The barton of Nilreb sat upon a dry, razored plain, encircled by high and jagged mountains of reddish-beige stone that looked from afar like the fangs of some ancient and gargantuan beast. Only one road let in from the outer world to that wasted space and upon it, a lone man strode, a thin and handsome sort, with sharp, inquisitive features and clothing, neatly tailored but faded by the travails of lengthy passage. At his side was a large leather satchel and about his head, a misshapen hat which shaded bright blue eyes that scoured the cracked and inhospitable plane for any sign of life. He carried a plain white parasol in his leather-gloved left-hand and a smoldering Turkish cigarette in his right. Momentarily, he paused, cigarette dangling from his lips, ashes dancing on the wind, and removed a small, leather journal and mechanical pen from his right waistcoat pocket and made a few deft strokes upon the page, noting the humidity and temperature and sketching the plain before closing the book, pocketing it and taking a long drag as the wind threw sand across the truant’s boots, uncovering the skeleton of a steer, sun-bleached and wind-polished, glistening porcelain-white upon the ground, acrid as the bright and searing sky. He stopped and stared at the remnants, half-entombed by windblown earth and then returned his attention to the road and the distance beyond it.
In thrall to the heat, the horizon writhed like the nuchal organs of a feasting polychaete. The itinerant squinted against the hazebright, finding a shifting series of shapes in artificial sprawl beyond the toothy, ancient rocks surrounding. An acrid hamlet lay some half-hour off, tucked away in a depressed and craggy reach to the north.
When the man arrived at the outskirts moved cautiously between creaking, wooden structures whose stripped and unvarnished composition suggested recent abandonment. So dusty and worn were they that the itinerant feared they might collapse at the slightest gust.
The wayfarer peered through window after window and was, time after time, greeted by empty rooms.
After some ten minutes of fruitless wandering, a voice sounded from the rambler’s immediate left. Hoarse and matter-of-fact.
“Place isn’t worth looting—if that’s what’s on your mind.”
The itinerant went stiff with fright and spun to behold a stern, middle-aged man with a long, ugly scar upon his face.
“You’re mistaken, sir. I’m a engineer. Albrecht Brandt. Pleased to meet you.”
“So I’ve been told, sir.”
“You that fella the mayor brung in?”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Names Otto.” The man extended a hand, “I work with the mayor. Had I known you’d be here so soon, I’d have sent someone to the train station to pick ya up.”
“That’s quite alright. Wasn’t quite as long of a trek as I’d thought it would be,” He paused a moment and looked around in perplexity, “Where is everyone?”
“Folk been leaving on account of the drought. That’s why you’re here. Least one of the reasons. Suppose’n ya wanna see the mayor?”
“I’d be much obliged. But first I should like something to eat, if that were possible.”
Otto nodded, turned, left out and gestured for Albrecht to follow as the wind thrummed in the distance like an airy sepulchre, full-up with the howling of the dead.