Chapter XX: Terra Firma

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"Ubi est vita, est spes est" —where there is life, there is hope.—Cicero

Cornelia followed her sister back to the house. Each step took her a little further away from the nightmare. After weeks of cold concrete and cruelty, Cornelia wanted to take her time. Even the winter sun, near the isle of Pompeii, held the summer's warmth. She relished in the feel of the grass between her toes and the fact that she was walking under her power. No chains scraped her ankles, and no hands gripped bruises into her skin. It's sun faded stonework, and prominent columns were a welcome sight. Her heart raced with anticipation. Her friends waited for her within the atrium. Their smiling faces and jovial pratter filled the room with warmth and welcome.

The power of her imagination pushed her to move faster. She swung open the mahogany doors and stepped into the open atrium. It was filled with many things. The family's shrine to vesta and their ancestors, an ornate fountain filled with exotic fish, and a feast of Cornelia's personal favorites. The one thing it was missing was a pair of striking blue eyes accompanied by a fiery temper.

"Where is everyone?" Cornelia asked trepidatiously. That glorious feeling of jubilant butterflies then became cold stones inside the pit of her stomach.

Flavia looked nervous, her eyes flickered from Apollo to Cornelia and then back again. He shifted awkwardly as well and nodded at her. "How about we start with who is here?" Flavia spoke delicately. She gently took Cornelia's hand and led her off into another room. Tied to the bed was her Titania.

"What? Why is she tied up?" Cornelia made to rush for her mother. She was tangled amongst the sheets. Her arms and legs were waving wildly. She was drenched in sweat, and her mouth was uttering primal and unrecognizable sounds. Apollo grabbed Cornelia's arm before her feet were able to leave the floor. Luckily for him, she was weaker than usual, but that did not mean a whole lot.

"You know how frail you look you are still a royal pain in the butt." He grunted with effort. Cornelia squirmed in his arms. She stomped hard on his foot and pushed against him. He winced; but, he would not let go.

"Cornelia!" Flavia shouted. "Chill out!" The loud commanding tone of Flavia's voice was alien to Cornelia. Her sister rarely used any sort of force for anything. She was ever the perfect daughter and perfect wife, demure and patient. Cornelia froze, but only briefly.

Cornelia felt a familiar passion and fire rise in her veins. "How can you treat your mother like this? First, you abandon her then you tie her up like a rabid dog!" The deathly glare in her eyes sent shivers down Flavia's spine; but, she held firm.

Flavia sighed and shifted her position in front of Cornelia, blocking her view, and forcing her to look at her. "We are not torturing her; we are healing her." Flavia looked sadly at her mother. "It just looks the same. Demetra has an addiction illness, by the time Titus and I found her it was too late." She paused and leveled her gaze at Cornelia. "Gastonus controls too much of the market. When we tried to defy him," Flavia bit her lip. Her voice raised up a couple of pitches, and she choked off a couple of tears. Apollo released Cornelia who was firmly planted in the ground ready for combat. He put a reassuring hand on Flavia's shoulder and whispered something in her ear. Flavia controlled her breathing and then continued.

"Apollo is taking special care of her." She gestured to their gargling mother. "Unfortunately, this is part of the process." Flavia looked somberly at their once fiery and independent mother, "It's for her safety and ours. She cannot control what she does when in the throes of the opium madness."

Almost as if to emphasize Flavia's point Demetra sunk into the addiction madness, she garbled nonsense with ferocity and screamed with the very core of her being. Her eyes were filled with blind fury and pain. When Cornelia looked at her, really took in what she was seeing she realized that the woman in the bed was not her mother anymore. For this day she was a rabid beast. Cornelia shifted to the foot of the bed. She watched her mother for a long time. She slowly turned her gaze to Apollo and Flavia, "I will fix this."

Cornelia left the room in silence. She stood in the center of the atrium her arms folded as she allowed herself to be encompassed by the sun's gentle light. She remained there for several minutes in taciturnity. When she did finally speak, she refused to even look at either of them, "Start from the beginning."

"It's a long story," Apollo said nervously.

"Then abbreviate it. I want the facts, and I want them now." Cornelia braced herself on a column her tirade from earlier had drained every last bit of extra energy she had stored up. Her world was spinning, and that column was the only tangible support she could find.

Apollo appeared morose, "How about we tell you over dinner. You are too skinny." He forced a jovial smile. "I like my women with a bit of meat on their bones!" The awkward tension in the room was palpable. No one spoke for several minutes. The only sounds in the house were the gentle trickling of the fountain and the occasional moan from Titania.

Dinner was just as awkward, they all forced impersonal and mindless chatter about the weather and state of the union. Occasionally their chatter was punctuated by the gentle shaking of the room. Flavia explained off the subtle tremors as part of the perks of living in the beautiful city of Pompeii. Apollo deftly avoided answering any of Cornelia's questions hoping to wear her out before he had to explain. She was not ready yet. She needed to know, but she had gone through enough for one day.

Both of them were relieved when Cornelia stumbled off in the direction of her room. Flavia looked at Apollo with concern in her eyes "Will she be alright?"

He glanced back at the room and smiled at Flavia. "That little spitfire? Why are you even asking." They both chuckled knowingly.

Flavia took a deep sip of her wine, "If I only had half her courage."

"You have more than that. You don't have to wave a sword around to be courageous. You helped save two people today, and by doing that, we can save all of them."

"When are you going to tell her?" Flavia said rising from the table.

Apollo downed his wine and refilled it. "Tomorrow, I will have no choice."


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-Great news Olympians! My stories including this one were selected to compete in an actual Wattpad run contest! The S.S. Olympus is going to be in the Myths and Legends Novella Challenge. I am actually in round one! There are more to go through. Each level of selection will be harder than the last. Wish me luck and thank you so much for your support with this story!

Cultural References:

-- Everyday prayers would be said to Vesta. During meals, some food might be set aside and passed into the fire as an offering to the goddess. The spirits of the household were the lares and penates. The lares were the spirits of the families ancestors.

--Legendary Runner of Marathon - Pheidippides. History tells us that Pheidippidesran to Athens with the news of the great victory his people had over the Persians at Marathon. It was 490 BC, and the distance he ran was about 26 miles (or, around 40 kilometers). He ran as quickly as he could and did not rest until he arrived in Athens. Spoiler alert he dies at the end, but that is why those races are called Marathons.

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