37. Magic in the Night
Fala was bent over a tubular device when Zann and his friends walked in.
"You're alive!" she cried, rushing over to hug them. "When I got back here and you were gone, I feared the worst!"
"Sorry," Perda said sheepishly. "We should've left you a note."
Fala stepped back and glared at them. "Yes, you should have," she scolded. "Never mind—I'm just glad you're okay. But we have a problem."
"You're right," Zann said. "We were just at the palace."
"What's going on at the palace?" asked Fala.
Zann and the others told Fala what had happened. Fala nodded when they got to the part about Morb appearing in the throne room.
"One of my contacts at the palace was supposed to check in an hour ago. When I didn't hear from him, I used the Remote Eye." She gestured at the device. "I saw Morb walking around in the throne room. But the Eye doesn't have sound, so I couldn't hear what he was saying."
"Did you see Yog?" Zann asked.
"No," Fala replied. "I hope he's safe. And I'm glad you kids got out when you did."
"We almost didn't," Gliss told her. "We ran into a troll on our way out."
"Well, Zann did, anyway," Perda added.
That reminded Zann of the silver talisman. He described it to Fala. "Do you think Morb could be using talismans to send extra power to the trolls?" he asked.
"That sounds like something I've seen in the ancient texts." Fala looked intrigued. "Such talismans wouldn't only provide extra power—they could also be a way for Morb to control the trolls. If only we could get our hands on one of those talismans. It could be invaluable to us."
"Yeah, well, good luck finding someone crazy enough to go up to a troll and take it," said Perda.
"So what should we do now?" Zann asked Fala. "We freed a lot of Reds earlier. If we all work together, maybe we can stop Morb."
Fala looked worried. "Most of those Reds aren't ready to face Morb yet. They're staying hidden, not using magic. Venna and her people are trying to devise a plan." She shrugged. "Maybe you kids should head home—you'll be safer there until we figure out what to do. Do you have a way to get there?”
“We rode here on dragons,” Darb said. “We left them grazing in the forest.”
"We're not going home—I don't have a home to go to," Zann said. "My grandfather was taken and so were Gliss' parents."
Gliss nodded. "Swamp Bottom isn't any safer than First City. We're staying here."
"All right," said Fala. "But it's getting late—let's get some sleep. Tomorrow could be a very long day."
Late that night Morb stood alone in the palace courtyard. Sweat poured off his forehead as he focused every bit of energy he could gather.
"Come to me," he murmured.
His entire body shook with effort. With the magic he'd taken from all those Reds, was he strong enough to do this?
His energy began to waver. Sharp pains were shooting through him. But he'd waited too long for this moment—he wouldn't wait any longer. It had to be now!
Morb's knees buckled as he focused every ounce of energy on his task. Falling to the ground, he writhed back and forth in agony.
And that was all it took. The extra bit of friction shot through him.
"Yes!" he gasped as he felt his energy shift.
His eyes popped open and he smiled. His masterpiece, the new machine, stood before him in all its evil glory. Its enormous frame of wire and bone gleamed in the starlight, and the paralyzer pythons writhed angrily in their glass prison.
Morb climbed to his feet, still shaking from the effort of moving the machine all the way from the fortress.
For a moment he considered summoning Wyssa. He only needed a few more items, starting with the Skellian sea sponge she'd promised to bring him tomorrow. If he ordered her to fetch it now, the machine would be complete that much sooner.
But he decided to wait. After all, what was one more day? Very soon now, he would have everything he'd ever dreamed of back in his pathetic Void days.
When Zann awoke the next morning, his friends were eating puckerberry pancakes. Zing was slurping dragon mush nearby.
"We didn't want to wake you," Perda said when Zann sat up. "We figured you needed the extra sleep."
Darb grinned. "Plus Perda wanted to eat all your pancakes."
Zann hurried over to them. "Where's Fala?" he asked, grabbing some food.
"She was gone when we woke up," Gliss said. "She left a note telling us to stay here until she gets back."
Zann didn't say anything. He finished his breakfast and then headed toward the door.
"Where are you going?" Perda asked.
"I want to see what's going on outside," Zann replied.
When he turned the doorknob, it started spinning so fast that he couldn't hold onto it. Then a little toy bird popped into view.
"Nice try, kids," it said in Fala's voice.
The others laughed, but Zann frowned. He thought about trying to find a way to breach Fala's spell. But without using magic, it seemed hopeless. He realized he had no choice but to stay there as she'd asked—at least for a little while.
Luckily he didn't have to wait too long. Fala burst in 15 minutes later.
"What's wrong?" Zann asked when he saw the grim look on her face.
"I've been out gathering the latest news," Fala replied. "It's not good."