"I swear by the gods that when I catch you I'll feed your insides to the crows!"
That was the last thing she heard before she disappeared around the side of the alley, the waning light of day causing the already-dark street to be filled with dancing shadows, like fleeting ghosts that came out only at night. ducking into the doorway of a small shop and rushing in as fast as she could. She closed the door behind her with a slam, leaning against it with all her weight and praying silently that they wouldn't follow her in here.
Hazel couldn't help but breathe a semi-audible sigh of relief as she looked out a small rounded window to her left and spotted the mob of boys running past the shop without any hesitation. But the feeling of safety didn't last long: the alley was a dead-end after that, so the boys all came to a sudden halt, bumping into each other in a somewhat comical manner. It was like a scene in the old cartoons she'd seen she was younger, going to the movie theatre in the 1930's and 40's to see animated shorts that had been new and ground-breaking at the time, like the early Mickey Mouse cartoons.
The group of boys, seeing that Hazel was obviously not any place visible in the alley, split up into smaller parties to search for her, their leader telling some to go check in the shops across the alley pavement, and others to check the side including the shop Hazel was in. Upon seeing this, she growled in frustration and drew back from the door, running into the middle of the store and inspecting it for a hiding place.
The store didn't appear to be much to look at: the room she was currently in was lined by tan wallpaper, with a hint of a dull lavender color, which was peeling in so many places that there appeared to be more bare wall exposed than any remnants of the once-fashionably-perceived hue. And, from the dozens of racks of thick furs coats and faded, feathered hats, it was evidently a women's clothing store. Must sell clothes for old ladies, Hazel thought with disdain as she passed over the excessively gaudy jewelry, coats, boas, hats, and other atrocious apparel and accessories. Dusty light filtered in lazily from the round windows on either side of the heavy, rotting oak door, the light casting deeper shadows as early evening passed through the arms of sunset and greeted dusk. From the looks of the place and its location in New Rome, the store didn't see much business anymore, if it ever had.
Suddenly, there was a tremendous bang from the side of the room, a thunderous and impatient knocking on the door. Hazel turned to stare at the door with a start.
"Open up!" someone shouted. Octavian.
Yeah right, she thought with malice. Like I'm going to open the door for the person who's trying to get me, like, "Oh! You want to beat me up? Sure, I'll help you with that! Come on in!"
"Open up, Hazel!" Octavian repeated. "We know you're in there." After he said that, the easy light shining in from the street through the windows was suddenly eclipsed by a group of young men, most a few years older than her, wearing clean white bed sheets as togas over assorted colored T-shirts. Each held two items in his hands: a knife in one, and a stuffed animal of some sort in the other. The sight of twenty or so teenage guys dressed in bed sheets standing there, staring at her while holding stuffed animals was equal parts silly and scary. At the moment, while her safety was in jeopardy, Hazel was going to go with scary.
One of the boys pointed at Hazel with his knife, then to the stuffed elephant he was holding, right before he slit the animal across its stomach with the pointed end, creating a gash that let a mess of stuffed cottonball intestines tumble out. Yep, she decided. Definitely scary.
But why should she worry? The door was holding the weight of Octavian's heavy pounding just fine...until it wasn't, and his fist broke through the wood.
Luckily for Octavian and not-so-luckily for Hazel, he had punched a hole through the wood right above the door knob, so all he had to do to again was to reach down, turn the lock, and open the door. Easy peasy. But not for her.
She ran frantically through the store, crashing into and knocking over several racks as she receded into the back, her thoughts scattered and detached, making her very clumsy and dysfunctional. On any other given day, Hazel, being the kind person that she was, would have stopped and picked up the racks, but this was obviously neither the time nor the place for that.
At this point, one may finally begin to wonder what Hazel Levesque, the kind, loving, and sweet 14-year old girl who had never done anything intentionally to hurt another mortal or demigod in her life. And now she was being chased throughout the city by a mob of rowdy teenage guys, who were so stereotypically outraged that they might as well be carrying pitchforks and flaming torches (although it was in the middle of the day...) So what had the daughter of Pluto done to deserve such a punishment?
Well, for starters, just that: being a daughter of Pluto. Apparently that was a crime in Octavian's opinion.
But what did he know? He was the same guy who made a living off of slitting stuffed animals' throats for a living and then "reading" the entrails, assessing how they could be divine messages from the gods. Yeah right.
Still, he did seem to have a lot of say in what went on. He'd recently declared in front of the Senate that any child born of "the Big Three" (to put it in Greek terms) was unsafe to have around. They were loose cannons, he'd stated. Wild. Untrustworthy. Undependable. Dangerous. He'd also added, just to stir up the Senators, that they were powerful enough and had enough influence at camp to take the Senate seats by force. It hadn't been long after that that a whole group of Senators and Centurions had raced to rally behind Octavian as he'd vowed to lead a manhunt throughout camp until he gathered every last son and daughter of Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto until they were all captured and could be locked away somewhere far away from the Senate or outside of Camp Jupiter.
So, naturally, Hazel was on the run now.
As she ran madly through the old lady clothing store, she realized it was a shotgun house, like one that she'd seen a lot of back in the 40's, growing up in New Orleans. If she remembered correctly, she could even recall living in one for a brief while when she was very, very young. They were interesting homes: one room lined up directly behind another like soldiers in a military formation, so that if one were to stand in the room in the front, he could shoot a gun pointed at the back of the house, and the bullet would (theoretically) travel to the very last room.
As she ran, Hazel counted the rooms: one, the front room with all the clothing racks; two, more old clothes and ugly wallpaper, but uglier because there were wet water stains seeping across it; three, a storage room filled to the ceiling with towering stacks of cardboard boxes, all neatly labeled in scribbled handwriting; and finally the fourth one, a dusty old office, it seemed.One might be wondering why Octavian possessed the power to do such a thing as start the next Salem Witch Trials, but to be fair, there wasn't much that could have been done: at some point in the Giant War with Gaea, Octavian had gotten...snagged on one of the cannons, and had been blasted into the air, landing somewhere unimportant. Although the fall had looked fatal, somehow Octavian had survived it. Maybe Apollo had pitied him or something. Although he hadn't died, he had hit the ground fairly hard, but fortunately (or unfortunately) the injuries had been mostly on the outer layer, just minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises, and it had only taken a year and a half for Octavian to get back to his usually horrible self.l But in any case, he had stumbled back to Camp Jupiter after the war was over, threatening to sue the camp (however that works) if they didn't give him back his old position as Augur, accusing them of trying to kill him so someone else could take his position. "Prophecy is a dangerous game!" he'd cried in outrage. Needless to say, he had been handed back his old job, and was in charge for the weekend while the praetors Reyna Ramirez and Frank Zhang, Hazel's boyfriend, were out of town on official business meeting with the leaders of Camp Half-Blood. Not very long, but still:
One weekend was all it took for Octavian to badly screw things up.
Things would have been different if there were more people around. But it was summer in San Francisco, California, a.k.a. Quest Season, so a lot of the more powerful demigods were out and about. Thalia Grace was unplaceable as ever, somewhere in the world with the other Hunters of Artemis, but gods know where she was (all that really mattered was that she wasn't here). Jason, her brother, was still safe halfway across the country (the lucky devil) at Camp Half-Blood with Piper. Hazel's brother Nico was there too. Percy had told Hazel earlier today that he planned to spend the day in New Rome with Annabeth, looking for a good college and an apartment. She was glad about that: although Percy was a son of Poseidon and technically not related to Neptune, Octavian most likely would have pursued him anyway; he didn't seem like the type of person who really cared to dwell on technicalities.
Hazel knew there were a few other children of the Big Roman Three here here at camp, but for now they were probably either safely in New Rome, outside of the city, or on some minor quest. Wow, Hazel thought as she slipped into the fourth and final room of the store. That's the first time it's been considered safe to go on a quest.
Hazel was violently snapped out of her thoughts by a loud banging and a lot of cursing from the front room, the room she'd entered in on with all the clothing racks. She smiled, knowing that the blundering idiots had probably tripped over one of the racks she'd knocked down. "In here!" someone called, his voice now in the second room, the one with all the drip stains. Only one room, the storage room, left to go.
Panic finally started to course through her veins.
First, she ran with lightning speed into the storage room, knocking down as many cardboard boxes as possible. She didn't even bother trying to be quiet as the pillars toppled and there was tremendous crashing all around. Thankfully, most of the boxes fell in front of the door between the second-to-third-room door, blocking Octavian and his followers' entrance into the last two rooms momentarily. She raced back into the last room, satisfied with the tough obstacle course she knew they'd have to navigate if they wanted to reach her.
She slammed the last door behind her, locking the behind her and hearing it rattle in protest. Searching frantically for a hiding space, she spied a heavy wooden desk, covered in dust an inch thick, standing in the center of the room. The rest of the room was lined by a tall bookshelves and filing cabinets, although there were also three rooms in the north, east, and west.
Well, not many hiding places, she thought with dismay as she looked at the humble desk before her, but it will have to do. She figured that if she was going to go down, she might as well fight til the very end, resisting as much as she could before they captured her and sent her somewhere terrible.
Hazel slid under the desk with easy caution, doing her best to avoid all the filth, and sat patiently. All she could hear was the hammering of the mob on the door- apparently they'd woven through her maze of boxes after all- and the hammering of her heart against her chest.
Why did this have to happen to me? she wondered sadly. Why me?... In that moment all was still. Her heart had not slowed down, but she couldn't feel it. The blood was surely racing through her veins, but she couldn't tell. The mob of boys had stopped beating on the door for some reason, but she didn't care. Let them take her, for all she cared. The only sound at that moment would have been the miniscule tear sliding down Hazel's cheek, so quiet was it in that second that one would have actually been able to hear the drop streaking down her face.
All was quiet...
And then it wasn't.
The world around Hazel Levesque exploded into noise: the door to the office was shattered to pieces, making instant woodchips, as the throng of Hazel Hunters hit it with all their might. They fell into the room, hooting and hollering in triumph but also taking a moment to spot her hiding spot since they were slightly dizzy from all the pounding. The window to the left of Hazel, the one that face west, exploded into a firework of glass, the sound so loud and shattering that it felt like a sting to her ears.
Then the terrifying cacophony of background sounds that Hazel had heard but not seen subsided and ceased altogether. Yet somehow there was still one noise there: stunned silence.
Hazel dared to peak out from her hiding place long enough to see what was happening, and she gasped in surprise: standing against the blinding rays of the lazy setting sun was a figure, broad in the shoulders and long in height. His (Hazel determined the figure was a male from his body stance and noticeable biceps) face was not discernable in the sunlight streaming around him, but she could see the outline of him perfectly: well-toned body, fighting stance, sword in hand, arms at side but tensed. He was an enigma in that way: Hazel could see all around him, but not the front of him; she could see him, but not him; he was a shadow of darkness crowned in a sun of light. It was rather an awesome scene, in the most literal sense of the word.
But she no longer had time to study the figure like the single second she'd been able to do so, for he pitched forward suddenly and raced to her side. She was momentarily afraid of him, and cowered under the desk, but she opened her eyes wide when she heard him speak.
"Hazel," he said. "Hazel, it's me. It's Percy."
She turned her head toward him in surprise. "Percy? What are you doing here? I thought you were in New Rome with Annabeth."
He nodded. "I was, but I found out about Octavian's manhunt after a bit of a scuffle with some of his goons that involved a rubber band, a bottle cap, and some deodorant. Let's just not talk about it, okay?"
She didn't even have time to nod before there was another interruption. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?" A shrill voice cried, causing Hazel to turn and face the boy who was pushing his way to the front of the mob.
"WHO DARES INTERRUPT MY MANHUNT? I'll make you a sacrifice to the gods!"
Percy stepped forward in front of Hazel protectively, swinging his sword in warning. "I don't think so."
Octavian's jaw hung open as he looked at Percy in a stare of surprise that he was quick to morph into a glare of hate. "YOU."
Percy nodded. "Me," he admitted nonchalantly.
Octavian stared at him with such malice, such venom in his eyes that Hazel couldn't help but gulp, although Percy didn't seem fazed in the slightest. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"Well, I'm here to save my friend."
The Augur of Camp Jupiter sneered. "Right. I'm so sure. Well it's a good thing you decided to join the party; we were just about to come looking for you after we finished with this one," he said, pointing at Hazel but not really seeing her at all.
Percy snorted. "Yeah right. Octavian, you couldn't catch a date if she slapped you in the face. What makes you think you can capture the most powerful demigods at this camp? Possibly in the entire world?"
There was a slight chorus of "ooohs" and "buuurrrn" and "ooh, dude, did you hear that? That was cold." Percy smirked in satisfaction, and Hazel noticed Octavian shift in embarrassment. She also began to feel a serious sense of deja vu. Hadn't she been in a situation like this before?
Octavian huffed indignantly. "Yeah, well, whatever. You fell into Tartarus, so HA!"
"At least I fell in with a girl! The closest company you'd find down there would be your teddy bear, cuz all the monsters would just ignore you." Another round of burn noises, along with a few nervous laughs. Octavian started to say something, but it came out as an inaudible stutter. Percy kept going. "In fact, you wouldn't even have the teddy bear, cuz he'd know how lame you are since you still play with stuffed animals." The crowd of boys around Octavian broke out into a contagious, mocking laugh. Yep, Hazel had definitely been here, done this before. But what...
Then it clicked. Of course! She recalled the name of the young boy who'd she'd experienced so much with, who had saved her hide on multiple occasions: but not on quests- just at regular school. Days when she'd have to get up and face the bullies at the St. Agnes School for Colored Children and Indians were all made better by the one person who always defended her and protected her:
Even now, the resemblance between him and Percy was clear: both coming to her rescue just as she was about to get beaten up; both turning the bully's crowd of followers around on him, making him the laughingstock; both winning against the bully through jokes and taunts instead of direct fighting (although Hazel knew Percy could win that way too)...
Hazel snapped out of her reverie just in time to see Percy pointing Octavian- who walked like a little kid who just got busted for stealing the cookies, scuffling his feet and whining as he complained about unfairness- out the door, his pack of followers reluctantly tailing behind him, filing out of the store one-by-one until the only people left were Hazel and Percy.
He shuffled his feet awkwardly. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly.
Hazel looked at him in evident surprise, her eyebrows raised. "Sorry? For what?"
Percy sighed forlornly. "For not getting here in time." He paused, seeming to gather his thoughts.
"It's not your fault. That's crazy talk!" she said.
"I know, but...I should have been here sooner!" he cried, frustrated, and suddenly punching his fist against the desk. "Ow..." he whined. He shook off the pain, looking at her abashedly from underneath his thick mop of black hair. "I'm really sorry though, Hazel. It's totally my fault. Any second later and they might have-"
Hazel stopped his "crazy talk" as she leaned up, standing on her tippy toes, and plastered a quick kiss on his cheek.
Percy stopped talking abruptly. "What was that for?" he asked, eyes wide. She lowered her feet to the ground and gazed at him levelly.
"That was for getting here at just the right time. Seriously, Percy, it's not your fault." She paused, suddenly wanting to say something, although it made her slightly emotional. "You've always protected me, Percy. Always. And I appreciate that so much. I really do." She continued. "You're like a second big brother to me, one that's there way more often, nothing against Nico. But even from the first day I knew you, I've always trusted you, and you've always cared for me and looked out for me. That's why I love you. You are my big brother."
He smiled at her, the tears in his eyes mirroring the ones that glistened in hers. "No problem," he said, slightly choking on the words. "Now how about we go call Reyna and tattle on Octavian?" Again, Hazel flashbacked to that moment she'd shown Leo, of her and Sammy.
Percy held out his elbow like a gentleman, but Hazel pushed him away playfully.
Sammy held out his elbow like a gentleman, but Hazel pushed him away playfully.
"Thanks for being there, Percy."
"Thanks for being there, Sammy."
"Miss Levesque, I will always be there for you!" he said brightly.
"Miss Lamarr, I will always be there for you!" he said brightly.
The two of them raced back to the Senate.
The two of them raced back into the schoolhouse.