The Isle of the Lost (Page 4)
Looking for something to wash down the sour taste of the apple, Jay caught sight of a familiar face taking a sip from a paper cup bearing the Slop Shop logo and grinned.
“What in Lucifer’s name?” Mal cried as the cup disappeared from her fingers. She hesitated for a second before realization hit. “Give it back, Jay,” she said, hands on her hips, addressing the empty space on the sidewalk.
He snickered. It was so much fun when Mal was mad. “Make me.”
“Jay!” she snarled. “Make you what? Bruise? Bleed? Beg? Thief’s choice, today.”
“Fine. Jeez,” he said as he slunk out from the shadows. “Mmm, pressed hot mud, my favorite.” He handed her back her cup, feeling wistful.
Mal took a sip and grimaced. “Actually, it’s disgusting, you can have it. You look hungry.”
“Really?” He perked up. “Thanks, Mal. I was starving.”
“Don’t thank me, it’s particularly awful today. I think they threw some raw toads into the brew this morning,” she said.
“Bonus! Extra protein.” Amphibians or not, Jay drained it in one shot. He wiped his lips and smiled. “Thanks, you’re a pal,” he said in all honesty, even though he and Mal weren’t friends, exactly, although they were partners in crime.
Like his, Mal’s jeans and jacket pockets were stuffed with all manner of junk, shoplifted from every storefront in town. A knitting needle was sticking out of one pocket, while the other contained what looked like a sword handle.
“Can I trade you a teapot for that old sword?” he asked hopefully. Everything his father sold was stuff Jay had stolen from somewhere else.
“Sure,” she said, taking a rusty kettle in exchange. “Look what else I got,” she said. “Ursula’s necklace.” She rattled it in the air. “I nabbed it this morning when the old sea witch waved hello.”
“Sweet.” He nodded. “All I got was a handful of fries. Too bad it can’t capture anything anymore, let alone a mermaid’s voice.”
Mal huffed. “It’s still valuable.”
“If you say so.” He shrugged.
Jay and Mal were in a constant competition for who was the more accomplished thief. A clear winner would be hard to call. You could say they had bonded on their love of swiping things, but they would tell you that bonds of any kind were for the weak.
Even so, they fell into step on the walk to school. “Heard the news?” he asked.
“What news? There’s no new news,” she scoffed, meaning nothing new ever happened on the island. The island’s old-fashioned fuzzy-screened televisions only broadcast two channels—Auradon News Network, which was full of do-gooder propaganda, and the DSC, the Dungeon Shopping Channel, which specialized in hidden-lair décor. “And slow down, or we’ll get there on time,” she added.
They turned off the main road, toward the uneven, broken-down graveyard that was the front lawn of Dragon Hall. The venerable school for the advancement of evil education was located in a former mausoleum, a hulking gray structure with a domed ceiling and a broken-down colonnade, its pediment inscribed with the school’s motto: IN EVIL WE TRUST. Scattered around its haunted grounds, instead of the usual tombstones, were doomstones with horrible sayings carved into them. As far as the leaders on this island were concerned, there was never a wrong time to remind its citizens that evil ruled.
“No way, I heard news. Real news,” he insisted, his heavy combat boots stomping through the root-ripped graveyard terrain. “Check it out—there’s a new girl in class.”
“I’m totally serious,” he said, narrowly avoiding stumbling over a doomstone inscribed with the phrase IT IS BETTER TO HAVE NEVER LOVED AT ALL THAN TO BE LOVED.
“New girl? From where, exactly?” Mal asked, pointing to the magical dome that covered the island and shrouded the sky, obscuring the clouds. Nothing and no one came in or out, so there wasn’t ever a whole lot of new.
“New to us. She’s been castle-schooled until now, so it’s her first time in the dungeon,” said Jay as they approached the wrought-iron gates, and the crowd gathered around the entrance parted to let them through, many of their fellow students clutching their backpacks a little more tightly at the sight of the thieving duo.
“Really.” Mal stopped in her tracks. “What do you mean, ‘castle-schooled’?” she asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“A real princess too, is what I’ve heard. Like, your basic true-love’s-kiss-prick-your-finger-spin-your-gold-skip-the-haircut-marry-the-prince-level princess.” He felt dizzy just thinking about it. “Think I could lift a crown off her somewhere? Even a half-crown…?” His father was always talking about The Big Score, the one fat treasure that would free them from the island somehow. Maybe the princess would lead them to it.
“A princess?” Mal said sternly. “I don’t believe you.”
Jay wasn’t listening anymore. “I mean, think of the loot she’d have on her! She’s got to have a ton of loot, right? Hope she’s easy on the eyes! Better yet, on the pockets. I could use an easy mark.”
Mal’s voice was suddenly acid. “You’re wrong. There weren’t any princesses on the island, and certainly not any who would dare to show their faces around here.…”
Jay stared at her, and in the back of his mind he heard alarm bells and had a faint memory of an awesome birthday party concerning a princess…and some sort of scandal that involved Mal and her mother. He felt bad, remembering now that Mal hadn’t received an invitation, but he quickly suppressed the icky emotion, unsure of where it came from. Villains were supposed to revel in other people’s sadness, not empathize!
Besides, when it came down to it, Mal was like a sister, an annoying, ever-present pest, and a pain in the…
Bells. Ringing and echoing through the island from the top of the tower, where Claudine Frollo was tugging the rope and being pulled up along with it as she rang in the official start of the Dragon Hall school day.
Jay and Mal shared a smirk. They were officially tardy. The first thing that had gone right all morning.
They passed through the crumbling and moss-covered archway and into the main tomb, which was buzzing with activity—members of the Truant Council putting up signs for a Week-Old Bake Sale; the earsplitting sounds of the junior orchestra practicing for the Fall Concert, the sea witches leaning over their violins.