Kalju Ilves, the Prime Minister of Istkalen, had been the intended recipient of the invitation. It was unfortunate, then, that he had forgotten about it in a matter of a few hours; between the provocations of Ilmaras Kalessed and the constant threats of the tiresome Reszelport Jezebel-Swift, he had far too much on his mind, more important things to think of, to worry about, to do.
And so it had laid, at a slight angle, at the edge of his desk, peeking out only slightly under a great pile of papers and orders and reports, an unending procession of things that he had to but did not want to do.
Then he had gone, quickly and suddenly, to the wilderness, dragged there by his closest confidant, for a fishing trip. He did not like fishing very much; he had tried it once and found it the most boring thing in the world, constant waiting and sitting for nothing, or at most something so little it was essentially nothing. But he'd known Kondres for years; it would hurt him to say no. And he could not risk Kondres being hurt, either; that would be both their ends, when the end inevitably came. And anyways the man had been imprisoned in some Reitzmic camp until but a few months ago. This was his first personal request to him since he'd been released; who was he to deny it?
So he had gone, and now was lying down with Kondres on the needle-carpet of the forest floor, the two both silent, listening to the quiet movement of the insects, the soft breeze passing through the spreading canopy above them, feeling warm and complete and content, thinking of what could be, some dawn perhaps not so far away. No fish that day, but what did it matter?
His office sat empty and dark, blinds closed, door shut. He had packed all the papers away shortly before he had gone, neatly organizing them into folders, at last hidden in a locked, unassuming filing cabinet in the corner. They would be sitting there for some time, until at last he returned. It would be a while, in all likelihood; weeks, perhaps even a month.
The invitation remained on the desk, a light layer of dust collecting on it. It was there when the cleaner had come. He had gone immediately to the desk, noticing that, at last, something had been left out. The Prime Minister had in the past been terribly fastidious in clearing the room of his presence; but now he had left something behind.
He blew the dust off it it; scanned it. He had always been proud of being literate, it gave him a certain power. His wife had told him that it meant nothing; that in 'these modern times' (she was always speaking of modernity and progress and things that were new) everyone was literate. What nonsense! And now she had kicked him out, with their children, after he had tried to teach her a lesson, for her own good; they had all turned against him for his act of goodwill.
The invitation was truly disgusting to him. All these Istkaleners were immoral heathens; but he had not known that their immorality had descended to such depths. To go to this modern Sodom! How sinful, how salacious!
But all the same he had to pray for them all, just as he had prayed for his deviant wife, the raving lunatics he called his children, and the witches of the Women's Committee in his hometown, who had screamed at him all those months ago words like "abuser" before attempting to put him in prison for some imagined crime, all these people who had driven him from wealth and power to this horrible, dirty city, where he sat on the streets, grimy, as people spat on him, kicked him. Where at last he was driven to crawl to get women's work, for a tenth of a ketsel a day. Who had driven him to this place, surrounded by sinners who looked down on him, patronizing him, giggling at him; this place, where he had to live in a cage with dozens of others, who engaged in the most Godless of activities before his very eyes.
Yes, he had to pray for them, and so he would pray for the sinners here. So that when justice came and righteous men possessed by the Holy Spirit wrung their pencil-necks, made weak by constant sin, as their eyes bugged out, faces turning red, mouths opened trying to scream, they would be saved. For he loved them all, had forgiven them all, no matter how ungrateful or degenerate they were, no matter their constant disrespect for God and the order He had established.
But what to do about the invitation itself?
Pope Tabitha was busy circling the Vatican with a red marker on a map. The body of the Church had rotted away. All the women, except at the very top, had deserted her; they were all now functionaries in a new church of heathens, this so-called 'Federation of Women's Commitees,' where they constantly discussed the so-called 'patriarchy,' this thing which God had ordained and which they rejected for the institutions of man. The seminaries had been abandoned; so many of the young men had suddenly left them, and then gone off to engage in sinful behavior. They had all left for that hotbed of sin, Kirelesile; they had taken to having relations among themselves, sometimes with some other men who had been raised in sin from birth. The actual priesthood was either outside the faith or in prison, with one or two exceptions, but no more than that. Everything had fallen to ruins, and she was in agony. All this the doing of the Communists. They would be squashed, if God willed it.
But the Church had to go on. She had to go on, with her holy task. She stared again at the tiny dot of the Vatican, and put even more pressure on the marker as she circled. She would take it, she had to take it. She had failed once, but she would try again, and again, and again, until at last it was hers, the true Church fully restored and the antipope dead.
A knock on the door.
"Come in, my child," she said cheerily, smiling widely.
The door opened, with a few creaks; behind it was Erkas Tilisek, one of her last devotees as everything came crashing down. Although even Matik Katonet, who she had thought was devoted to her, had left her. He had tried to join the other young men, but had quickly been arrested for a myriad of charges by the secular police. The wages of sin, she thought. But it showed that even Erkas could leave her one day., and that left her terribly anxious.
Tilisek was out of breath, carrying an envelope in a shaky hand. "Your Holiness, we must travel to Blue Croatia. Immediately," she said.
"The Lord has condemned them," Tabitha replied. "Like their predecessors in Sodom and Gomorrah, they will be smited. Fire will come raining down from the sky, and they will be crushed, destroyed, by His might."
"But we must still pray for them. Perhaps some of them can be saved, still." Tilisek's voice was plaintive, her words emotional as she seemed to be struggling to keep back tears.
"Why do you cry, my child?" asked Tabitha. "The Lord has made his decision. He is infinitely just and infinitely kind. This is what is right."
"Your Holiness. I do not speak on my own behalf." Tilisek swallowed, panting. "In the morning, the Holy Spirit came upon me; I was thrown onto the floor. The angels were singing, and a great, beautiful light opened above me. Christ stood on a golden cloud, and He spoke. It was wonderful, wonderful, I cannot put in simple words, it cannot be expressed. But God has had mercy! He has given them another chance, if they are willing to repent. We must go, to save them, it is our...our holy duty. The Lord Himself gave it to us! And look, look, here, a devoted man, a man of the faith, gave this to me, he stumbled upon it in the offices of the secular authorities."
Tabitha could not speak for a second.
"Truly the Lord has spoken," she whispered, in awe, when at last she had recovered from what had been said to her. "We must go," she continued, now firmly. "God has given us this duty, and we must carry it out. We must deliver these people from sin, from death!"
And so they set out, by plane, accompanied by their exorcist, Kinides Peralkal, to deliver the poor Sodomites of Blue Croatia from the sin that had consumed them, from certain death; to give them the gift of the living water, of life that would surely not end, through Christ above.
They were, at last, at the site of the pulsing heart of sin. The three of them, two women and one man, covered themselves with veils so that they would not be tempted by the sin around them; they looked down as they walked towards the morally blackened center. Under their loose clothes, which covered every inch of their bodies in crimson-dyed muslin and polyester (purchased for everyday low prices from the Church's very own acclaimed line of budget supermarkets, Jesusmart), they carried bowls of holy water, with pocket-copies of the Bible, as well as gilded crucifixes, hanging from their necks; they recited, constantly, the words of the Lord, the Bible, that infallible, unchanging holy document. They saw nothing but their feet, and parts of the ground beneath them; no more. They sought to plug their eyes and their eyes to the jeering, sinful men around them; to steel themselves, mentally, for their task. They seemed to be moving, red wraiths, nothing visible except the fabrics draped around them, neither heads nor feet.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," whispered Tabitha, the bowl of holy water steady in her hands as she looked down at her papal red shoes, trying as hard as she could not even to look at the ground, which surely itself was cursed. "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me by still waters..."
They would begin soon, once God had given them the necessary strength.
"Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me..."