We passed today into what used to be the master gem of Vabbi: the Garden of Seborhin. Breenian took us to what she said was once the center of the complex, at the mouth of two towering, broken walls and across the bottom of a deep basin. We stood there in the rubble, watching the city’s haggard inhabitants sift through the remains, listening to our monk as she described what splendor used to reign in the city.
“Over there,” she said, pointing at a shattered, empty pool, “was a large reflecting pond. Five or six planters with vines levitated over the water, with vines hanging over, practically dropping down to the water. Over that way, along that curving edge of the bowl, was a series of terraces, with bushes and vines draping over the edges. Directly above us was a bridge of blue and gold stone, spanning the two sides of the area. You can still see the remains there—just a few broken stones and cables. Back behind uswas a waterfall. There—you can see it in the distance—the broken stones and the water trickling down and out. A river ran down the center of this corridor—we’re standing in the remains of the stone riverbed. Up past the waterfall, on the other side of that wall, was a courtyard with a shrine toMelandru. And there—way up there, were two domes. One on each side. Huge domes. The biggest ones in Vabbi. Golden, shinning like two suns at midday. And staircases. Up and downeverywhere along the terraces and all around. Steep, so that if you tripped at the top it seemed you would tumble forever. Oh—and over there, a towersurroundedby four smaller domed towers, with a slender, reaching spire on the topmost one. And in that direction, another series of domes . . . .”
I hardly listened to her after that. I just couldn’t imagine what I was missing, and what madness would destroy such a place. The way Breenian described the architecture, it seemed that even the buildings had lived and breathed, and now their ghosts took form and sound in the people and their wailing and crying. The city’s skeletons lay in shattered ruins everywhere, stones of red and blue and gold, covered in a thin dusting of the glory that had once been.
I wandered away from the group, just looking and pondering, wondering if I could have doneanythingmore than I did to save this land and its people. I had helped save them. There was that. But was there more I could have done? I didn’t know. It didn’t really matter.
I turned at the voice. There stood a old man in splendidVabbi robes, with hair as white as clouds and practically as fluffy. A soldier in full armor flanked him.
“Master Hezekiah, I do not mean to bother you,” the old man said. He approached cautiously.
“Yes?” I said. I held out my hand for them to shake, and each did in turn. I did not recognize them.
“I am very sorry for your loss.”
The man waved a hand dismissively. “The buildings are nothing. We can—and will—rebuild. It is the lives that are the true loss.”
“I am very sorry for your loss.”
“I am Allzuip, a governor of this land. Plintav, here, tells me that you are responsible for destroying Kitten.”
The soldier next to him nodded, his face still emotionless.
“You were there?”
The soldier nodded again. “I didn’t see it. But the soldiers, they all talk. I saw you later, the day after the battle, and someone pointed at you and said, ‘He is the one.’ And your companion, Rhonan.”
“It was a hard-fought battle.”
“Not really. They say you made it look easy, and after Kitten was gone, the army was routed.”
I did not know how to respond.
“I had relatives in that army,” Allzuip said. “Followers of kitten. People you would not dream would turn to evil such as that. There is no way toknow what darkness lurks in the hearts of those that love us.”
“Kitten had powerful magic,” I said.
“Powerful because it revealed the truth about us, and about our intentions and souls.”
“Where are you going to?” Plintav asked. “What will you do now?”
“The Desolation. Explore. I have made it a goal to see all of Elona.”
“There is much to do here,” Allzuip said. “We could use your help.”
I nodded noncommittally.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “You are not interested in helping.”
The guilt he made me feel angered me. Just moments before I had been wondering whatmore I could have done. And now he, hardly understanding all of the things I had experienced, put that guilt on me. “How much must one man give?” I asked, my lips curling down.
“Perhaps there is only so much one man can do.”
“Perhaps one man can always do more.”
“I have done more than you know.”
“I think you can do more than you know.”
My fists clenched involuntarily at my side. I did not want to listen to his reason.
I knew that I could not stay any longer. They had no right to speak to me like that. “I am sorry for your loss.” I turned and started to walk away.
“And I am sorry for yours,” Allzuip said to my back. His words haunted me the rest of the day, as we explored the remainder of the ruins and surrounding hills. They haunt me now, here in the stillest hours of the night, by the firelight as I write.
I wonder—what I have lost? What has losing it turned me into?
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