Strange sounds faded into silence, the dream world pulled away as reality set in. Kit felt the sheets, his blanket, as he woke from his heavy sleep. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. There was drool on his pillow.
Gross, he thought, pushing the wet pillow to the floor. He closed his eyes and groaned. Had he let his mind drift back into a stupor, he could have slept for another hour or two. But he didn’t want to miss the early-hour opportunities of the Goblin Market, not today.
Moaning to no one in particular, he rolled out of bed. Literally. With a heavy thump, he came crashing to the floor with his blankets, swatting away the pillow he had slobbered on. He lay there for a moment, his body refusing to cooperate with his will, until at last he found the strength to stand. Yawning and stretching, he made his way to the window and looked upon the Market. The crowds were thin. It was early yet.
He felt the stickiness of his hair and made for the washroom downstairs. Entering the kitchen, he saw his mother bent over four large pots on the stove, with a row of empty vials on the counter next to her.
“Morning, little fox,” she said, a warm smile on her face.
He mumbled in reply, rubbing his eyes.
“It’s a little early, isn’t it?” she said, dipping a ladle into a particularly smelly pot.
“Hm,” was all he said before heading off to the washroom. He peeled off his clothes, stepped into the shower, and turned the heat on full blast. But he yelped and jumped out as the water touched his skin. It wasn’t hot at all.
“Mother!” He poked his head out the door and yelled, hoping his voice would reach her in the kitchen. “Are you using the hot water? It’s all cold!”
He waited for an answer, but none came. Grudgingly, he pulled himself back inside and tried fiddling with the shower some more. Hot water was usually a constant, living underground. Most of the energy in the Market was geothermal. But try as he might to get the shower to work, the water remained ice-cold. Desperate to wash off his sticky makeup, he stepped inside anyway, braving the cold as he scrubbed himself off. By the time he was finished, the water had turned lukewarm, but he was still dissatisfied as he returned to his room with a towel around his waist. At least he was clean.
Pulling on a fresh set of clothes, he headed back to the kitchen, casting a backwards glance towards Anny’s room. He considered waking her up, chuckling at the thought, but decided to let her rest.
Downstairs once again, he opened the fridge. “It stinks in here,” he said. “Whatcha makin’?”
Ophelia didn’t take her eyes off her work. “Tonics. Ever since the old herb garden closed, natural remedies have been in high demand.” She put a cork in the bottle and moved on to the next. “They might not smell pretty, but that doesn’t keep people from buying them. Goblins are awfully paranoid about where their tonics come from.”
“I really don’t care how it’s made,” he admitted. “Just so long as it works.”
She dropped the topic and moved on to the next. “What were you screaming about in the shower? Something about the water?”
Finding nothing in the fridge, he looked to the pantry. “It was freezing! Were you doing something this morning or what?”
“Not me, no.” She pointed to a newspaper on the table. “But lately they’ve been having trouble with the old reservoir. Sounds like they’ll start drilling for a new one tomorrow.”
Abandoning his search, Kit stared at the newspaper and frowned. “Wait, what? The hot rock turned cold? Doesn’t make much sense, Mother.”
“That’s just what the paper says.” She turned back to the stove. “I left the spare key to the basement on your dresser. If you’re not satisfied, you can go ask Mr. Mustelini about the pump downstairs.”
“Ugh. I’d rather kiss a frog.” Finding nothing of interest, he decided to skip breakfast and head on out. “I’ll catch ya later, tater.”
“Hold on a minute.” She grabbed hold of something and flung it at him.
Kit caught the cookie, wrapped in brown paper. “I was just going to stop by one of the–”
“Sure you were,” she said. “Just eat it, alright? It’s not healthy, skipping breakfast. Will you be back for lunch?”
“No idea,” he called, bolting up the stairs as he headed for the window.
Crawling out of the apartment, Kit took a deep breath and stood on the third-floor walkway. There was hardly anybody around, rush hour would come at lunch. But he wasn’t interested in the Market itself. Not at the moment, anyway. Its charms would blossom later in the evening. The reason he had risen so early was to get a chance to visit the mall aboveground. He looked around at the clocks displayed in various shops. It was nearly eight. Not quite as early as he had hoped for. But there was still a chance he could make it before the mall closed.
It wasn’t that he enjoyed the overground more than the Market, but he found it amusing to peruse through human shops every so often, just to see what they were selling. Change came slowly aboveground, compared to the world below. Every time he went, he was disappointed to find that the people stayed the same, the places stayed the same, and even the products themselves only changed from season to season. Talk about boring.
In any case, he only wanted to go up once more to ask about the Galaxy Gamer he had bought the other day. Even he, in his limited experience, knew the device was used for gaming, though he couldn’t understand why someone would want to sit down and stare at a tiny screen for hours on end. Of course, he was still curious to know how it worked. It bothered him that Anny seemed to know more about it than he did, even if she was from aboveground.
His traverse through town brought him to the shadier part of the Market, where his fellow troublemakers would gather during their downtime. He strolled through the familiar streets, crowded with unruly tree roots rather than customers, and found his way to a little storefront. Seemingly abandoned, he had to crawl through a window on the side of the building to enter.
Headfirst in he went, plunging into the shack’s dark interior. He heard the snoring of a few goblins that had not yet waken to greet the day. He tiptoed over the sleeping bodies, careful not to wake them. Most were children, left without a home to return to after their lengthy nocturnal excursions. The orphans of the Goblin Market. Kit knew many of them by name.
Reaching the back of the old shop, he pressed against a door and squeezed through the opening.
“Who’s there?” came a voice.
“Just me,” said Kit, walking towards a skinny kid holding a lantern. The corridor was dark, fading into pitch-black a few steps from where he stood.
“Who’s ‘me’?” said the kid. And then, with a sigh of relief, “Oh, it’s you. Heya, Kit.”
“Hey there, Cap’n.” He looked down at the dark face before him, his wiry arm holding an oversized lantern. “I came to use Raven’s gate again.”
“I was wondering if you made it back,” said the boy. “You didn’t come down this way, did you?”
“Nope,” said Kit. “The Arbiters dragged me back through the lift below the mall.”
“I know what Arbiters are!” said the boy. “I just wanna know why they yanked you back down here.”
“I stole a golf cart and whammed it into a bunch of teddy bears.”
“What’s a golf cart?”
“Ugh, never mind.” He shook his head. “Can I use your lift, Jay? I want to finish some business aboveground.”
“Well, I guess you could,” he began. “But I don’t think I’d go up there, if I was you.”
“Why? What’s going on up there?”
Jay shuffled his feet. “Now that you mention somethin’ ’bout teddy bears, I heard there was a big kerfuffle yesterday in the mall. Even the overground Meddlers are getting involved.”
“Overground Meddlers? Do you mean Arbiters or police?”
“Is that what they’re called? Police?” He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, yeah. They’re looking for two kids who made a mess up there. If you were behind it, I’d stay low for a while.”
Kit groaned. If the police were involved, then Bellator was right. He wasn’t going aboveground any time soon, not if he wanted to keep out of trouble. “Whatever,” he said. “It wasn’t that important.”
Despite his words, he cast a longing glance past Jay, towards the lift that waited beyond. But as his eyes lowered back to the young boy holding the lantern, his disappointment changed to concern. He knelt down and placed a hand on Jay’s skinny shoulder.
“What’s going on here, Cap’n? You’re awfully pale.”
“I’m okay,” said Jay, shaking off his hand.
But Kit wasn’t convinced. “Your eyes are looking kind of funky, too. Have you been eating enough?”
“I’m okay,” he repeated, dropping his gaze to the floor.
Kit opened his backpack and took out his breakfast cookie. “Here, eat some of this,” he said, thrusting the food in Jay’s face. “If you’re feeling sick, it’ll help take the edge off things.”
He eyed the cookie uncertainly, but relented seconds after. “Yeah,” he admitted, chowing down on Kit’s sacrificed breakfast. “I’ve been feelin’ kinda icky lately. Raven said it should be over soon, though.”
“She’s probably right,” said Kit, though he wasn’t at all certain. “In any case, I guess I’ll get going. Say hi to your sister for me, ’kay?”
“Okay,” said Jay, returning to his seat, cookie in hand.
Exiting the cramped corridor, Kit made his way back through the labyrinth of sleeping bodies strewn about the abandoned shop. Once he was on the street again, he stretched his arms and sighed. So the mall was off-limits for a good while, at least. He didn’t fancy getting arrested by aboveground police. He had heard horror stories about goblins getting stuck in human prisons. Thinking back to those stories, he understood the reason behind all those overworld restrictions, even if goblins like Telekinetic felt they were the result of discrimination.
He shut his eyes and groaned. Why had he got up so early if he couldn’t even go to the mall? Shoulda slept in, he thought, turning down a dark alley.
Yelling, shouting. Kit stopped and looked ahead. Where were the voices coming from? The crowded street was behind him, he was alone. The argument continued, ahead, above him. He looked up and saw a tower.
Huh. His eyes scanned the windows on the second floor. Someone was inside. Hey, is that–
“What are you doing?!”
He turned, but too late. Something struck his chest and sent him to the ground. A shadow passed over him as he fell, a mess of black and blue feathers and two gleaming eyes. And with a shriek, it was gone.
It turned the corner and disappeared.