19. Travel Plans
"Are we there yet?" Gliss complained. "We've been walking forever!"
It was the following morning, but Darb still hadn't told his friends what his idea was. He'd said it would be easier to show them. After a quick breakfast of glowberries and rainwater, he'd led them on a long walk through the swamp and the thick forest east of town. Eventually the trees had thinned out into an area of small farms and open land.
"We're almost there," Darb said. "You'll see it as soon as we get to the top of the next hill."
He led the way up the hill. When Zann caught up to Darb, he saw a farm spread out beneath them. It had several paddocks full of large, grazing dragons!
"There," Darb said with a smile, pointing to the dragons. "That's how we can get to First City."
"But I don't know how to ride a dragon," Gliss exclaimed.
"I don't either," Perda said. "I begged for lessons, but my parents wanted me to focus on my spells."
"I started learning last year after I left school," Darb said. "I come here a lot and help the farmer with his work in exchange for lessons."
Zann was surprised. He'd never thought much about what his friend did while everyone else was in school. Who could have guessed that Darb was learning to ride dragons?
Darb hurried off to talk to the farmer. Moments later he was back with permission to borrow two dragons.
"We can ride double," he said as they entered the closest paddock. He smiled at Gliss. "If you want to ride with me, I can show you the best ways to hold on."
"Oh!" Gliss shot Zann an uncertain look. "Um, okay. Thanks."
"Guess that means I'm stuck with you," Perda told Zann with a shrug.
Zann didn't answer. For one thing, the thought of riding double with Perda made him feel weirdly nervous. For another, they'd just reached the dragons.
One of the huge creatures looked up. It had large, gentle eyes and iridescent purple scales. Zing scurried over to sniff its nose. When Zing let out a tiny burst of flame, the bigger dragon jumped back in surprise.
"Behave, Zing," Zann warned. "Otherwise Darb will tell these guys to eat you."
"They don't eat anything but plants—they're cloud gliders." Darb patted one of the large dragons. "Their owner thinks they'll be easier to handle than the wind racers even though they're not quite as fast." He gestured at several larger, fiercer-looking dragons in the next paddock.
"I'll take his word for it." Zann stared up at the nearest cloud glider. Was he really about to climb onto this huge creature and soar into the air? Once again he found himself thinking that having adventures was a lot scarier than he'd ever expected.
Still, he wasn't about to let the girls see that he was nervous. "What are we waiting for?" he exclaimed. "Let's go!" Grabbing the cloud glider's wing, he vaulted onto its back.
The dragon gave a snort of surprise and leaped straight into the air. Zann tumbled to the ground.
"Zann!" Gliss exclaimed. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Zann winced as he stood up. Pretty sure that a bruise was already forming on his backside, he turned to Darb with a sheepish smile. "Maybe you'd better give us a quick lesson."
Darb explained how to handle and steer the dragons. Then he helped Zann mount the correct way.
"Zann, you hold on to the dragon's neck," he said. "Perda, you hold on to Zann."
"This is scary," Perda said as she settled into place behind Zann.
He could feel her breath on his neck and smell her hair. He tried not to react as she slipped her arms around his waist.
"You'd better hold on tight," he said. "I'm not jumping down to catch you if you fall off."
She laughed. "I'm not the one who already fell off, remember?"
By then Darb and Gliss had climbed onto the other dragon.
"Ready?" Darb called. "Hang on and follow us!"
Darb's dragon leaped into the air. Zann could feel his own dragon gathering its muscles. He held on tightly as the beast sprang upward. The wind from its wings rushed past Zann's head.
"We're flying!" Perda said with a laugh.
Zann grinned. "Yeah!"
Morb smiled as another red light on the map blinked off. "Good," he thought. The trolls were working fast. A moment later he heard a cell door slam shut in the dungeon. The new prisoners yelled angry protests at the trolls who had captured them.
"If they're upset now, wait until they find out what I have planned next," he muttered with a cackle.
His gaze fell on the discarded blink images of Zann and his friends. Seeing them made his good mood waver. How had a handful of puny children managed to evade him? It was infuriating!
But he tried not to think about that. Soon it wouldn't matter.
Turning away from the Secret Eye, Morb stepped over to a rough wooden desk and picked up a frayed blink image.
It was a portrait of a large family. There were two handsome, smiling parents, both Reds. Around them were a dozen children, more than half of them Reds as well.
But Morb's gaze barely flickered over most of the cheerful figures. His focus rested on an unsmiling, skinny, amber-eyed little boy. The family's only Void.
Morb stared at the boy for a long moment, and then tossed the picture aside. He wasn't that pathetic little Void anymore.
And soon everyone in Magica would know it.