"Stay together, everyone," Vig whispered. He glanced at Zann. "And make sure that dragon of yours behaves himself."
"What a grump," Zann said as the rebel leader hurried toward the front of the small group.
"Yeah." Perda stifled a yawn.
It was very early, and Zann and his friends had been up talking most of the night. Zann had told them everything he'd seen in the palace, including the machine in the courtyard. Everyone wondered if it was the magic-sucking machine Gliss had heard about.
Now they were marching into Wormwood, ready to test Fala's plan. She had spent the entire night working on the troll talisman, identifying each of the spells Morb had placed on it. Then she had eliminated all of them, one by one.
"Do you really think this will work?" asked Zann.
Fala looked at the talisman. "Infusing objects with a Remote Power spell is extremely difficult. But I learned from Teplo, and he's a master at it." Fala smiled. "Of course, until now I've only practiced on turnips."
The group entered Wormwood. It was still early, and the whole place was quiet. None of the residents seemed to be awake yet.
"Do you see any trolls?" Gliss whispered.
"No," Perda said. "Maybe they're all sleeping."
"I doubt it," Darb said. "Trolls don't sleep the way people do. They're not really smart enough to realize when they're tired. Trolls' brains just sort of shut down now and then throughout the day."
Zann pointed. "Look!"
Two trolls were emerging from behind a small group of huts. As soon as the trolls spotted Zann and Gliss, they charged toward them. A dull image of red hair floated above their heads.
"Now!" Vig shouted.
Fala held up the talisman, rubbing it between her hands. "Free!" she intoned.
The trolls skidded to a halt, and the image of red hair disappeared. One troll looked at Zann, confused. The other troll let out a grunt—an image of troll gruel formed above its head. Soon the two trolls were searching the ground for food. When they didn't find any, they turned back toward Zann and began grunting angrily.
"Uh-oh," said Darb. "Trolls don't like being hungry. Someone had better make some food for them before they get really mad."
Shem quickly rubbed his hands together. A huge pot of steaming troll gruel appeared nearby. Both trolls let out howls of delight and ran to it.
"Good." Vig sounded relieved. He glanced at Fala. "Does this mean all the trolls are free of Morb's influence, or just those two?"
"My talisman should work on any trolls that are closer to it than to Morb's talisman," Fala replied.
"That's amazing!" Perda whispered.
"It'll be a lot easier to sneak into the palace now," said Zann.
"With a little luck, we can find the dungeon and free the prisoners before Morb even realizes we're there," Vig said. "Maybe we can defeat Morb if we have help from all those powerful Reds."
"Should we zap ourselves there?" Shem asked.
"We'd better not," Fala said, looking at Zann and his friends. "Morb may still be tracking these kids, so they shouldn't use magic. Besides, we should save our energy in case we need it once we're in the palace."
"Good point," Vig said. "Let's walk."
It took about twenty minutes to reach the palace. On the way the group passed several more trolls, who were all busy eating or looking for food. None of them paid any attention to Gliss and Zann's red hair.
When the group arrived at the palace courtyard, Zann didn't see any trolls. "I wonder if Morb has realized his trolls aren't working for him anymore," he commented.
"I hope not." Fala frowned. "If he has, he might put up a Shield spell. That would make our task much more difficult."
Zann didn't see a glowing green wall around the palace, or a wall of any other color either.
"Can Shield spells be invisible?" Zann asked.
"Yes," Gliss told him. "Weren't you paying attention when we learned that in class?"
"There's only one way to test for a Shield spell," Vig declared, stepping toward the palace entrance.
The others hurried after him, ducking behind some shrubs as Vig continued on his way toward the entrance. Zann saw him take a deep breath and then step across the threshold. A second later Vig poked his head back out and waved to the group.
"No Shield spell!" Shem whispered to the others.
The rest of the group followed Vig inside. They all paused in the entrance hall.
"That was easy," said Perda.
Zann was about to agree when he heard a strange squishing sound to his right. He turned to look and saw a purple, jellylike blob oozing toward them.
"Uh-oh," said Zann. "Morb might not have put up a Shield spell. But it looks like he did leave a guard."
"What is that thing?" Perda cried.
"I don't know," Fala said. "I've never seen anything like it before."
One of the rebels pulled out her sword.
"Careful," Vig warned her. "We don't know what this thing might do."
The woman reached out and poked the blob with her sword. Everyone gasped as the blob wrenched the sword from her hand and began absorbing it with a loud sucking sound. Zann could see the blob growing bigger. Grabbing the weapon, the woman tried to pull it back out, but it was no use. Her hand was getting dangerously close to the purple mass.
"Let go!" Zann shouted.
The woman released the sword and then jumped back as the blob lunged at her.
Everyone took a step back as the blob oozed closer.