“Gratitude is corrupt. I know it, you know it. The fish in the harbor know it. We are filled with scum, radioactive beasts, and lawyers. It is a wonder some passing God hasn’t taken pity on the planet and just obliterated this city down to dust.

“But with that corruption, there comes great profit.”

The mayor looked to one of the tapestries. A map of Gratitude and the surrounding areas, it weaved in new roads and waterways, even new cities as it was updated.

“We are a major trade route. By land, sea, or even portal – if you come across the ocean with anything not exactly legal, you will pass through Gratitude. Millions in profits and bartered magic pass through our docks, or our trade routes up to the Callgar baronies. The fact that we are openly corrupt makes us even more appealing to anyone with true wealth.”

Gianna’s hand traced over the tapestry. “We have a dock union, a corrupt police force, a few gangs, and some major powers that weigh in on occasion. And on top of it all, what do you think there is?”

Sela shrugged.

The mayor laughed. “Me, of course. This whole city, the entire west coast of this pathetic hemisphere, runs because I know who needs to be bought, bullied, or broken, and I can make it happen.”

Someone had a high opinion of herself.

“So when someone wants to impose the moral code of an outdated comic book in my city, I have to evaluate whether or not they are worth the effort to bribe, or if I should just throw them to the wolves.” Gianna looked at Sela. “Any clue which way I am leaning?”

“The smart money would be on killing us,” Sela said. “If your info is that good, then you’d know our fearless leader is stupidly perfect in morality. She won’t stop, and she won’t be bought. Any attempt to influence us will ultimately backfire.”

Sela smiled. “But you think you’re smarter than ethics. So go ahead, try and point us in the right direction. I’ll enjoy killing your men.”

Gianna’s eyes flinted. She grimaced, and turned away. “For someone in your position…”

The door opened again. “Sela!”

Sela experienced a new sensation: fear. Hearing Lana’s voice, croaking and pain-stricken, made her suddenly backtrack, and think about what she had said.

“My words are my own,” she said. “If you hurt Darkling…”

“You have names.” The mayor looked over Lana, and sneered. “How quaint.”

The mayor turned her eyes back to the chair. “Now, Sela. You advise I should cut my losses and remove you girls from my equation.”

Gianna smiled, and pointed at Lana. “Should I start with the young one?”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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