The Red Inkstone 

Red inkstone and rainwater mixed as the priest prepared the ink for writing on the dead. They were scattered throughout the old capital, many of them lying pale and supine in the great courtyard by the grand gate. No greater plague had ever swept through the land. Carrying the ink in a bronze chalice, the priest wandered from body to body, painting the first letter of the name of salvation on the foreheads. Because of the rain, which had momentarily stopped, he had made the ink thick, almost like paste, but he was certain it would wash off during the next shower. He had to hurry. Praying and whispering, he wandered from corpse to corpse, writing on the dead. One body sat up, and cursed him. Heaven is illiterate and color blind, it coughed, before falling back to the earth to die. Another body nearby, possibly a thief who was nearly caught in the act of stripping the dead and was trying to hide amongst the bodies to cover his shame, straightened up and started to smoke his pipe. Heaven is a foreigner, the thief said, and only speaks a foreign language. The smoke drifted over the gray and crimson carnage. No, thought the priest, heaven is a thief, and he painted the letter on the other’s forehead as he continued to smoke nonchalantly and watch the birds eat in the falling rain. 

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