The Isle of the Lost (Page 53)

Jay looked up. Carlos backed away instinctively. Mal knew neither one of them wanted to get anywhere near this conversation. She knew that because she felt the same way herself.

“I guess that was the plan.” Mal shrugged. You don’t have to explain yourself. Not to her. But she found, strangely enough, that she wanted to.

“Is this still about the—you know?” Evie looked at her. “Come on.”

Mal was embarrassed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you don’t,” Jay muttered. Even Carlos laughed. Mal glared at both of them.

Evie rolled her eyes. “The party. My party. Back when we were little kids.”

“Who can remember that far back?” Mal said, sticking out her chin stubbornly.

Evie looked tired. “I begged my mother to invite you, you know. But she refused; she was still too angry at your mother. They’ve competed for everything for as long as they’ve known each other.”

Mal nodded again. “I know. Because of that stupid election about who would lead this island, right?”

Evie shrugged. “You know what they say. Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the biggest ego of them all?”

Mal smiled in spite of the entirely awkward nature of the conversation.

Evie looked her straight in the eye. “Look, my mom messed up. But the party wasn’t that great, really. You didn’t miss much.”

“It wasn’t a howler?”

“Not anything like Carlos’s at all.” Evie smiled.

“That’s right. I’m legendary,” Carlos said.

Mal glared at him. “As if I didn’t have to almost beat you into having that party?”

She looked back at Evie. “Look, I didn’t mean to trap you in Cruella’s horrible closet.” Mal glanced at Carlos, adding, “The one she loves more than her own son.”

“Ha-ha,” Carlos said, not laughing at all. Well, sort of not laughing. Actually, he was kind of laughing. Even Jay was having a hard time keeping a straight face.

Evie giggled as well. “Yes, you did.”

“Okay, I did.” Mal smiled.

“It’s all right.” Evie smiled back. “I didn’t get caught in any of the traps.”

“Cool,” said Mal, even as she was embarrassed by her softness.

Carlos sighed.

Jay punched him in the gut with a grin. “Come on. At least your mom doesn’t only wear sweat suits and pajamas.”

“Let’s not talk about it,” said Evie and Mal, almost in unison.

“Yeah. Enough with the violins. We got a long walk home,” Jay said. “And I’m not all that sure that this place has a back door.”

Mal had a hard time keeping her mind on finding the way out of the fortress, though.

She was soft, and she was worried.

She had just saved someone’s life, practically. Hadn’t she?

What kind of self-respecting second-generation villain did anything of the sort?

What had happened to her grand evil scheme?

Why hadn’t she just let Evie be cursed by Maleficent’s scepter? Weren’t princesses meant to sleep for years and years anyway? Didn’t that basically come with the job description?

What if my mom is right?

What if Mal really was weak like her father—and worse, had a propensity for good somewhere in her black little heart?

Mal shuddered as she walked along behind the others.

No. If anything, being immune to the curse just proved she was definitely not her father’s daughter. One day she too would be Maleficent.

She had to be.

But whether she was Maleficent’s daughter or not, she had failed.

She was returning home empty-handed.

Boy, did she not want to be around when her mother found out.

This wasn’t the victory lap Mal had imagined when she’d first set off in search of the Forbidden Fortress.

Defeated, the unlikely gang of four began to retrace their steps, just looking for the way out. They had lost everything, as usual. By any reasonable standard—or by her mother’s infinitely less reasonable standards, Mal thought—they were utter and complete failures, every last one.

Especially her.

The moment they retreated from the throne room, though, Mal couldn’t help but feel a shiver of relief at also leaving its darkness behind.

Although, oddly enough, the fortress had a different feel now, like it was dead. Mal couldn’t feel the same energy it had before.

“Do you think the hole in the dome’s plugged up again?” she asked Carlos. “It feels different in here.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Or maybe the magic it sparked is spent, now.”

Mal looked up at the sky. She had a feeling there wouldn’t be any more magic on the island.

Nobody said a word as they found their way back to the hall where the Magic Mirror was now just an ordinary surface—especially not Evie, who avoided so much as a glance at it.

Nobody said a word, either, as they hurried once again over the crumbling marble floor, this time avoiding both the scampering rats and the fluttering bats—going nowhere near any goblin passages or suffocating mazes or dusty tapestry rooms or portrait halls—until they reached the vast, empty cave that had so briefly become the sand-filled Cave of Wonders.

Especially not Jay, who only quickened the pace of his own echoing footsteps until he once again found the rotting wooden door that had brought them there the first time.

And Carlos seemed in a particular hurry to get through twisting passages that led to the black marble–floored, dark-fogged halls of the main fortress. As he pushed his way out the front doors, the gargoyle bridge once again faced them.

Faced him.

When the others caught up to Carlos, they stopped and stared over the precipice where he stood. The dizzying depths of the ravine below were, well, dizzying. But he didn’t seem in any hurry to step back up to the bridge this time.

“It’s fine,” Evie said, encouragingly. “We’ll just do what we did before.”

“Sure. We cross one stupid bridge.” Jay nodded. “Not very far at all.”

That was true. On the other side of the bridge, they could just make out the winding path leading its way down through the thorn forest, from the direction they’d originally come.

“We’re practically home free,” Mal agreed, looking sideways at Carlos, who sighed.

“I don’t know. Do you think it looks a little more, you know, crumbly? After all those tidal earthquakes we were feeling back there? It doesn’t seem like the safest plan.” He looked at Mal.


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