"Danger for all Reds?" Gliss cried, echoing the crow's warning. "What does that mean?"
"Hush," Professor Liblow said again. "Let it finish its message."
Echo crows didn't talk on their own. They could only repeat what a person told them.
The crow flapped its wings. "Urgent danger," it said again. "Reds are disappearing all over Magica. Nobody knows where they went or what has become of them. All Reds, please take precautions. Urgent, urgent."
The echo crow clacked its beak. Then it flew out of the room.
Everyone started talking at once. Well, almost everyone. Zann didn't say a word. The crow's message had made him think about his parents. Nobody knew where they were either, or what had become of them.
But that was different. For one thing, they weren't Reds. For another, they had disappeared four long years ago.
Perda poked him. "Did you hear that?" she said. "What do you think it means?"
"Silence!" Professor Liblow cried. His voice boomed, with the help of a Swelling spell.
The class quieted down at once. Gliss raised her hand.
"I need to go home," she said, her voice cracking. "Both of my parents are Reds. I should tell them about this warning!"
"Me too," Zann said. "My grandfather, Boz, is a Red."
"What's the big deal?" Jev's voice was loud enough for Zann to hear, but not the teacher. "All those snooty Reds are probably sneaking off somewhere together. Maybe they're trying to come up with even more ways to act superior to the rest of us."
"Be quiet, Jev." Perda glared at him. "You're just jealous."
Gliss hadn't heard Jev. She stood up. "I just remembered something," she said. "Last night I overheard my parents whispering."
"You overheard them?" Professor Liblow gave her a suspicious look. "How?"
Gliss blushed. "Okay, I admit it. I used a spy fly. I know we're not supposed to use them to spy on people. But my parents wouldn't tell me why they look so worried lately. I had to find out what's going on!"
"Wow," thought Zann. If Gliss had used a spy fly, she must have been very concerned. "So what did you hear?" he asked.
"It was about my uncle," Gliss said. "He lives in New Mist."
"You mean the town near Mount Mystery?" Zann said.
"My parents haven't heard from Uncle Gar in three days," Gliss said. "He's a Red too."
"Oh dear." Professor Liblow shook his head. "This sounds rather serious. Perhaps you'd better go home . . . It's almost time to go anyway. Class dismissed."
The students started gathering their things and chattering about what had just happened. Zann grabbed his bag and hurried out of the room with Perda.
"I should find out what Boz knows about this," Zann said. "He's a retired Magic Master, remember? Maybe some of his friends in the capital know what's going on."
Perda gave him a look. "You sound almost excited," she said. "Aren't you scared? You and Boz are both Reds."
Before Zann could respond, Jev came into the hall with some friends. "Rushing home to hide under your bed, Red?" Jev jeered.
Zann didn't answer. Jev had never forgiven him for an incident on Zann's first day at the Swamp Bottom School almost four years earlier. But even if that had never happened, they still wouldn't be friends. Jev seemed to hate all Reds.
Well, not all Reds. Just then Gliss hurried out of the classroom, and Jev's voice instantly changed from sneering to sympathetic. "Hey, Gliss. Sorry your uncle is missing. Want me to walk you home?"
"Thanks, that's sweet. But I'm in too much of a hurry to walk." Gliss rubbed her hands together and muttered the word "zap." A second later she disappeared.
Jev frowned and then zapped himself away too. Zann was glad to see him go.
"Come on," he told Perda. "I'll walk you home in case you're afraid of disappearing without a trace."
"I'm not the one who should be afraid," she retorted. "The crow said the warning was only for Reds."
"Okay," Zann said. "Then you can walk me home."
She smiled. "It's a deal. Let's go."
They headed for home. It was a bright, clear day with a light breeze that blew Perda's soft, caramel-colored hair around her face. Was it magic, or did she seem to get prettier every day?
Zann tried not to notice that. It made him feel confused and nervous—a lot more nervous than he’d felt on hearing the echo crow's message.
When they reached Perda's house, she sighed. "Looks like Mom's been redecorating again."
The house had been square and blue that morning when the kids left for school. Now it was a multicolored blob.
"Hey, she lives in Swamp Bottom, remember?" Zann joked. "She has to do something to lessen the boredom."
Perda rolled her eyes. "See you tomorrow," she said.
Zann headed next door. His grandfather wasn't very interested in redecorating, so their house looked the same as always. In other words, it was just as boring as everything else in Swamp Bottom.
For a second Zann wondered how his mother might redecorate the place. She'd always been good at that sort of thing. She'd loved to surprise him by turning his bedroom into a spooky cave or a mysterious jungle . . . He snapped out of those thoughts when he heard a rustling sound directly overhead. Glancing up, he barely had time to take in a dragon's snarling face hissing down at him.
Zann jumped back just in time. A bolt of flame sizzled down, incinerating the ground where he'd just stood.