“We’ve all heard fairy stories,” Agneja said. “But you don’t seem like the sort to believe in that. Why, then? Why look for elves in the godforsaken wilderness?”

Scimoc smacked his hand on one of the stones. “Is this a fairy tale to you?” he said.

“No, but what do we gain from a dead city, soon to have still more dead within it?” Agneja pressed.

“We have it from legends and old histories that the elves were long-lived, that they were not troubled by the petty squabbles that have held our kind back and turned many of our lands to ash,” Scimoc replied. “The population of the Empire is barely half of what it was before the plagues and the Brothers’ War, and there are some in the court that say we’re eventually doomed to exhaust our farmlands, to grow beyond our ability to support ourselves, and dig our own short-sighted graves.”

“The elves can’t help us with any of that,” Agneja said. “They’re gone. Long gone.”

“I’m not looking for their help.” He slapped at the stones again, more weakly this time. “I’m just looking for some evidence that somebody like us could thrive. If they built this place, lived immortal lives, and only disappeared because we killed them all, well…then maybe there’s hope for us. Somebody managed it. Maybe we can too.”

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