The Isle of the Lost (Page 45)

He had to say it.

He’d almost always known.

Sometimes, like this afternoon, he would think she meant him, but he really knew better.

Because she never meant him.

Not once. Not ever.

Carlos opened his eyes. He had to say it, and he had to say it now.

“HER FURS! FUR IS HER ONE TRUE LOVE!” he yelled. She said it all the time. She had said it that afternoon in front of everyone.

“All my mother cares about is her stupid fur coat closet and everything in it. But you guys already know that.”

It was the truth, and like any truth, it was powerful.

In the blink of an eye, the four of them were standing on the other side of the gargoyle bridge, and everything was set to rights once more. There was no more swaying or rumbling, no one was falling over the side, and the gargoyles had all turned back to stone.

Although Carlos would swear that one of the stone gargoyles had winked at him.

They were safe, for now.

“Nice work,” said Mal, breathing heavily. “Okay, now—where to?”

Carlos shakily looked at the beeping box in his hands. “This way.”

The Forbidden Fortress lived up to its name. Once the four adventurers had found their way in through its massive oaken doors, it was almost impossible to tell the darkness of the shadow world outside the castle from the shadow world within. Either way, it was intimidatingly dark, and the farther Jay and Carlos and Evie and Mal crept inside, the more their nervous whispers echoed through the ghostly, abandoned chambers.

Jay wished he’d worn something warmer than his leather vest. Mal’s lips were turning blue, Carlos’s breath appeared in white clouds as he spoke, and Evie’s fingers felt like icicles when Jay grabbed them. (Once. Or twice. And strictly for warmth.) It was colder than Dragon Hall inside, and there was no chance of anything getting any warmer; there were no logs on the fireplace grates, no thermostats to switch on.

“That’s modern castle living.” Evie sighed. “Trade in one big, cold prison for another.” Mal nodded in agreement. Privately, Jay thought that Jafar’s junk shop seemed downright cozy in comparison, but he kept that to himself.

Inside every corridor, a dense fog floated just above the black marble floor. “That has to be magic. The fog doesn’t just do that,” Mal said.

Carlos nodded. “The refracted energy seems stronger here. I think we’re closer to the source than we’ve ever been.”

As he spoke, an icy wind blew past them, whistling in through the shattered stained-glass windows high above them. Each step they took reverberated against the walls.

Even Jay the master thief was too intimidated to try and take anything, and kept his hands to himself for once.

Of course once they did find the scepter, he’d have to man up. Jay knew that, and he’d made his peace with it—no matter how well they’d all gotten along on the way there.

Villains don’t have friends, and neither do their children. Not when you get right down to it.

None of them had come there out of loyalty to Mal, or friendship. Jay knew what he had to do, and he’d do it.

Until then, his hands stayed in his pockets. If this haunted place was selling it, he didn’t want it.

“What’s that?” Jay asked, pointing. Green lights flashed through half-shattered panes of glass, but he couldn’t figure out the source.

“It’s what we’ve been tracking all along,” Carlos answered. “That same electromagnetic energy: it’s going crazy.” He shook his head at the flashing lights on his box. “This fortress was definitely exposed to something that’s left a kind of residue charge—”

“You mean, an enchantment?”

He shrugged. “That, too.”

“And so, even after all these years, this place is somehow still glowing with its own light?” Evie looked amazed.

“Cool,” Jay said.

Mal shrugged it off. “In other words, we’re getting closer to the Dragon’s Eye.”

“Yep,” said Jay. Like the rest of the group, he knew what everyone else in the Isle and the kingdom knew—that the evil green light meant only one terrifying person.

Even if it probably reminded Mal of home.

Corridors led to more corridors, until they passed through dark hallways full of framed paintings shrouded in cobwebs and dust. “It’s a portrait gallery,” Evie said, straining to see the walls through the shadows. “Every castle has one.”

“Mal, stop it—” Jay shouted, looking behind him and jumping away.

Mal reached out and tapped his shoulder. She was standing right in front of him. “Hello? I’m not back there. I’m over here.”

“Crap. I thought that picture was you.” He pointed.

“That’s not me. That’s my mother,” Mal said with a sigh.

“Whoa, you really do look like her, you know,” Jay said.

“You two could be twins,” Evie agreed.

“That, my friends, is called genetics,” Carlos said with a smile.

“Gee, thanks—I look like my mother? Just what every girl wants to hear,” Mal replied. Still, Jay knew different. What Mal wanted, more than anything, was to be just like her mother.

Exactly like her.

Every bit as bad, and every bit as powerful.

That was what it would take for someone like Maleficent to even notice her—and Jay could tell that this portrait gallery was only making Mal want it that much more desperately.

“Now, what?” Mal asked, as if she were trying to change the subject.

Jay looked around. Before them were four corridors leading to four different parts of the fortress.

A foul draft issued from each of the paths, and Jay could have sworn he heard a distant moan; but he knew it was only the wind, winding its way through the curving passages. He yanked a matchbook from his pocket and lit a match, muttering a quick “eenie-meanie-miney-mo.”

“How scientific,” Carlos said, rolling his eyes.

“You got your way, I got mine. That one,” Jay said, pointing to the corridor directly in front of them. Just as he did, the wind blew out from that same passage, and the foul stench of something rotted or dead came along with it.

The wind snuffed the burning match out.

Evie held her nose, and Mal did the same.

“Are you sure about this?” Mal asked.

“Duh, of course not. That’s why I played eenie-meanie-miney-mo! One corridor is as good as the next,” Jay said, entering the corridor and not waiting for the rest to follow. It was the first rule of breaking into an unknown castle: you never let it get to you. You always act like you know what you are doing.

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