The drizzle fell, soaking up the pollution and running along every crack and broken surface of the City. The streets had transformed as the Sun set, the workers returning home before the debauched left their holes. And over it all, the corporate logos cast their neon light.
Evelyn pulled her collar up higher, the damp seeping into her hair and running in rivulets down her neck. No one paid her any mind as she hurried along, not even the Enforcers, but still she scanned the streets for sign of trouble.
The new gods were consumer goods, the latest technological marvels. Their pontiffs and bishops the industrial engineers and corporate CEOs who reigned over their domains and lashed out spitefully at those they could not kill or acquire. To purchase a device was to pledge ones allegiance to the conglomerate, become the last link in the vertically integrated food chain.
Everywhere the new religious symbols shone brightly, geometric shapes and bold wording adorning the temple of each head office. Passing beneath the concentric circles of a logo Caligula, Evelyn took another glance over her shoulder before ducking into a smaller passage. The world about her changed as the din of the street faded away.
She spun so fast she almost slipped in the layer of filth upon the ground. Behind her stood a man, a towering giant whose girth negated any chance of slipping past him and returning to safety.
"No. No, I..."
"Because right now you're a lamb in the midst of wolves."
His eyes flicked downwards and she felt herself shift uncomfortably under his stare. Her mouth felt dry, fearful that she had made a grievous error even as she struggled to remember the response she had been told.
"Please, I'm just an innocent dove, I'm…"
"Shrewd is not a word I would use about these parts. Come."
The man's posture softened as he turned, knocking heavily on a door hidden amongst the mass of scrap and detritus piled along the sides of the passage. It swung inward on old hinges, revealing the face of a younger man.
"Come," the giant said again, standing in the entryway, holding out his hand.
"I don't know if this was a good idea," Evelyn said, moving past him towards the safety of the street.
The younger man stepped forwards, whispering something in the ear of his fellow before letting him retreat inside, away from the rain. With a shake of his, the man disappeared into the gloom, his replacement looking up at the sky as he joined her in the alley.
"Do you know the story of how Gaius Caligula came to be the CEO of his fathers empire?"
Evelyn felt her unease ebb and flow as he moved towards her, before he took shelter beneath a corrugated sheet sticking out from beneath a lite-beer logo. His voice betrayed his age, deep and demanding of attention. He motioned for her to join him and she reluctantly did so, wiping the moisture from her eyes.
"He was one of six children. Not the oldest or the youngest, nor the smartest or bravest. His uncle was running the family business, since his father's last assassination attempt had left him crippled."
The man cupped his hands to his mouth, breathing in what little warmth he could. Unlike Evelyn, he wore only a light jacket against the cold.
"Now Drusus, the oldest child, he wanted to take his father's place. He was tired of waiting on a board of old men to make up their minds. But the directors, they were wise, they knew that the children would resent them in their age and see to their exile as soon as one assumed the mantel of CEO. So they hatched a plot.
"They whispered to the children through proxies, poisoning the mind of one against the other. Nero was struck down first in an ambush outside of his favourite nightclub. As second in line he would have been the most dangerous to Drusus' rule, though Drusus himself met a demise of equal measure not long after. Two sisters, both younger than Gaius, perished in a terrible boating accident the day after their funeral. And so, only Gaius and his twin Claudius remained."
Evelyn had found herself numb to the cold as she followed the tale, the alleyway, rain and darkness forgotten. The man pulled a small packet of seeds from his pocket, offering them first to Evelyn before placing a few between his teeth to keep them from chattering. His dark skin was slick with beads of rain, but he paid them no mind.
"Now Claudius, he was smart. Smarter than any sibling in that pit of snakes, so when Gaius invited him to dinner he knew to take precautions. Claudius paid the servants handsomely to switch their meals during the evening, delivering any poisoned food to his brother. And they did."
Evelyn let out a small gasp, the breath condensing in the air before her. The man smiled, taking a few more seeds. He glanced towards the entrance to the small passage, the walking strobes of two Enforcers briefly illuminating a patch of skin on his face that shone oddly in the light.
"Claudius, as you can probably guess, did not survive the encounter. And therein lies Gaius' secret. For he was not the smartest, but he was ruthless. He was not the bravest, but he knew when to strike at his foes. For weeks he had been poisoning his body, ingesting ever greater quantities of venom, until that night when he served two dishes, both so corrupted as to kill any mortal man."
Leaning forwards, Evelyn followed the contours of the great logo of the Caligula emblem emblazoned on the side of their tower, its edges bisected by the walls of the passage. The penthouse glowed, even at this late hour.
"He still rules, as cunning and sharp as ever. It's said he still takes his meals with a dash of the toxin, just for taste. But I should keep my tongue."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, we tend to different flocks." Clapping his hands, he moved quickly across the narrow alley, knocking on the heavy door. "I don't know about you, but I'm freezing, do you feel like joining us inside?"
Evelyn looked back at the entrance, one last chance at escape, before striding across the way and joining him inside.
"I'm Matthew," her guide said closing the door after them, leading her down a set of concrete steps. The basement was dank, lit only by candlelight. Groups huddled together on benches, families, individuals, old men and young children alike. And above them all stood a lone wooden mark, nailed to the wall.
"Welcome," her guide said, "to the Church of Reclamation."
A/N: At the moment this is just a one-shot, if there's any interest I'll carry it on.