32. Zann's Choice
Zann didn't have to think very hard about his decision. "Sorry," he told Venna. "I have to help my friend."
"Let's go." Teplo sounded pleased. "I have a plan in mind."
"You're making a mistake, Zann," Venna warned. "Magica needs you."
"Gliss needs me too." Zann walked toward the door.
Venna glanced at her assistants. Zann held his breath. Would she try to stop him?
She didn't. Soon Zann, Perda, Darb, Zing, Teplo, and Fala were outside.
"What's your plan?" Perda asked Teplo.
The old man pulled a hat out of his cloak, jamming it over his red hair. He tossed another hat to Zann.
"I'll tell you on the way to the zoo."
"Your plan sounds crazy," Perda told Teplo. "Can it really work?"
They had been walking for twenty minutes.
"Of course." Teplo sounded confident. "I've known much crazier plans to work perfectly."
Fala looked dubious. "That's an awful lot of magic for one person—even a Magic Master. Do you think you can handle it?"
"I haven't used any magic in days," Teplo said. "I'm rested and ready."
"Hush!" Darb whispered. "More trolls."
They ducked into a doorway and waited for the trolls to pass. Every second felt like an hour to Zann.
"Are we almost there?" he whispered.
Fala nodded. "Follow me. I know a secret way in."
Soon they were pushing through a thick hedge. They peered out at the zoo, which was swarming with trolls.
"The dragon pen is over there," Fala whispered.
Zann had been to the zoo as a little kid. He remembered staring at the menacing wild dragons inside their iron-barred cage. Even knowing that the pen was a vacuum hadn't made the dragons less scary.
Now the cage looked the same. But it was crammed full of people instead of dragons.
"There's Gliss!" Darb whispered.
Zann spotted their friend among the other prisoners. She was sitting on a rock, looking nervous.
"It looks as if the trolls have captured every Red in First City!" Perda whispered.
"Not quite." Teplo stared past the pen. "Here comes one more."
A troll carrying an elderly woman stomped toward the cage.
Darb glanced at Fala. "You said they needed only one more prisoner."
"There's no time to waste," Zann said. "Teplo's plan might not be perfect. But even a crazy plan is better than none, right?"
Teplo grinned. "That's the spirit, my boy! Let's see if we can get closer while they're distracted."
Most of the other trolls were watching the one troll try to wrestle the new Red into the pen. Teplo dashed across the open area beside the pen. Zann and the others followed.
When they reached the shelter of some shrubs, Teplo started fishing around inside his cloak.
"Are you sure you can manage all that magic at once?" Fala asked him. "It'll require a tremendous amount of energy."
"I could help," Zann offered. "Combine my energy with yours, take some of the smaller spells . . ."
"Thank you, Zann. But no," Teplo said. "You don't have the experience for this type of magic. Besides, it's far too risky."
Teplo pulled a large, lumpy turnip out of his cloak and tossed it into the grass. By the time it settled near the dragon pen, he'd pulled out more.
Soon dozens of turnips dotted the ground.
The trolls had finished locking away the new prisoner by now. Most of them wandered away, grunting loudly at one another as if discussing what to do next. The only troll that noticed the turnips was the one left guarding the prisoners. It stared at the vegetables with a look of dull confusion on its face.
Teplo rubbed his hands together until sparks flew. "Animate," he murmured.
The turnips started growing larger and larger. Then they changed shape, taking on human form. Within seconds they looked just like the Reds inside the pen! There was even one that looked exactly like Gliss.
"Hurry," Fala hissed. "You have to hide the real prisoners, or they'll figure it out—even trolls aren't that dumb!"
Teplo nodded. Beads of sweat dotted his face.
But he rubbed his hands even harder and pointed at the pen. "Cloak," he muttered.
Suddenly it was as if a sheer curtain had been dropped over the entire pen. The Cloaking spell dimmed the view of the prisoners but didn't hide them completely.
"More!" Fala urged. "Let me help you!"
"No—let me." Zann pushed past her. Grabbing Teplo's hands, he rubbed his own against them, joining their friction together.
"Not . . . safe!" Teplo gasped, his face drenched in sweat. But he didn't pull away as Zann focused his energy.
Zann was good at Cloaking spells; he used them frequently to play tricks on Zing. "Hide," he muttered.
"It's working!" Perda whispered.
Zann pulled his hands away. The Cloaking spell was complete. The pen appeared to be completely empty!
At the same time, Teplo's turnip army started to move. The old man was still creating friction as fast as he could. As he did, the fake Reds started running around.
The guard troll was still staring in amazement.
"Isn't it going to warn the others?" Perda wondered.
"Maybe in about an hour,” Zann said, “when its brain catches up to its eyes."
"We can't wait that long." Fala glanced anxiously at Teplo. He was groaning and sweating with effort. "You'd better do something."
Teplo glanced at Zann. "Can you do a Sound-Shifting spell?" he asked.
Zann gulped. He remembered studying that type of spell in school. But he hadn't been paying much attention that day.
"Yes." Perda spoke up, holding out her hands to Zann. "He can. I'll help."