7. In Hiding
Zann stared in shock as bits and pieces of his house went flying everywhere. Then a huge plank flew out of the cloud of thick smoke, almost hitting him in the head.
Zann snapped out of his stupor. He nudged Zing with his foot. The dragon was groggy but already beginning to emerge from the Flash Freeze. That was one especially good thing about fire whistlers. Even the strongest magic couldn't keep them down for long. They were too stubborn.
"Wake up, boy," Zann urged the dragon. "We've got to get out of here."
He doubted the stranger could have survived that explosion. But then Zann remembered the strong energy crackling between the man's fingers. He'd better not take any chances.
"I'll go find Darb," he murmured. Darb might be a Void, but he was smart and practical. Maybe he could help Zann figure out what to do.
Zann took off running. Zing shook off the last of the spell and flew after him, chattering irritably and breathing out small puffs of smoke.
They found Darb in the same part of the swamp where Zann had left him. He looked startled when he saw Zann coming with Zing.
"What happened to you two?" he asked.
Zann glanced down at himself. His clothes were disheveled. Debris stuck to his sleeves, and he was covered in dust.
"Something crazy. . ." he began.
He told Darb the whole story as quickly as he could. By the end Darb looked alarmed.
"That guy used a Flash Freeze on Zing?" he exclaimed, hurrying over to the dragon. "Come here, little buddy. Let's make sure you're okay."
"He tried to use one on me too!" Zann exclaimed. "What kind of crazy person does that?"
"I don't know." Darb looked at him. "Do you think Boz was still in the house when it . . . you know . . . exploded?"
Zann shook his head. "That guy said something about taking me to Boz. I'd better try to contact my grandfather."
Zann conjured up a message moth and quickly inscribed a simple message on its wings:Where are you?
"Find Boz," he said, waving the message moth off.
The message moth started to flap away. But within a few seconds, it came back, fluttering in helpless circles.
Darb frowned as he watched. "It can't locate him," he said softly. "Do you think . . ."
Zann's heart flip-flopped in his chest. It had been difficult enough to deal with his parents' disappearance. What would he do if he lost his grandfather as well?
"No!" Zann blurted out, not letting himself think any more about that. "I'm sure he's okay. We just need to figure out where he is."
The stranger stepped out of the ruins of Zann's house. He'd barely had time to throw up a strong Shield spell before the place had exploded.
That explosion had been an unlucky break. The Red boy had been especially quick. The energy from his emergency Zap had collided with the Flash Freeze, causing the blast. And now the explosion was likely to draw unwanted attention.
"Never mind," the man muttered. "I just need to find the boy before he tells anyone about me."
But how? He could return to the fortress and check the Secret Eye. But the Secret Eye merely showed the presence and location of Magica's Reds; it didn't show their identities. The boy would be one red dot among many.
Or would he? Glancing down at the debris, the man happened to spot the charred remains of one of those happy family blink images. Grabbing it, he stared at the Red boy's grinning face.
The man smiled. The image should do the trick. Yes, it should do nicely.
"There." Zann rubbed his hands together and pointed at the cave entrance. A dark curtain instantly fell over it. "That will keep out anyone we don't want in here."
He looked around the cave. He and his friends had gathered here many times, and no adults knew about it. It was the perfect hiding place.
The entrance was already well hidden by thick brush. Zann's simple Visual Blocking spell meant nobody could see in even from a few inches away. Zann had used the same type of spell many times to trick Zing during their games.
"Okay," Darb said. "Now what?" He was patting Zing, who still looked tired and uneasy.
Zann realized he was exhausted too. He'd used up most of his energy creating their hideout. First he'd had to run a quick Life Force Locator to make sure the cave was clear of any dangerous creatures. Then he'd conjured up a few lights so he could see what he was doing. And finally, there was the curtain. Being a Red gave Zann more power than most kids his age, but after all that, he'd hit his limit.
He flopped down against the wall. "I need to figure out where Boz went," he said. "That guy at my house said he knew him. I have no idea if he was telling the truth."
Darb shrugged. "Why would someone lie about something like that?"
Zann sighed. Darb was much too trusting. He always wanted to believe the best about people. Zann had been the same way himself once. But his parents' disappearance had changed that.
"Think about it," he said. "Reds have been disappearing all over Magica. Then this weirdo shows up at my house, and suddenly Boz is missing. The guy has to be involved with whatever the palace was—"
He stopped talking with a gasp as the magic curtain shattered, and a fast-moving figure burst into the cave.