The Isle of the Lost (Page 54)

Nobody could disagree.

The problem was still the bridge. It was all in one piece this time, with no missing sections—but they all knew better than to trust anything in the fortress.

And not one of them dared set foot on it, after last time. Not after the riddles. Though they’d made it over easily enough the first time, once they’d answered the riddles, they hadn’t thought about having to go out the way they’d come.

“I don’t know if I can do it again,” Carlos said, taking in the faces of the once again stone gargoyles. He winced at the thought of their coming to life again.

In Mal’s own mind, she hadn’t gotten much past imagining the scene where she reclaimed her mother’s missing scepter and came home a hero. She had been a little foggy on the actual details beyond that, she supposed; and now that the whole redemption thing was off the table, she really didn’t have a backup plan.

But as she looked at Carlos, who stood there shivering, she suspected, at the memory of collapsing bridges and fur coats and a mother’s true love that wasn’t her son, Mal figured out a way across.

Mal stepped in front of him. “You don’t have to do it again.” She took another step, and then another. “I mean, you don’t get to hog all the cool bridge action,” she said, trying to sound convincing. “Now it’s my turn.”

“What?” Carlos looked confused.

The wind picked up as Mal kept moving forward, but she didn’t stop.

Mal pulled her jacket tightly around her and shouted up at the gargoyles. “You don’t scare me! I’ve seen worse. Where do you think I grew up, Auradon?”

The wind howled around her now. She took another step, motioning for the other three to move behind her.

“Are you crazy?” Jay shook his head, sliding behind her.

“Mal, seriously. You don’t have to do this,” Carlos whispered, ducking behind Jay.

“Definitely crazy,” Evie said, from behind Carlos.

“Me, crazy?” Mal raised her voice even higher. “How could I not be? I go to school in a graveyard and eat expired scones for breakfast. My own mother sends me to forbidden places like this, because of some old bird and a lost stick,” she scoffed. “There’s nothing you can throw at me that’s worse than what I’ve already got going.”

As she spoke, Mal kept pressing forward. She had crossed the halfway point of the bridge now, dragging the others right behind her.

The wind roared and whipped against them, as if it would pick them up and toss them off the bridge itself, if she let it. But Mal wouldn’t.

“Is that all you’ve got?” She stuck out her chin, that much more stubborn. “You think a little breeze like that can get to someone like me?”

Lightning cracked overhead, and she started to run—her friends right behind her. By the time they reached the other side, the bridge had begun to rock so hard, it seemed like it would crumble again.

Only, this time it wouldn’t be an illusion.

The moment Mal felt the dirt of the far cliff safely beneath her feet, she stumbled over a tree root and collapsed, bringing Carlos and Evie down with her. Jay stood there laughing.

Until he realized that he wasn’t the only one laughing.

“Uh, guys?”

Mal looked up. They were surrounded by a crowd of goblins—not unlike the ones who had chased them through the goblin passages of the Forbidden Fortress. Except these particular goblins seemed to be of a friendlier variety.

“Girl,” one said.

“Brave,” said another.

“Help,” said a third.

“I don’t get it,” Evie said, sitting up. Mal and Carlos scrambled to their feet. Jay took a step back.

Finally, a fourth goblin sighed. “I think what my companions are trying to articulate is that we’re incredibly impressed by that show of fortitude. The bravery. The perseverance. It’s a bit unusual, in these parts.”

“Parts,” repeated the goblins.

“It talks,” Evie said.

Mal looked from one goblin to another. “Uh, thanks?”

“Not at all,” said the goblin. The goblins around him began to grunt animatedly—although Mal thought it might be laughter, too. Carlos looked nervous. Jay just grunted back.

The fourth goblin sighed again, looking back at Mal. “And if you’d like our assistance in any way, we’d be more than happy to help convey you to your destination.”

He looked Mal over.

She looked him over, in return. “Our destination?”

He suddenly became flustered. “You do seem far away from home,” he said, adding hastily: “Not to presume. It’s a conclusion I draw only from the irrefutable fact that neither you or your friends seem, well, remotely goblin-esque.”

The goblins grunt-laughed again.

Jay stared. “You’re about two feet tall. How would a guy like you get people like us all the way back to town?”

Evie elbowed him.

“Not to be rude,” Jay said.

“Rude,” chanted the goblins, still grunt-laughing.

“I’m pretty sure that was rude,” Carlos muttered.

“Ah, there you have it. Alone, we are but a single goblin, perhaps even, a brute.” The goblin smiled. “Together, I’m afraid we are a rather brutal army. Not to mention, we pull an excellent carriage.”

“Pull!” The goblins went nuts.

An old iron carriage—like the kind you might have seen Belle and Beast ride away in, except black and burnt and nothing that either the queen or king of Auradon would so much as touch—appeared in front of them.

No less than forty goblins manned either side, fighting for a grip on the carriage itself.

“Why would you do that?” Mal said, as a good seven goblins battled the broken door open. “Why are you being so nice?”

“A good deed. Helping a fellow adventurer. Perhaps there’s a chance for us to get off this island yet,” said the goblin. “We have been sending messages to our dwarf kin asking King Beast for amnesty. We’ve been wicked for such a very long time, you know. It does get tiresome after a while. I would kill for a cream cake.”

“Currants,” said a goblin.

“Chocolate chip,” said another.

Mal had to admit, she was starting to feel a little exhausted herself. She knew, because she slept the entire way home, without even being embarrassed that her head was resting on Evie’s shoulder.

When Mal returned to the Bargain Castle, she fully expected her mother to scream invectives at her for failing in her quest. She opened the door slowly and stepped inside, as quietly as she could, keeping her eyes on the ground.


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