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Codex (EBOOK)

Codex (EBOOK)

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Chapter 1.
Flavia flung out her hands for balance and ducked into a doorway to avoid the onslaught of people. The panicking crowds had swept her along, and it was a small wonder she hadn’t been trampled.
The smell of sulfur came again, a forewarning of the flames. It was daytime, yet darker than the blackest night. A broad sheet of flames engulfed another Pompeii building but this time illuminated the way to the shore. Head for the sea, Titus had said.
Flavia took a deep breath, reluctant to step out of the doorway into the falling ash. As she put out her hand, the building shook and appeared to slide toward her. Flavia darted forward in fright.
Like so many others, Flavia had tied a pillow to her head as protection from the ash, but now the ash was falling harder. Worse still, it was accompanied by shards of blackened rocks and tiny pieces of stinging pumice.
The mixture of stones and ash rapidly covered the ground, forcing Flavia to climb over piles of debris. Some of the rocks were on fire, burning her hands.
As she ran for the shore, a dark cloud loomed behind her, following her like a flood spilling out across the land.
Flavia finally reached the sea, to find a panicked crowd milling around on the shore. The dark cloud of ash following her passed by and covered the sea. For the briefest moment, she had glimpsed the island of Capri and the promontory of Misenum; now the cloud made both vanish in an instant.
Flavia suddenly realized she could now see, as the shore was covered with people who had flaming torches or oil lamps. They were all frantically trying to abandon Pompeii.
The shore itself was piled with ash and stone, blocking the way to the sea.
In the flashes of fire, Flavia could see several Roman naval ships out to sea, their oars glinting in the eerie light. To her horror, the fleet was sailing straight past Pompeii, heading no doubt for Stabiae further down the coast. Her heart sank. There was no hope of rescue from that quarter. The ships must have found the bay impassable.
The seas at first looked violently rough but then receded for a moment, leaving fish lying all over the rubble on the shore. People everywhere were trying to pull little boats over the rubble and into the sea, but the ash was falling into the boats, making them too heavy to move. Flames splintered and charred some of the boats. Some did manage to get their boats into the rough seas, dragging them with difficulty over the ash that blocked the swallow water.
The ash was falling hotter and thicker, accompanied by larger bits of pumice and burning stones.
Flavia was in a daze, hurrying up and down the shore, looking for Titus or any members of her family. Suddenly, there was a strong tremor, and the sea was sucked backward. The shoreline moved out to sea more violently this time, leaving fish flapping on the dry sand. Many people called out in desperation to their gods.
The ash was falling harder now, and Flavia had to keep shaking it off or the weight would soon have buried her. The dark momentarily faded somewhat, and the sun managed to shine through. Far from comforting, this latest development simply allowed Flavia to see that dead fish lay spread over the shore and the shoreline had been pushed out.
A hand landed on her arm just as the sky went black.
She spun around to look into the drawn face of Rufus. Even by the lamplight, she could see the strain on his face.
“Titus said you would be at the sea. Hurry, you must come with me.”
“Where is Titus?” She could barely speak—the smell of sulfur was worse with every moment, and her throat was constricted.
Rufus put his hands on her shoulders and struggled for breath, wheezing loudly. He spoke in short sentences. “He has a head wound. It is not serious. You have to come with me. I have carts ready. The only way out is by land. Hurry! It’s getting worse. We don’t have much time.”
Flavia nodded.
“Hurry, Flavia,” Rufus urged again. “The mountain is throwing out poisoned air. I’ve seen people die before my very eyes. The wind is blowing it directly at us. Hurry, Flavia, hurry!”
Flavia stepped forward, but once more, Rufus’s hand clamped on her arm. “If I don’t make it, you must keep this codex safe. Protect it with your life.”
He thrust a papyrus notebook into her hands.

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