Part Thirty-Seven:

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Part Thirty-Seven:

"Stop!" Sammy yelled suddenly. Alex and Michael skidded to a stop next to him, both panting heavily.

"Wh - what's going on?" Alex asked, her voice quavering. Sammy pointed.
A few feet away from them, a monster had appeared. Glowing red eyes peered at them through the gloom, coming from a face that was shrivelled up and wrinkled like an old hag.

And then Charlie and Zoe were there beside the three of them. They stood back-to-back, weapons drawn, as the monster moved towards them.

More dropped down from trees until they were surrounded. Each one looked the same; bat-like wings, brass talons and an evil grandmother-ish expression on their faces.

Welcome, demigods. A voice hissed. Michael's eyes scanned the strange creatures, but none of them were moving their mouths. Each of their expressions were completely frozen.

"Who - who are you?" Alex asked. Michael could feel the fear radiating off her.

We are the arai. The monsters said as one. We are the curses. And you, demigods, are going to be cursed.

•••

Zoe could've come up with a thousand jokes at that moment. 'Oh great! I really want to be cursed!' Or 'can't you go curse some other lost demigods?' But it seemed that no one was in the mood for them.

Zoe was prepared to run. The arai would tear them to pieces no doubt, and she wanted to get out of the way before things got too messy.

"Uh, guys..." Michael said. "Why don't we just leave these kind old ladies back to cursing someone else?"

No way. A voice snarled. We've waited nearly sixteen years for this moment to come around again! You demigods are the only ones to stray around that we're allowed to kill!

"Wait, you've had more demigods come here before?" Charlie asked.

Of course. One dwells hidden in a cave not far from here. But we can't curse her, as she's protected by the power and will of the gods! But you, we can...

They started closing in. Zoe readied her sword and got into a battle stance. There was no way she was being cursed today.

The ara closest to Zoe advanced and Zoe panicked, swinging her sword across its chest.

Pain exploded inside of her. She tried to take a gulp of air, but her lungs wouldn't work.

You are drowning. Feel the curse of the ocean. The ara whispered before disintegrating into golden dust.

"Zoe!" Charlie cried. He slung his bow over his shoulder and kneeled down beside her. His hands found her throat and he gently placed them there. Zoe breathed a sigh of relief and she gulped the air greedily - she had never in her life been thankful to have air to breathe.

"Charlie, watch out!" Alex yelled, and Charlie drew his dagger and whirled around to stab an arai at the exact same time as Alex, Sammy and Michael did.

Zoe's eyes widened in alarm. Her heart started beating faster and her only thought was: What curse would be inflicted upon them? Everything seemed to slow down, yet nothing happened. Zoe watched in amazement as they continued fighting, careful not to stab or slash anymore arai.

Zoe dived behind a tree trunk to watch the fight. She made it just in time to see Charlie stab an ara in the leg.

"NO!" Zoe cried, as Charlie yelled out in pain.

The arai started to retreat, and Zoe rushed up to Charlie who had fallen to the ground. A wound was opening up in his shoulder. Charlie was already weak from healing his leg so it would take a while for him to heal himself again - if he was still alive, that is.

"Charlie!" Alex cried, sprinting towards them.

"This way!" Michael shouted, and Zoe and Sammy hauled Charlie to his feet and carried him out of the forest - not the way they had come, a different way, towards a small clearing that was half cloaked in darkness.

"Over there!" Alex yelled. They headed towards a sheltered part against some rocks and laid Charlie against them.he was barely breathing.

"Go find help." Zoe croaked, her voice scratchy and hoarse. She was crying. Was she? She put a hand to her face and felt tears splash down it. Yep, real tears. Zoe handed them the map. "Find Damasen and Iapetus. I'll give Charlie some nectar."

The others nodded and dashed away together into a swampy area off to the left. Zoe shrugged the backpack she had been carrying off her shoulder (they were taking turns) and pulled out the last of their nectar and ambrosia supply.

"Oh, Charlie." She said softly, brushing a hand over his face. "Why?"

There was a large stab wound in his shoulder. Blood was oozing out of it like water from a tap. Zoe pulled her jacket off and pressed it against the wound, not caring if she was cold. She then dribbled some nectar in Charlie's mouth and fed him a square of ambrosia.

He stirred. "Uh..." he groaned.

"Charlie!" Zoe cried, and squeezed him in a hug.

"Hey! Ow!" Charlie winced, and Zoe hurriedly let him go. She peeled her jacket off the wound and was pleased to see that it was closing up nicely.

"I'm sorry, I just thought you wouldn't..." Zoe choked on her words, pressing the now blood-soaked jacket back on the wound.

Charlie gazed up at her with wide brown eyes. "Are you crying?" He whispered, almost unbelieving.

"What?" Zoe started wiping the tears away. "No, I was just-"

Charlie cracked a grin. "At least it wasn't you."

Zoe started crying again.

"Hey, no, stop crying." Charlie murmured gently. He weakly tried to touch her face but his hand was too shaky.

"I'm sorry, it's just that, you would die for me, and I - I don't think I would ever be able to die for you."

Charlie's eyes widened. He looked almost sad. "Do you mean that-"

"No, you idiot." Zoe smiled underneath the rainfall of tears. She leaned down and kissed his nose. "It's quite the opposite of what you think. I-"

"Guys!" Alex screamed from somewhere behind them. Zoe and Charlie jumped.

"Guess who we found!" Coming up behind Alex, Sammy and Michael were two figures. Even though Zoe had never seen them before in her life, she knew who it was.

Iapetus and Damasen.

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