“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” REVELATIONS 1:8 we are a death scream a city in the cracks The sky is a screech of rusting gears and loosening bolts. The streets below them cower in the gloom of Metropolis. Even the air is tainted, tinged with the cloying fragrance of rusting iron. Or blood. That could easily be blood. Cael walks us through the oppressive confines of Metropolis via back-alleys and side-paths, all of us ready to leap on the slightest hint of movement. Doesn't pay to be lax in this place, not with the creatures that lurk here. Not with the soldiers of the Heavenly Choirs passing overhead intermittently. We duck into crouches and remain motionless during these moments, watching the faceless armoured figures scan the streets and alleys. By the markings of their armour we have strayed into Penemue's territory: good to know that they'll at least proclaim what our sins are before they kill us, should we be spotted. They fly in groups of three, but where there's one patrol there will always be more. Their patrols linger more than usual: the soldiers of the Choirs' gazes more intent. Something has got the hornet's nest riled, and I think I know what. It's why myself and a few other sworn Frumentarii are crawling through the grime of Metropolis, marked by the crimson insignias of our order. It's why at this very moment a group of Rudiarii and a group of Exhumii are no doubt doing the same. Finally, the Choir patrol moves on and I nod to Cael to resume our advance. Onwards across dilapidated roads and crumbling pathways, past ancient temples of marble that sit alongside gargantuan towers of glass and metal. Architecture laid out by a schizophrenic. Reason and sense have no place on these streets. Logic has no hold on the layout. When I was newly awoken to the Machine, this place used to terrify me. Now it just leaves me with questions. That, I think, spells the fate of the Awakened out more perfectly than anything else I could think of. To discover the grandest and most terrifying truth of them all... and yet still be left without answers. Chittering from a gloomy alleyway, shadows moving within shadows. I hit it with the flashlight beam of my revolver, but whatever was there has already passed. Some manner of scavenger sizing us up, in all likelihood, assessing our strength. Trying to gauge whether or not we're predators or prey. We've stepped into the mother of all food chains by entering Metropolis, after all. “Weapons ready,” I mutter to the others, “let's not take chances tonight.” No point calling it any other time of day, given that the gloom of this place is ever-present. Time loses its meaning when you're no longer bound to the reality of Sleepers. Several more blocks later, and our destination comes into sight. Had I not come all this way in search of it, it'd be more than easy to glance right by it; a battered, beaten old red-brick building, the sort of sight once common on the streets of British cities in the wake of the First World War. A warehouse, perhaps, or some other place of storage, the brickwork stained and faded where it isn't outright crumbling. Compared to some of the sights of Metropolis, its about as bland as they come. Precisely why it was chosen as the location for the parlay. Neutral ground for the factions to come together. Our end-goals may not match, but there's much to be said for 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Especially with mutual enemies like ours. Cael and I scan its surroundings from the mouth of the alley we lurk in, before setting off at a run across the street. Open areas of Metropolis are where you're most vulnerable: you never know what might be watching. My feet pound the shattered asphalt before slamming into the red brickwork, and soon the others are crouched against it too. “Inside, before we're spotted,” I order, shoving open a nearby warehouse door and peering inside. The shift in style and design is jarring. What should be more ugly red brick is instead the decayed remains of a grand foyer. Black and white tiled floors, broken and stained by neglect, once-impressive marble walls to add to the image of faded glory. A dual staircase is laid on opposite sides of the walls, joining together as the second floor begins. The stairs are lined with a ragged, torn carpet that might once have been mauve. We scurry inside, rodents compared to the breadth and scale of Metropolis outside, and close the doors. “Looks like we're the first here. I want two people watching the doors; anything comes through them that isn't a Rudiarii or Exhumii team, you put them down. Rest of you, upstairs with me.” I don't wait to see my orders obeyed: our faction understands the value of the chain of command. Keeping my revolvers drawn I take the left staircase up onto the second floor, moving along its narrow corridor to the door at the end. We stack up against it before entering, weapons ready all the while. Constant vigilance. That is what it means to be Frumentarii. The room's design defies the impressive foyer outside it and the battered warehouse it is contained within. Creaking wooden floorboards and peeling cerulean wallpaper, with numerous rickety old tables scattered about it. Relaxing my shoulders for the first time, I stride over to one of the tables and kick a chair out from under it to plant myself on. “Get comfy, folks. We made the mistake of not being fashionably late, it seems.” The Rudiarii are next to arrive, Crixus at their head. Another veteran of the Awakened; he's been around longer than I have, busting shackles and breaking the Machine further where he can. He dresses like some sort of ageing college professor on a hiking trip, but carries himself like a career soldier. Full of contradictions, that one. Like most of his motley group. Metis arrives within the next minute, with her Exhumii delegation. She's wrapped in a vast greatcoat, black save for the purple armband bearing her faction's symbol, her form decidedly androgynous. Younger than both Crixus and I, an expression of casual, almost dismissive confidence seemingly etched on her face permanently. “Can always count on and your weekend warriors to be here early, Basalt,” she says with a smirk in my direction. My eyes narrow as Crixus gives her a disapproving look. “Enough. Save the snide comments and rhetoric for the Assemblies. We're here to trade information, not barbs.” Metis just shrugs. “I can do both.” Chuckling darkly, I turn my gaze to the room at large. An eclectic mix of our three factions... or a melting pot depending on your perspective. Common enemies and shared experiences don't always make for easy friendships; in my experience, this opposite is often true. “Alright, everyone make nice and try not to start any fights. Crixus, Metis and myself gotta go over a few things, then we can get this started properly.” The three of us retire to one of the tables. The parlay has begun.