The Isle of the Lost (Page 48)
“WHOEVER HAS THE MOST GOLD MAKES THE RULES! THAT’S THE GOLDEN RULE!” Jay cried triumphantly, raising a fist in the air.
There was a great booming chuckle, and the sand slowly started to melt into the drains. Soon Jay and Mal and Evie and Carlos were standing right back in the fortress, out of the dungeons altogether.
The Cave of Wonders had disappeared, but then so had all its treasure.
“Fool’s gold,” said Jay sadly, looking at his empty pockets. “All of it.”
Evie thought her heart would never stop pounding. She could still taste the sand from that cave. So this was what true evil was like—like sand in the mouth and gargoyles on attack. If this was what magic did, she was glad there was a dome.
Also, she had practically lost a heel back in there.
Evie shook her head. This was the second time the Forbidden Fortress had almost gotten the better of them. Did Maleficent know she was sending her own daughter into a trap? And if so, did she care? Probably not: this was the feared and loathed Mistress of Darkness, after all. Evil Queen was a fool to think she could compete with someone like that, and Evie almost felt like a fool for trying to compete with the Mistress of Darkness’s daughter.
Now that she thought about it, Evie almost felt sorry for Mal.
Carlos’s machine was beeping again.
The four crept through the ruined castle. Bats screamed and fluttered over their heads, and the crumbling marble floor beneath them seemed to shift and slide in order to bear their weight.
Evie stumbled. “What is it with this place? Is there a fault line that runs under this island?”
“Well,” Carlos began.
“Joke. That was a joke.” Evie sighed.
There was nothing too funny about their current situation, however. It was a miracle that the surrounding ocean hadn’t completely swallowed the castle and the entire mountain by now. Evie could hear the scampering of rats inside the walls, and chills ran up her spine.
Even the rats were looking for safer ground, she thought.
“This way,” Carlos said, motioning to a narrow passage in front of him.
They followed, trailing behind Carlos, the machine beeping, the sound growing louder. “Now this way,” he said, rounding one turn, then another. Evie was right behind him as they followed, the passage growing narrower. “And now—”
“What’s going on?” asked Evie, cutting him off. “Because I know my sizing, and I didn’t just double in diameter in the last two and a half minutes.”
Indeed, the passage had narrowed to nearly her shoulders’ width. If it got any narrower, she would have to turn sideways. A lump formed in her throat, and her stomach began to roil—she felt as if this were no longer a corridor. It was crack, a fissure, and it felt like it might close on them at any moment.
Mal raised her voice. “Is it just my imagination, or are we wedged inside a mountain like—”
“A piece of string dangling down a pipe? Toothpaste squeezed inside a straw? A hangnail in this cuticle right here?” Jay said, holding out his hand. “Dang, this one really hurts.”
“Are you describing the things you’ve stolen today? Because those are all terrible analogies,” Evie said, looking at Jay. “And I’m saying that as someone who was castle-schooled by a woman who thinks the three R’s are Rouging, Reddening, and Reapplying.”
“Maybe we should go back,” Carlos said, giving voice to Evie’s fear. “Except—I think I might be stuck.” Just then, the walls shook, the castle rattled, and a chip of stone fell to the floor. The shard was big enough to do damage, and it narrowly missed Evie’s perfect nose.
She cried out. She wanted to retreat, but she couldn’t, the corridor was too narrow. “Maybe it’s some kind of trap! Let’s go—it doesn’t look safe!”
“No,” Carlos said. “Look! There’s another passage,” he added, wedging himself forward until he could pry first one hip and then the other out from the narrow corridor to a just-wider one.
As she and Jay and Mal followed him, Evie was so relieved that she didn’t even remember to complain about her nose.
This new passage turned right, then left. The walls were farther apart here, but they were oddly sloped, some tilting inward, others outward. The effect was dizzying, as even the ceiling was sloped in spots, and the corridors kept branching, splitting into two or sometimes three directions.
And always, the rumbling continued beneath them.
“Something doesn’t like us,” Jay said.
“We’re not supposed to be in this place,” echoed Evie.
“We need to hurry,” Carlos said, trying to sound calm, though he had to be as scared as any of them.
Another stone broke free of the wall, shattering as it hit the floor, nearly crushing Evie’s head. She jumped back this time, shuddering. “What is this place?”
“We’re in some kind of maze,” Mal said, thinking aloud. “That’s why the corridors keep turning, why passages keep splitting off and narrowing. It’s some kind of twisted maze, and we’re lost in it.”
“No, we’re not. We’ve still got the box,” Carlos replied. “It’s the only thing that is keeping us from getting lost in here.” The machine was still beeping, so they just kept following him. Evie only hoped he was right and that he knew where he was going. He must have, though, because the winding corridors soon gave way to more open spaces, and all of them breathed a sigh of relief.
Even when the hallways ran long and straight again, the castle was still rumbling, the walls still tilting; and the ceiling was even lower now where they found themselves.
“It’s not random,” Carlos said, suddenly. “It’s in a rhythm.”
“You’re right,” Jay said. “Look. The rumbling seems to go along with your beeping box. When the box lights up, the walls start to move.”
Evie stared. “You mean, he’s the one doing it?”
Carlos shook his head. “Actually, I think it’s the waves. Imagine how old this castle must be. What if, each time a wave strikes the foundation, a stone falls, or the floors rumble?”
Mal swallowed. “I just hope the castle itself doesn’t crumble before we find the scepter.”
Evie bent down so her head wouldn’t hit the ceiling. All of them except for Carlos had to crouch down now to avoid it.
“It’s a room made for mice,” said Mal.