the SEC!”
“Okay, I’ll go. You’ll be hearing from us soon. Enjoy telling your boss how well the audit went.”
She walked towards the exit as if she was actually going to leave. She even made so far as walking halfway through the hallway’s entrance before a panicked voice called out to her.
She turned around and met Gary’s eyes with an expectant look on her face.
“Follow me,” his voice had dried into a whisper.
As they walked past the vaults the ominous sound of both of their expensive shoes tapping on the clean tile floors filled the air with each step. At the end of the hallway, they opened and walked through a small door. Inside was an otherwise average looking office. The wall to the right was lined with bookcases and straight ahead was a desk with a silver Mac desktop computer resting on it.
The teller walked over behind the desk and reached for a thermostat on the wall. Flipping open the thermostat revealed an electric keypad which the teller pressed a series of beeps into. By Rubina’s count, the combination was over a dozen numbers long.
With a final beep, something behind the wall clicked and with a grinding sound, the wall suddenly slid open revealing an entrance. The pair were greeted by a gust of cold wind that blew out from the passageway. The change was surreal, only a moment ago there was just a blank wall now there was a doorway in this cluttered office whose steps seemed to lead down into a dark sub-basement of the bank.
“Its pretty dark down there, we’ll need these,” the teller reached into the desk and pulled out a torch and matches.
“Shall we?” She extended her arm towards the howling abyss.
The teller looked on at the darkness anxiously, he seemed desperate for any excuse to stall.
“Ms. Saavni, Rubina right? Look, we really don’t have to do this. Why don’t we all just go on about our business? Please, for God’s sake just submit those data sheets I gave you! I’m begging you don’t make me bring us to him.”
“We can discuss all of this downstairs with your boss.”
As she said this a tremor of fear jolted her body. She had been claustrophobic and afraid of the dark all her life but she knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she drove to the Catskills. Time was money and she didn’t have time to be afraid. Turning his fearful head towards the passageway, the teller gulped nervously as he lit the torch. The two entered the doorway and walked down the staircase.
Down into the dark.
As they journeyed into the underground, the amber glow of the torch revealed step after step each one descending in a spiral direction. Occasionally, the teller would swing the torch irritably at some bats that came screeching out from the dark like one might shoo a fly. Rubina hardly noticed the bats, she had much bigger things on her mind.
After a long walk down the spiraled staircase, the two had made it to the underground. Ahead of them was a dark tunnel that lead towards a tiny pale blue light in the distance. They followed the light until they eventually came upon its source.
“Aren’t you coming?” She turned back looking at the teller.
“Oh um, w-well you said this is between you and our boss. I uh-wouldn’t want to get in the way of things so I’ll just be right here,” the teller laughed anxiously.
“Very well, this shouldn’t take long.”
Taking a deep breath, Rubina stepped past the ancient runes and headed into the tunnel. Following a glittering light straight ahead, she walked further unto she came upon a vast a room where suddenly it wasn’t so dark. There was no mistaking it, this was the room that she was looking for.
Standing alone, she stared in awe at a room whose size seemed to defy physics. Deep beneath the carpeted floors of Sun Hammer was a cavern the size of several football fields. An impossible cave of unexplainable beauty, the type of sight that you might glimpse only in dreams.
Treasure, shining, glittering treasure was everywhere. As far as the eye could see there were gold, diamonds, and jewels piled on top of each other. It was like staring at sand dunes made out of hundreds of lottery jackpots. She was surrounded by priceless valuables that looked to come from all corners of the world.
There were opened pirate chests overflowing with golden coins, a golden sarcophagus of some forgotten Pharaoh decorated with ancient rubies beneath a content golden face. Adjacent to the sarcophagus, an ancient golden sculpted ox stared on indifferently towards pyramids made entirely out of stacks of $100 dollar bills. Anyone coming within arms reach of such a tempting sight could be forgiven for becoming mad with greed and racing to stuff there pockets in a frenzy.
Only once their pockets were full would they notice just how swelteringly hot it was inside the pit.
Rubina picked up a handful of golden coins from the pile closest to her. With a look of bemusement on her face, she let the golden circles rain from her hand clattering back to the pile. In the corner of her eye, she also caught a look at the pile of charred human skulls and bones lying amongst the priceless valuables.
Slowly, from the depths of the enormous treasure cave came a slow grumble. That grumble quickly turned into a ferocious roar that rattled the earth and echoed through the cavern. Wincing, she covered her ears as the roar became an inhuman screeching scream. She prayed that the scream wouldn’t burst her eardrums. It was the scream of a dark forbidden language that mankind was never meant to know.
Shifting in the darkness beyond the treasure, there came two golden slits that unfolded into thin black pupils that reminded her of feline eyes. Then, in a terrifying lunge, a giant reptilian head the size of a school bus shot out from the dark. Thundering with each step, the obsidian scales covering its body made the giant lizard stand out like a sinister crawling shadow amongst the shining colorful treasure. Terribly sharp bronze spikes poked out from behind the creature’s head, continuing on to its back acting as a divider for the two large twitching leather wings that flexed in agitation.
Screeching still, the beast suddenly began to cough and make a choking sound as large fireballs shot out from its maw with each burst. To her mind’s comprehension, it seemed to make a noise as though it were clearing its throat. Finally, it stopped and those golden cat eyes turned towards the SEC agent.
“SORRY, MORNING BREATH,” the towering monstrosity leered as flames billowed from its nostrils.
“IN THE AEONS BEFORE THE UNIVERSE TOOK FORM, THE OLD ONES NAMED ME YAM-NAHAR. IN THE TIME OF MAN, THEY NAMED ME BRENDICROIT, THE DARK. TODAY, YOU MAY KNOW ME AS THE GENERAL MANAGER OF SUN HAMMER FINANCIAL CENTER. HOW MAY I HELP YOU?” it was a deep gravelly voice that smelled like burning tar.
“Rubina Saanvi, I’m from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in regards to an audit,” she instinctively flashed her ID.
“MERLIN’S TITS. THAT WAS TODAY? WHERE’S GARY? DIDN’T HE GIVE YOU THAT NEW REPORT?”
“Yes, the new report you had written up was excellent you’d never guess what it was masking. Unfortunately, we’ve been tracking your actual records and we’ve noticed huge discrepancies in your earnings and inventory. According to our reports, there is too little to show for the vast amount of riches that go into this bank. Also, keeping your bank’s deposits haphazardly in a giant underground cave is generally frowned upon by the SEC.”
“OH DEAR, THAT SOUNDS SERIOUS,” it chuckled the way she always imagined the monster under her childhood bed did.
“WOMAN, PERHAPS I DIDN’T MAKE MYSELF CLEAR. I AM BRENDICROIT, SON OF JORMUNGAND THE MIDGARD SERPENT WHO BROUGHT ABOUT THE ANCIENT GOD’S DESTRUCTION AT RAGNAROK. MANKIND ONLY EVER DARED TO LEAVE YOUR CAVES BECAUSE I GAVE YOU THE GIFT OF FIRE! DESPAIR, FOR I WAS THE ONE WHO ATE BEOWULF!”
“That reminds me, we also have yet to see any qualification for you to manage a bank in the first place,” she tried not to break eye contact as she slowly reached for something in her bag.
“IMPOSSIBLE! I TOOK AN ONLINE COURSE!”
“You know that you’re operating an illegal bank. The increase in business isn’t just attracting treasure hunters. Now, normal hard-working people are creating accounts with you and having their money tossed into a huge pile of gold.”
“HMMRPH. I WOULDN’T EXPECT YOU TO UNDERSTAND. ANY FOOL CAN GO OUT SEARCHING FOR TREASURE LIKE A DRUNKEN SEA CAPTAIN BUT IT TAKES REAL BRAINS TO HAVE THE TREASURE BROUGHT TO YOU. CREATING A BANK AS SECURE AS SUN HAMMER WAS THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO THE LITTLE PEOPLE OF THIS LITTLE TOWN. WHAT OF IT IF A FEW DOLLARS GOT LOST IN THE TIDE? NOBODY GOT HURT.”
“Nobody?” she gestured towards the pile of charred human bones.
“HONESTLY, MUST I EXPLAIN THE JOY THAT COMES FROM TELLING AN EMPLOYEE ‘THEY’RE FIRED’ RIGHT BEFORE INCINERATING THE FLESH FROM THEIR TINY BONES?”
“ I see, so am I to understand that a factor in terminating your employees is a desire for puns?”
“Mhmm,” she made a disapproving face as she jotted down something on her clipboard.
That hideous screeching roar returned.
“I DON’T NEED TO LISTEN TO THIS! TO HELL WITH YOU AND YOUR AUDIT! NOW BURN! BURN LIKE ALL THE OTHERS!”
Flapping its wings, the roaring mass of black scales and bronze spikes hissed a torrent of hellish fire. The flames were hotter than any flame known to man and they were heading straight towards her. In a few seconds, she would join the pile of crispy human remains on the floor.
Or she would have if she didn’t have the flute.
As she felt her eyebrows singe off, Rubina brought the ancient flute to her mouth. She ignored the taste of dust and tree bark and blew a single shrill note. The sound over-powered the roar of the fire as the penetrating sound of the flute rang in the treasure cavern like hell’s tea-kettle. Once the flames reached her, they suddenly curved away from her almost as if the creature’s hell breath knew that it wasn’t welcome.
“WAIT…..WHAT?” The fire-breathing lizard stared dumbfounded.
With her eyes closed, she continued to blow out the three single notes. It was the tune of “Hot Cross Buns” the only song she knew how to play on the recorder. The flute sounded severely out of tune but it did its job. The ancient reptile’s fire twisted and danced all around her forming intricate shapes and patterns but not once did they burn her. The soaring jet of fire twirled around her a few more times before combining into a large fireball above the sea of jewels and exploded into a powerful display of autumn colored fireworks.
Given the monster’s face, it might have been difficult to discern but from where she stood, Rubina knew that for the second time today, she was staring at a face with the look of unspeakable dread.
“WHERE….DID YOU GET-“
“Hold still and listen,” she blew another note from the flute.
In a single spasm of muscles, the bronze spiked body suddenly became frozen in place. Rigor mortis couldn’t have done a better job. Like a predator caught in a trap, the creature hissed and struggled to move but it was all in vain.
“The SEC has been around for a long time,” she explained calmly as she lowered the legendary flute of H.R. BELPHEGOR THE DRAGON TAMER from her lips.
“Do you understand now Brendicroit? You were never going to escape the SEC. We know everything about you. I was sent here to hold you accountable and I’m very good at my job,” she tried to appear in control but her hands were trembling and her heart was pounding like a jackhammer.
“RELEASE ME WOMAN OR-“
“Roll over,” she blew another shrill note.
“WHAT? NO! DAMN YOU! ”
The fire-breathing terror began rolling in the treasure beneath him. The pyramids made of $100’s were knocked over as he steamrolled over the treasure dunes. Golden coins and rubies were scattering everywhere.
“Enough,” she said
The giant reptile stopped mid-roll on its back and looked at with furious cat eyes.
“Do you finally know who is in charge now or do I need to put you on a leash and take you out for a walk?”
“JOKES ON YOU. I’M INTO THAT.”
Unamused, Rubina tore off a receipt of the audit from her clipboard and placed it on the ground.
“As of this moment, Sun Hammer is finished. I and everyone else at the SEC will sort through the valuables and refund your clients.”
“VERY WELL, I KNOW WHEN I’M BEATEN. NOW, WHY DON’T YOU PUT THE FLUTE DOWN AS A SYMBOL OF FRIENDSHIP?”
“I have everything I need here, I’ll leave you to close up,” as she turned her back on the treasure pit and made towards the exit she heard another roar.
“YOU THINK YOU’RE SO CLEVER?! THIS ISN’T OVER!”
“It is Brendicroit, it’s time for you to shut down your bank. Now get to it,” she blew a final note into the flute.
With the sounds of hellish screeching and thrashing behind her, she held on to the flute and her bag for dear life and began running. With wisps of smoke still trailing off her frazzled hair and office clothes, she nearly crashed into Gary when she reached the tunnel entrance.
“So everything’s okay then?” Gary asked as she raced past them.
“Run!” She yelled as she grabbed a torch hanging from a wall and sprinted back the way they came.
Violent tremors shook the underground tunnel, the roof of the underground tunnel looked like it was beginning to crack. Any moment there could be a cave in. Running in the dark, she could hear the sound of running and clanking armor behind her as Gary and Dennis desperately tried to catch up. She was pleased to find she still had some luck left, as it wasn’t hard finding her way out, she just had to follow the trail of frantic rats and bats racing to escape. Soon she found her way to the foot of the stone staircase.
With the frightened bank teller behind her, Rubina ran up the stairs as fast as they could. Just when she thought she could see the office room light up ahead, a violent tremor caused her to stumble but she caught herself before she could fall back downstairs to certain death.
“We’re almost there! Hurry!” Rubina yelled tryin to keep herself steady as she raced up the staircase.
Debris fell from the ceiling, nearly crushing her as the rumbling grew increasingly more violent with each passing second. Finally, the trio made it to the top of the staircase and back into the office behind the vaults. Above ground wasn’t much safer, there was pandemonium breaking out in the bank lobby.
A piece of the ceiling fell off and flattened an ATM in a shower of sparks and crushed metal. No one in the bank much less Moorseville was used to an earthquake so there was mass confusion and hysteria as everyone tried to find safety. Everyone, customers and tellers alike stampeded out of Sun Hammer with Rubina and Gary trailing behind.
Outside a large crowd had gathered, it seemed like everyone in Mooresville were drawn to the chaos like ants to a picnic. Everyone watched in awe, as cracks grew all along the stone walls and red cobblestone roof. It was only after the last straggler made it outside that the bank began rocking back and forth. Then, like a fragile glass statue, the beautiful stone building began to collapse.
One after the next, each of the bank’s marble pillars broke and crumbled to the ground in a loud crash. People gasped as the golden chalice in the colorful stained glass window shattered into a rainbow explosion of glass shards as the bank’s roof caved in. All anyone could do was dodge the raining glass and watch as the mighty bank fell leaving behind nothing but a mushroom cloud of dust. Once the dust settled, Rubina brushed herself off and walked to the front of the bank’s ruins trying to look professional.
“I imagine you all have some questions,” she said.
“It’s gone. It’s all gone,” Gary said in a disbelieving daze. One of the lenses of his glasses had popped out.
“I can imagine this is all very shocking and I apologize for eradicating your jobs but the SEC will ensure that Sun Hammer provides severance packages. Once we have a team recover everything from the pit, everyone with an account at Sun Hammer will be refunded in full.”
As soon as she said that, a surging roar came from the crater.
In a fiery blaze, a wall of hellfire burst from the crater. Then, just as suddenly, a gigantic fire-breathing lizard rocketed out from the flames like a demon from hell. People screamed and fled while others stood around in astonishment taking photos on their phone. The winged nightmare was still yelling and cursing in a dark forbidden language as it soared off far away towards the cloudy mountains.
Getting her wits together, she tried not to throw up then and there. She had shut down Sun Hammer and delivered a warning to Brendicroit. Rubina would be feeling much more triumphant if not for the looming thought of everything she would have to include in her final report on the audit.
A moment ago she had humiliated a creature older than humanity like it was nothing, now she was anxious about some paperwork. Standing there amongst the horrified and awed crowd in her extra crispy suit, near hyperventilating from the chaos of that morning, she was beginning to feel light-headed when suddenly she heard a voice.
“Jesus Christ is that a fucking dragon?!” Someone yelled.
“Another audit successfully completed,” Rubina smiled to herself.
Brushing herself off, the SEC Agent made her way through the frenzy of startled onlookers and walked towards the nearest bar. She could still hear the inhuman roar gradually growing fainter in the sky but eventually she stopped paying attention.