Chapter Sixteen Continued
The Iron Fortress
A tall woman, dressed in a khaki uniform, approached them. ‘Welcome to The Processing Centre, may I help you?’ she smiled at them through thick red lips.
‘Yes, we’re looking for the Main Tower,’ said Willow.
‘Certainly, if you just follow the central path through the Processing Yard you will reach the Tower in a few moments,’ she said, pointing the way with a bright red fingernail. ‘Don’t look so scared, the Afterlife isn’t like this, this is just the Processing Centre. Here we have to make sure everyone reaches their correct destination as quickly as possible.’ She thrust a piece of paper at them, ‘Please fill in this questionnaire to tell us how we can improve your experience at the Centre.’
Willow took the paper from her. ‘We will, thanks for your help.’
Drake, Willow and Pyro negotiated the yard easily, finding themselves at the foot of The Main Tower in a matter of minutes. Willow discarded the questionnaire into a plastic bin at the side of the entrance before they crossed the wooden bridge over the moat of liquid fire, and entered the tower through the two automatic glass doors.
The foyer of the Main Tower reminded Drake of an ultra-modern hotel like the ones that lined the Business District in Devilsgate. It was incredibly bright; row upon row of chrome spotlights dazzled from the ceiling, the rays bouncing off the polished black marble floor like dozens of miniature fireballs which had the curious effect of making Drake feel like he was walking on the night‘s sky. In the centre of the room stood a statue of twisted chrome (An Angel in Contemplation read the silver plaque fixed onto its base) with several designer acrylic chairs arranged around it in a semi-circle. The receptionist, an elegant brunette, sat behind a black granite desk polishing her nails.
‘Over there,’ whispered Drake, pointing to the steel elevator situated to the right of the receptionist.
The receptionist looked up briefly as Willow, Drake and Pyro made their way over to the elevator. The phone rang and she looked away. ‘Hello, you are through to the Main Tower, Tracy speaking, how may I help you?’
Drake scanned the chrome sign on the wall beside the elevator that listed all the various departments within the tower. ‘Un-human Resources…Complaints and Appeals…The Exit. I wonder if that really is the way out?
‘Makes sense that it’s in the Main Tower,’ said Willow, ‘we better remember that for later.’
‘Ah, here it is,’ said Drake, ‘the Control Room.’
They stepped into the elevator and the doors glided shut behind them. ‘Which floor do you require?’ asked a chirpy disembodied voice.
‘Seven-hundred and seventy-seven, please,’ replied Drake. The elevator ascended so quickly that it didn’t feel as though they were moving at all.
There was a sound like a balloon deflating and an unpleasant smell wafted around the lift.
‘Please refrain from that kind of behaviour in the lift,’ said the Lift-voice.
Pyro shrugged. ‘What can I say? I’m surrounded by iron!’
After what seemed like only a second, the elevator came to a stop, a bell pinged and the doors opened. ‘Welcome to the seven-hundred and seventy-seventh floor, The Control Room. Please enjoy your stay,’ chimed the voice.
‘What is it with this place; why is everyone so blooming-well happy? snapped Willow.
Drake shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out onto a small landing with large steel doors that slowly opened as they approached. ‘Let’s go and meet Brimo.’
‘I might just sit this one out,’ said Pyro, slinking to the back of the lift.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Drake, pulling Pyro out by his collar.
‘Will you quit manhandling me? What is it with everyone thinking they can order me around?’ said Pyro, grabbing back his collar and brushing himself down, although he refrained from flaring up and burning Drake.
Tentatively they stepped through the doors.
Colours leeched out into the darkness from the television screens that covered almost every available surface, each screen broadcasting its own unique image. Drake could see the brunette receptionist picking her nose and an image of the lobby from which they had entered the Control Room, whilst other images were clearly beaming back at them from the Land of the Living, a small hour glass counting down in the right-hand corner of each of the screens.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ said a cold voice from behind a black leather chair in the centre of the room. The chair swung around to reveal a youthful, but severe, looking woman with red hair tied in a bun on the top of her head.
Drake cleared his throat. ‘Are you Brimo, the Overseer?’
‘You’re Death?’ asked Pyro stepping closer.
‘Not exactly,’ said the woman, tilting her head so that her jaw jutted out, ‘I organise the practicalities, the collecting of the Souls, making sure they have the right paperwork, that kind of thing.’
‘Interesting,’ said Pyro nodding his head as he inspected the Control Room with his eyes.
‘What? Don‘t you think a woman should be in charge of such an operation?’
‘I don’t think he meant that,‘ said Drake. A fight with Death? Now that seemed too much like tempting fate.
‘Women give life to the people of the world, it seems only right that a woman also takes it away, don’t you think?’ Brimo’s green eyes blazed, challenging them to disagree.
‘Er, yes I suppose so,’ said Drake. Was that the answer she was looking for? God, she was even pricklier than Alchymia!
Brimo rose elegantly from her chair and glided over to the wall of television screens. ‘So what is so important to two living beings and one fire-djinn, that they risk life and limb to travel through The Valley of Death? What do you want?’
‘We’re looking for someone who’s dead,’ said Drake, almost immediately regretting the words he had used.
Brimo snorted in derision. ‘Well obviously,’ she said, her jaw tensing slightly, ‘there aren’t many living things here. Name?’
‘And what makes you think you can just stroll in here demanding to see one of my Spirits?’ said Brimo looking at Drake over her shoulder.
‘I should strike you down now and be done with you,’ she said, sweeping around to face them, ‘What arrogance you have shown coming in here and disrupting the balance of things! And the mess you have made of the Forest of Suffering, do you know how long that forest has been there?’
‘No, I didn’t think you would,’ said Brimo. She stroked her thin fingers over her chin, ‘So, what to do with you?’
‘Alchymia sent us,’ said Willow cutting through Brimo’s train of thought.
Drake glared at Willow. Why couldn’t she just keep her trap shut?
‘What?’ screeched Brimo turning to look at Willow, her green eyes blazing with thunder. ‘My sister has sent you? It can’t be that important if she sends three miscreants to do her bidding! Mind you, being down here does play havoc with her skin!’ The Overseer’s raucous laughs echoed around the room, then stopped abruptly. ‘How do I know you tell the truth?’ she demanded, as she swept around to face Drake, her claw-like finger dangerously close to the end of his nose.