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Metro: Beyond

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For those who knew Sretensky Bulvar before the war, it would probably be unrecognizable.

Where there were once artistically blank walls and stale, sterile marble, there was now a bustling little town below the surface. It was no Polis, but it was something, the largest of said somethings in that station being the Cathedral of the Most Merciful Lord in the center of the station. It's not anything special by any means- it barely fits a hundred souls. 

But for Father Kopeykin, the last Patriarch of Russia, it is enough. 

Services do not start again until tomorrow, but the Father remains in his church always, tending to the needs of his flock should they ever require him outside of the holy hours. Today, he has received many souls. Tanya and her husband are expecting a child, and wish for blessings and prayers for their babe yet born, and the Father is more than happy to oblige. Mihail's father is dying, and wishes for the Father to give him his last rites- though it's quite a walk to the other end of the station where Aleksandr lives, nothing is impossible through the Lord, and Father Kopeykin himself sees that Aleksandr is made right with his Savior before returning to the Cathedral.  

Now, near the evening hours, Sasha and Kiril return. The two Stalkers are friends to the old Father, for he saw them married, and they always bring him anything of value to the church when they go on their journeys. Crucifixes, paintings, bibles, images of the Savior, whatever they find, he is more than happy to take- emphasis on take, as they ask for no compensation. "It was on the way", they say, and they ask for his blessing.

Stalkers suffer the most out of all of God's children left on this earth, forced to witness the evils of man and what they have wrought. No expense is spared on them. He blesses them and their arms with holy water, prays over them with trembling, withered hands, and tells them, as he always does, "go with God, and let him guide thy footsteps." 

He idly wonders if he will live to see them return.

His time grows short. His rests longer and deeper. His ailments more severe. The Promise Land awaits, yet the Lord has shown him that, like Old Moses in the desert, he shall not live to enter it. That does not trouble the Father, for he knows that the Lord's designs are perfect, the flaws of the flesh find no place in Him. Still, a weak part of him weeps for it, small, silent tears that he shall not join his flock in the new Israel. 

He takes small comfort that there is time yet for him to lay eyes on it, even if he may not live in it. 

As Sasha and Kiril leave, the Father doubts he will have more visitors this late. Service is bright and early in the morning, so for now, he meditates on the Scriptures. He opens his faded, battered bible to the book of Exodus once again, where he once more pores over the tomes of Moses, the man who he has come to see reflected so in his own life. 

But who would be the Joshua to the last of the Patriarchs? Would there be one? The Metro was rapidly becoming a faithless place, after all. 

No. He would see the light of God returned to these tunnels, so that it might guide those lost in the darkness to the Promised Land. That was his place, for every Prophet must someday sup with the Lord. 

He returned his full attention to the Scriptures, poring over them from the beginning. 

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Something about the way Father Yakovlev was built looked wrong, for a priest. He had not been out of shape when he had entered the Metro, but the last two-and-a-half decades had forced him to put almost as much effort into keeping himself healthy as he put into his work as a priest. Broad-shouldered and muscular, Leonid looked strong and authoritative. Even the way he walked was powerful, with the gait of a leader.

And that would only have made it more surprising for those unfamiliar with him when he opened his mouth and spoke, approaching the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church with his robes brushing against his legs.

"Father," he said, the soft tone of his voice echoing in the emptiness of the Cathedral, "I apologise for intruding so late."

As he walked closer, the sound of his boots against the marble below grew lighter, more careful. Seeing that the old man was reading from his Bible, Leonid's right hand fell to his side, resting on his own copy of the holy book that sat in a leather holster. Outside of the station, that holster was mirrored on his left by one holding a pistol. In here, however, he needed no protection. God would not let someone or something threaten a man of the cloth in His house. 

Whether the Patriarch was glad to see him or not, the younger priest continued to speak.

"I would not have visited, but I saw your Stalkers leaving. It gives me hope that Godly men like those two wander the lands above. Did they request your blessing once more?"

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Leonid was a good man. Few priests remained in the Metro- God could not explain the mutants and anomalies that wandered the darkness, so they simply abandoned Him. Not Leonid, though- he held to his faith much as Andrey had. 

"Lyonya, my son," he greeted him, with a toothy grin that belied his age. "You are always welcome in this house. Just because we are not in congregation does not mean we cannot commune. 'For wherever two or three gather in my name, there I shall be also'. Come, come. Sit." He motioned to a second chair that rested in his office, one padded with cloth to aid the old man should he rest his weary bones upon it. 

"Yes," he continued, in answer to Leonid's question. "Sasha and Kiril wished for my blessings before they embark tomorrow. They brought a hymnal book today- it should be under my pulpit. The kindness of those young ones knows no bounds, and I pray fervently that our Lord keeps his hand over them. Tanya and Shurhat came by as well- she is with child! Barely a few months into her pregnancy and she already wishes to arrange the baptism. It heartens me to see our congregation so eager to partake in our sacred tradition."

His smile faded slightly, though it didn't disappear. "Not all was pleasantry, I'm afraid. Aleksandr Kovalkavich has gone to meet the Lord this evening. He'd asked me to attend to his rites, and I made the trek. I'm a bit tired, all said and done, but nothing that a good night's rest won't fix. Now... what is it you needed, my son? It's no trouble, mind, but you normally don't stop by this late." 

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He was not going to protest, especially not when Andrey was so kind to offer him a seat. And so he sat, his weighty body sinking into the cloth as he did. Leonid listened intently as the older man ran through the events of the day, and even as the Patriarch discussed the passing of a good man, he could not stop himself from smiling. "As one leaves to meet with Him, He blesses us with another life. It saddens me to hear of Aleksandr's passing, but I know Tanya will raise her child well. Above and below, our faith continues in the hearts of good men and women."

Yet, as hopeful as he seemed, Leonid's smile turned to a look of uncertainty. "But we cannot rely on good folk like Sasha and Kiril forever, Father. One day, we must venture out ourselves, as a community. It was the sight of the two Stalkers that turned my path here, instead of simply heading home to rest. If we are to go beyond Moscow and find the land we are destined to inhabit," he said, avoiding the term Promised Land deftly, "then some of us need to go above with them, not just to see what we are leaving behind, but to ensure that we can save as many as we can."

Sighing, the younger priest came to the end of his grim proposal. "I ask you for permission, upon Sasha and Kiril's return, to gather a group of able-bodied men and women, and lead them. We have masks, and weapons. Not many, but enough to see what the world above has to offer. I will not insist that anyone accompanies me, either. If it is just myself and the Stalkers, then so it shall be. But we must, for the good of our people... we must know."

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And there was Leonid, once again the voice of reason. If Andrey was Moses, then Leonid was his Joshua, the man who would lead the children of the Lord to blessed Israel. 

"Lyonya, your faith is strong, and your heart is true," Andrey said, slowly closing his Bible. "But your life is not one I wish to put at risk. You know how I fare. Soon, I shall pass into life everlasting at the feet of our Father, and our flock will need a leader. I cannot risk you on a scavenger's run in the ruins of Moscow, especially when Sasha and Kiril have so much experience and even still face great danger. We must wait for a sign from the Lord. Do you recall the tale of Ai? When the children of Israel disobeyed the Lord and failed to follow His instruction, they attacked Ai, and He withdrew his promise and cost them the battle." 

Andrey sighed. "We cannot afford an Ai." He paused for a moment, before adding, quietly, "cannot. The Lord has led us truly this far, and He shall speak to us, I have no doubts. Soon, we shall be given a sign, and we will walk into the Promised Land together as one people. But until that sign arrives, we must have faith in His plan, Lyonya. Still... I will speak with Sasha and Kiril when they return from the surface tomorrow. I would have you attend as well, and the other elders of our congregation. We shall pray together, and seek guidance from the Lord on this matter, His will be done." 

 

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If Father Andrey had ever been wrong, then Leonid had never seen it happen. As much as he wanted to - no, needed to - see the surface and the dangers beyond the Metro, it could not happen quite yet. "Of course, Father. Although," he said with a casual tone, "the second attack on Ai was a plain success. I fear sacrifice and failure may come before our arrival at whatever safety lies above no matter what. But yes, waiting for His sign is right. To rush ahead as I would have done could have been fatal. It was thoughtless of me."

His admission of failure was blunt, it was simple, and it was accompanied by a gruff and cold tone of voice. Quickly as that grimness had come, however, it was gone. Once more his face became calm and serene, with a slight smile appearing upon his lips. "I pray to the Lord that this meeting with the Stalkers will further open our eyes to the dangers that lie upon the road ahead."

Although Leonid had complete faith in his superior, and in the path that God had laid out for them, referring to their destination as the Promised Land still did not sit right with him. He knew not why, but every time the words even reached his lips before being pulled back and replaced, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end and his skin turned to gooseflesh. Was it fear? Maybe, but the strong priest was not often one to be scared. What about their inevitable home could put that worry into him? Leonid did not know, and he prayed to God that he never had to.

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