Gesturing for her to follow, Bellator led Anny to the large window overlooking the busy market. It was quite a view, with the firefly lights hanging in the trees above and the busy shops teeming with customers down below. She could have stood there for hours, watching the people come and go.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much time to speak with you,” he began. “There are some pressing matters which require my immediate attention. But I’ll try my best to explain just as much as I can in this short interview.”
Anny’s mind was whirling. She had so many questions! And now this guy was telling her he didn’t have time to answer them?
He continued before she could offer a reply. “You asked what this place was,” he said. “Well, we do have a name for it.” He turned to her, his eyes gleaming with a touch of pride. “We call it the Goblin Market.”
“Goblins?” Her curiosity quickly banished her bitterness. “You mean like the fairy tales?”
“Yes… and no,” came his cryptic reply. “The goblins you’re familiar with, the ones from fairy tales, well… they really aren’t…” He struggled to find the right words. “Why don’t we start from the beginning?”
“Sounds like a good place to start,” she said, following as he led the way back to the sofa.
He waited until she was seated before speaking again. “So the first thing you should know is that goblins are, well, they’re real. More than just stories.”
Goblins. Fairy-tale creatures. “Like… those little green monsters that sort of…” She was at a loss for words. “Seriously?”
This was getting weird. Then again, she was several levels belowground in a secret market she never knew existed. She had a feeling things were only going to get weirder.
“I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to you. But please try not to associate those ‘little green monsters’ with the goblins I’m about to describe. True goblins, purebreds… they are all but extinct by now.” He glanced at the window. “In this day and age, they’ve all interbred.”
“Interbred with what?” she asked.
He chuckled. “Humans.”
“You may feel that way, but I’m only telling you what happened. Did you see all those people out there?”
“Don’t tell me…” Her eyes went wide. “You’re not saying they’re–”
“Goblins,” he finished. “Well, part-goblin, anyway. We use the term rather loosely nowadays.” He shrugged. “Goblins are, for the most part, human, with a small amount of goblin blood. But we call them goblins for simplicity’s sake.”
“But… I don’t understand. What do they look like? Goblins, I mean.” She looked to the window. “How do you know who’s a goblin and who’s a human?”
The question had him stumped. “Visibly, it’s difficult. Goblins, even if they’re only quarter-human or even less, take the same shape as people.” He shifted in his seat. “There are times, however, when a particularly stubborn strain of goblin genetics interferes with the normal human appearance. Eye colour, and sometimes hair…” He waved his hand impatiently. “But that’s not important right now. There’s something else we need to talk about.”
Not important? Anny thought it was important! Out of nowhere, this guy tells her another species exists on the face of the earth. Or beneath it. Or whatever. How could he just gloss over the topic like that?
But another question surfaced. “What exactly does all this goblin stuff have to do with me?”
“Anastasia…” He hesitated. “I think you can guess.”
Oh no… Was this guy serious? “You mean I’m…? So the little green things… That’s…” This was too much. Her gaze dropped to her feet. “Seriously?”
His voice took on a softer tone. “No, no. Like I said, purebred goblins, your ‘little green monsters’, they don’t exist anymore.” Their eyes met as he tried to reassure her. “Your parents were descended from one, is what being a goblin means. It’s just that you have, uh… special blood.”
What did it mean? What could it all mean? Nothing was making sense… Anny didn’t understand any of it. In the confusion of the moment, her mind drifted back to the two bodies back aboveground, still waiting to be identified at the morgue.
“My parents…” Understanding dawned on her. “They weren’t my real parents.”
“No, they weren’t,” he said. “Just as you are not the real Anastasia Greene.”
“I knew it!” she said, though her voice was laced with disbelief. “I knew it all along. Back at the morgue, they asked me…” Her eyes met his once again. “I knew they weren’t my real parents. How did I know?”
“That would be another detail,” he said. “As a goblin, it’s not unusual to have such, uh… feelings towards your identity. Or heritage, if you’d rather.”
“Wait, what?” She frowned. “Say that last part again.”
He gave a weary sigh. “I really don’t have time to explain that bit. What is important is that you were exchanged with another when you were very young.” Reluctantly, he added, “You’re a changeling.”
Anny went silent. The conversation had been leading up to this, she should have known it was coming. But she was still unprepared for the blow. Elbows on her knees, she hung her head and tried to take it in.
“Changeling…” She closed her eyes. “I was switched.”
“Uh, well…” He tried to agree without sounding callous. “Simply put, yes. The real Anastasia Greene is living here at the moment, in the Market.” He rose from his chair and walked back to the desk. “I believe she’s staying where the old herb garden used to be, over some sort of shop.” Opening a drawer, he pulled out an old photograph. He gave it to her and added, “I would go to her if I were you. She’ll have the answers you’re looking for. It’s her secret to tell, in the end. I’m sure she’ll want you to know.”
The girl in the photograph had blond hair like her. Except, not like her. Just normal blond hair, gold instead of white. The picture itself must have been taken a few years back, because the girl looked too young to be her changeling.
“Who is she?” said Anny, still in a daze.
“She goes by the name that was once yours,” he said. “Saphira Lazuli.”
“Saphira Lazuli,” she repeated, tasting the name on her lips. Now that she said it out loud, she felt that it really had been her real name. She felt that it was still her real name, just like the feeling that those two dead bodies in the morgue were not her parents. Was it normal, to have these feelings? Was it normal, for a goblin?
Someone knocked at the door. Bellator marched over and opened it just a crack. A woman’s voice, a whisper, drifted in from the other side.
“We found him.”
His grip tightened on the edge of the door. “You… you can’t mean…” He cast a nervous glance towards Anny and lowered his voice. “He’s actually here?”
She nodded, following his gaze to the sofa. When she spoke again, her voice was so quiet that Anny couldn’t hear her at all.
“But nothing from Donovan,” she continued. “Not a word.”
He was silent for a long moment. “That’s not good.”
“Not good?” She clenched her teeth. “Is that all you can say? You know something must have happened, or we would have heard from him by now.”
“Yes, yes.” He looked to the sofa a second time before turning back to the door. “I understand. Give me another minute here and we’ll continue.”
She said nothing and nodded once more, though her eyes betrayed her frustration.
“Just one minute,” he promised, closing the door. When he turned to Anny, his face was very pale. “I’m afraid I have to end this here.”
“What?” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “You can’t just throw this all on me without… without…” She tried to keep calm, but the stress was too much to handle. “Without explaining it first! I don’t know where I am, or who I am, or what to do, or anything! How am I supposed to get back home?”
“I would advise against leaving the Market,” he said. “We believe the death of your adopted parents was no accident. It’s likely that someone is after Anastasia Greene, and even if you’re not actually her, there’s a good chance the killer will be looking for you.” He paused, regretting his use of words. “But of course, that would all be aboveground. You’re safe as long as you stay in the Market.”
“But why is someone after me? What did I do? Why was I switched in the first place?” This was it, this was just too much. “And what do you mean, ‘we’? Who’s ‘we’?”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” He went over to the desk and wrote up a hasty note. “This is a bad time. I’m in the thick of possibly the most…” He shook his head. “Ah, no, it is the most important investigation of my career! We can’t afford to wait, not now. I can answer more questions for you, but later.” He handed her the envelope, clasping her hands in his and leading her to the door. “When you need to come back here, ask for the Arbiter’s Tower.” Showing her out, he pointed to the envelope. “And give that to Kitsune. He’ll give you a rundown of the place.”
She wanted to say something, to argue, to scream out of frustration, but she didn’t know what to say or what to scream. She felt abandoned.
Bellator, sensing her despair, stepped forward and embraced her. Startled, she said nothing. And although it didn’t change anything, or answer any of her questions, the hug was oddly comforting.
“Come back to see me.” He gently pushed her out of the room. “I’m sorry to have put you through this.”
Anny wasn’t sure what he meant, but she wasn’t about to find out. The mysterious woman brushed past her, entering the room and closing the door in her face. The heavy barrier allowed no sound to pass through to her, but she couldn’t have cared less about the discussion inside. Her mind was already miles away.