34. Frightening Plans
"What do you mean?" Zann asked Gliss. "What did you find out while you were a prisoner?"
"Is it something about Morb?" Darb asked.
Gliss' lower lip trembled. "Yes," she said. "And it's horrible!"
"Tell us," Perda urged.
"A few of the other Reds understood the trolls' language," Gliss said. "They listened when our guards talked to one another. The trolls kept grumbling about having to keep us at the zoo instead of zapping us back to Morb's fortress."
"We were wondering about that too," Darb said.
Zann nodded. "We guessed it might be because Morb used up all his power kidnapping the king and queen."
"That's not why," Gliss said. "Kidnapping the king and queen gave Morb even more power. He left the trolls alone because he's busy building a horrible machine to steal all of the magical energy in Magica!"
Perda gasped. "What? That's impossible!"
"That's what I thought at first," Gliss said. "I figured the trolls must be confused. Everyone knows they're pretty dumb. But then I talked to a woman named Saffa."
"She's one of Boz's Magic Master friends," Zann said. "What did she say?"
"Saffa knows about an ancient text from the Old Times," Gliss replied. "It contains plans for building a machine that could do what the trolls said—suck the power out of Reds, regular people, dragons, message moths, mood trees, whatever. Anything or anyone with any magic at all."
Zann gulped. "So if Morb succeeded in building this machine, he would control all the magic in Magica?"
Gliss nodded. "Saffa said the Old Times ended because of that machine. An extremely powerful and evil magician invented it, and when people realized what the machine could do, they were shocked. People decided no one person should have that much power, and that Magica needed laws to protect the weak from the strong."
"That was when the first Red Council was formed," Darb put in. "The first thing the members did was enact the Days of Discipline. I've read a lot about that—but I've never heard of the magic-sucking machine."
"How could Morb get his hands on those plans?" Zann wondered. "Teplo says all the ancient texts are locked away at the university."
"Saffa suspects there's another copy of the text hidden deep within the Cave of the Unknown," Gliss said.
"How would Morb have found it?" Perda asked. "Even the most powerful Magic Masters don't dare go too deep in there."
Gliss shrugged. "Who knows? But if he did . . ."
Her voice trailed off. For a moment the kids all stared at one another in silence.
Zann was the first to speak. "We have to warn somebody. If this is true, Morb needs to be stopped before it's too late."
"Let's go to the palace," Perda said. "Yog will be able to get word to Venna from there."
"Wait!" Gliss broke in. "Let's just wait for Fala to get back. She's not a Red—it's safer for her to go."
"But if Morb really is working on this magic-sucking machine, there's no time to waste!" Perda said.
Zann knew that Perda was right. But he still felt guilty about convincing Gliss to zap out of the palace earlier. He didn't want to talk her into something else that could be dangerous.
"Why don't you stay here while the rest of us go?" he suggested. "You can tell Fala where we went."
"No!" Gliss said. "If you're all going, I'm going too."
"Okay," Zann agreed. Obviously Gliss didn't want to be alone.
It didn't take long for Zann and his friends to reach the palace. A stout man with a bristly brown beard was standing guard at the main entrance.
"No visitors," he said without even looking at the kids. "Official business only today."
"We are here on official business," Perda said. "We need to talk to Yog. Or Rixa."
The guard glanced at her, looking skeptical. "What's your business?"
"Please, just tell Yog or Rixa that we're here," Zann said.
The guard's jaw dropped as he noticed Zann's hair color. "Reds!" he exclaimed. "What did you say your names were again?"
Zann and his friends waited impatiently while the guard sent a message moth. Soon the moth returned with a new message.
The guard read it. "Rixa says to let you in. You'll find her in the throne room with Slib."
Zann wondered if that meant Slib had taken over the government.
"Thanks," he said. He and his friends hurried inside before the guard could change his mind about letting them in.
Then they stopped. "Do you remember how to get to the throne room?" Gliss asked.
"How could I? We crawled in through a tunnel and zapped out." Perda glanced up and down the hallway. "Wait, is that it?"
The kids could see a large, arched doorway farther down the hall, and they hurried to it. Zann peered in and saw a large crowd of adults.
"Do you see Rixa or Yog?" Gliss whispered.
Zann couldn't see Yog anywhere. But he spotted Rixa arguing with Slib.
Before he could point her out, a burst of magical energy filled the room. Morb appeared in front of the thrones—along with half a dozen trolls and a cloud of tiny, buzzing dragons.
Thinking fast, Zann pulled his friends out of sight. His heart pounded with fear. Had Morb tracked them here somehow?
Morb didn't even glance in their direction though. He stared at the stunned adults with a smile.
"Hello again," he said. "I liked it here so much that I decided to return." He stepped over to the king's throne and sat down. "And this time I think I'll stay."