Elderly Professor Janek had been on enough digs to know how to conserve his fluids and energy in the scorching heat and driving wind. Kamala rode behind him, a clay colored headscarf wrapped around her to keep the sand out of her mouth and eyes. His most trusted research assistant, she could detect barely perceptible shadings on satellite images, attributing their import with breathtaking accuracy. Olly, their guide, was on foot to calm the animals. He had hired the crew riding behind them.
“We should be within a mile of the location you indicated on the map,” Olly shouted over the wind. Professor Janek shaded his eyes to survey the horizon. The heavy blue sky seemed to press down in all directions. Nothing appeared but rippling sand, whirling into spray.
“Which way?” he called back.
Olly pointed. Professor Janek shrugged and turned to look back at Kamala. “How tall did you say the figure was?”
“There were three,” her lilting voice carried weakly in the wind. “Based on their shadows, the tallest is about fifty stories high. The other two, around half that.”
“Our figures must be off. It can’t only be a mile away.”
What were they missing?
Ool and Blay watched the caravan, their mouths drooping with concern. “They are approaching, Lord,” said Ool. “Much closer than any we’ve seen in aeons.”
Lord Tear made a rumbling sound.
“Do not bother Lord Tear with this,” Blay hissed. He meditates. The perimeter will stand, but you mustn’t break his concentration.”
Ool sucked his teeth at Blay. “I’m not bothering him. I’m warning him.”
“There are believers within,” Lord Tear said.
They turned to him in a sudden motion that rocked them both off balance, then spoke simultaneously.
“ — Will you lift the veil? How shall we assist?”
“— We must prepare!”
“I will grant them the blessing, and you must halt the wind until it is complete,” Lord Tear commanded.
The pilgrims had dismounted their camels. Some were prostrate in prayer. Ool could hear their murmurings as if they were speaking into his ear. Lord Tear must have opened that conduit already. He saw by Blay’s sorrowful eyes that he heard it too. Keeping his eyes on Blay, Ool drew a deep breath and tapped into the hard packed sand under his enormous base. He let the sense of peace emanate, felt it meet Blay’s energy where it expanded out into the desert.
Professor Janek held up a hand to silence Olly. “The wind has stopped,” he marvelled, then fell silent as the world in front of him transformed. From nowhere in the empty plane, there appeared three gigantic statues. Two of them were swaying slightly, their arms almost seemed to be moving independently. He looked at his companions, were they seeing this, or had he succumbed to the heat?
Kamala had loosened her scarf and was pointing at the figures. The men on the ground fell silent.
As they all gaped, the wave of energy washed over them like cool water. Professor Janek relaxed. The sudden absence of ache in his joints, stiffness, and gnawing pains in his belly gave him the sense of having no body.
The second wave of energy followed closely. The professor was flooded with the memory of his wife. He smelled her gardenia lotion, felt her hands squeeze the tension from his shoulders, heard her laugh as she waved a dandelion under his chin.
The third wave opened a cleft in the soft tissue of his soul, and out of it erupted a flood of tears. He wept silently, freely. A sense of loss washed over him, but was accompanied by profound joy. He looked around, his companions were also weeping.
The wind resumed with a vengeance, lifting the sand into a veil between the caravan and the statues. The ground seemed to melt as the sand began to bury the statues. Just as suddenly as they had appeared, they faded into emptiness.
As the wind dried their tears, the group remounted and began the slow return to civilization, heavy with the burden of their precious lives.