30. More Surprises
After Zann left, Fala went back upstairs. Teplo busied himself reading some papers. Perda finished the food Fala had conjured and looked around, feeling restless and worried about Zann.
"I wish we could do something useful," she told Darb. "I hate just sitting here."
Darb didn't answer. He was staring into space. Perda poked him in the arm.
"Huh?" he said. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about Zing. I hope he's okay."
"I'm sure he's fine," Perda said. "I wish we could get him back though."
Teplo looked over. "Who are you talking about?"
"Zann's pet dragon," Perda said. "Remember? We told you the palace people took him away when he tried to burn down the door."
Teplo's face lit up. "I think I can help."
He let out a sharp whistle. A moment later they heard a rustle of feathers from a dark corner of the room. Then a large waterfowl waddled into view.
"What's that?" Darb took a step toward the creature.
"Careful," Teplo said as the bird snapped at Darb. "She's rather foul-tempered. She's a sniffer goose."
"A what?" Darb looked confused. "I've never heard of that species. Where do they come from?"
"A sniffer goose is a creature whose entire purpose is tracking dragons," Teplo said. "If you describe Zann's dragon, she should be able to retrieve him."
Perda noticed that the old man hadn't answered Darb's question about where the sniffer goose was from. But she didn't really care. If they could get Zing back, Zann would be thrilled.
"Zing's a fire whistler," she said. "He's kind of small, with reddish-bronze scales."
She and Darb went on to describe Zing as well as they could. Teplo listened and translated their description into a series of whistles, grunts, and clicks. The goose tilted her head and listened.
"You speak this bird's language?" Darb asked, looking impressed.
"I speak sniffer goose well enough to get by." Teplo shrugged. "It's an easy language to learn. It's even simpler than Troll, and just about anyone can learn that with little trouble."
"If you say so." Perda watched the bird. "Now what happens?"
"Go, my feathered friend!" Teplo fluttered his hands at the goose and let out a honk.
The sniffer goose honked loudly in reply and flapped her wings. Teplo pulled on a lever, opening the trapdoor. Honking eagerly, the goose flew up and out.
Teplo closed the trapdoor and smiled at the kids. "Now we wait."
"Who are you?" Zann asked as he floated along behind the mysterious people. "Where are you taking me?"
"Hurry." One of the people shoved Zann's bubble through a doorway.
The bubble touched down and faded, and Zann found himself in a windowless room, face to face with Yog.
Zann gasped. "Did you come to take me back to the palace?"
Yog grinned at him. "Not exactly. But you should have seen Rixa's face when she found out that you four were gone!"
Zann was confused. He glanced at the others, but he didn't recognize any of them. "Then why—"
"Zann!" a woman's voice interrupted. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Zann turned around. A tall, imposing woman had just entered.
"This is Venna," Yog said. "She's one of the few remaining free members of the Red Council."
Zann had heard of Venna, one of the strongest Magic Masters of her generation. "Nice to meet you too," he said.
"Sorry we had to grab you off the street like that, Zann," Venna said. "But it's not safe for you out there. When I got Teplo's message, I immediately sent my associates to fetch you. On their way they spotted you and decided to intercept you before the trolls did."
"I was fine," Zann protested.
"Indeed," Venna said. "I'm thrilled that you've eluded the trolls this long. You must be just as talented as Boz and your parents."
"My parents?" Zann said. "Do—did you know them?"
"Of course! Everyone in First City knew of their fascinating research and mourned the loss of their genius."
Zann wasn't sure what to say to that. Luckily Venna didn't seem to expect him to say anything.
"That's why I'm so confident you're the right choice," she said.
"The right choice for what?" Zann asked.
Venna smiled. "To become the next king of Magica."
"What do you want?" Morb snapped at the troll who had just entered. "Can't you see that I'm busy?"
The troll didn't respond for a moment. It stared at Morb's new contraption, fear in its dull eyes.
"Well?" Morb said impatiently.
The troll finally looked at him and let out a grunt. An image formed briefly above its head and then sputtered out.
Morb frowned. "Was that the boy—Boz's grandson?" he demanded. "Did you idiots finally capture him?"
The troll shook its head. Another puff of magical energy showed Zann with a crown on his head.
"What?" Morb exclaimed. "They're making him king? Impossible!"
The troll grunted, but Morb had never bothered to learn its language. Morb was tempted to stop what he was doing to find out more but he decided against it. Soon it wouldn't matter.
Morb looked at his contraption with satisfaction. The pythons the old woman had brought were writhing in a large glass tube in the middle. The bone-and-wire frame filled most of the space in the underground room. Soon, very soon now, it would be time to move it to a larger location, and Morb had a particular spot in mind. There Morb would have more space to work. There he would be able to find the few remaining parts he needed.