The Isle of the Lost (Page 50)

“I don’t know. I think it’s kind of cool,” Jay said. “You could steal a whole lot of stuff, looking like that.”

Carlos nodded. “He does have a point. You might want to give the whole getup a test run.”

Evie started to wail.

“Not helping,” Mal scolded.

Evie wailed all the more loudly.

“Evie, come on. That’s not you. You know that. Don’t let my mother’s evil fortress get under your skin,” Mal said, sounding as passionate on the subject as Evie had ever heard her sound about anything at all.

“This is what my—I mean, Maleficent does. She finds your weaknesses and picks them off, one by one. You think it’s an accident that we stumbled across this Magic Mirror, right when we happened to have the Fairest along for the ride?”

“You think it’s on purpose?” Evie looked calmer, and even a little intrigued.

“I think it’s a test, just like everything else in this place. Like Carlos and the gargoyles, or Jay and the Mouth.”

“Okay,” Evie said slowly, nodding at Mal. “You really think I can do it?”

“I know you can, you loser. I mean, Fairest loser.” Mal grinned.

Evie grinned back.

Okay, maybe she could do this. “I have studied that spell a hundred times in my mother’s grimoire.”

“That’s the spirit,” Mal said, thumping her on the back.

“I can see the words of the spell as clearly as if it were before me now,” Evie said a little more loudly, standing a little straighter.

“There you go. Of course you can. It’s a classic.”

“A classic,” Evie said to herself. “That was what I called it. Remember?”

Could she?

Then she looked her old, ugly self right in the eye.

“‘Mummy dust, to make me look old!’” she cried.

Suddenly, her wrinkles disappeared. Carlos whooped with joy, because his had vanished as well. And he’d hated seeing Cruella’s frown lines on his face.

Evie smiled. “‘To shroud my clothes, black of night!’”

In a flash, they were wearing their own clothes again.

“‘To age my voice, an old hag’s cackle!’” she said, and even as she said it, her real voice returned, young and melodic once again.

Jay laughed in delight, and it was no longer an old man’s gruff chuckle.

“‘To whiten my hair, a scream of fright!’” said Evie, watching as her hair went back to the dark, beautiful blue hue. Mal’s thick purple locks returned, and the black seeped back into Carlos’s white hair.

Evie was almost done now, and her voice gained confidence as she remembered the last words of the incantation. “‘A blast of wind to fan my hate, a thunderbolt to mix it well, now reverse this magic spell!’”

All four of them cheered and yelled and jumped around like crazy idiots. Even Evie was grinning now.

She had never been so happy to see herself in the mirror, and now that she was herself again, she found that for once in her life, nobody even cared how she looked. Not even her.

It was like magic.

As she trudged behind the others, Mal thought about what she’d said to Evie—how everything at the Forbidden Fortress had been a test.

Carlos had faced the gargoyles, and Jay, the Cave of Wonders. Evie had endured the Magic Mirror.

What about me?

What’s in store for me?

Was danger—in the form of a challenge all her own—waiting for her, just behind the next castle door?

Or would it be even more like my mother to ignore me altogether? To leave me alone, and think I wasn’t worthy of any kind of test at all?

She closed her eyes. She could almost hear her mother’s voice now.

What is there to test, Mal? You aren’t like me. You’re weak, like your father. You don’t even deserve your own name.

Mal opened her eyes.

Either way, nothing changed the place where they were standing.

Maleficent’s home. Her lair.

Mal was on her mother’s turf now, whether or not she was welcome there. And she knew that whatever happened next was about the two of them, test or not. Quest or not.

Even, Dragon’s Eye or not.

Mal couldn’t shake the feeling that something or someone was watching her; she’d felt it since she left home that morning, and the presence was even stronger in the fortress. But every time she looked over her shoulder there was nothing. Maybe she was just being paranoid.

Past the mirrored hallway, Mal and the others walked through a corridor hung with purple and gold pennants and great tapestries, depicting all the surrounding kingdoms. It was hard to tell one from the next, though, mostly because the dust was so thick. As they walked, they even made tracks across the dusty stones, as if they were instead trudging through hallways of snow.

But on they went.

The corridors bent and twisted, the floor sometimes seeming uneven, the walls angling one way or the other, making them all feel as if they were in a dream or a fun-house or someplace that didn’t really exist.

A fairy tale come to life.

A castle—only, the way castles looked in nightmares.

Every wall and every stone was rendered in shades of gray and black, a faint green glow sometimes seeping through a wedge here and there.

Mother’s home, Mal thought every time she noticed the green light.

The total effect was excruciating for all four of them—even for Mal.

Or, especially for Mal.

The cracked stained glass windows were the only other source of color. The old glass was mostly broken, and sections of the windows lay entirely in ruins, their shards dashed across the floor. Mal and the others had to step carefully to avoid slipping on one of pieces. The long, window-lined corridor gave way to an even taller and wider corridor, and before long, Mal knew they were approaching some place of significance, a great chamber, perhaps even the heart of the castle itself.

Mal walked toward her fate, as Evie had said. Her destiny, if that’s what it was.

Mal could feel it, the now familiar pull toward something unknown, something that perhaps belonged only to her.

It was there in front of her, buzzing and vibrating, just as it had been since the first moment she’d stepped inside the Thorn Forest. It pulled at her, beckoned her, even taunted her.

Come, it said.

Hurry.

This way.

Was it her really destiny calling to her, after all?

Or was it just another failure waiting for her in the throne room? More confirmation that she would never be her mother’s daughter, no matter how hard she tried?

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