Zann knew he should try to get away before the troll grabbed him. But the collision had knocked the breath out of him. All he could do was stare at the creature's broad chest, inches from his face.
A glint of silver caught his eye. A small talisman hung around the troll's neck. It was slim and delicate, so tiny that Zann never would have spotted it from a distance.
Zing let out a whistle and flew at the troll. Ignoring Zing's attack, the troll shoved Zann aside and hurried down the corridor. The troll hardly seemed to have noticed the kids at all. A puff of magic energy was floating above its ugly head, showing a chaotic image of running Reds and a pile of turnips.
"Wow, that was close!" Gliss exclaimed.
"Yeah. Why did that troll let me go?" Zann wondered.
"It didn't even seem to see you," said Perda.
Darb was staring after the creature. "Trolls have trouble thinking about more than one thing at a time," he said. "It looked like that one was running to tell Morb about the escaped prisoners at the zoo. It probably barely noticed we were in the way."
"Lucky for us," Zann said. "Now let's get out of here!"
Wyssa picked up the battered old brass pot. In Magica there was no need for the tonics and potions she'd learned to mix as a child. But she often needed such things in her travels, especially to those dangerous places that didn't have any natural magic.
After placing the pot carefully into a large cloth bag, Wyssa straightened up with a groan. Years of traveling had been hard on her body. Her gaze fell on a worn blink image of a happy family, and she grimaced. Some of her travels had been hard on her soul too.
Picking up the picture, she forced herself to stare at the smiling faces—especially that of the Red boy. Keeping the image around reminded her to be careful. That was why she was leaving the home she'd made for herself in Wormwood. And this time she wasn't coming back. She had one last errand to run, one last item she'd promised Morb. Then she was going somewhere he could never find her. Whatever happened next in Magica, she wouldn't be responsible.
As she tucked the picture into her bag, Wyssa heard a shuffling step outside her hut. Looking out, she saw Hap staring curiously at the pile of objects she'd put outside the entrance.
"Going somewhere, Wyssa?" the Void asked in his hoarse, high-pitched voice.
"We're all going somewhere, my friend," she responded. "As for me, it's time for choice to put an end to what chance has started."
Hap blinked at her. "Eh? What do you mean by that?"
"Never mind." Wyssa waved an arm at the pile. "If there's anything you'd like in there, you're welcome to it. You can have my hut too, for that matter. You've been as good a neighbor as one could expect in a place like this."
She cast a glance around Wormwood. She wouldn't miss it.
Hap's eyes went wide. "My thanks to you, Wyssa," he said, shooting a greedy look at the hut. "It'll do my old bones good to have a roof over my head for a change."
Wyssa went back inside just long enough to grab a few more items, which she stuffed into her bag. The rest didn't matter.
"You're welcome," she told Hap, who was already admiring a frayed hat he'd found in the pile. "Good luck to you in the days ahead."
Hap muttered another "thanks," though he didn't look up as Wyssa stepped toward the old tree without a backward glance.
"I can't believe Morb just declared himself king like that," Perda said for about the tenth time since she, Zann, and the others had escaped from the palace.
"It's not as if anybody could stop him," Gliss reminded her. "You saw what he did."
"Yeah," Zann agreed. "He's got tons of power, all of it stolen from the Reds he kidnapped." Zann clenched his fists as he walked, thinking about Boz and Teplo and all the others.
"Not to mention those horrible little dragons and all those trolls," Darb added.
Zann shuddered when he thought back to his close call with the troll. "Hey, that reminds me," he said. "The troll I ran into was wearing a talisman around its neck. I've been wondering if that's how Morb is feeding the extra magical energy to the trolls. Maybe all of them are wearing talismans."
"That would explain why the trolls have so much power," said Perda.
"It might also explain how Morb is able to feed magic to them remotely," said Zann. "They became more powerful when we were at the zoo, and Morb wasn't even there."
"We should tell Fala about this," said Darb. "She might know how talismans like that work."
They'd slowed to a walk a couple of blocks earlier to catch their breath. The mention of Fala's name reminded Zann that they needed to hurry. The sooner they told Fala what was happening, the sooner she could help them think of a plan.
"Come on, let's run," he suggested.
Zing let out a whistle, flying faster as the kids broke into a jog. Soon they were just a few blocks from the safe house.
"I hope Fala's back by now," Gliss said.
Zann hoped so too. He also hoped that Fala would have some ideas for stopping Morb. Because with the palace under Morb's control and most Reds trapped in Morb's dungeon, Zann and his friends were probably Magica's only hope.