The Isle of the Lost (Page 41)

“That is so creepy,” Evie said, stopping to wipe sweat off her forehead with the edge of her cape. “Like, it’s your destiny, literally, calling.”

“Well,” said Carlos, “no, not really. If it were literally calling, it would be, you know, calling her.”

Jay laughed.

Evie glared at him. “Okay, fine. Literally pulling like a magnet, only not really, because it’s, you know, destiny. Are you happy now?”

“Literally?” Carlos raised an eyebrow.

Jay laughed again, which made Carlos feel good, though he couldn’t exactly explain why, not even to himself.

“Don’t you guys feel it?” Mal sounded nervous. Nobody said anything, and she sighed, turning back to the muddy path.

They’d only made it up past the next curving switchback in the path when Mal stumbled and fell, sending a slide of rock down the trail behind her.

“Who-ahh,” Mal yelped, her arms flailing. The dark stones were so slick with rain that she couldn’t right herself, only slipping on the rocks again.

Evie caught Mal before she tumbled headfirst down the stony path. Both girls flew backward into Jay, who almost toppled Carlos behind him.

“I got you,” said Evie, helping Mal to regain her balance.

“Yeah, and I got you,” Jay said.

“Which is great for everyone but me,” Carlos said, barely keeping one arm around his device as the other held Jay off him. “The human doorstop.”

“I am definitely in the wrong shoes for this,” Evie said, wincing at the sight of her own feet.

“We need flippers, not shoes. The rain has turned this whole trail into a mud river. Maybe we should all hold hands,” Jay suggested. “We’ll work better if we’re all together.”

“Did you really just say that?” Mal shook her head, sounding disgusted. “Why don’t we just sing songs to cheer each other up and then weave flowers out of the mud and move to Auradon, while we’re at it?”

“Come on, Mal.” Carlos tried not to smile. He knew that Mal, of all of them, had the hardest time with anything more beneficent than Maleficent.

“Do you have a better idea?” Jay looked embarrassed.

“If you wanted to hold my hand, you know, you could have just asked,” teased Evie, as she offered it to Jay, waggling her fingers.

“Well, now,” Jay winked. “You don’t say.”

Evie laughed. “Don’t worry, Jay, you’re cute—but thieves aren’t my style.”

“I wasn’t worried,” said Jay smoothly, grasping her hand in his firm grip. “I just don’t feel like taking a mud bath today.”

“From a physics perspective, it does make sense. If you want to talk about Newton’s second and third laws,” Carlos added, trying to sound reassuring. “You know, momentum and force, and all that.”

“What he said.” Jay nodded, holding out his hand to Mal.

Carlos watched him, wondering if Jay and Evie were flirting, and if that was why Mal seemed mad. No. Mal and Jay bickered like siblings. And Jay and Evie were just trying to cover up the fact that they were scared. Jay had told him earlier that he thought Evie was cute, all right, but he thought of her like he did Mal, which meant he didn’t think of her at all. Carlos thought that if the girls were had been their sisters, Mal would have been their annoying, grumpy sister while Evie would have been the manipulative, pretty one. And if Jay had been his brother, he’d be the kind who was either laughing at you or punching you when he wasn’t busy stealing your stuff.

The longer he thought about it, the more Carlos decided it wasn’t so bad to be an only child, after all.

“Come on, Mal. Just take it. Even Newton agrees,” Jay said, wiggling his fingers at Mal, while still grasping Evie’s hand tightly in his other hand.

Mal gave up with a sigh, grabbing it after only a slight hesitation. Mal then held her hand out to Carlos, who grabbed it as if it were a lifesaver, seeing as he knew his physics better than any of them.

Somewhat awkwardly, and little by little, the four of them pulled and pushed and helped each other slosh their way up the muddy path, sweaty palms and muddy ankles and cold feet and all.

Before long the pathway curved once again, and now the thick rain cloud surrounding it seemed to part on either side of the four adventurers, revealing a sudden and dramatic vista—what appeared to be a long and slender stone bridge, half-shrouded in mist, that jutted out above a chasm in the rock directly in front of them.

“It’s beautiful,” Evie said, shivering. “In a really terrifying way.”

“It’s just a bridge,” Carlos said, holding up his box. “But we definitely have to cross it. Look—” The light was flashing so brightly and so quickly now that he covered the sensor with one hand.

“Duh,” Jay said.

“It’s not just a bridge,” Mal said, in a low voice, staring at the gray shape in front of her. “It’s her bridge. Maleficent’s bridge. And it’s pulling me. I have to cross it. It wants me to get to the other side.”

“It’s not the bridge I’m worried about,” Carlos said, looking into the distance. “Look!”

Beyond the bridge and mist, a black castle rose from a pillar of stone. The bridge was the only way to reach the castle, as sheer cliffs surrounded the black fortress on all other sides.

But the castle itself was so forbidding, it didn’t exactly look like a place that wanted to be reached.

“That’s it,” Mal breathed. “That has to be the Forbidden Fortress.” The darkest place on their dark isle—Maleficent’s old lair, and ancestral home.

“Sweet,” Jay said. “That’s one sick shack.”

Evie studied it from behind him, still shivering. “And I thought our castle was drafty.”

“I can’t believe that we actually found it.” Carlos stared from his box to the castle. “And I can’t believe it was so close to the island all along.”

Mal’s eyes were dark, and her expression was impossible to read. She looked almost stunned, Carlos thought. “I guess that explains the rain. The Forbidden Fortress hides itself in a shroud of fog and mist. It’s like a moat, I guess.”

Carlos examined the air around him. “Of course it is. A defensive mechanism, built into the atmosphere itself.”

“I’m sure my mother designed it to keep everyone she didn’t want out.”

[X]

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