In the center she found an old man, carefully placing shattered stones in an uneven line. She sat and watched him. He laid out a square, several feet on each side, then started building upwards. He had a wall up to his waist when one of the lower stones shifted slightly, sending that entire side tumbling to the sand, as he watched, unmoving and quiet.
"I heard there was a man trying to rebuild a city here," she finally said.
The man nodded slowly, not turning to face her, and remaining silent.
He sighed. "Because once there was a beautiful tower, on this very spot. Once it stretched miles in the air, and the clouds themselves parted around it. Once there were crystal statues and gardens here, and once a thousand thousand people loved and lived and played here. Once it was fantastic."
"But it isn't now."
"No. Now it isn't."
The sky darkened, smoky clouds shifting over the sun. The old man gently rearranged the side of the fallen wall, building it up again slowly.
"Why do you try to rebuild what was lost?"
"Because it was worth it, the first time."
She watched him quietly.
"Because it's all I know how to do."
The wind chilled rapidy and tore at their clothes. She gathered her clothing more closely and watched him packing sand into the wall's holes.
"You look like you're making progress."
"It's an illusion."
The ground trembled unexpectedly, then again, more strongly. The walls began to crumble, sinking back into the sand, leaving no sign of their existence except a few loose pieces of rubble.
He raised his voice slightly to be heard above the ground rumbling. "I can make progress. For a bit, I can make progress. But it never stays. The ground shakes, and what pitiful progress I've made is lost to the sands again."
"The earthquakes only started when the city fell?"
He shook his head. "The earthquakes have been here forever. But the city buildings were strong enough to withstand them. The city buildings were steel and glass and concrete, and they were designed to be completely invulnerable."
The ground steadied and slowly the clouds cleared from the sun again, letting the first beams from the sun chase away the edge of the cold. "But they weren't," he continued. "One day there was a cataclysm, and the steel bent, and the glass shattered, and the concrete fractured, and the crystal broke, and the city fell. And I can't rebuild it." Finally he looked her in the eyes. "I can't rebulid it." He gazed at her with pain-bright eyes.
"You don't have to. You could move on."
He shook his head violently. "I'm the last one. Nobody else remembers how it was. Nobody else remembers how to put it together. If I go, it will never be the same. Never."
"You could move on."
He dropped his gaze. "No. This is all I have. This is all I ever will have."
"There's nothing here."
The last clouds cleared, giving the cold sun full reign over the sky again.
He turned and began rebuilding the city again, silently, rock by rock.
"You could come with me."
"What do you have that would be better?"
She looked down. "Nothing. I have nothing either."
"You could stay here."
"I can't do that. I have to keep walking."
"Because . . . because it's all I know how to do. Without it, I would have nothing at all."
"As it is with me and my city."
She nodded slowly. "I think I understand."
He said nothing.
She got up and walked away, out of the city, across the frozen dunes once more.
After a few minutes, he got up and followed her.