"Oof!" Zann grunted as he and his friends landed on something soft.
"Where are we?" Perda cried. "Help!"
"Hush, children," said a voice from the darkness.
It didn't sound like a troll. But Zann jumped to his feet.
"Ouch!" Darb yelped. "Who stepped on my hand?"
"Sorry," Zann said.
A flame flickered to life. Zann squinted, barely making out a human-shaped shadow behind it. Whoever it was didn't look like a troll either.
"Who's there?" he asked, trying to sound brave.
"Don't be frightened, my young friends." The torch grew brighter, revealing the person behind the voice: a Red around Boz's age. His gray-streaked hair stuck up in all directions, as if it were trying to escape from his head. His bright blue eyes were shaded by huge, bushy brows.
"Who are you?" Perda stared at the old man's multicolored robe. It was a little too short, ending just above his bony ankles.
The man smiled. "My name is Teplo."
Zann gasped. "Teplo? But that woman upstairs said—"
"That's Fala, my assistant." Teplo set the torch in a wall bracket and lit two more. "She's under strict orders to say I've been taken." He peered at Zann. "You're Boz's grandson, aren't you? You look just like the blink images I've seen of you. Except older, of course."
"Uh, yeah, I'm Zann. These are my friends Perda and Darb." Teplo didn't look anything like Zann had imagined. He'd been expecting someone more like the king—tall, handsome, and strong.
"Charmed to make your acquaintance." Teplo made an elaborate bow. "My apologies for the abruptness of your arrival."
Perda glanced around the underground room. "Did you open a trapdoor to get us down here?"
"I did." Teplo chuckled. "I built the trapdoor years ago as an experiment. When I heard you mention Boz, I thought perhaps I should use it."
He hurried to a corner of the room and yanked on a rope. Somewhere overhead the kids heard the muffled sound of a bell ringing.
"Fala will be along soon with food and drink." Teplo grabbed a bowl from a table. "In the meantime you can snack on these turnip cookies."
Perda wrinkled her nose. "Turnip cookies?"
Zann's stomach grumbled and he realized none of them had eaten that day. He reached for a cookie.
"How'd you dodge the trolls?" he asked Teplo, cautiously nibbling on the cookie. It tasted like dirt mixed with swamp water.
"It wasn't easy." Teplo held up a cookie, staring at it thoughtfully. "I had to call upon my old friend the turnip for help."
Zann and his friends traded a glance. So far Teplo seemed pretty weird, with his crazy clothes and his talk about turnips. Could he really be the great Magic Master whom Zann had heard stories about all his life?
"Um, the turnip?" Perda said politely.
Teplo nodded. "The turnip comes from another world originally. Did you know that?"
The kids shook their heads.
"It's true." Teplo continued. "That gives it great power if one knows how to harness it."
Zann wasn't interested in wasting time talking about turnips. They had to find Gliss before it was too late. "We tried to visit Lonz and Saffa, but they're both gone," he said.
"Unless they're in hiding too?" Perda asked hopefully.
"No, they're gone," Teplo said. "Only a few of us remain free. Of course none of us can use magic, so it's difficult to keep track."
"I guess you figured out that Morb can track people through their magic?" Darb asked.
"Indeed," said Teplo. "Morb is using a very old form of magic that was banned long ago by the Red Council. But it's easy to detect if you know what to look for. Now tell me your story, young friends."
Zann only hesitated for a moment. Yes, Teplo was odd. But he was Boz's friend and Zann and his friends clearly needed help from someone.
"It all started when an echo crow came to school . . ." Zann began. With help from the others, he told Teplo the whole story. The old man listened carefully, not saying a word until they were finished.
"Very interesting," Teplo said then. "Does anyone else know you're in First City?"
"Just Slib and Yog and the others at the palace," Zann said. "Plus Lonz's daughter and Saffa's husband, I guess. We didn't tell them who we were though."
"Don't forget that strange old woman we talked to in Wormwood when we first arrived," Darb said.
Zann nodded. Darb was very logical and thorough. It figured he'd remember that brief encounter.
Teplo leaned forward. "Wormwood?" he echoed, his blue eyes suddenly sharp with interest. "What old woman?"
"Just some crazy old lady near the big tree," Zann said. "She wanted to trade us some disguises for Zing."
"That's Zann's pet dragon," Darb explained. "They took Zing from us at the palace."
Teplo didn't seem to hear him. "Wyssa," he muttered. "This could be trouble."
"Huh?" Zann said. "Who's Wyssa?"
Teplo waved a hand, his eyes calm again. "Never mind. Talking to myself," he said. "Now where's Fala with our food?"
If the others responded, Zann didn't hear it. A sudden wave of strong emotion overcame him. He grabbed the back of a chair to keep from falling down.
Finally he blinked and looked up. The others were staring at him. "A Red Share, huh?" Teplo said.
"Was it from Boz?" Perda asked. "This could be important! Shares can only be felt if the two people are near each other, so that means—"
"N-no!" Zann stammered. "It wasn't from Boz. It was from Gliss. And she's really scared!"