6. The Visitor
"Whoa!" Zann cried as he and Darb ran. "What are those things?"
"I don't know." Darb flapped his hands, trying to ward off the angry little creatures. They kept diving at the boys, stinging any exposed skin they could reach. "Let’s go to the Hollow! It's close, and they probably won't follow us there."
Zann glanced in the direction of the Hollow. The place made him nervous. It was a vacuum and magic didn't work in a vacuum. Most magical creatures feared and avoided such places. In fact, it was probably the only place Zann would never dare to go. In the Hollow he'd have no way at all to protect himself.
"I've got a better idea," Zann said. He grabbed Darb's arm and then zapped them both away. They landed in another part of the swamp, far from the tiny dragons.
"Whew!" Darb grimaced. "Can you do anything about these stings?"
"Hold still." Zann rubbed his hands together and touched the red marks on Darb's arms and face. The marks faded away.
"Thanks," Darb said.
Zann healed his own stings. "So you don't know what those were?" he asked. "I thought you were an expert in that stuff."
Darb shook his head. "They looked like dragons, but the only dragons that small are mini flowersippers. And you know what they're like. They don't sting."
"Maybe they're not from Magica!" Zann said. "Maybe there's a wormhole near here."
"You mean a portal to another world?" Darb looked doubtful. "I thought those were really rare. And really dangerous."
"They are. Most people think my parents got lost in one. Or maybe went through an unstable one that closed behind them." Zann started to feel excited. "Let's go back and—oh!"
Zann was nearly knocked off his feet. He grabbed a tree to steady himself.
"What's wrong?" Darb asked.
The feeling had already passed. "It's Boz," Zann said. "I just felt him. He's not happy."
"Was it a Red Share?"
Zann nodded. A Red Share happened when a Red felt an especially strong emotion. Any Red with a connection to the other Red would feel it too.
"Boz probably just realized I sneaked out," Zann said. "It was a strong Share, which means he must be really mad. Or really scared—he seemed pretty worried about that warning. Either way I'd better get home."
"Okay." Darb tucked an escaping panic bug back into his pocket. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah. If Boz doesn't lock me in the house with a Super Shield spell, that is." Zann rubbed his hands together.
"Focus," he thought. The last thing he needed was to miss his mark and land on the roof or in Zing's food dish.
He landed in the house's main room. "Right on target!" he murmured.
He glanced around, but Boz was nowhere in sight. Instead Zann saw a man looking at the family pictures on the wall.
"Who are you?" Zann blurted out. "Where's my grandfather?"
The stranger spun around. He was tall and gaunt, with glittering amber eyes. An odd expression flickered across his narrow face.
"Another Red," the man said. He pointed at one of the blink images. "Are these your parents, young man?"
Zann noticed his grandfather's diary on the floor under the table. That was strange. Boz never went anywhere without his diary. And he'd never leave it lying around on the floor.
"That's none of your business," Zann told the stranger, suddenly nervous. "Where's Boz?"
"Is that any way to speak to a guest in your home?" The corners of the man's thin lips twisted into a half smile. "I happen to be an old friend of your grandfather's."
Zann wasn't sure what to say. "Boz?" he yelled. "Where are you?"
The stranger smirked. "You can call as loudly as you like; he won't hear you. But I can take you to him if you wish."
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" Zann clenched his fists at his sides. "And what have you done with Boz?"
Just then he heard scratching at the door. Zing!
Zann quickly rubbed his hands together and pointed at the door. "Open!"
It flew open. Zing leaped into the room, shooting a stream of flame toward the stranger.
"Good boy!" Zann cried. "That'll teach him to—"
But quick as a wink, the stranger lifted his hand.
“No!” shouted Zann.
"Freeze!" said the stranger, pointing at the dragon.
Zing instantly crashed to the floor, not moving.
"Zing!" Zann fell to his knees. Zing was breathing very slowly. Realizing what the man had done, Zann turned to face him. "You used a Flash Freeze on him!" he accused. "That's illegal! He's a tame dragon!"
Magica had few laws, aside from the important one taught to everyone from birth: Do no harm to others. But everyone knew that a Flash Freeze should only be used in emergencies such as immobilizing a large, rampaging wild dragon. It was never supposed to be used on people or pets.
"I never did like dragons," the man said, examining the sparks that still ran across his hand. "Or Reds, for that matter."
He rubbed his fingers together. Sparks leapt from his hand now, much more strongly than Zann would have expected from such a small amount of friction.
"Freeze!" the man said, pointing toward Zann.
Acting on instinct, Zann quickly grabbed Zing and rubbed his hands together. He felt the Flash Freeze sizzle within a hairbreadth of his face as he zapped himself and Zing away. Within half a second, they landed in the front yard.
And half a second after that, Zann's house exploded into a million pieces.