33. To the Rescue
"Get ready," Teplo croaked hoarsely.
Zann and Perda rubbed their hands together as Teplo let out several loud grunts. "Shift," Perda whispered.
Zann focused on sending Teplo's grunts away so that they seemed to be coming from the guard troll.
The other trolls heard. They turned to look at the guard and noticed the turnip prisoners.
"It's working!" Darb whispered. "They think all their prisoners just escaped!"
The turnip prisoners were still running, luring the trolls away from the pen. "Go!" Teplo gasped. "Hurry! I'm not sure how much longer I can hold all the illusions steady."
Zann and the others rushed out of their hiding place. "I'll blast the lock," Fala said. "Get ready to help everyone to the exit."
The prisoners had seen what was happening. As soon as Fala opened the door, they started running out. Zann and his friends helped them all find the exit through the hedge. Even Zing helped by hovering over the spot and whistling.
"Gliss!" Perda cried, rushing to grab her friend's hand when she emerged. "This way! Hurry!"
Zann started to follow the girls. Then he heard a weak voice crying out somewhere behind him. "Help! Please wait for me. Oh dear!"
It was the elderly woman. She was following a stray turnip prisoner that was running toward the trolls.
"Oh no!" Zann murmured.
He raced after the woman. She was already much too close to the trolls. If he didn't stop her, she'd be recaptured for sure. And everyone knew that trolls had a bad temper. Who knew what they'd do to punish her?
"Stop!" Zann grabbed her arm. "Come this way!"
The woman stopped, looking confused. At the same moment, Zann saw one of the trolls turn and spot them. Grunting, it lumbered toward them.
Zann froze. The troll was changing as he watched it, its dull eyes growing brighter and its hands sparking with energy.
"Uh-oh," thought Zann, guessing what that meant. Maybe the trolls hadn't been getting any extra energy from Morb for the past day or two. But they were getting it now. When he glanced at the rest of the trolls, who were starting to turn toward him, Zann saw that they were all charged with magical energy.
"They're coming!" the old woman exclaimed. "Oh dear!"
Zann didn't respond. He didn't have the heart to tell her that they were doomed. His friends were too far away to help. Even Zing couldn't possibly get to them in time.
"Run, young man! Hurry!" The woman gave him a light shove. "You might be able to get away if they grab me first."
Zann doubted that was true—the trolls were moving fast, thanks to their new infusion of magical energy. Even if it was true though, he couldn't abandon her.
"It's okay," he said. "We'll figure something out together."
But he knew it was hopeless. There was no escape this time.
"Zann!" Teplo shouted, emerging from his hiding place.
"Go!" Zann shouted. "Get out of here!"
But Teplo hurried toward him. As he did, he yanked off his hat, revealing his wild red hair.
"Yoo-hoo!" Teplo called out. "Look here, you dumb trolls! I've got a troll snack for you!"
He snapped his fingers, conjuring up a giant blob of glowberry pudding. The trolls stopped and stared. A few started drooling immediately.
"Yum!" Teplo exclaimed. He made a loud chewing sound as the illusion wavered and then quickly faded away.
The trolls looked confused and annoyed. With howls of outrage, they all raced toward Teplo. He let out a whoop and ran away, heading deeper into the zoo, his bare ankles flashing beneath his too-short robe.
Zann remained frozen, not understanding for a moment what was happening. Was Teplo crazy? He'd never be able to outrun the trolls! After expending all that energy, he probably couldn't even zap himself either! Then Teplo glanced back over his shoulder.
"Go!" he shouted at Zann. "I'll say hi to your grandfather for you!"
Zann realized that the old man was sacrificing his own freedom for Zann's. "No!" he cried.
But it was too late to change what Teplo had done. Zann only hoped he could live up to Teplo's faith in him.
"I think the trolls are distracted enough not to notice this," he said, grabbing the old woman's hand. "Zap!"
They landed just outside the zoo. Others were still pouring through the hedge and running off in all directions. A young man let out a cry of relief and grabbed the old woman. Then Zann spotted Gliss and his other friends ahead in the crowd. Thrilled to see that Gliss was free, Zann sprinted after them.
Half an hour later, Zann finally had a chance to catch his breath. He and his friends were in an abandoned building a few blocks from the zoo.
"This location should be safe," Fala said. "It's listed as vacant on all the official city records. Plus it has an old Shield spell still covering it."
"Does that mean Morb can't find us here?" Darb asked.
"I hope so," Fala replied. "Still, I'd better check the area for any sign of trolls. Don't use any magic while I'm gone."
She hurried out, leaving the kids alone.
"Wow!" Perda said. "That was crazy. What was it like being a prisoner, Gliss?"
Gliss hadn't said much since being rescued. Now Zann noticed she looked distracted and agitated.
"Are you okay?" Zann asked her. "Listen, I'm really sorry I—"
Gliss didn't let him finish. "No, I'm not okay!" she exclaimed in a shaky voice. "You guys won't be either once you hear what I found out while I was a prisoner!"