31. An Important Decision
"Zann! You're safe!" Perda rushed into Venna's hideout with Darb and Teplo behind her. While Teplo talked to Venna and her people, Zann's friends pulled him aside.
"Wow, I'm glad to see you guys," Zann said. Half an hour had passed since Venna had asked him to become king, and he was still stunned.
"What's going on?" Perda asked. "That messenger who came to get us wouldn't tell us anything. Just that he was taking us to you."
"Did you find Gliss?" Darb added.
"No," Zann said. "I never made it to the zoo." He quickly told them what had happened.
Perda gasped. "They want you to be king?" she exclaimed. "But you're a kid!"
"That's what I said," Zann agreed. "But Venna said it didn't matter. She said Boz was so popular here that the people would love me. And she needs someone who's sure to be more popular than Slib."
"So Slib really is trying to take over?" said Darb.
"That's not all," Zann said. "Yog says he's pretty sure Slib sent us that password!"
"Why would he do that?" asked Perda.
"So we'd go out and get captured by trolls," Zann replied. "Especially me and Gliss. Yog says Slib resents all Reds and thinks we have too much power."
"Kind of like Jev," Darb said.
Zann nodded. "Anyway, Venna doesn't want Slib to take over. That's why she wants me to volunteer to be king."
"So what did you say?" Perda asked.
"At first I said no way. But now that I've thought about it . . . " Zann shrugged. "Venna's really powerful and smart. I figured we might have a better chance of rescuing Gliss and defeating Morb if we all work together."
"Did Venna say she'd help find Gliss?" Darb asked.
"She promised she'd take care of it as soon as she made things official," Zann said. "She’s already sent a messenger to her contacts at the palace to tell them I'm ready to become king."
He gulped nervously. Was he really ready to be king of Magica?
Just then he noticed that Teplo was frowning as he talked to Venna. By now two other Reds had arrived. "Maybe we should go see what they're talking about," Zann suggested.
When the kids walked over, Teplo was speaking. ". . . and I agree that Boz's grandson could rally the citizens," he said. "But at what cost to Zann himself? Surely Morb will be on the lookout for him above all others!"
"That may be," Venna said. "But Zann is brave enough to take on the responsibility. We can keep him safe if we work together."
"Don't underestimate Morb, Venna," Teplo warned. He turned to Zann. "Listen, my boy. Think this scheme over carefully."
"I have," said Zann. "Venna says she'll help me rescue Gliss. Then we can work on finding Boz and the others."
"That's right, Zann," Venna said smoothly.
Teplo still looked skeptical. "How do you propose to do that?" he asked Venna.
One of the other Reds spoke up. "This argument is a waste of time. Zann already said yes. And Slib is wasting no time trying to solidify his power. We need to show our candidate to the people of Magica as soon as possible."
"I agree," Venna said. "Sorry, Teplo. I'm afraid you're outvoted."
The old man sputtered with indignation. But she ignored him, turning to Zann.
"It's time to make final preparations. I want to coach you on what to say when you address the public. And of course we'll have to do something about your clothes . . ."
Zann nodded, feeling overwhelmed. But he was ready to go along with whatever Venna said so they could move on to finding Gliss and Boz.
Soon he was surrounded by Venna's assistants. Yog removed Zann's disguise to reveal his hair and freckles. Others conjured a fresh set of clothes.
In the midst of all this, the door flew open. Before Zann could look to see who had arrived, he heard a familiar whistle.
He spun around. "Zing!" he cried happily as his dragon flew in just ahead of Fala.
"Surprise!" Perda exclaimed. "We didn't want to tell you in case it didn't work. But Teplo thought he could get Zing back."
Zann gave the dragon a scratch on the head, ignoring the burn of Zing's fiery breath on his face. "Good to have you back, little buddy." He looked around, wanting to thank Teplo.
The old man was huddled with Fala. Both of them looked worried. A moment later Teplo strode to the center of the room.
"My assistant has brought troubling news," he announced. "She just discovered that the trolls have nearly filled the dragon pen at the zoo with prisoners. They intend to zap them all to Morb's dungeon as soon as they capture one more Red."
Zann gasped. "Gliss!" He rushed over to Venna. "Did you hear that? This king stuff will have to wait. We've got to figure out how to rescue Gliss and the others at the zoo—now!"
Venna traded a look with the other Reds. "I'm sorry, Zann," she said. "Things have already been set in motion. We must proceed as planned."
"But you said you'd help me rescue my friend!"
"I said I'll help you after you become king," Venna replied. "If we don't act now, Slib will be able to take power uncontested."
"But—" Zann began.
Venna interrupted him. "This is not open for debate. If you're going to become king, it must be now."
Then Teplo spoke up. "Well, Zann," he said quietly, “it seems you have a decision to make."