The Isle of the Lost (Page 43)
“What is it?” Mal asked, kneeling next to him.
He brushed away the dirt and moss to reveal a sentence carved in the stones: Ye who trespass the bridge must earn the right of way.
“Great. So what are those, like, directions?” Mal looked at the others. “What does that mean? How do we earn the right of way?”
Evie shook her head as she glanced back up at the gargoyles and the broken bridge. “I don’t know, Mal. We don’t seem to have earned anything.”
“And technically, we are trespassers,” Jay said.
Evie frowned. “I think we should go. Maybe the bridge was destroyed—maybe it’s been like this for years. Maybe no one gets in and out now.”
“No. Those words have to mean something. But is it a riddle, or a warning?” Mal asked. She looked at the gap in the bridge and pushed her way past the others, toward the edge. She was determined to figure it out.
“What are you doing?” Carlos yelled. “Mal, wait! You’re not thinking straight.”
But she couldn’t wait, and she didn’t stop.
He took a step back, Jay and Evie flanking him. “Go after her,” Carlos said. “Pull her from the break in the stone before she falls. This is crazy.”
Jay nodded and followed her.
“It’s so sad,” Evie said. “To have come this far.”
“I know. But half a bridge might as well be no bridge at all,” Carlos muttered. He put down his machine and turned it off so that he wouldn’t have to listen to its beeping. The noise of the sensor—more proof of how close they’d come to finding the source of the power—only made things that much worse.
The moment Carlos killed the machine, the light in the gargoyles’ eyes faded. The eerie green glow receded back into their black stone sockets.
“Wait—did you just—”
Carlos looked incredulous. “Turn off the monsters? I think so.” He called out to Mal, who was now standing with Jay, just a few feet from the break in the stone ramp. “They’re like big doorbells, Mal. When we try to cross, they turn on. When we go to leave, they turn off.”
“So they’re another defense mechanism?” Evie looked unconvinced.
“Maybe.” Carlos studied the bridge. “Anything’s possible. At least, that’s what I’m starting to think.”
Mal came running back. “So maybe it’s just a test. Look,” she said, approaching the gargoyles, their eyes once more glowing. “Ask me your questions!” she called up to the guardians of the bridge. “Let us earn the right of way.”
But the gargoyles didn’t answer her.
“Maybe you’re not turning it on right,” Evie said.
“Maybe this is just a waste of time.” Jay sighed.
“No, it’s not,” Mal said, giving them a beseeching look. “This is my mother’s castle. We’ve found it, and there has to be a way in. Look at the inscription on the stone—it has to be some kind of test.”
Jay spoke up. “Carlos said they’re like a doorbell. But what if they’re not? What if they’re like the alarm system in a house? All we would have to know to disable them is the code.” He shrugged. “I mean, that’s what I would do, if I was trying to break in.”
Of any of us, he would know, Carlos thought.
“So what’s the code?” Mal turned back to the gargoyles, her eyes blazing. “Tell me, you idiots!”
She drew herself up to her full height and spoke in a voice that Carlos knew well. It was how Cruella spoke to him, and how Maleficent spoke to her minions from the balcony. He was impressed. He’d never seen Mal so like her mother as now.
Mal did not ask the gargoyles, she commanded them.
“This is my mother’s castle, and you are her servants. You will do as I bid. ASK YOUR RIDDLE AND LET US PASS!” she ordered, looking as if she were home—truly home—for the first time.
Because, as they could all now see, she was.
A moment went by.
The mists swirled, in the background, ravens cawed, and green light pulsed in the distant windows of the castle.
“Carlosssssssss,” hissed the gargoyles, in disturbingly creepy unison. “Approaaaach ussssssss.”
Hearing his name, Carlos took a step forward with an awestruck look on his face. “Why me?”
“Maybe because you touched the step first? So the alarm is set on Carlos mode?” Jay scratched his head. “Better you than me, man.”
“Time for the pass code.” Mal nodded. “You got this, Carlos.”
Then the gargoyles began to hiss again. “Carlosssssss. First quesssssstion…”
Carlos took a breath. It was just like school, he thought. He liked school. He liked answering questions that had answers, right? So wasn’t this just another question? That needed just another answer?
“Ink spot in the snow
Or red, rough, and soft
Black and wet, warm and fast
Loved and lost—What am I?”
No sooner had the gargoyles stopped speaking than rumbling began beneath their feet. “Carlos!” Evie cried, stumbling as she tried to stand in place.
“What?” Carlos ran his hand through his hair anxiously. His mind was reeling.
Ink is black. Snow is white. What’s red and rough? A steak? Who loves a steak? We haven’t had those in a while, anyway. And what does any of this have to do with me?
“Answer the question!” Mal said. The light was once more fading from the gargoyles’ eyes.
“It’s—” said Carlos, stalling. He was stuck.
Black. White. Spots. Red. Loved. Lost.
“The puppies. My mother’s puppies, the Dalmatians. All one hundred and one of them. All loved and all lost, by her.” He looked up at the stone faces. “Though I think the love part is debatable.”
“Do I need to say the names? Because I swear I can tell them to you, every last one of them.” He took a breath. “Pongo. Perdita. Patch. Lucky. Roly Poly. Freckles. Pepper…” When he had finished speaking, the mist once more congealed around the bridge. Carlos let out a sigh.
It hadn’t worked.
“Wait!” Mal said, pointing to the spot where the mists had congealed. “It’s doing something.” The gray mist parted, revealing a new section of the bridge, a piece that had not existed a moment ago.
The gargoyles cleared a path, and the four of them ran out onto it, hurrying to the newly formed edge, waiting for the next question.