Prelude - The Albatross Walks Away

"The work of giants is decaying...
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
Death took all the brave men away."
The Ruin, 8th Century text

"Then the friendless man
Wakes up again,
He sees before him
Fallow waves
Sea birds bathe,
Preening their feathers,
Frost and snow fall,
Mixed with hail."
The Wanderer, 10th Century text

1.

There is a cawing, harsh and brittle in the cold, that echoes bleakly about the wastes.

A white land, of grey streaks where buildings once stood, where crops were once grown. Or where mines were once dug. Or factories grown, or great atomic plants constructed. The wanderer didn't know.
There was vegetation, of a kind, that grew in sparse patches about the place, as though struggling and fighting to rear itself out into the bitter clean air. Black, spindly spider-webs of wood that broke through the white stained sod and sprawled out about the flats, rising and then falling down onto the soil as though in sweet relief, exhausted by their birth.

They called the place Wayland, once. Or England. Or the House of Spades. The wanderer wasn't entirely sure about that, either.

A great monolith, an obsidian spike towered where the city had once breathed and loved and hated and shat on the earth. It might have been the remains of some queer complex, some strange high-rise flat or business pinnacle. The wanderer thought it was something else. A monument to the dead. To the perished peoples. To who they had been, long ago. Perhaps erected by some far-flung space traveller. A passing being who took pity on the deceased of a waste-land world.
Wishful thinking.

The wanderer drifted about the land for a time, investigating the ghostly and haunting sprawlings of the black spindle-trees, and pausing a moment to close his eyes and say something at the foot of the tall monolith. As he went the chalky white that coated the world gathered on his shoes, like sand on a beach, leaving dusty trails over worn brown leather.

They called him Albatross. The wanderer was sure of that. Whether he had been born with the name was not something he was sure of. Whether he would die with it was something he didn't know, either.

Albatross. The wanderer. The friendless man. Him of solitary melancholia. In exile? Mayhap.

He stirs, and turns from the monolith. The black spire. Turns and walks away, treading intricately patterned rubber-soled footprints into the white turf. There is no wind, or any movement in the air at all to ruffle the tails of his suit, or make him catch his brimmed fedora on his head.

The Albatross walks away from the last landmark on a featureless world. Walks through the white chalk that might be dust. Or ashes. Ashes of a dead people. A kingdom, perhaps. A democratic state. A totalitarian hive. A tribe in skin-huts.

The Albatross walks away. His sword hangs tightly to his hip. The spear neatly slung about his shoulder.

The wanderer. Walking away.

Looking up, he watches the black sky above. The atmosphere is thin. Breathable, but thin. You can see every star in the sky. Every sun. Every other world. Just floating up above.

Wayland. The House of Spades. The Albatross won't miss it. He can feel the leap coming. The ripple that starts in his stomach and gurgles its way up to his brain, where it tickles and roars and rages behind his nose.
Reality blurs, and for a moment there is brilliance and golden light and a thousand tiny machines, devices, tick tick ticking away and everything is beautiful and purposeful and then it is gone and the Albatross has moved on.

A new world. Always a new world. Always somewhere different, always somewhere else. He doesn't stop walking away. Can't.

This world is purple and it is warm. Vibrant with life. The Albatross walks into it without breaking his step. Done this before.

A thousand times. A million times. Countless times.

He's done this before.

He's walked away.

-

The man in the brown suit moves faster than the blubbery merman had expected. Cuts under the swung green-glass bottle and slashes, a smooth, fluid motion that breaks thick fat and draws a shower of grimy green blood.

Steps back, moves his hands to get both gripping the sword and raises it, breathing. Merman turns boggle eyes up at the man in the brown suit, vacant and child-like and wondering. Brings the blade down.
The merman drops. The tail is still wriggling as the man in the brown suit cleans his sword and steps over to retrieve his spear. It is pinning another writhing figure to the wall.

A girl watches, looking cheap in a whore's outfit. Neon light spills over her breasts, which are glistening with oils and sweat. The purple light of the third sun makes her pale flesh seem incandescent. She chews, unimpressed.

"Didja have ta' kill them, bub?"
The man in the brown suit looks up, as though he had forgotten the observer. He replaces his hat over tousled and dusty brown hair and straightens it. He frowns, as though displeased by the queer twang of the hooker's speech. Perhaps he is.
"I guess so."
She nods, contemplatively, and then spits. The wad of gum sticks to the bamboo-like wall of the whore-house.
"That's okey," she shrugs. "I never liked those guys anyway."
He grunts, not wanting to talk. With a practised ease, he goes through the struggling merman's torso and pats it down for pockets.
The hooker lifts herself up, perching herself on the counter. The long fish-tail hangs there, the scales catching the light of all four suns. Her fleshy upper body is slick with the fetid heat of the place. She looks the man in the brown suit up and down, exploring her teeth with her tongue.

"You not from around here then, huh?"
"Nope," the man grunts, finding a pocket and emptying it out. He takes a moment to figure out the velcro-fastening on the purse, and then up-ends it onto his palm. The hooker's eyes light up as she watches the brightly coloured beads trickle out.
"Whatcha need money for?"
"Everyone needs money," the man says. He replaces the beads in the velcro purse and tucks it into his suit. He moves on to the next body. The severed tail-end on the floor beats out once more, limp and broken, and then stops.
The hooker clicks her tongue on the roof of her mouth. It sounds almost like a dolphin.
"Not everyone needs it bad enough to gut two guys, though. 'Specially not two guys in a joint run benefacted by Frankie Dellaquio."
"I'm not in town long," the man says, bluntly. He figures he means it.
"Better not be in the country long, neither," the hooker smiles. She shows pearly-white teeth. A pretty smile. "Frankie don't take kindly ta' his boys being gutted like you just done."

The man in the brown suit looks at her again, longer this time. Weighing something up. He sheathes his sword, sliding it down the leather grip along his thigh. Folds his arms about his chest. Exhales.

The hooker smiles again, lewder now. She adjusts her low-cut shirt and pouts.
"Don't see many legs around here. Leastaways not ones with so much...attitude."
"I don't see so many fish tails, either," the man grunts.
The hooker giggles. It is high-pitched, and bubbles, slightly. "Don't see sa' many tails? Where you from, legs with attitude?"
The wanderer takes a moment to reach into his suit pocket, and draws out a cigarette. He lights it with a tinder box, striking the thing hard and blunt. Smokes, for a beat. Then steps over and takes the hooker in his arms.

She looks good in the magenta glow. Real good. Good enough to forget the white dust of a dead world somewhere other.

"That's a long story."

He kisses her, and they fall back against the bamboo-like wall of the whore-house of some strange world with four suns and fish tails. Fall back and fuck, her with the passion a labourer puts into their chores, and him with the lonely needings of a man alone and friendless.

Then he feels the leap coming, and he comes.

And then he is gone.

The Albatross walks away.

The Albatross always walks away.