He'd lost her. Almost. For the first time, as Ivan observed her milky white cheeks, saturated with smeered dirt, smoke and gunpowder from the explosion, he realised that he'd come just within a hair's breadth of losing the one most important thing in his life, besides his daughter...and it scared him to death. As Priestess walked towards him, her jet-black hair frosted with grime and smoke, in his eyes she'd never looked more beautiful. He turned his face upwards towards the sky and breathed a silent prayer of thanks to God for His mercy in keeping them safe.
Priestess neared him and when her tired brown eyes met his, she smiled, laying a hand on his arm. "We've won. By God's grace and strength...we've won, Ivan."
His breath hitched at the sound of his name from her lips. He hadn't been known by anyone as Ivan for nearly eighteen years; since admission into the priesthood, all remnants of your past life was laid aside and along with your aliegance to the Church and Clergy, you vowed to bury all traces of your past, to forget everything and everyone from your past. It was the way in which the church was certain of your undevided loyalty. Complete self-denial and utter sacrifice was recquired hence, even your very identity was surrendered at the expense of loyalty and duty to the church. It had been forbidden to even speak of one's past once you were officially enstated, however with some of those who'd grown into a closer bond over the years, some had dared the Clergy's wrath and shared those few intimate details and memories with one another and this only served to draw them closer as brothers and sisters.
Even in light of this, Ivan was stunned that Priestess had remembered his given name all these years. He'd only mentioned it once and that was over fifteen years ago...when they'd lost Black Hat in the hive. "You...you remember?"
She smiled softly then. "There are few things of you that I've forgotten, Ivan."
"Yes well having not even gone by that name myself for nearly twenty years...even for me those small memories of my past have become hazy...hard to recall." Suddenly, he was overwhelmed by the aching throb in his shoulder. In the overwhelming moment of their near iminant death and the nearly matching relief that they had all escaped mostly unscathed, he'd forgotten his injury which he'd sustained at the hands of his enemy. Now, as the last remnants of the adrenaline faded, the pain hit him full force and he grasped his injured arm, slumping forward and grimacing.
Priestess was at his side in seconds, supporting him with her arm around his waist. "You're injured, Ivan."
"Nonsense. You know as well as I that even a superficial wound can be fatal if not treated; infection can easily set in."
Just then, Hicks and Lucy approached the pair and at the sight of her father's wounded state, Lucy's eyes widened in concern and she grasped him in her arms. "Daddy! You're hurt, we need to get you somewhere safe... Hicks? Can't we return to Augustine? I'm sure Doc would help..."
"Of course we can, Darling but it's at least two days journey there...maybe longer...Priest needs treatment before then."
Priestess nodded. "I agree. There's a small village close to the rural regions of Sector 12. It's closer and I know people there who will help us. It will be tomorrow before we reach them but it's a safer choice then attempting the 2-day journey to Augustine...We should leave now."
The three turned their eyes on Ivan. He grunted painfully as he raised himself to his full height. He walked a few feet away from the small group till he reached the smoldering body of a vampire. He gazed momentarily upon the still smoldering flesh of the dead corpse. Then wordlessly, he removed his saber and decapitated the creature in one swift movement. Securing the head in a cloth sack, he returned to the small group and with cold determined eyes and his jaw set, he said, "First I have a meeting...with the Clergy...we leave for the capitol at once."
Once they'd reached the capitol, Hicks, Priestess and Lucy waited on the outskirts as Ivan made his way to the heart of the Capitol where the Clergy headquarters lay. It was the annual feast, communion and passover; the most sacred festival. Without heed to anyone, Ivan made his way into the white-washed halls of the cathedral. His face still drenched with sweat and dried blood and his steps faltering. Reaching the entrance to the main hall, he continued forward; though slow and painful, his steps were full of purpose as he clenched the dark satchel with the dreaded Vampire head, in his fist. The bowed heads of the worshipers present raised suddenly as the shadow of his tall form cast itself over them as he passed. Their faces were aghast with shock and awe; it was forbidden for anyone to enter into the hall after the passover had already commenced and it was looked upon as an overt rebellion against the church and Clergy.
As Monsignor Orelas uttered the last words of his prayer, his eyes flew open and at the sight of Priest, standing in the isle, his eyes filled with idignant rage. "How dare you! Returning to the church from whence you were exiled...in service of your own selfish crusade!"
Just then, Ivan pulled forth the contents of the black satchel and cast it recklessly and blatantly at Monsignor's feet. "Here is the Vampires you have claimed no longer exist. Look beyond the boundaries of the capitol and you will find hundreds more just like it amongst the buurning ruins of the train."
Monsignor shook and trembled with rage at the priest's unwavering words. "This is merely your attempts to undermine the very authority that has made you what you are. Your stubborn arrogance has brought you down; because of your pride! There are no vampires! Not any longer; the church protects you...the war is over!"
But Ivan had already turned away and as he retraced his steps back up the isle, with all eyes on him, he spoke with conviction and surety. "No...the war's just beginning."