Several trolls were waiting when Morb arrived back at the fortress. The leader, an especially large and ugly troll, grunted. A fuzzy image of a figure trapped behind iron bars appeared briefly above his head before quickly fading out.
Morb tried to hide his disdain. Trolls were disgusting creatures, with their rough magic and rougher appetites. But he needed them, at least for now.
"Prepare the treatment!" he ordered the troll.
The troll lumbered off. Morb strode across the room and down a steep stone stairwell. At the bottom was a heavy wooden door.
As soon as he pushed it open, the prisoners began crying out. There were now more than a dozen of them in the cells, peering out from behind the heavy iron bars.
But Morb barely looked at most of them. His eyes went directly to one particular cell. The long-nosed old man inside stared back defiantly. His hands and legs were tied so he couldn't move without falling over. But he stood tall and proud despite the restraints.
"You!" Boz spat out as Morb approached. "I should have guessed when I heard the news. You never could accept that you weren't meant to—"
"Silence!" Morb cut him off. He turned toward the door. "I'm ready!" he called loudly.
Heavy footsteps tromped down the stairs. A pair of trolls came in, lugging an iron cauldron between them. The prisoners shrank back fearfully when they saw it.
All except Boz. "What are you going to do, Morb?" he demanded. "Feed me to your pet trolls? The Red Council will hear about this, have no doubt. Using Flash Freezes and Dousing spells, holding people prisoner . . . You won't get away with it!"
Morb ignored him. The trolls tipped the cauldron, spilling its contents.
Leeches. Dozens of enormous pale blue leeches. Their faces turned this way and that. They could sense the powerful magic of all the Red prisoners nearby.
"Get Boz," Morb said. The leeches slowly wriggled between the bars and into Boz's cell.
Boz looked startled. "Where did those things come from?" he exclaimed. "There are no leeches that size anywhere in Magica! How did you—ahh!"
The rest of his words were lost as the leeches slithered up his legs. Their pale bodies brightened to a vivid electric blue as they fed on Boz's magic.
Morb watched for a moment, enjoying the sight. Then he turned away. He still had unfinished business to deal with before he could put the rest of his plan into motion.
He hurried back upstairs, pulled out the picture he'd taken from Boz's house, and carefully ripped out the boy's face. Morb then stepped toward the Secret Eye, his gaze on the ancient skull at the top.
Then he noticed a flutter of movement. Turning his head, he saw an insect hovering just outside the window.
"A spy fly!" he murmured. "Now who would want to spy on little old me?"
The spy fly sensed it had been spotted. It spun around to fly off.
But Morb was too quick for it. Rubbing his fingers together, he blew it to pieces with an extra-strong Flash Freeze.
Then he gently placed the Red boy's picture into one of the skull's eye sockets. Stepping back, he watched as the map above slowly started to change.
"Stay here," Zann ordered Zing. "We'll be back soon."
The dragon spat fire at him. Zann rolled his eyes.
"Let me talk to him." Darb knelt in front of Zing. "Listen, buddy. We need you to guard the cave while we check on Gliss, okay?"
Zing continued to look skeptical for a second. Then finally he whistled happily, wriggling his whole body.
Zann sighed. The dragon never could resist Darb's charms. It was kind of annoying.
"Let's go," Perda said, grabbing Darb's hand. "I've got Darb."
"Meet you in Gliss' living room." Zann closed his eyes, focusing his mind. This was no time to be sloppy.
He'd been in Gliss' house several times. Her parents were always inviting him over. It was actually a little embarrassing. They seemed to think that because Zann and Gliss were the only two Reds in their level, they should be friends. Maybe even more than friends.
Zann tried not to get distracted by that. He and Gliss weren't especially close, but he liked her fine. He definitely didn't want to see her captured by this Morb character.
"Zap," he whispered.
He landed hard on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. Opening his eyes, he saw Gliss' house.
"Oof!" Perda grunted beside him. She and Darb appeared, both of them also flung off their feet.
"What happened?" Darb asked.
Zann stood up, wincing. "They must have a Shield spell up."
"No wonder," Perda said. "They're probably worried about the warning. But it means we'reblocked out too."
"No big deal," Darb said. "It is possible to get into a house without using magic, you know." He smiled. "It's called knocking on the door."
"Zann!" Gliss' mother exclaimed when she answered the door. "You shouldn't be out right now. Haven't you heard the news?"
She quickly ushered all the kids inside. Her husband and Gliss were in the main room.
"You're okay!" Perda exclaimed, rushing over to Gliss.
"Listen," Zann told Gliss' parents. "We just figured out who's behind all the trouble."
"You did?" Gliss' father said.
"I'll show you." Zann snapped his fingers to call up the Directory. "Morb," he said when the book appeared.
But before the image could fully form, there was a sudden, blinding flash. The next thing Zann knew, a familiar figure was standing before him.
"You called?" Morb said with a sneer.