The Isle of the Lost (Page 10)

“I hope so,” Ben said, uncertainly.

“I know so,” Belle said, kissing his cheek.

As the feather-light steps of his mother faded away, Ben took up his pen and turned back to his pages. This time, though, all he could see was his fist, with the same golden beast-head ring that his father wore.

Strong. Powerful. Kingly.

He clenched his fingers harder.

Ben swore he would make his father proud.

“Well, you look very pleased with yourself,” said Jay as Mal settled into her front-row seat and propped her feet up on the desk next to her.

“I am,” she said. “I just taught that little blueberry what it means to feel left out.”

“Carlos looked like he was going to have a cow when you told him he was hosting your party.”

“You mean a dog?” Mal laughed, even though the joke was getting old.

Jay elbowed her with a wink before melting away to his desk in the back of the room.

Mal was in a good mood. This class was her favorite: Advanced Evil Schemes and Nasty Tricks, taught by Lady Tremaine, otherwise known as the Wicked Stepmother. Mal was particularly fond of Mean-Spirited Pranks.

“Hello, you dreadful children,” Lady Tremaine said, entering the room with a swish of her petticoats and casting a bored look at the class in front of her. “Today we will embark on our annual class project: Crafting the Ultimate Evil Scheme.”

She turned toward the chalkboard and wrote in earsplitting cursive: The Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Broken Glass Slipper. “As you well know,” she said, as she turned back to the students, “my manipulation of Cinderella was my greatest evil deed. For years I kept her in the attic and treated her as a virtual servant. If not for some horrid meddling mice, one of my daughters would be the queen of Charming Castle right now, instead of that ungrateful girl. And so, the goal of every teacher at Dragon Hall is to train the new generation of villains not to make the same mistakes we did. You must learn to adapt, to be faster, more cunning, and wickeder than ever before. You will spend this year working on an evil scheme of your choosing. The student with the best nasty trick will win Dragon Hall’s Evilest of the Year award.”

The class nodded their heads in unison, each filling with a variety of ideas for awful tricks. Mal scratched her nose with the end of her purple-plumed fountain pen, wondering what her year-long scheming project would be. She looked around the room at her fellow students scribbling away on notepads, brows furrowed, some cackling softly under their breaths. Her mind was racing with horrid ideas, each more horrid than the last. Lock all the first-years in the dungeon? Been there, done that. Fill the hallways with cockroaches? Child’s play. Let a stampede of goblins loose in the slop hall? That would be just a regular Tuesday.…

Across the room, Mal heard a soft giggle. She looked over her shoulder to find that annoying new girl Evie chatting cheerfully with Carlos De Vil as they played with some sort of black box on his desk. Ugh. That girl had nothing to be happy about. Why, hadn’t she, Mal, just told her she couldn’t come to the howler of the year? Mal was slightly disconcerted for a moment, until she realized: the evil scheme of the year was right in front of her.

A twisted smile formed on her lips, and she chewed her fountain pen for a moment before scribbling a page’s worth of notes.

She would show that blue-haired princess a thing or two.

Of course, she’d already told Evie that she couldn’t come to the party, but that wasn’t enough. It was too simple, too blunt. Mal had to be sneaky, like Lady Tremaine had been, pretending to be working in Cinderella’s best interests when she had been doing exactly the opposite.

Mal realized that she’d been waiting years for this chance, whether or not she’d consciously known it. The memory of the “lost” invitation—if indeed it had ever existed in the first place (it was still unclear what had truly happened)—grated on her feelings as sharply today as it had when she was six years old.

A day like that can only happen once in sixteen years.

A day like that changes a person.

A day like that was never going to happen again.

Not if Mal could help it.

And to be honest, Mal wanted to do more than ruin Evie’s day, she wanted to ruin her year. On second thought, maybe keeping Evie out of the party was the wrong move. If Evie wasn’t there, then Mal wouldn’t have the opportunity to torture her to her heart’s delight.

Mal finished writing down her plans just as the bell rang and caught up to Jay, who was all cheer and charm—and by the time they reached the door, his pockets were full of much more than that.

“Hold up,” Mal said as she spotted Carlos and Evie coming toward them.

Evie looked genuinely fearful and Carlos wary as they approached Mal, who blocked the doorway.

“Hey, Evie, you know that party I’m having?” Mal asked.

Evie nodded. “Um, yeah?”

“I was only kidding earlier,” Mal said with the sweetest smile she could manage. “Of course you’re invited.”

“I am?” Evie squealed. “Are you sure you want me there?”

“I don’t want anything more in the world,” said Mal grandly, and truthfully. “Don’t miss it.”

“I won’t,” promised Evie with a nervous smile.

Mal watched her and Carlos skitter away with satisfaction. Jay raised an eyebrow. “What was that all about? I thought you didn’t want her there,” he said, as he deftly stole a rotten banana from a first-year’s lunch pail.

“Plans change.”

“An evil scheme, huh?” Jay waggled both eyebrows.

“Maybe,” Mal said mysteriously, not wanting to give anything away. It wasn’t like Jay could be trusted. “Thieves’ honor” meant neither of them had any.

“Come on. It’s me. The only one you can stand on this island.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said, only half smiling.

“Don’t you hate parties? You didn’t go to Anthony Tremaine’s kickback the other week, and you missed my cousin Jade’s ‘Scary Sixteenth.’ They were off-the-hook, as the pirate posse would say.” He smirked.

“Those were different. Anyway, you need to hop to it. Carlos can’t throw my party alone.” She grabbed his arm. “We need jugs of spicy cider, bags of stale potato chips, sparkling slop, the works.”

Jay peeled the banana and took a bite. “Done.”

“And make sure it’s the good stuff from the wharf, from the first boats. I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

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