“Citizens of evil, prepare to do battle with the harbinger of honor, the avenger of the night, the Green Witch!”

I burst through the front door. Staff pointed at the Half-Man table, arm ready to catch a blow from Sheriff Trill. My hood was pulled down over my face, and I was humming with green magic. It was on.

But the Half-Men were gone. So was Sheriff Trill, though his coffee cup remained. Both parties must have left within a few minutes of my running to grab my gear. But that didn’t make any sense!

I looked around, expectant. There had to be an ambush, or maybe they moved to a back room I didn’t know exist. There was no way those two groups had already finished. They were arguing, and about boring adult stuff. Meetings and territory and clauses, adults usually went over this for hours!

“Sent them away with a round, and said I had to close up for the day.”

Merryl kept rubbing down the counter. She paused long enough to look at me. Look through me, more likely. She dissected every part of my face, ignoring the shadows under my hood. She motioned for me to join her at the counter. I hopped up on the stool, and waited.

“Take off that ridiculous thing, kid,” Merryl said. “I’m not having conversations with a shadow I’ve already fed.” I refused. While I was the Green Witch, the hood stays on. Even when Merryl slammed a mug onto the table, I remained in my hood.

“Suit yourself.” Merryl shrugged. “And don’t worry about biting into my profits. Neither of them paid, but then, they never were going to anyways.”

“But Trill would have…”

“Sheriff Trill wanted to bluster his way through my place and take charge.” Merryl said. “Just as everyone in his jurisdiction wants to. It makes a cop’s life easier to be a little corrupt. Take a little piece of everything, and in return my street is free of pickpockets and petty thieves that get a little quick with their wands.”

“But the Half-Men…”

“Oh, geez.” Merryl threw her towel on the counter. She held her head in her hands, and sighed. “You just don’t get how Gratitude works. This is a corrupt city. It’s not built on profit, but on power. Everyone tries to take their piece, carve out a little territory of absolute control, and then start nibbling at the edges. The Half-Men are in the industrial quadrant, while the sheriffs have the gates and entrances.

“And I am smack dab in the middle of them. By design.” She looked at me. “I’ve paid protection fees sporadically to both to confuse them, because every third or fourth month neither comes calling. Both parties have no clue whether or not I owe them, and neither wants to start a gang war. Too much hassle for one tavern.

“Unless some stupid wannabe hero decides to start causing chaos in the streets.”

I looked down at my hands, and tried not to be too conspicuous.

“Young people,” Merryl muttered. “Always trying to change the world.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Gratitude doesn’t change,” Merryl said. “It just changes you.”

I stood up, and looked at her. A storm of rage, shame, and hopelessness churned between us, until I didn’t know who felt what.

“Heroes don’t quit just because it gets hard,” I said. “That’s when we regroup and try again.”

She watched me disappear into the waking hours of the morning.

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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