"I hope Zing stays and waits at the Hollow," Zann said. "I know he wanted to come along. But I'm afraid he'd attract too much attention."
Zann and his friends were walking to town. Dawn was breaking over the swamp. The aurora birds were singing, and lights were coming on in the outlying homes the kids were passing.
Darb shrugged. "I did my best to convince him to stay."
That wasn't very comforting. The dragon could be unpredictable, plus Zann knew that Zing, like all magical creatures, hated being anywhere near the Hollow. Still, there wasn't much he could do about it.
They were soon in the more populated part of town. "Be careful," Zann warned. "We don't know what's been going on around here since we went into hiding yesterday."
Gliss rubbed her stomach. "Was it only yesterday? I feel as if I haven't eaten in days!"
"Me too. But we can eat later," Zann said. "First we need to get to my house and look for that diary. And quickly, because Morb could have spies anywhere."
Just then a door slammed nearby. A dragon scurried into the street and let out a yip and a puff of steam. It was a vapor bounder, a popular breed due to its small size and friendly disposition.
"Hazi, stop!" a voice called. A kid rushed out of the house and scooped up the lively dragon.
"It's Jev!" Gliss exclaimed. Before Zann could stop her, she rushed forward, calling his name. "Jev!"
Their classmate turned, looking surprised. "Gliss!" he exclaimed. "You're okay! Everyone heard your parents are . . . you know . . . gone. We assumed whoever took them took you too."
"He almost did," Gliss said. "Zann and Darb and Perda saved me."
"Oh." Jev glanced at the others as they caught up. "Yeah, we thought Zann got nabbed too. Especially after what happened to his house." Jev's tone made it very clear that he wasn't particularly concerned about the loss of Zann's house.
"If you'll excuse us, we've got something important to do," said Zann.
Jev ignored him. "I can't believe you guys are still around," he said, talking mostly to Gliss and Perda. "Most of the Reds in town are gone. The only ones left are the mayor and a couple of others who are hiding out with her at the town hall."
"So Morb hasn't broken the mayor's Shield spell?" Gliss asked.
"Who's Morb?" Jev said.
"He's the guy who's been taking all the Reds," Perda explained.
"Wait," Zann put in. "We don't have time to—"
It was too late. The girls told Jev everything they'd found out. Zann felt anxious as he listened. He didn't like the idea of telling his enemy all their secrets.
"Wait," Jev said. "Are you telling me this Morb guy is a Void?" He glanced at Darb and smirked. "No way. Everyone knows Voids are useless at magic and most other things too."
Darb didn't respond. Zann clenched his fists to stop himself from giving Jev another set of donkey ears.
"We need to keep moving," he told his friends.
"You'd better be careful," Jev said. "A bunch of tiny, weird-looking dragons have been flying around town stinging people."
"Stinging dragons?" Darb spoke for the first time since they'd bumped into Jev. "What do they look like?"
"Don't ask me; I didn't see them," Jev said. "But I heard they swarmed the school last night and grabbed some papers or something from the office."
Darb looked at Zann. "Those could be the same tiny dragons we saw in the swamp yesterday."
Zann shrugged. "Maybe," he said. "But listen, we really need to get moving."
"Zann's right," Perda said. She turned to Jev. "Will you do me a favor and tell my family that I'm okay?"
"Mine too," Darb put in quietly. "Please?"
"Why should I?" said Jev.
"Please, Jev," said Gliss. "My parents would be going crazy with worry if it were me." Her lower lip trembled. "If they were still around, I mean."
"Okay, okay," Jev said quickly. "I was just kidding. I'll tell them." Just then the dragon in his arms wriggled loose. "Hey! Get back here, Hazi!"
He rubbed his hands together, conjuring up a dragon harness. Then he chased after his pet.
Zann grimaced. It felt strange to know that he couldn't even conjure up something as simple as that harness right now. He wasn't used to living without magic. How did Darb do it?
"Let's go," he told his friends. "We've wasted enough time already."
Soon they were several blocks away. "We should have asked Jev to conjure some breakfast for us," Perda said.
"Oh!" Gliss stopped short. "Why didn't I think of that? Maybe we should go back."
Zann stopped too. "We don't have time." Just then his stomach grumbled and he thought of something. "Why are we assuming that Perda can't use magic? She's not a Red. I'm sure it's safe for her to conjure some breakfast for us."
"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Darb seemed dubious.
"That makes total sense, Zann!" said Gliss. "Morb's only after Reds, right? Perda can probably do all the magic she wants, and Morb won't care at all."
Perda licked her lips. "How do puckerberry pancakes sound?"
"Great," Zann said. "But hurry."
Perda rubbed her hands together, and then held them facing upward. A second later a steaming platter of food appeared. "Yum!" Gliss exclaimed.
Just then a large, hulking figure appeared, casting a dark shadow over everyone. Then another figure appeared. And another.
Perda screamed and dropped the plate of food, which shattered at her feet. "Trolls!" she cried.