“Good.” Saphira took a deep breath and began. “I’m assuming you’re unfamiliar with goblin folklore and legend?”
Anny shrugged. “I know next to nothing about everything.”
“Of course. From the very beginning, then. Goblins, as we know them now, are essentially humans with a trace of goblin blood. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more, but it doesn’t matter. A single drop will always distinguish a human from a goblin.”
“Yeah, yeah, Bellator mentioned that. Except the last part. What difference does a drop of blood make?”
“It can make a world of difference,” she said. “To be a goblin is to have a certain magical ability, in addition to various immunities and preferences. And one drop is all it takes, figuratively speaking.”
She groaned. “There’s that ‘magic’ thing again. What is magic, exactly? Is it something I should be worried about?”
“Um…” She seemed stumped. “I’m not sure how to answer that. Magic is really a generic term. We use it to explain a lot of things.”
Looking down at the drink in her cup, Anny raised an eyebrow. “Magic tea?”
She laughed. “No, not really. But it’s an example of the immunity I mentioned. Humans can’t drink some of the teas we have in our shop. It makes people sick. Goblins, however, seem to crave the stuff.”
Crave, that was just about the right word. Anny found the tea savoury and satisfying beyond anything she’d ever tasted.
“Moving on…” continued Saphira. “When goblins and humans, or goblins and goblins, have a child, the result is practically impossible to predict. A half-goblin and quarter-goblin, for example, could produce a child with any amount of goblin blood.” She paused and gave the matter some thought. “Of course, the more goblin blood a couple have, the more likely they’ll produce a heavy-blooded child, but there’s a remarkable shortage of rules concerning goblin breeding in general.”
“Alright,” she said, rubbing her temples. “I think I follow. But I don’t see where this is going.”
“Here’s where we get into goblin legend. I may have said that there aren’t any rules when it comes to goblin blood, but there is one. Maybe two, depending on how you look at it. You see, whether two goblins, or a goblin and a human, decide to have a child, it is, almost always, guaranteed that their child will have at least a drop of goblin blood. Never, except for exceptionally rare cases, can a goblin have a truly human child.”
“Wait, let me get this straight,” said Anny. “If a goblin has a kid, this kid can’t ever be human, right? Even if the mother or father is human, there will always be a bit of goblin in them because of the other person.”
“That’s almost right. But, like I said before, it’s not entirely impossible for a human child to be born of a couple possessing goblin blood. It’s an extremely rare case. So rare, in fact, it only happens twice every hundred years.”
“Oh.” She nodded. “That’s the legend, right?”
Saphira nodded back. “A boy and a girl. The case is a strange one. The child is born, perfectly human, but still has certain goblin attributes. Nothing strictly physical or emotional, if you understand what I mean. But it’s said that these children possess a remarkably powerful strand of goblin magic, in addition to a few other, um… quirks.” She paused for a moment. “Such a child would be called a Goblin Prince or Princess.”
Anny frowned. “Okay, this is getting weird. Again. And I still don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“Well, let me come from another direction,” she suggested. “I’m sorry about changing the subject so quickly, but I promise it’ll all make sense in the end.”
“Sure,” she said, clearly doubtful. “Go ahead.”
“I’m sure you’re familiar with terrorism aboveground,” said Saphira. “You’ve heard of it before, haven’t you?”
Now this was coming out of nowhere. “Yeah,” she answered. “Who hasn’t?”
“Well, here belowground, in the Market, we have our own kind of terrorists, the extremists we call ‘Transgressors’. They aim to collapse the societal order of the Goblin Markets and bring their existence to the surface.”
“Whoa, wait. Markets? You mean there’s more?”
“All around the world,” she said. “This is but one of many. Rather busy for its size, but anyway,” she waved a hand and continued, “Transgressors believe that the goblin race should not be kept secret from those who live unaware, outside the Market. Their goal is total exposure, which would be disastrous to civilisation as a whole, both above and belowground.”
Even though she didn’t know much about the Goblin Market, Anny had to agree with her. “It would be messy for sure. I guess Transgressors are kind of a problem down here, eh?”
“You could say that. Transgressor groups are very dangerous. Usually they’re made up of heavy-blooded goblins, always wanting to stir up some trouble.” She sighed. “They really are extremists.”
“So what does this have to do with what you were talking about before?” said Anny. “About the Goblin Prince and Princess stuff?”
“Well, as you can imagine, Transgressors are constantly looking for a way to one-up the authorities and gain an advantage. Naturally, they would be keen on finding the human children who house such power. They would seek to use them as a weapon.” She waited a moment before reluctantly adding, “It could make life very dangerous for those children. If the Transgressors discovered their whereabouts, they wouldn’t hesitate to take that power for themselves.” She hesitated again. “Or just kill the child, if they couldn’t abduct them.”
Again, Anny’s mind drifted back to the morgue, back to the two dead bodies. “So, to keep the baby safe, the parents might just be crazy enough to…”
“Send them away,” she finished. “In order to protect them.”
“Wait a minute… If someone killed my parents, that means that they were after me, which actually means that they were after you. Which means that you’re…”
She stopped, her words trailing off into silence. Try as she might, she couldn’t say it out loud.
But Saphira saved her the trouble. “I’m the Goblin Princess.”
The secret. The one that Bellator had mentioned. Saphira was the Goblin Princess. The look on her face, her eyes, even her tone of voice made it clear. This secret was a heavy one.
But it didn’t change how Anny felt about it. “I was put in your place so that the terrorists would kill me instead?”
“Bellator told me it was for the best,” said Saphira, trying to defend herself. “He said it would end up protecting both of us in the end, that the Transgressors wouldn’t even find out where you lived if your family stayed aboveground. And he never thought he was putting you directly in danger.” Anny was about to interrupt as she added, “And he told me that if you ever were in danger, that he would immediately bring you down to the Market.”
“Really? I guess he kept that promise, at least.” She looked back at Saphira, still fuming. “But that doesn’t justify kidnapping babies and switching their families around!”
“No,” she agreed. “It doesn’t. And I’m not saying it does. I didn’t know anything about this until it was too late for me to–”
“To what? To tell me what was really going on? To let me know that my parents weren’t actually my parents?”
“I’m sorry, Bellator told me–”
“Forget Bellator!” she snapped. “I could be dead right now, all because some crazy terrorist group thinks I’m you! When I’m not!”
“I’m really, really sorry! I know it was wrong! And I know that you’re angry, but–”
“Yeah, I’m angry. What’d you expect?” She turned away. What kind of parents would give up their child like that? They basically handed the death sentence to her. Was it really that important, to protect some other family’s princess daughter? What were they thinking?
Stewing in a storm of her own raging thoughts, Anny had failed to take notice of Saphira herself. When she finally lifted her gaze, the fury vanished. She had forgotten that Saphira was a victim too. She had never met her real parents, she would never get the chance to now. And she really did seem sorry. Not only that, but if the whole Goblin Princess thing was true, she was the one who was really in danger. And it would stay that way her whole life. Now that Anny was safe in the Market, she didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
And, strangely enough, she didn’t feel at all upset about the death of her adopted parents. Saphira, on the other hand, was completely deflated. She sat on the couch, eyes downcast, a silent apology on her lips. Really, Anny should have been the one to apologise.
“Sorry,” she said, after a long silence. “I know it’s not your fault or anything. I’m just… really mad.”
“I know, I know.” She looked up again, hopeful. “At least let me offer you your real parents’ address.” She got to her feet and cleared some space on a desk in the back of the room. “They’re just west of here, in Redstone Market. I’m sure you’ll want to see them, now that you know the truth.”
“Oh no, don’t bother.” She was disinterested in meeting the parents that had given her up. “I really don’t need it.”
“But you might want it in the future,” she said, scribbling down the address on a small piece of paper. She handed it to Anny. “You never know.”
“Uh, okay.” She took the note, albeit grudgingly. “Thanks.”
There was a knock at the door, followed by a whiny voice. “Can I come in now?”
“Yes,” called Saphira. “We’re just about done.”
The door swung open and in walked Kit. “Finally!” he said. “What took you so long?”
Though Saphira offered no answer, Anny scowled at him. “You’re so rude, you know that? It hasn’t been that long!”
“You kiddin’? I think I downed five cups of tea. I’m feeling a bit loopy. I dunno what Timothy puts in that stuff, but it tastes like crunchy mushrooms and firecrackers.”
Anny shook her head. “You have the absolute most weirdest expressions. Ever.”
“Sexy, right?” he said, resting his elbows on the back of her chair.
“You’re unbelievable.” She rose from her seat, disappointed that the interview was over, but eager to leave the place anyway.
“In any case,” said Saphira, “if you ever need anything at all, let me know. I’ll do whatever I can to help you out. Have you got a place to stay, at least?”
The thought hit Anny like a rolling boulder. Where was she going to stay? She didn’t have any family underground, not here in the Market. There may have been an inn or two with a room available, but she didn’t have any cash on hand. Besides, she was pretty sure that the currency in the Goblin Market would be different from what they used aboveground. What was she supposed to do?
“She’s staying with me,” said Kit.
“What?” she exclaimed. “No I’m not!”
“Uh, yeah. You are. I actually have a vacancy back at my place, where you won’t, y’know, take up too much space.” He gestured around the room. “Unless you’d rather squeeze in here with little Miss Lazuli and sleep on the couch.”
Saphira seemed embarrassed. Probably because Kit was right, and the only place available would have been the couch.
She was stumped. Nothing made her more uneasy than the thought of bunking with Kit back on his own turf. At the same time, it was obvious that she would be imposing if she decided to stay at the tea shop.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she said, thrusting a finger in his face. “I’ll go back with you, check out the place, and then I’ll make a decision.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“You’re always welcome to stay here,” said Saphira, still wanting to be helpful. “Just in case it doesn’t work out. And please swing by the shop as often as you can. I want to make sure you adjust to Market life.”
“I will,” promised Anny. “I mean, I will stop by. I’m not guaranteeing anything about adjusting to this place.”
She laughed. “Oh, you’ll have a great time, I know it!” With that last remark, she turned to Kit. “I’m awfully sorry, it seems that you know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“Kit,” he answered. “Just call me Kit.”
“Kit, then.” She smiled politely. “You look familiar. Have I seen you around the Market, by any chance? I’ve only been here a few months, so I can’t be sure.”
“Could’ve,” he said. “I work at the Ace of Clubs. Have you been there?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I don’t go to clubs. Maybe I’ve seen you around the shop?”
“No,” he answered. “I don’t drink tea.”
Anny felt the conversation going downhill. “Right,” she said, tugging on Kit’s arm. “I guess we’ll be on our way. Thank you for… whatever this was.”
“You’re welcome.” She offered another smile. “Come back for some more tea, alright? You’ll have to find a favourite.”
The idea of another cup was enticing. “Thanks, I will.” She turned to leave, with Kit at her heels. “See you around.”
“See you,” she said, watching as they entered the stairwell. “And nice to meet you too, Kit!”
With that, the two closed the door behind them, leaving Saphira on her own once again. Making her way back to the couch, she picked up her book and fingered the pages. Try as she might, she couldn’t force herself back into it. Instead, she put the book down and started pacing back and forth across the small space. Eventually, she gave that up as well, and headed for the stairs to the loft, where her bedroom was waiting on the third floor. She went over to the dresser in the corner and pulled out one of the drawers.
Her belongings were scant. When she moved away from home, she hadn’t brought much with her. Saphira was disinterested in bringing along the memories of a childhood that had been, for her, less than enjoyable. That was the problem with goblins, they didn’t really have sympathy. They were all so stone cold.
She tried to keep this in mind as she took out the faded photograph of her parents. Her real parents. Sitting on her bed, she fingered the smiling faces. It wasn’t Anny’s fault, she hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings. She was just emotionless. That’s how goblins were. Blunt creatures, all of them. They couldn’t help themselves. Besides, she had never met those people in the photograph. Sure, they were her parents. But she was raised by a different couple. Really, she had no connection to them.
But all this did not comfort her. Her parents were dead. Holding the picture close to her heart, Saphira curled up on her bed and cried.