A/N: Dear reviewers, it's so nice that you continue to comment on each chapter. :) Your feedback is really helping me shape this story.
Also, Gyyeee~! I've bitten off more than I can chew. There's this whole epic storyline baking in my brain and I think it's too big an idea to fit the bread tin, and it's oozing out the sizes in a big mess... much like my analogy.
Anyway, by popular demand this'll be a long chapter, containing all four main characters.
As to the 'why name at all?' question, a whole cadre of Priests and Priestesses are turning up, so I gotta go with SOME sort of designation, because 'Slicer Dicer' 'The Hulk' and 'Scar-face' are probably not what Priest and Priestess would call them. Hence, designations for combat situations (I looked up Biblical numerology) plus biblical names for churchly situations. -update 20/9/11 Reposted with slightly different naming, adjusted for clarity.
Ch Five The Vectors of Infection.
Hick's sheriff bike is well maintained and fast, and it keeps up with the Priest's bike easily. He and Priestess make good time. Before noon they come upon Dan's Town. A way stop to Jericho, further up towards the mines but still on the plains. A fly speck servicing the mining trains. Priest sees another single dust trail converging with them over the plain.
All three park the bikes at the outskirts of the silent town, dismounting and unfolding solar panels before greeting one another. The other Priest is a familiar face, from the Northern cadre of Priests. He's a tall slender gentleman, and underneath his straw boater hat, a claw scar rakes across his face, breaking the outline of the Cross.
"Well met." He says, saluting with a flourish and a smile. "The infamous Octus Sexagensimus, and his colleague Mary."
Priestess feels like she's at the butt of some strange joke. "Please, call us both by our Consecrated names or both by our ordinal designations."
He makes a little bow and doffs his hat to her. "M'lady Thirty-nine. That would make me C-4, but I'd prefer Joseph."
Priest steps forwards and extends a hand. "I haven't seen you since the cleansing of San Colero."
C-4 - Joseph clasps Priest's hand and nods. "It has been long. I am sorry we meet again in such poor circumstances."
"As am I."
Joseph grins. "I saw what you did on the way to Jericho. Big mess, Church found it." Priestess looks concerned. "Didn't see me. I tell you, sniper rifles are a gift from God."
Priest frowns. "Guns need ammo. Moreover, gunpowder smells like humans and gunfire sounds like a dinner bell."
Joseph gives a little flourish of shrug, "That's of no concern if you're too far off to smell, and dinner's at the far end of a hail of lead." He shrugs a single shoulder. "As to ammo? Muscles need food and oxygen, knives need honing. There's isn't a weapon anywhere that doesn't need replenishing. "
Priest looks Joseph in the eyes. "I'm not saying don't use it. Just don't use it in a way that gets anyone killed. Our cadre lost our sniper scout early on. Wasn't pretty."
"Yes sir, Priest Sixty-Eight." says Joseph, and though his mouth is serious, his eyes dance to a mad jig of mirth. He gives the disturbing impression of being two steps away from insanity.
This is when they notice two more Priests approaching out of the ruins of Dan's Town. A mismatched pair, one average height, whip-cord thin and long limbed, his garments a faded grey, the other tall, hulking and tanned. It is strange meeting with other Priests. They all feel they should be able to trust one another, but they know that it is incredibly difficult to break from the Church. They are aware there may be a traitor among them. It is difficult to think that thought, and yet it's difficult to be certain that any other than the instigator is here for pure purposes.
Priestess steps forward to greet them, giving the traditional salute.
"Priest A-Five." She says, and the shorter bows with a bird-like dip of a movement.
"Priest Forty." The wall of muscles shifts in acknowledgement.
"I am grateful that you answered our call."
Slender A-Five speaks for the two new arrivals. "Three-Nine, Eight-Six, C-Four." They salute in kind, Joseph giving a smiling 'call me Joseph'.
A-Five continues. "We couldn't stay passive as vampires threaten. I saw the work you did on the train outside Cathedral City. It'll be some time before the tracks are back in proper order. But from what I've seen in this town, that's a good thing."
Priest nods. "We know there is a Hive Queen still on the loose, and an army is ready to attack. They're most likely on the train lines."
The hulking Forty speaks this time, his voice rumbling like thunder. "The only reason I haven't been out torching reservations until now is because I didn't want to burn along with the vamps. I hate them more than I care about anything else. So I'm all ears. What's the plan for shredding vampires?"
"There was a new type of enemy. A Hive Queen infected someone at the end of the last war. He has designed an attack using human tactics, it won't be like anything we've seen before. We need to find out where the rest of the army is, and what it's doing, especially the Queen. We have to cripple them, stop them getting to the cities."
A-Five looks grim as he says. "You should see what we found in the train yard."
They walk through town. Dan's Town is just as Jericho was, obliterated. Burnt, rent, blood splattered. With the addition of a coating of wind-blown dust. The other Priests' work could be seen in the neatly lined up bodies, faces covered by cloth. Shortly they see the train-yards. Priest and Priestess stand together, surveying it with wary eyes.
Priest squints against the glare and says. "This is much worse than we feared."
The Wastes are wide, sometimes ancient cities rise up out of the blowing sands, hinting at time long past, when glorious structures of glass and metal towered glittering into the sky. The Desert bakes under a hot wind. Lucy and Hicks hide from the heat and sand under a rocky promontory overlooking a line of half-fallen wire towers. Were they communications towers? From where to where? It was one of those mysteries of the past that no-one seemed to have answers for.
Nearby they have a buggy recharging in the sun. The bike runs on alcohol, and has lain in reserve, the two of them riding in the buggy until now. The batteries started flagging just as the Sun approached midday.
"Next town should only be an hour."
Lucy take a drink of water then says. "You really think they'll be back in a week?"
Hicks shrugs. "Maybe. Plans don't live long once they hit dirt."
"I didn't think so." She looks oddly detached as she says it. It worries Hicks.
He hold her shoulder a moment and says. "Don't worry. Soon as the Church comes around, they'll be able to use open communications. We'll hear from them. We'll know what they're up to. Even if they can't come home that quick, we'll know where they are."
She picks at her food. "That's if we are somewhere we can receive calls."
"What do you mean? All the outposts have access to the main network."
"Yes. Right now. But the vampires have been taught about things like that now. They'll know, so they'll break it. We'll have to use Wastelands radios. See if we can find one at the next outpost, ok?"
"Did the Black Hat tell you this?"
Lucy shakes her head. "I spent a week with him. I know that the plan is to cause chaos. To break everything apart into a million piece then watch the pieces glitter as they fall. The best way to do that is to stop us helping one another. Cut food lines, cut communications, scatter us, make us hungry and scared and we'll die like squashed ants."
"Why didn't you say this to Priest?"
"He already knows. He didn't want to say anything in front of me. Besides, we don't know exactly what the vampires will do and when. There wasn't any special warning he could give us."
They eat in silence for a minute, finishing up, dusting off crumbs. Hicks tries to comfort Lucy one more time. "Maybe you're over thinking it. Why would Priest say he'd be back in a week?"
Lucy gets up, goes back to the buggy.
"Because this is all going to go quickly. You don't reveal your hand in poker unless you're sure you'll win. The vampire army is already on it's way. If the Priests don't stop them within a week, then it's all over. The Cities fall."
Priest looks around the train yard workshops. They've been stripped bare. A few dead Familiars lie where they are pinned by fallen machinery. The vampires had definitely taken their train from here, it was a modified mining train.
The muscle bound Forty stands guard while A-Five points a long finger around at the odd features of the train yard. "This is a repair yard. There should be maintenance staff in these cottages along this row here. I don't see them dead anywhere. They are most likely Familiars now."
Priest looks grim. "There aren't any trains here. This place is the way stop from the Cathedral City foundries, this is a major fitting yard for the coal mine fleet. There should be trains in each of the switch-yard docks."
"There's something else too." A-Five calls him over. "We found something strange. It makes sense in light of your information about the Hive Queen." He shows them into one of the building. In among the vampire scratches there are boot tracks outlined in blood. Calm, measured boot tracks, as of someone swaggering like a boss.
Priest crouches down and examines the shape. "This was him." He says, referring to the man in the Black Hat. "These others? Who knows."
The are maps scratched onto the walls in blood and notes tacked onto pieces of paper and driven into the wall with nails. Some - perversely in the surrounding carnage - are put into a waste paper bin.
A-Five stirs a long-fingered hand through the discarded notes. "One does not communicate with vampires with maps and notes. One does not discuss attack plans like this with Familiars. Nor Hive Queens, for that matter."
Priest and Priestess look at one another. She crosses herself and turns away. He says. "He was only the first."
She replies. "He might not even have been the strongest."
A-Five speaks for the three curious Priests."Who?"
Priest addresses the wall as he says. "The new threat we mentioned, he was once a Priest of our cadre. He fell in one of the last battles, at Sola Mira. He did not die, he was given the blood of a Hive Queen, became a monster unlike anything we're seen before."
A murmur of shocked sound goes amongst the other Priests. Priest continues.
"It didn't make him a Familiar, a slave. It made a monster. It took his humanity, gave him thirst and strength. Strong and fast as a vampire, mind of a depraved criminal. But he remembered everything, his life and desires."
Even Joseph looks a little disturbed by this. "If we face others like him..."
Priestess looks him in the eyes. "Then it means that we face opponents who are stronger, faster and perhaps even smarter than we are. We won't be facing predatory animals in hunting packs, we'll be facing insane criminal minds. Monsters who can walk in daylight and see in darkness, and who taste blood because they enjoy it."
A-Five says. "How do we fight that?"
Joseph scratches his head. "I don't feel like having any unhappy reunions neither."
"Worse. They know the Cities, they know how human technology works. They can pass as human if you don't look too close. They can shoot guns, and they like killing, and they won't care who."
"We don't even know how many there are."
Joseph chips in with a jaunty shrug. "Well, how many Priests fell in those final days and weren't recovered? How many people since then were picked off by vampires and no one ever found the bodies?"
Priest says. "Once they had Black Hat, they could've picked and chosen an elite class of leaders for the new vampire army over time, building a core of strong leaders. And they've had years."
A-Five whistles through his teeth. "This is worse than we thought."
Joseph retorts. "This is worse than the Church can handle."
Priest looks at the map again. The lines split after Dan's Town, going to the mountains in the north, and trekking across the West, going to other outposts. To the East is connects to the string of Cities along the coast. Eventually, through other connections, it connects with the whole rail network, a spider web across the land from edge to edge.
Priest says. "We ride on, now. Find these trains, stop them."
A-Five says what they are all thinking. "We have to warn the Cities. Tell them what we've found." They all look at one another uncertainly.
Joseph mouth twitches upwards as he spins to look at each in turn. "We're all thinking about how we cannot trust one another. It is a hard thing to think of fellow Priests. Isn't it?"
A-Five comes up with a plan. "We make contact with the Cities now, then we stay close together until we find our first vampire coterie. After that, we will know. Only turn-coats and cowards would not stand beside one another in that situation. And no coward would come here today."
Priest consents. "After that we'll know that all of us go against the Church only because the Church will not go against the vampires. We know what it is like to fight vampires. We are the only ones. We stay in one another's sight until we stand together, and we will know."
Priest steps back. "Priestess, our strategy please."
She steps forwards and holds up her walkie talkie. "We have the equipment to communicate over large distances, so we gain more members we can split up into groups, cover large areas and report on what we find, use our bikes to quickly divert our forces to new threats. The only reason we do not broadcast now is because the Church has not yet declared war on the vampires again. Until then, we must assume they consider us a threat, and will be hunting us down."
"Once we make any call with them, we'll be triangulated. This doesn't mean we don't call. It means we only call from places where we want the Church forces to descend upon, and know they'll pursue us from then on. Battered towns, infestations. Anything we can't handle, we call. Then we
A-Five narrows his eyes. "The Church will see the situation quickly. They'll take up arms against the vampires. If they call us back to the fold, do we go?"
"We'll come to that when it happens." Priest says.
Priestess continues. "After the Church's declares war, we can call freely, they'll need us as allies. We monitor the official communications. As soon as they declare war, we can come into the open, plan via long distance, be a dynamic strike force."
Priest strides over to the board, then turns around. "Strategy time. So, does everyone here have experience with attacking moving trains?"
- – -
to be continued.
So, I don't think that the whole 'no guns' thing makes sense on its own. Guns are designed for killing the enemy before they're in melee range. Since vampires only have melee weapons, it means a no risk kill. As Priest showed, he's capable with every weapon ever. So, vampires honing in on the smell and sound of guns is a good explanation as any for why Priests don't (usually) use them. Why'd he not tell Hicks in the movie? Hicks made good bait (oooh, uncool).
Also! Are you guys happy for the next chapter to be purely about the ride out from Dan's town and the assault upon the first train?