17. Food For Thought
Morb groaned as he returned to consciousness. For a moment he didn't remember where he was or what had happened. Then he saw the ruined house around him and the heavy beam lying beside him. His memory came rushing back.
"Aargh!" he yelled, gnashing his teeth. "Those rotten children will pay for making a fool of me yet again!"
He rubbed his hands together and healed his aching head. Then he zapped himself back to the fortress.
Several trolls were in the tower room staring dully at the map above the Secret Eye, as Morb had ordered.
Morb glanced at the map, which was still blank. "Ridiculous," he snapped. Stalking over, he yanked the blink images out of the eye sockets. Immediately the map filled with glowing red dots.
Morb glared at the trolls, who looked vaguely surprised. "Don't just stand there looking stupid!" he told them. "Go bring me some more Reds."
The trolls exchanged a glance. One grunted, an image of sloppy gruel appearing over its head.
"You'll get more food when you've earned it," Morb snapped. "Go!" He waited until the trolls zapped away, and then stomped downstairs.
Boz was lying in his cell, weak and pale. Two trolls were coming out of the cell, carrying a large cauldron full of the bright blue leeches.
"I hope you enjoyed today's treatment," Morb said sarcastically. "Normally I give my guests a day off to regain their magical energy between treatments. But since you are a former Magic Master, I thought you could handle two days in a row."
Boz barely had the energy to lift his head and glare at Morb. "You won't get away with this," he croaked.
"Don't try to talk too much, my friend," Morb warned with a sneer. "You need to rest before your next treatment. My leeches are always hungry. If you don't provide enough magic, they just might suck the life out of you one of these times."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?" Boz said. "Because you don't scare me, Morb. You never did."
"We'll see if you're still so confident when your grandson is in the cell next to you," Morb snarled.
"Zann?" Panic suddenly filled Boz's face. "Is he here?"
Morb didn't answer. Instead he turned and walked out of the cell, ordering the trolls to bring the cauldron of leeches. Boz continued to yell, but Morb ignored him and went into a small room at the end of the corridor.
Inside was a stone pit full of firewood and kindling. Morb pointed, and instantly flames leaped out.
With a grunt the trolls lifted the cauldron onto the fire. As the leeches cooked, the magic energy they had just ingested left their bodies. It rose up like steam, emerging from the cauldron in thick blue spirals.
Morb leaned over the cauldron, breathing in the escaping magic. The steam burned his nose and throat, but he ignored the unpleasant feeling. For now he would continue to do things the slow, difficult way. But not for much longer. He was almost strong enough to put the next step of his plan into action.
"Yes," he whispered, inhaling deeply, as more and more magical energy filled him. He felt powerful—more powerful than ever before. Boz had strong magic indeed. And now it was all his!
Morb breathed in the last of the blue steam. Then he threw back his head and laughed, never noticing the big-eyed insect fluttering outside the tiny barred window at the top of the stone wall.
"So your grandfather was suspicious of Morb from the start?" Gliss asked.
Zann looked around at his friends. All of them, plus Zing, were still in the Hollow. They hadn't heard from Jev yet. So Zann was still reading as much as he could from his grandfather's diary.
"Boz was suspicious of Morb," he said. "At least that's what he wrote in here. Boz stopped by the university a few days after Morb started working as an assistant animal caretaker at my parents' lab. At first Boz just thought Morb seemed secretive and shifty."
"And then what?" Perda asked.
"One day Boz caught Morb performing some nasty secret research on the lab animals," he said.
Perda gasped. "What was he doing?"
"Boz guessed that Morb was trying to figure out ways to steal magic from the creatures under his care."
Darb looked stricken. "That's terrible!" he said, reaching out to stroke Zing's scales. "That sort of experimentation is strictly regulated by the Red Council. And caretakers are never supposed to take part in it."
"I know," Zann said. "But I guess Morb didn't care. The second time Boz caught him, he was eating some leeches."
"Eating them?" Gliss shuddered. "Yuck!"
Zann nodded. "I guess it worked, at least a little. Morb was able to do enough magic to zap himself away before Boz could stop him."
"What did Boz do?" Darb asked.
"He told my parents that they should fire Morb and report him to the Council."
"The next few pages aren't in very good shape." Zann bit his lip. "So I'm not sure what happened after that. The next part that's readable talks about Boz and me moving to Swamp Bottom."
"Wow." Perda looked thoughtful. "Don't you find it odd that all that stuff happened right before your parents disappeared?"
Zann shot her a look. "Are you saying that Morb had something to do with my parents' disappearance too?"
Just then they heard Jev calling them from outside the Hollow. Perda jumped to her feet. "The spy fly must be back," she cried. "Let's go find out what it saw!"