Chapter XXIII: Coena Libera

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Apollo had just finished applying an abundance of Cornelia's cosmetics to his own face. With Zeus as the master of the games they had to be extraordinarily cautious.

This presented a rather interesting challenge as cosmetics on men were frowned upon so they had to lather him up; but, make it look natural. Luckily with Saturnalia it was relatively easy to have wax prosthetics made. "I hate this," He proclaimed repeatedly powdering the shiny prosthetic nose. "I look ridiculous." He paused hearing his own voice, "and sound ridiculous!"

Cornelia giggled. Then focused her attention back to the red headed sea goddess in the mirror. She swung her net around testing out the strange new weapon. "How is this practical? What am I supposed to do whip the person in the face with a net? This is useless!"

Apollo tossed her a trident. "This too!"

"Apollo a woman fighting is rare enough did you have to choose the retiaria costume?" She spun around towards him. "Why do I have to bring all this nonsense to a banquet."

"Because it is hot." He said with a wink and a grin, "and you need supporters."

"Jupiter help me!" She groaned. "Why was Hades locked up, and you were allowed to run free?"

"Because I am hot!" He said with a wink and slight sashay. Unfortunately for him, he had to say it through a wax nose which reduced Cornelia to a fit of giggling. 

He held out his arm for her to grasp and escorted her to down the hallways of the Coliseum. She could hear the sounds of libation all the way down the hall. The underbelly of the Coliseum was not decorated festively or adorned with stench masking evergreens. Instead, she was victim to the full cacophony of smells that haunted the hallways. The smell of death, blood, and animal feces was everywhere. It was nauseating.She used some lose fabric from her dress to protect her face from the pungent invasion.

She felt Apollo's elbow drift away from her hand. Wordlessly he had disappeared from her sight. She looked all around her perimeter for one of the notorious trap doors or trick walls hidden throughout the arena's underbelly but found nothing. She raised a suspicious eyebrow; but, decided to move forward. Apollo was an adult, most of the time, so she convinced herself his disappearance was part of the plan.

She followed the carousing sounds of the celebration not far from her. She hurried her steps towards the banquet desperate to avoid the smells of the foul coliseum floors. All the while trying to shake off the ominous feeling that had drifted into her bones. Yet no matter what rallying thoughts she created nothing assuaged the pit in her stomach. The sound of heavy claws and roaring from the coliseums' beasts certainly did not help. Her rose colored glasses built by the excitement of the games were crumbling piece by piece. The reality of her entertainment was a harsh potion to swallow.

She worked hard to focus on her mission. She put up mental blinders to the stench and sounds of misery around her. She had to win sponsors if she had any hope of surviving her first round of combat tomorrow. She opened the double doors to reveal the extravagant Saturnalian banquet. The Coena libera, her last meal.

Cornelia found herself, as a woman, to not be as grossly outnumbered in gender as she anticipated. Her family had never let her go to the Coena Libera, deeming it am excuse for debauchery and villainy. If she was honest with herself her parents were not wrong. Many of the party goers were grossly intoxicated. Even the women were behaving in an overtly sensual manner. Throwing themselves at the oiled down and muscular figured that may be facing their death tomorrow. "Welcome to the life of a gladiator." She whispered to herself derisively. 

She scanned the room in hopes of finding her yellow-eyed friend quickly. Hercules was never one to remain hidden, despite his best efforts. His unique size and appearance mostly singled him out. Though in this setting he was remarkably difficult to find. In fact after several scans of the room she realized he was not here at all.

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