My eyes crack open and light fills my vision, as if it were a wave breaking across my aching eyes. Without moving, I survey what I can see: The sand, inches from my face, rolling away to a stark horizon of sky. I can only be face down. I take a deep breath – the air is dry and grates against my insides, sand suddenly filling my mouth, forcing me instead to retch and choke a forced cough, pain shooting down my sides. I attempt to get up, and drag my arms across the scorching sand, only for them to remain lying by my sides. I can see them now, wasted away and burnt by the sun, bare except for a few strands of fabric falling to my elbow. I stare at them, willing them to lift me to my feet, but they are still, but for a twitch.
I realise that in my fit I have pushed myself onto my side, and can now not just see the sand below me, but shadows and shapes strewn in the sand. I squint through the light, and can make out that beside me lies part of a great carved statue. Once an effigy of a man, all that remains is part of the torso, torn from shoulder to waist, as if pulled in two by some terrible force. The face remains, and stares upwards, unblinking into the light.
Slightly above him lies another shape, but does not appear to share the same sandstone colouring, instead the skin is dark and almost human. I blink sand out of my eyes and stare harder. I surely recognise that rounding of the shoulder, that pink bare foot splayed out to one side. My eyes dart at the sight of movement, only to catch a scrap of red silk fluttering weakly in the arid breeze. Red silk. My memory flashes images of the material wrapped loosely around the body, bright and luxurious. I know this man, and yet cannot name him. I retreat into thought, replaying snippets of conversations I know we once shared. My eyes now screwed shut against the invasive light, pounding against me, preventing me from remembering my friend. I lose myself in this, searching ever more frantically for who I am looking directly at, but the harder I think, the more forcefully this heat beats me back, forcing me to retreat back to what I know. The sand, the light, the heat.
I finally force myself to look away, knowing my friend is dead, for below the scrap of silk runs a gash which traces his spine, long since darkened and dried by the sun. I shift my eyes below the figure, to something much closer, and half buried in the sand. I remember this to, a slab of carvings and symbols, my eyes follow left to right, scanning the text for any sense. I cannot read it, I recognise the letters, and know they concern me, but cannot make sense of them. I frantically search with my eyes, tearing at the slab up and down, focusing hard and definitely, trying to pronounce every letter. It is impossible. I must be able to read. I wrote this. I know I wrote it with a certainty beyond which I felt capable. I look at it again, letters burnt into stone, engraved in my memory, but only see letters, shapes which now hold no meaning.
I once again try to get up, and this time succeed in pulling myself to my knees. My face hidden from the sun, my whole body crying out against the movement. The sun intensifies impossibly and feels now like a physical weight against my crouched stance, pushing me back towards the sand. I slowly raise my eyes and am faced by landscape of broken bodies and buildings. The scene is repeated over and over all around me: a land taken by force, not suddenly, but over time – in words, in work, and finally in war. This shadow of a former glory fills me with another rush of memory. I remember courtyards full of people, market stalls piled high with food and luxury and the constant calls of voices in the air. I listen, but now there is only silence.
In the distance, above the debris, a spire still stands. My eyes fix upon it, its silhouette seeming to stand against the stark brightness of the rest of horizon. At its peak I can make out the outline of a great eagle, spread against the sky, as if about to take to the air. I know this eagle is how I once was: grand and effortless in movement, atop every building and mountain, even in the air itself. I remember well the people’s half whispered praises and prayers. I felt their worship just like wind under the eagle’s wings.
I remember too when this new sun was merely a dim glow on the horizon, a curiosity which drew fleeting interest. It then broke as a dawn, casting long shadows from North to South across the land. It bred fear and suspicion, and the people kept their prayers to themselves and muttered against my name instead.
Finally this terrible sun rose, and I was powerless to help, as my people forsook me for this light. And now, I remember the end. I remember the terrible loss that was suffered and extent of the ruin which lies at my feet. I turn my eyes up to the sun, its ferocity blinding me immediately. I stare on, focusing upon its white hot centre in order to erase everything from sight, to have to look at my failure no longer. Finally my eyes are burnt out with light, even turning my head all that I can see is the forced, bleached white of a blinded man. I do not cry out, but with one last effort I throw myself back to my knees, offer my palms to the red hot sand and let the sun take my exposed neck.
Here I pray, not to my gods, who I have seen strewn around me, or to my people, who are long dead. Here I pray to the Light, to its power, and its forgiveness.