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I knew the signs.
The ground shook. The mountain smoked. People went about their business.
I did all I could, but it didn’t matter. No one listened.
I shouted at whomever I could grab that they needed to get out. They needed to run. No one heard me. No one believed me. No one ran. Not even my family, all of whom had always believed me when I spoke. It was too absurd to think the Earth was going to bury them in rock and ash and fire. I begged them to run, but they wouldn’t. No one would heed my warnings. I stayed to try until it was too late.
I came to Pompeii by means no one can follow. I had a deal with Apollo, god of the sun and muses. He wanted me to earn the right to live with him on Olympus. The thing is, I could only do so by living the life that allowed the Olympians rule. So Apollo, the man and god I hate to say I love, took me from my time in the present and sent me far into the past.
I should have asked not to live in Pompeii… I knew what would come. I knew what would happen. I knew… but there was nothing I could do anymore.
“Quintus, please listen. We need to flee the city.” I was begging now, having been asking for days. “I’ll do anything, just leave this place before it burns.” I was on my knees. “Please, Quintus.”
“You worry too much, Caela.” He patted my head as if to dispel my worry.
“I know too much,” I retorted. Quintus just laughed.
“You should go tell your stories to the children. They do enjoy them so.” He smiled at me and I felt my insides tear.
“Leave for your children, then. Please.” I couldn’t raise my voice anymore. All I could do was plead. “I don’t want to watch you all die.” My eyes were streaming again. I loved these people, I didn’t want to see them die too. I’d been trying for days now, but nothing worked.
“It will be fine. The ground never shakes for long.” Quintus shooed me again and I left, but couldn’t stop my heart from breaking. I’d seen too many people I cared for die as I tried to be worthy of a seat on Olympus. I’d lived too many lives here. You’d think I’d be used to it, but my heart was too kind to form callouses.
“Caela!” The children called when I came into their play room.
“Children,” I let them hug me and I wrapped my arms around them, squeezing them too me. “I love you both, you know that?” They nodded against my embrace.
“We love you too,” The girl, Larissa said.
“I love you more!” Pollux the boy argued. I just squeezed them tighter because I knew I couldn’t save them.
“Don’t fight,” I said half-heartedly. I had been their nanny for almost ten years now. I had seen them grow. I had been their mother after their mother died. I had raised them. And now they were being taken from me. Just like I had lost my own daughters Silvia and Niobe. Just like I had lost my sons Aeolus and Damocles and Euandros. Just like I had lost everything, time and time again.
“Larissa, Pollux,” I pulled back to look at their bright, young faces. They had so much life in them still. “I want you to listen to me.” The children looked at me with their innocent blue eyes, their father’s eyes, and nodded. “Everything will be alright,” I held my hands on their shoulders and then the ground shook. I wrapped my arms around them again. The sky outside began to darken with ash.
“Caela?” Larissa asked. She sounded so small. “I’m scared.” Her twin brother squeezed the front of my stolla.
“Don’t be scared.” I was crying again. I knew what was happening. I didn’t want to let them go. Maybe if I held onto them tight enough they’d come with me if Apollo teleported me away from here suddenly. I was sure he wouldn’t let me die here. He never allowed me that.
“What’s happening?” Pollux asked. His voice wavered.
“Mount Vesuvius is erupting. It’s a volcano, a mountain that breathes fire.” The children shook. I knew they didn’t understand, that trying to explain it would only make it worse.
“What about daddy?” Larissa asked. I nodded.
“We’ll go get him, ok?” I said. The children nodded and I saw they were both crying now too. They didn’t understand a volcano but they understood I was upset and worried. That was enough.
“Daddy!” Larissa ran to her father and he picked her up.
“What’s going on?” Quintus asked, holding his child close.
“I tried all I could,” I shook my head. “No one can say I didn’t try.” I wiped my face on the back of my hand.
“You are free to go.” Quintus said darkly. His face was hard. “Pollux, come here.” Pollux looked up at me. I kissed his forehead and bade him go.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so very sorry.” I bowed and fled before I changed my mind.
Apollo was waiting for me outside the villa.
“Can you help them?” I demanded. His hair was dark today and his eyes sad, but I would recognize him anywhere.
“No. No one can help these people anymore,” His reached for my hand and I stepped back. I was choking on my tears again.
“But the children…” I whispered it over the roar of distant thunder. The sky was completely grey.
“I know,” Apollo sounded sad, but only on my behalf.
“How many times do I have to go through this?” Apollo grabbed my arm, trying to pull me towards the street. I pulled away from him.
“We need to go now,” He said.
“How many times?!” I shouted. Apollo just looked at me miserably.
“As many as it takes,” he extended his hand to me again.
“Why? Why do they always have to die?” Apollo stepped closer to me and wiped the tears from my face with both his hands. He loved me too much, that’s what he always said. He would watch the entire world burn if only to save me.
“Everything ends with death,” Apollo said. I cried because it wasn’t fair. It was never fair.
“I don’t know how many more times I can take this,” I covered his hands on my face with my own. He pressed his forehead to mine.
“I know,” Apollo put his arm around me and pulled me away from the villa. The sky began to rain large chunks of rock and pumice. Apollo raised his arm above our heads and his large shield appeared to protect us. He held me close so that the rock didn’t harm me and we made our way towards the edge of the city. He never liked using his powers within sight of mortals. Even doomed ones.
“Caela!” I turned in time to see my little Larissa running through the horrible downpour. I stopped and Apollo tried to pull me along.
“Go back Larissa!” I shouted as Apollo pulled at me. I pulled against him, trying to get to the child, but what could I do against the strength of a God? She got hit with some small pieces of pumice and shielded her head with her arms. But her arms were thin and not enough. Another rock hit her and she crumpled.
“Don’t look,” Apollo said pulling me by the waist, lifting me off my feet for a moment. I struggled against him.
“Larissa!” I cried. A chunk of rock fell on my outstretched arm and I felt it dully. My poor Larissa… “Let me help her!” I turned to Apollo. He shook his head.
“You’re heartless!” I shouted, pounding on his restraining arm. He just kept pulling me along, lifting me from my feet completely when I refused to walk. “You’re a monster!”
I screamed until my throat was raw and my eyes forgot how to cry. My life here was over. Violently so. I couldn’t help the people I loved, I was useless. Again.
Apollo took my abuse in silence. He led me into the woods before he transported us away from Pompeii. He always got us out of civilization before he moved us. So no one would see.
Apollo let me go to stand in a field on Delos. It was as beautiful as always, green grass, pretty flowers, bright sunlight. Peaceful. My face was red and raw from crying. I had ash streaking my face and I coughed because it clogged my lungs. Apollo waved his hand at me and I felt my lungs clear. I glared at him.
“Why can you help me but you can’t help anyone else? I’m no one! I’m useless!” I screamed at him because he never seemed to hear me.
“Caela, you know why.” He sounded injured. I just screamed at him, hitting him in the chest with my fists, because there were no more words. He let me yell until my lungs gave up and then wrapped his arms around me. I collapsed against his chest and let his warmth envelop me. He was all I had that stayed.
“Why did you choose me for this life?” I asked softly.
“Because I love you,” I nodded. I knew that. “Do you still love me? If you don’t, you can go home again. I’d even erase your memories if you’d like. Just say you don’t love me anymore.” Apollo sounded as if I had ripped his heart out and had drowned it in the mud.
I pressed my face into the folds of his tunic and shook my head. I could say it. I missed my old life, missed my family and friends, but at the same time, I’d never felt the way I felt for this man who was a god. Even if he erased my memories I’d still miss him. I knew that too.
“I still love you.” I said. “I just hurt right now.” Apollo cradled my face in his hands and he was smiling. He looked happy and I tried to smile but I hurt too much.
“You can stay here for a while, just live with me.” Apollo had made that promise before but it never lasted long.
“How long?” I asked.
“As long as you wish.”
“Sure,” Apollo said. “Forever.” I laughed at his optimism.
“At least until it doesn’t hurt so much,” Apollo nodded again, forehead against mine. That sounded more realistic at least.
“I love you, Caela. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.” Apollo promised.
“I love you too,” I kissed him then. His warmth made me feel at home.
But my heart was still ice and stone.