Smoke on the Horizon

III. Hazel

III. HAZEL

The trip back to New Rome seemed to last forever.

The only upside to the cross-country voyage was the new, almost tangible respect towards she and Frank by the other Romans.

Ever since the battle with Gaea, there had been so many questions from the other campers about their quest that Hazel had begun to paraphrase the story, dropping vague references to the most important pieces and summing up the rest.

Frank on the other hand, had to recount the story in full for the senators of New Rome. As Praetor, he couldn’t afford to leave anything out and every time he forgot something, Hazel was forced to jump in, which unfortunately was more often than not.

Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the current oracle, had accompanied them from Camp Half Blood, eager to assist with the mysterious Sibylline books that the harpy Ella had memorized at some point in her book-loving history.

Together they hoped to decipher whatever they could and perhaps even compile a record of the prophecies that had been lost for centuries.

The horde of Roman demigods arrived in San Fransisco in five days, pretty good time Hazel thought for a couple hundred kids complete with battle armor and assorted weaponry.

As soon as they crested the hill overlooking the Little Tiber on the outskirts of New Rome, Hazel felt a tugging in her chest as if her heart was trying to beat her into the city. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed this place, or how very long it had been since last she set foot here.

Frank appeared at her side and took her hand. She smiled, thinking about how much they’d been through and how lucky they were to be standing here right now. It all seemed like a dream.

The SUV’s loaded down with armor and other supplies barreled past them, followed by a few kids who toted crates of stray swords and shields that hadn’t made it into the cars.

The giant eagles soared overhead returning to their homes, and the statue of Terminus stood at the ready as his own little welcoming committee.

Hazel, Frank, and Reyna led the group in, approaching the Pomerian line and stopping before the god of boundaries.

“So you’ve returned, I see,” Terminus said, eyeing the demigods grouped behind the three.

“Yes, it would appear we have,” Reyna replied with a smile. “May we enter?”

“I suppose you must. The camp has been rather peaceful though in your absence. But alas, with the fall of the earth goddess, life must go on, Praetor!”

The statue moved aside for Reyna to pass, but looked sharply at Frank as he moved to follow.

“And you, Praetor Zhang.”

Frank looked at the bust sheepishly. “Yes, Terminus?”

“Oh, nothing. Serve us well.”

He blushed and bowed his head to Terminus, who simply nodded and turned to the next person who stood in line.

Hazel entered the city beside Frank, only to find Reyna waiting for them on the stone paved street. Her dogs, Aurum and Argentum, had remained with her throughout their journey and now raced down the familiar streets, sniffing around every corner in excitement.

“Praetor Zhang, will you accompany me to the Senate House? There is much to discuss.” She must have noticed the surprise in Hazel’s face at Frank’s being snatched from her so quickly upon their return, for she hastily added, “I would rather get a meeting with the senate underway immediately so that we can better organize ourselves as we settle back into the camp.” Reyna smiled, but it was an expression that said not that she was completely sorry, but rather that her request simply needed to be understood.

Frank glanced at Hazel.

“Go, I’ll see you later.”

He nodded nervously and followed Reyna up the steep hill and towards the Senate House, leaving Hazel to head back to the camp with the others.

She meshed into the rest of the group and together they marched wearily into Camp Jupiter.

Lares crowded in doorways and lined the streets to observe the return of the soldiers and to scowl at many of their gaits, quite un-Roman and disorganized.

Some of the specters watched them pass by through slitted eyes, others waved dismissively and turned away, returning to their previous tasks.

Hazel went around and aided the others in storing the many swords and other supplies, and soon the work was nearly done. The cohorts separated and spilled through the camp to the barracks where they met up with friends and noticed empty spaces that wouldn’t be filled.

Many of the Fifth cohort collapsed on their bunks as soon as they arrived, others placed their belongings where they could find them later and went out again, perhaps to the bath or mess hall for some much needed relaxation and familiar food.

Hazel waited, sitting on the side of her bed, trying to decide what to do.

Finally, she decided to go look for Frank.

She hadn’t heard anything about the meeting with the senators, but she couldn’t imagine it was still going on. It’d been nearly two hours since they’d separated in the city. He was probably on his way back now, or helping out with last minute organization as his status of Praetor demanded.

She set out down the road and couldn’t help but notice that no precious gemstones appeared in her wake. Ever since they’d returned from the Ancient Lands, she hadn’t had any problem with her Underworldly ability. It seemed never to happen anymore.

Hazel reached the Pomerian line at the edge of New Rome and again, stepped through into the city under Terminus’s watchful eye. She walked past the café and decorative fountains that lined the street and made her way up the steep hill to the Senate house.

She entered the high columned archway and paused as she heard the urgent voices of the ten senators, deep in discussion.

“How can you say that?” one demanded. “There is no proof that any of this is true!”

The other centurions grumbled in agreement.

“Has there ever been sufficient proof when dealing with Prophecies, Hank?” Reyna said calmly, her expression set as she dared the boy to contradict her.

“Well, no, I suppose not but - ”

“Exactly, which is why we must listen to what little proof we have. I believe that our oracle’s decision is the right one. We should trust it. Now, shall we all return to the camp and make ourselves comfortable? It has been a long few weeks and I for one am looking forward to some peace.”

There was no further argument.

Dakota took a swig from his flask and folded his hands behind his head.

“Well I think that about sums it up,” he said with a yawn.

Hazel heard the scrape of the heavy chairs against the tile and moved quickly back to the door. She stepped outside and waited along the side of the building.

Reyna appeared first, followed by Frank who trotted to catch up to her as she walked briskly out of the Senate house.

“Do you think they’ll go for it?” he asked quietly, glancing behind him to make sure the other senators couldn’t hear him.

“I’m not sure.” Reyna sounded weary, like the meeting had taken a lot out of her. “Dakota and Brandon I know are with us. It’s the others we’ll have to be wary of. Unless they can be swayed, they’ll prove difficult for us.”

Frank nodded, worry lines creasing his forehead as he wrapped his head around what Reyna was saying.

The two Praetors came around the pillar where Hazel was standing and she thought for sure they would see her. They kept walking and she let out the breath she’d been holding.

She waited a moment, then stepped out from the shadow of the building. Hazel walked quickly to catch up with them. Frank saw her first, slowing just slightly until she was beside him and smiled.

Reyna nodded to her and they walked back to the camp in silence.

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