The Isle of the Lost (Page 38)

Mal colored. She remembered exactly when they had each received their sidekicks—at that fabulous party long ago, to which she had not been invited. “I don’t have one,” she said shortly.

“Oh!” said Evie, and turned away, looking embarrassed.

Don’t worry, thought Mal. You’ll pay soon enough.

Finally they stood face-to-face with the gray fog that circled the island and marked the edge of Nowhere. The mist was so thick, it was impossible to see what lay beyond it. It would have entailed a walk of faith to see what was on the other side. And all their lives, the four had been told to keep away from the fog, to stay back from the edge of the gray.

“Who goes first?” asked Jay.

“Not me,” said Evie.

“Nor me,” said Carlos.

“Duh,” sniffed Mal. “As if either of you would.”

“Mal?” asked Jay. “After you?”

Mal bit her lip. It was, after all, her quest. “Yeah. I’ll go, cowards.” She squared her shoulders and tensed. She stepped into the fog. It was like walking through a cold rain, and she shivered. She reminded herself that there was no magic on the island, and that nothing could hurt her; but even so, the gray darkness was impenetrable, and for a moment she felt like screaming.

Then she was on the other side.

Still whole.

Not disintegrated.

Not nothing.

She exhaled. “It’s fine,” she called. “Get over here!”

“If she says so,” muttered Jay. Evie followed, then Carlos.

Finally the four of them were on the other side of the fog, standing at the edge of Nowhere.

“Whoa,” said Carlos.

They all looked down. They were standing literally at the water’s edge. One more step, and they would have fallen off the rocky piece of land that was the Isle of the Lost and into the deep sea below, to become an alligator’s dinner.

“Holy Lucifer, what the heck are we supposed to do now?” Mal asked.

“I don’t know, but this thing won’t shut up,” Carlos said. It was true. The compass in his box was beeping wildly now, and the closer Carlos stepped toward the strip of rocky, foggy beach, the faster it beeped. “It’s over there. It has to be,” he said, pointing to the sea.

“Well, I forgot my swimsuit and I don’t really enjoy being eaten by reptiles, so it’s all on you guys,” Jay said, backing away from the water.

“It can’t be in the water,” Mal said, yanking out the map from her pocket. She gasped. “Guys. Come here.” They all gathered around Mal. “Look! There’s more!” More ink had appeared, and this time, they saw that the fortress wasn’t technically on the Isle of the Lost at all but was located on its own island, or rather its own piece of floating rock, which just so happened to be named the Isle of the Doomed.

“Well, that’s cheery,” Carlos said.

“And just how are we supposed to get over there?” Evie asked.

Mal studied the map and pointed to a spot labeled GOBLIN WHARF.

“We’ll hitch a ride from one of our friendly neighborhood goblins to row us over, of course,” Mal said, pushing past them and starting up the muddy beach toward the docks where the goblins unloaded the Auradon barges.

“There’s no such thing as a friendly goblin,” Carlos sighed, but like the rest of them, he followed behind Mal.

They arrived quickly at the busy port. Mostly because the alligators had taken to snapping at them from the shallow water by the beach, and they’d sprinted, screaming, toward the dock.

The wharf was bustling with activity. Goblins pushed their way past the foursome, emptying cargo from the big Auradon ships that were allowed in and out of the magic dome. They placed the rotting and rotten goods onto the splintering wooden boardwalk and jumped on and off each other’s makeshift rafts and boats. They hooted and hollered in their Goblin tongue, tossing bags of scraps and leftovers—clothing, food, cosmetics, electronics, everything the people on Auradon didn’t want anymore or had no use for, onto teetering rickshaws to sell at the market.

“We’ll need to pay for passage,” Mal said. “They’re not going to take us over there for free.”

The four of them emptied their pockets to pool enough of a sum of trinkets and food to pay their way across to the Isle of the Doomed. It took some haggling—Jay did most of the talking as he spoke a bit of Goblin from having worked at the shop—but they finally secured a spot on a scrap boat. That is, a boat that collected anything and everything that fell off the Auradon Dumpsters. It was a scavenger of scavengers, the lowest of the bottom feeders.

As it turned out, a goblin’s boat was not constructed to hold four teenage villains. The floating wooden box creaked and groaned as Mal and the others boarded.

“If I die,” Jay said darkly, “you still can’t have any of my stuff.”

“We’ll be fine,” Evie said. But she seemed to say it more for her own benefit than anyone else’s.

The goblin snickered and started the ancient, rusty motor, and off they went into the thick fog.

It was odd to see the Isle of the Lost from the water. It almost looked…pretty, Mal thought. The forest was lush and green around the edges of the island, and the rocky beach jutted out dramatically into a rolling blanket of navy-blue water. In the distance, she could see Bargain Castle. From far away, it seemed to be gleaming in the fading sunlight.

“Funny how different things look from far away, huh?” Evie said, following Mal’s gaze back toward Isle of the Lost.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Mal said, turning her back on Evie. That same ache was settling in her gut again, and she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it one bit.

Mal could only be sure they’d arrived at the Isle of the Doomed because the engine had stopped. They still couldn’t see five feet in front of them. Mal scrambled blindly out of the boat and onto the rocky beach, followed quickly by the rest of the team. The goblin quickly sped off.

The fog lifted slightly as they made their way through the brush. Soon they were standing in front of a gate covered with a painful-looking bristly forest of thorns. And beyond the gate, high on a craggy mountaintop, stood a large black castle, a ruined, forbidding wreck silhouetted against the night sky.

The thorns around the gate grew thick and twisted, so sharp, they would stab or scrape anyone who dared come near. Worse, the thorns were covered with deadly poisonous spiders; and the whole place had a toxic and sinister air.

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