49. Awakening the Machine
Zann crouched unseen behind the large plant as Morb and the trolls walked toward the machine. Morb stopped in front of the enormous contraption and studied it. He had a strange and frightening look on his face. He barely noticed when Slib came scurrying into the courtyard.
"Thank you for saving me from that terrifying creature, Your Majesty," said Slib. "And for lifting the Dousing spell."
"I almost didn't bother to save you," he told Slib, still looking at the machine. "You really aren't worth the energy it took. But I wanted you to witness my moment of triumph."
"It will be my honor, Your Majesty," said Slib, simpering.
Zann crouched lower, taking care to stay hidden. He wished he knew how to do that Guiding spell that Fala had used. Boz and all those other powerful Reds were right inside. They could stop Morb. If only Zann could somehow let them know that Morb was back!
But it was too risky. If Zann made a move, Morb would hear him. The trolls would hear him. Zann decided to stay put and wait.
He watched as Morb held up a hand. Dangling from it was something small. Zann squinted and saw that it was a leech.
"Do you see this, you incompetent fool?" Morb said, thrusting the wriggling gray creature toward Slib. "This was all I needed to complete my machine and put the final step of my plan into action."
"B-but how, Your Majesty?" Slib stammered. "I thought you needed the blue leeches to make the machine work. It would take thousands of ordinary Magica leeches to equal just a handful of the blue ones!"
Morb sneered. "If it's thousands I need, then it's thousands I'll have."
He tossed the leech onto the ground. Then he rubbed his hands together, causing sparks to fly. There was a flash of energy, and another identical leech appeared beside the first.
Slib stared in awe. "How is that possible?"
Zann was awed too. Morb had just used a Duplication spell on the leech. "I didn't know that spell could work on a living creature!" Zann thought.
He watched as Morb used the spell again and again. Soon there were dozens of leeches writhing on the ground—and then hundreds.
Zann glanced at Morb, wondering when he was going to stop. Morb was red-faced and breathless. It was obvious that the Duplication spell was using up a lot of his energy.
Finally Morb lowered his hand and stepped back. "Put them in the machine," he ordered the trolls.
The trolls scooped up handfuls of leeches and started shoving them into a hole directly beneath the jawbone.
"Careful!" Morb said as a troll's hand bumped the machine. "That's a one-of-a-kind relic, you clumsy fool!"
Regardless of the danger to himself, Zann knew he had to do something. He stood up and quickly created some friction.
"Boz! Morb is in the courtyard!" he shouted, using a Swelling spell to make his voice carry into the ballroom.
Morb spun around. His eyes widened when he saw Zann.
"You again!" he snarled.
Morb sent a Blast spell flying at Zann. Zann barely managed to dodge it, and it demolished a stone bench instead. Zann gulped. Morb might have been weakened by the Duplication spell, but he was still incredibly strong.
"Protect!" Zann blurted out, rubbing his hands together. A glowing purple bubble appeared, surrounding him on all sides.
"Nice try, boy," Morb said sarcastically, rubbing his fingers together until sparks flew. "But your pathetic Shield spell is no match for my power!"
Zann gulped, amazed at the energy sparking out of Morb's hands. Morb was right. Zann's Shield spell could never stop one of Morb's blasts. And it was too late to run.
But Zann wasn't going to let Morb see him cower. Squaring his shoulders, he stared at the ball of energy hurtling toward him, waiting for the Blast spell to blow him apart.
Just as Morb's blast was about to reach him, Zann saw his Shield spell change colors and expand. His eyes widened as the Blast spell bounced off it, shattering part of a nearby fountain.
"What just happened?" wondered Zann.
"Zann!" Boz shouted.
Turning his head, Zann saw that his grandfather was running into the courtyard, along with a few other Reds. Boz had seen what was happening just in time to add his power to Zann's shield.
Morb raised his hand. "Freeze!"
Boz and the other Reds were instantly frozen in place. Without Boz's magic, Zann's shield lost its power.
Morb turned back to Zann and smiled. "Now, if I remember correctly, I was about to blast you into oblivion."
But before Zann could react, he heard a long, wheezing groan—it was the machine. The trolls were forcing the last of the leeches into the hole. Now the pythons in the glass tube were writhing furiously.
"Uh-oh," Zann muttered.
Morb lifted his arms in triumph. "Yes! Now Magica will witness my true power!"
A thick, dark circle of smoke rose from the jawbone and slowly spread out in every direction.
A troll standing next to the machine blinked as the smoke enveloped its body. Within seconds the troll slumped to the ground with a grunt. Zann could see the magical energy leave its body and flow into the spongelike creature. From there the energy appeared to mix with the water and then drip down into a glass tank beneath.
Morb eyed the tank and smiled. "It's working! The ancient texts were right! Soon I will control every last bit of magic in Magica, and everyone will be forced to bow before me!"