======================
Challenge: Requiem
by Nancy Kaminski
(c) August 24, 1998
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A Conversion Day vignette written on the 1,919th anniversary of the
eruption of Vesuvius and the death of Pompeii

I wrote this in answer to Erika Wilson's challenge for a Conversion
Day story. Okay, it's a day late, but what's one day when the event
was 1,919 years ago? g

I was fortunate enough to visit Pompeii in 1981 after the tourist
season, and was able to wander at will through the city with only a
few other people for company. It was a remarkable experience, and one
that I treasure. I have never felt such a sense of antiquity and
interrupted life as among those streets and houses.

Thanks to Lisa McDavid for providing Lacroix's real name. It came in
handy! Other than that, I was on my own, since I wrote this on my
lunch hour instead of enjoying the wonderful Minnesota summer
outdoors. The things I do for fan fiction!

Permission is given to archive this story on Mel's FK fiction site.
Everyone else, please ask.

~~~~~

Lacroix soundlessly settled to the earth. *His* earth. The stars
glittered above in the hot August night, the Milky Way a sprawl of
pale luminescence across the heavens. A light breeze soughed over the
ancient cobblestones. The air smelled of dust, and heat, and age, and
death.

He was home. Pompeii.

Why he had come back, on this night of all others, he was not sure. He
had left Toronto with no explanation a month ago, his ancient soul
suddenly restless for different sights, different sounds, and somehow
drawn back to the city of his birth, and rebirth.

Not that anything was different anymore. After nearly two thousand
years of existence, nothing was new. He had seen it all, in one shape
or another.

When he took his leave Janette had merely smiled her secretive smile
and wished him bon voyage. Nicholas had turned his back and told him
never to return.

Nothing ever changed.

He had drifted across Europe, revisiting the places he had been so
long ago---scenes of both defeats and victories, the latter more
numerous than the former. He and his army had been an implacable
instrument of conquest and destruction.

But all those victories, all those triumphs, the wailing of the
conquered, and the spoils of war had been reduced to nothing in the
face of the mountain. That mindless primeval force of nature---
magnificent, terrible, and impersonal---had erased Pompeii in one
dreadful afternoon.

It would have erased him as well but for Fate. When the eruption and
tremors woke him from his wine-induced sleep, his daughter had offered
him the choice of living or dying.

He chose to live---and never regretted it.

And yet here he was, walking the resurrected streets of his ancestral
city, seeing the eerily preserved husk for the first time since the
First Death. All the vitality was gone; what was left seemed to mock
him with silent accusations.

"You survived, and we did not. Why did Fortuna favor you?"

Why indeed.

He had not been a philosophical man then---no soldier could afford
that luxury and be victorious. Seizing opportunities, gaining
advantage, and making the most of little, combined with a fierce
tenacity in both his military and political lives (and they had been
inseparably entwined) had been his skill. He had never wondered at his
good fortune; he had merely taken the gift his daughter/mother had
given him and turned it to his greatest advantage. Yet here he was
musing over the meaning of his existence.

He halted outside the iron gate protecting the entrance to the villa
of Lucius Albuchius Celsus. He had known the man, a vain and foolish
scion of an old family, who had subtly snubbed him as only old money
and high position could do.

He tossed a pebble into the empty atrium. It clattered to the floor
and into the dry impluvium, echoing off the faded walls. "So much for
your wealth and position, Celsus," Lacroix whispered. "You died as
quickly as the least of your slaves. And here I am."

The dead refused to answer him.

Throughout the night Lacroix walked the streets of Pompeii, easily
evading the patrolling watchmen. He silently visited the empty
buildings and examined the plaster casts made of victims caught in the
ash.

His memories of mortal life were vivid and exact---why, he did not
know. Nicholas' mortal life was but a fading impression to him, as was
Janette's to her, and yet Lacroix remembered his own with almost the
clarity of the vampire.

And so in his mind he brought the dead city to life. Instead of empty
streets and broken houses he saw crowds and bustling shops under the
bright Mediterranean sun. He smelled sweat and heard the steady babble
of voices, conversing, calling, hawking wares; carts creaking, hooves
clattering on cobblestones, the bray of a donkey, the laugh of a
child.

And above all the vitality and energy he saw Vesuvius, a looming
purple presence, covered in fields, vineyards, and orchards. Its rich
soils had brought life to the area for almost a thousand years. It had
been a beacon to him after a campaign, the sight telling him he was
almost home---to rest, to lauds, to Selene and his daughter.

But then it had brought death instead, and he changed forever.

Close to dawn he found himself reading the graffiti on a wall near the
Forum. The messages scratched in the white plaster ranged from the
pathetic to the obscene---the outpouring of the masses for all to
read. He considered the wall thoughtfully, then stooped to pick up a
sharp stone.

In the language of his mortality he carefully wrote a line of text
under a message lamenting the discovery of an unfaithful lover.


Lucius Divius Crucifictor returned home and found only ghosts and
ashes, and nothing more.


He dropped the stone and stepped back to examine his handiwork. Let
the archaeologists fret over the minor vandalism, he thought, smiling
thinly. They had done more than he ever could.

He straightened and looked upward. The eastern horizon was lightening;
Vesuvius' peak was tipped with gold.

His past was truly dead, as dead as this shell of a city and its long-
gone inhabitants. There was no meaning to his good fortune, no greater
guiding force. It had happened, and that was that.

It was time to go.

Finis

~~~~~

Plaudits, criticisms, and Pompeiian generals may be sent to
nancykam@mediaone.net