Part Twenty-Five:

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Part Twenty-Five:

Zoe's back ached and stung. The gashes that ran down it were infected and hurt so much, Zoe wasn't even sure how much longer she could last. All she knew was that she was growing weaker by the day, not just physically, but also - oddly - mentally.

Everyday for the past week, the undead Guards had escorted (read: shoved and dragged) her into a dark room where she was chained to a wooden pole and whipped dozens of times. The pain was the most horrible thing Zoe had ever felt, and she desperately wished for the rounds to end as soon as it started. But the thing was, she had no idea what she had done to deserve this.

To make it even worse, a voice always whispered in her ear while she was being tortured. It said that the only person who could save her was dead and that she would never escape. Zoe presumed that the voice meant Charlie or Michael, but she refused to think further than that. And then the voice had laughed as her blood splashed the dark marble floor and her screams hurt even her own ears.

Every time, the voice said something different. It spoke of how her rescuer was dead, or that her friends had forgotten about her. The whispers made Zoe want to cry, but she held on, fearing that if she cried then the voice would call her names like 'stupid', 'ugly', 'loser' and the worst name ever, 'nobody'. Zoe had been called Nobody by bullies for years, though she never told her parents or friends about it.

The best thing about the pain was that it made her fall asleep faster. It throbbed and ached until she got tired and fell asleep, then when she was asleep, she would get the dreams. Dreams of her family and her past life, dreams of a future with someone, even dreams of her becoming a goddess for some reason.

Zoe wasn't sure about that dream. She felt like she was missing a piece of a puzzle, and it ached her almost more than the pain did to know that she had missed something important.

But the thing that hurt her the most was the depressing feeling that no one was coming to save her. She could block out the pain of the whipping, but she couldn't stop the pain of no one caring about her to come rescue her.

•••

As soon as the elevator had darkened, Alex's hand had immediately found Sammy's. She felt comfort in knowing that he was there for her, and she was there for him.

The elevator started going down and Alex's ears popped. She squeezed Sammy's hand as they went down ... down ... down... Basically, they went straight down.

"How much longer will this take?" Charlie sighed, and there was a thump like someone had slammed their head against the wall. After he had said that, there was a ding and the elevator doors rolled open. Faint light flooded into the room and Alex immediately let go of Sammy's hand and looked away from him.

The group wandered out onto the banks of a river as the elevator shut and disappeared. "No way back." Michael noted.

"Where are we?" Charlie asked, looking around at the river shore where they had arrived. But this place was dark and gloomy and had a large roof that made it feel like an abandoned warehouse more than the Underworld.

"It's the River Styx." Sammy said, kneeling at the edge of the water, but it didn't exactly look like water. Broken toys, ripped up paper and discarded goods scattered the waves like a river of rubbish. "But how are we going to get across? Usually Charon would be here, but I don't see him."

"Then why don't we swim?" Charlie suggested.

Sammy glared at him. "Sure, if you want to die then go ahead."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Charlie held up his hands. "I was just being sarcastic."

"Then don't be." Sammy snapped. "It ruins the mood."

"It's only because you hate jokes." Charlie shot back.

"I don't hate jokes."

"You so do!"

"Then-"

"Hey! Break it up you two!" Alex cut in. "Stop fighting. I may have found a solution." She pointed to where a man was waiting further down the shore, staring directly at him.

But it wasn't just any man. It was Charon, his tortoise-shell shades gleaming in the dim Underworld light, crisp Italian suit looking as though it had been washed yesterday.

Charlie visibly gulped.

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