To say Anny was confused would have been an understatement. Nothing was making any sense! And yet, frustrating as it was, she didn’t want it to make sense. She still didn’t understand what happened, still didn’t understand where she was. And what was all that about goblins?
She glanced at the envelope in her hand. Bellator had told her to give it to Kitsune. Kit. The guy with the orange hair. Where did he go? She looked around the hallway, alone aside from the guard standing near the staircase.
“Excuse me,” she said, approaching the sentinel. “Did you see where that kid went? The one with the–”
The guard nodded and pointed to the top of the staircase, silent.
“Um… thanks.” What was up with this place? Why did everyone have to act so mysterious all the time? Bellator had called it the Arbiter’s Tower. Were these people supposed to be Arbiters?
She stepped past the guard and headed towards the stairs. Hesitating at the first step, she turned her gaze upwards. Even with the torches on the wall to light the way, the tower was still very dark. From where she stood, it almost seemed as if there was no end in sight, as if the steps continued onward forever. But Anny knew there had to be an end to it. Pushing her hesitation aside, she began the climb.
Step by step, she rose up the tower, taking in her surroundings as she made her way to the top. Passing by closed doors on the way, she wondered what was behind them. Was this place like a police station, but underground?
She stifled a groan. So many questions! And no one to ask. She hoped Kit would be able to help. Although, if she was perfectly honest with herself, Anny didn’t like the idea of depending on that kid for anything.
Nearly tripping over the last step, she came to a sudden halt. The stairs had ended, the ground leveling out into the final floor of the tower. Looking up from her feet, her eyes came to rest on a ladder just ahead, leading to an opening in the ceiling. She knew it had to lead to the roof. Was that where Kit was waiting?
This time she didn’t hesitate. Striding across the room, she grasped the rungs of the ladder and pulled herself up, the end of her short journey in sight. She wondered what she would find on the other side.
A cool breeze surged past her. It was a strange sensation, considering she was underground, but it didn’t stop her from breathing in the fresh air. She scrambled to her feet, her eyes scanning the expanse of the tower.
She found him within seconds, not too far ahead of her. Standing by the edge of the tower, Kit leaned against the thick stone wall overlooking the Market, his keen eyes surveying the sight below. She walked over and pulled up beside him.
Way up at the top of the tower, they overlooked the underground treetops and firefly lights. Down below, the Market was approaching its peak, with people crowding over the many shops and stands as they browsed the collection of goods for sale. Despite the confusion she was experiencing, Anny couldn’t help but feel that same desire to go down and investigate all that was on display.
But instead, she only stood in awe. “The Goblin Market.”
“The Goblin Market,” repeated Kit. “Home sweet home.”
“You live here?” What would it be like, to live in a place like this? No sun, no sky, no cars… It was a completely different world.
“Yup,” he replied, popping his lips.
They both stood in silence for a long while, neither of them saying a word. It was at least a minute before Anny spoke again. “So…” she began. “You’re a goblin too, right?”
He chuckled. “Well, duh.” He turned to her with a goofy smile on his face, but it vanished in an instant. “Holy crap! You… you don’t know about goblins?!”
She was back on the defensive. “I think that’s pretty obvious!”
“But… but…” He was reeling. “You don’t know about anything! Like, at all!” He looked out over the tower, stunned. “You don’t know about goblins, or the Market, or magic, or gold, or–”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait just a minute!” She stared at him. “Magic? Did you just say magic? You’re not telling me…”
But he was laughing, and he couldn’t stop. “Man, are you ever in for a ride! How old are you, anyway? How could you live your whole life and not know about the Market?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault! I was… I’m a…” She wanted to say she was a changeling, but couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud. She groaned. “You know what? I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”
Sullenly, she turned away. But just as she was about to go down the ladder, she remembered the note. She pulled it out of her pocket and stuffed it in Kit’s face.
Still laughing, he grabbed the envelope. “What’s this?”
“From that guy down there,” she said, turning to leave.
“Bellator,” he corrected, watching as she made her way down.
Once she was back at the stairs, Anny felt the seeds of anxiety settle in again. There she was, in a strange place in the middle of the night, alone. She knew how to get out of the Arbiter’s Tower, that part was easy enough, but then what? Where would she go afterwards? Pulling out the photo from her jean pocket, she took another look at her changeling. Saphira Lazuli. The old herb garden. But where was the old herb garden, anyway? How was she supposed to find it?
Whatever. She stuffed the photo back in her pocket. She would ask someone. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to any of the Arbiters, but maybe some of the Market goers would be more approachable. Hopefully that girl, Saphira, would have some answers.
Slipping past the heavy door, Anny was overwhelmed the moment she stepped outside. The crowds were incredible! Like a strong tide, the mass of people threatened to sweep her up in the confusion without so much as a warning. Her courage evaporated. Strangers swarmed around her. Seconds after she stepped onto the street, her head started to spin.
Her vision blurred, colours blending together like carnival lights on a chaotic merry-go-round. The noise made it worse. The frantic crowd buzzed around her, her thoughts drowned out by their voices. The colours began to fade, the darkness eating away at the corners of her eyes and threatening to take over. She tried to catch her breath and concentrate, but it was too much. She was going to blackout.
Someone grabbed her arm. Dazed, she made no move to resist as she was dragged past the throng of unfamiliar faces. Gradually, the faintness lifted, though it wasn’t until she was sitting down, safe and sound in a remote alcove of the Market, that she could hear herself think.
“You okay?” Kit stood over her, confused.
She moaned, only half-glad to see him. “What happened?”
He gave a low whistle. “You looked pretty shaky out there. Midnight’s when it’s busiest. Usually it’s best to stay out of the Market ’til at least one.”
Anny looked around. There was a canopy above them, belonging to a stall to the right of where they sat. Exactly what they were sitting on, she didn’t know. They felt like beanbags, but looked like baskets. And just in front of where they sat was a great open view of the Market.
It was strange, being in a peaceful corner while surrounded by such fervent activity. She closed her eyes and leaned back, grateful for the chance to breathe.
Something cold touched her leg. Opening her eyes, she saw a canteen pressed against her ankle.
“Want some water?”
She took the bottle and gulped it down. It tasted sweet, not like the water she was used to, but it did the job.
“Thanks,” she said, handing it back. She noticed Bellator’s note in one of Kit’s hands and frowned. “What’d it say?”
He chuckled and glanced over the letter. “Ah, Bellator. He says that in exchange for letting the incident with the golf cart slip, I’m to look after you, make sure you ‘integrate’ into the Market without too many bumps or bruises.”
“Now wait just a minute!” she said, standing from her seat. “I don’t need–”
“Uh, obviously you do,” he said. “Not only have you never been to the Market, you don’t even know a thing about goblins. Like, at all.”
She fell back in her seat, defeated. He was right, of course. She hadn’t lasted two minutes. She needed someone’s help. It was just a shame that it had to be from someone like Kit. Kit and his smug little smirk. He seemed to be enjoying her confusion in the most obnoxious way.
“I’m officially your tour guide,” he announced, jumping to his feet. “I’ll show you the ropes, kid. Soon you’ll know everything there is to know about the Goblin Market.”
“I’m not a kid.” As he pulled her to her feet, she added, “Where are we going, anyway?”
“Our first stop,” he said, “will be the old herb garden. You’re looking for someone named Saphira, right?”