The Eighth Rune Ch9

Edgard couldn’t help but feel nervous as he sat behind the rock, waiting for his foes to round the corner and meet their fate. The bomb was set up perfectly this time. He had a weapon. Not wanting to repeat the previous day’s mistake of letting any of his enemies live long enough after the explosion to kill him, he had armed himself with a knife. The blade was just a carving knife from the church’s kitchen that he had managed to snatch without the cook noticing, but it was sharp, pointy and long enough cause deep stab wounds. All in all, he was very well prepared for anything that could happen. He had died enough times to know almost every detail he needed to, but he was still racked with a bit of fear for a very particular reason. What if this is the last chance I have? he wondered, his hands tracing the edge of the rune on his chest. If I die again, the rune will be complete. Every line will be glowing red. When that happens . . . Edgard shivered at the thought. In his mind, that probably meant he was out of lives. He might get one more attempt afterward, one more try at saving the town and Hilda, but that didn’t seem likely.

Worse yet, he didn’t have as much faith in facing his death as he did before. Previously, he had believed every word in God’s book about death: that, when a person died, the merits of their work and the diligence they showed on earth would pay for their entry into God’s kingdom. Not that anyone had a clear picture of what God’s kingdom would be like, but it had sounded nice. At least, that was what his belief had been until Kenway ‘enlightened’ him. Now, he wasn’t entirely sure. Was the entire book a lie? Was the whole religion crafted just to keep us working hard, just to keep the town focused on using their powers so their gems would grow? He shuddered. It had been a line of thought that had weighed on him heavily since the moment he learned of the secret room where they cut up and disposed of the bodies. He had thrown aside all his previous understandings of the Church. His recent discoveries had warped his entire sense of reality.

The most infuriating part about it was that Kenway had been right about the whole thing. Kenway, the foul-mouthed, mean-spirited lunatic who evidently cared about no-one and nothing other than himself, was the only one in the entire town, aside from the culprits of course, who knew the truth. Cursed Kenway. Edgard grumbled to himself as he ground his teeth. Why did it have to be him of all people? He felt somewhat upset that the idiotic maniac had managed to put together all the pieces while he had been blissfully unaware that even Mae was only showing him one of her many faces.

But even with the anger swelling up in him over Kenway and the confusion over what to believe in now, his frustrations and doubts were still insufficiently weighty to distract him enough from the situation with his rune. He had no idea what to expect. He wasn’t even sure what would happen if he managed to live until tomorrow, but that seemed like a bridge he only wanted to cross when he was certain he would make it through the day at hand. There was no accounting for anything beyond that. His was the first rune that had a progressive activation. Every other rune had an immediate effect with no lasting afterimage on the rune. The user would channel their magic, the rune’s effect would occur, and then there would be nothing left over to let anyone know that it had happened. What if the magic gems are just absorbing the magic, so that it doesn’t get a chance to linger and light up the runes?

Then, as if out of nowhere, a thought entered Edgard’s head that he hadn’t considered before. If the religion isn’t real, who is to say that the runes are either? He looked at his arm. What if this was all just some sick joke? What if the Father had a grudge against my mother so he didn’t give me a rune? He held his hand over the spot on his arm where most runes were located. Who knows? Maybe the reason my rune is on my chest is that it’s a natural rune. I’m not the runeless beast, cast out from the flock. They are. They were the ones void of God’s gift, and that’s why they are in this town. I was just unlucky enough to be born into this hell hole . . . This current line of speculation was tempting. It vindicated him and cast his despised, lonely existence up until that point in the light of misfortune wrongly fallen upon the righteous, but the end result didn’t seem to add up. He was still missing so much information, and there were so many things that didn’t make sense. For instance, if he really wasn’t an abomination cursed by God, and the whole thing was a farm, then why did his mother leave? She was higher up in the Church than the Father. That meant she knew what was going on. He almost threw up again. As bad it was realizing that the town was some gigantic farm, finding out that his own mother, the woman who he loved and had taken care of him for over a decade, had known about it and never said anything felt that much worse. It felt like he had been punched in the gut and stabbed in the heart simultaneously.

No, stop, Edgard. He slapped his own cheek. Get ahold of yourself and focus. I have to do this right. This might be my last chance. He popped his neck and rolled his shoulders back. This will be the last chance we need. Just calm down, focus on blowing up and murdering a bunch of random people so that we can get back to a nice life with a pretty girl. Focus on the endgame, Edgard. He kept repeating the last sentence in his head, reminding himself of what was important so that he didn’t get distracted.

He was calm enough when the enemies finally showed up that he was able to make the connection and duck his head back behind the rock at exactly the same point he did the day before. Great! Now it’s just a matter of waiting, going up and stabbing them all before any survivors have a chance to get back up and getting out of here with Hilda. Finally! Seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . He didn’t even try to peek out from behind the rock until he heard the explosion, worried they might spot him and deviate even an inch from the path they had taken the previous day. He wouldn’t have minded so terribly if such a bit of bad luck had happened yesterday. He could have chalked it up to a learning curve and then focused on what was going to happen next. Today, he felt he had more at stake.

After the explosion, he popped out from behind the rock and ran to the bodies lying scattered across the ground, holding his knife as tightly as he could. When he reached the first victim, he stabbed him right in the chest the same way he had used the blade to kill himself when Kenway had gone ballistic. Then he stabbed the next and the next and the next. It felt gross and dehumanizing as if each stab was piercing into Edgard as much as the person on the ground. Throwing off his own mortal coil hadn’t come with the same sickening feeling that relieving them of theirs did. He had killed them before, of course, but blowing up the band of butchers from behind the rock didn’t leave the same feeling of revulsion as driving a knife into each of them and even inadvertently looking into the glassy, dead eyes of a few of the corpses as he did so. It was butchery, and it was a monster’s work, not a man’s. Then again, the town had always said he was a monster of sorts, cut off from God, so perhaps it was rightfully his work to begin with.

Despite Edgard’s own feelings of disgust at his bloody work, everything went quite smoothly until he went to stab one of the few girls in the group. She was completely still as Edgard walked up to her and got on his knees, leaning over her to plunge the knife into her chest, the same as he had just done with several of her companions. Just as he raised the knife into the air above her, she sprung to life. She grabbed his arm–the one that was holding the blade–and used her free hand to suckerpunch Edgard in the jaw. Edgard had never thought of one of his victim playing dead, only of one of them coming to before he could finish them off. No, no, no! This can’t be happening!

Edgard panicked. Though briefly stunned by the blow, he desperately tried to yank his arm free from her grasp, but she was holding on for her life. She jabbed her elbow into Edgard’s sternum as he clumsily grabbed at her face and tried to pull his arm free. The blow knocked him back onto his rear and gave her enough room between them to bring her right knee up to Edgard’s chest. She pushed off against him, grabbed his knife arm with her free hand as well and pulled backwards, stretching out Edgard’s arm. He let out a yelp of pain as she sank her teeth into his wrist and dropped the knife. That’s it. I’m dead. She shoved him way from her as hard as she could using the knee she had planted on his chest. Edgard toppled over onto the flat of his back as she grabbed the knife he had left on the ground and crawled to a standing position.

Despite the beating that she had just given Edgard, it became clear she was badly wounded as she stood up. Her left leg was bleeding from several gaping wounds, and it looked like she was afraid to put her weight onto it. She would be dead soon enough from blood loss alone, but Edgard knew she would outlive him. He felt the ground gently rumble beneath him as she summoned the earthen spike that would end his life–possibly for the last time–in mere seconds.

“No, you’re not doing that again!” Edgard exclaimed as he rolled to the side at the last second, the point of the slender spike narrowly missing him. Edgard grabbed the nearest throwable thing to him, which happened to be a familiar-looking boot with a dismembered foot still inside, and chucked it as hard as he could at the woman’s head. His aim was atrocious, however, and he sent it hurtling into her good leg even though she was only a few feet away. She lost her already precariously-kept balance as she instinctively put her weight onto her other leg to steady herself. That leg buckled underneath her as soon as she shifted her weight, and she stumbled with a shriek of agony. She completely lost her balance after only a few small steps and fell face-first onto the very spike she had meant for Edgard, the point plunging into her eye socket.

“Finally, some luck. Well, that’s through at least.” Edgard let the words leave his mouth as relief settled in. She had clearly been the one that killed him the day before. It didn’t stop him from going through and stabbing the rest of the bodies just to double check, but at least he wasn’t waiting for her to pop up and kill him anymore.

“Now I’m off to see the Hilda,” he said to himself aloud, not bothering to keep his internal monologue internal anymore. No one was around, so it didn’t matter anyway. He turned around to look at his victims. “Well, I’m free of whatever they are,” he said with a shrug. “Maybe I should call them the Explosive Test Dummies,” he added, chuckling. Unfortunately, the chuckle reminded him too much of Kenway’s laugh. Oh no, I’m not going to turn out like him if I have to kill more people in the future, am I? He shuddered. God forbid, please.

When he made his way into town, he ran into Cedric just entering the food hall. That’s right. Of course that’s right. They would have shown up at the same time as Cedric if they were cautious about their entry and slowed their progress to make sure they could catch everyone in the food hall at once. “Hey!” Edgard called out to Cedric. “Hey! Big guy! Over here!” Cedric stopped just short of the door and turned to Edgard.

“Edgard?” Cedric looked toward the church, then back at Edgard. “What in the heck are you doing over there?”

“Was just taking a stroll when I remembered that I had forgotten to eat,” Edgard responded with a laugh. “You know how often that happens to me.”

Cedric echoed Edgard’s laughter. “That is true. I can’t remember the last time you remembered to get dinner or lunch without being reminded or”–Cedric paused and stared at Edgard–“dragged.”

“Well, you won’t have to worry about that right now. I’m famished,” Edgard lied. He wasn’t hungry in the least. He was just so relieved that things had worked out with the bandits that he didn’t see the harm in taking a celebratory cup of mead with a friend whose life he had saved. After all, Hilda will still be there when I finish this cup.

“That’s good to hear.” Cedric clapped Edgard’s back with his usual robust hand. “You even seem a bit sturdier.” Cedric looked at the hand he had smacked Edgard with as he pulled it back. “Have you been exercising more?”

Edgard thought back to the races with Hilda, the butcher’s work with the foes on the road to town and his constant running about over the past several iterations in failed attempts to escape, and then he shrugged. “No more than usual, I suppose.”

“Hmm, must be my imagination then. Oh, look, there’s two spots open at the table! I haven’t eaten with those two guys in forever too. This will be a good time to–”

“Actually, Cedric, I kind of wanted to talk to you about something private,” Edgard interrupted. He had nothing against the twins, but today was his victory celebration, and he didn’t want to spend it with them. “So why don’t we get our own table upstairs where we can chat quietly.”

“Are you sure? They’re–”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Okay then. We’ll go to that table you seem to love on the third floor,” Cedric agreed with a shrug.

“Great, how ‘bout you go get us the meals, and I’ll meet you there?”

“Don’t want to pick out your own lunch?”

“Nah, I have a feeling that, if I go, I’ll just get one cup and a tiny plate. If you go, you’ll bring back three cups of mead and a full tray.” Edgard didn’t have a feeling. He knew. He was even counting on it. This is my victory. I’ve saved the farm . . . town. Town, not farm. He chastised himself as soon as the thought slipped into his head. No, it’s not a farm. It’s . . . His good mood started to fade. It’s a victory celebration. I’m going to have some fresh mead with Cedric and have a great time. A fresh smile forced its way through the frown that was beginning to take shape on Edgard’s face.

“Ha!” Cedric laughed in response to Edgard’s spot-on prediction. “You’re right! I will! I know the lass working today. She always sets me up with the works.” Cedric chuckled as the two headed upstairs. “If that’s how we’re doing it, I’ll see if we can’t get four cups a plate. Then we can do the first two like shots. It’ll be fun. Trust me. Also, I need a few shots of mead after yesterday. You wouldn’t believe the night I had. Drinking is exactly what I need.”

“The night you had?” Edgard’s curiosity was peaked. Does Cedric have bad days? Is that even possible?

“Oh yeah, wife grumbling at me that she wanted another kid. I’m sitting here thinking to myself, ‘don’t we have enough already?’ What happens if I die before the next one even grows up?” Cedric sighed. “I think we have enough as is, but she wouldn’t let it be. I practically had to sleep outside she was so mad at me.”

“Trouble in the house of Cedric?” Edgard felt bad for wanting to laugh at the whole ordeal, but it was kind of amusing to think of a small, five-foot-four woman scaring the giant Cedric out of bed.

“Nothing I can’t handle”–Cedric smacked Edgard’s back again–“but nothing I want to handle either. Being on the bad side of your woman is about as fun as being stuck inside all day. No offense to your profession, of course.”

“Hey, there are a lot of fun things to do inside!” Edgard protested, smacking Cedric’s back, with a little effort to reach, in the same fashion Cedric always hit his. “You just need to cultivate that head of yours to appreciate them!”

“If you say so, little man. Just wait over at the table, I’ll be back in a moment with that food we came here for.” Cedric pointed to the table that Edgard always claimed on the third floor. He didn’t really need to though. They had sat at it enough that it was a matter of habit. “Can’t let a conversation distract our mouths when our bellies need feeding, little weed.”

“Sure, Cedric. Sure.” Edgard walked over to the table and sat down. Farm, sweet farm, he thought, staring at the table as he sat down. I mean ‘home, sweet home.’ He almost slapped himself to expel the thought, the notion of the farm. There may have been truth in it. Everyone may as well have been pigs eating at the feeding trough, but they didn’t deserve to die at the hands of whoever those invaders were, and that fact definitely didn’t deserve to ruin his soon-to-be-fun meal and drinks with Cedric.

In the middle of his thoughts, someone harrumphed quite loudly behind Edgard. What the heck? Edgard wondered as he turned around to be greeted by the Father’s frowning face and three well-armed men that looked like the Mother’s escorts from the year before.

“I’m sorry for troubling you gentlemen, but, if it’s not too much of a bother, could you please apprehend this man?” The Father said to his entourage and then pointed at Edgard. “Be careful. I have been told he’s armed and dangerous.”

“What? Why? I haven’t done anything wrong!” Edgard protested, pushing against the table as he stood up and backed away from them. There hadn’t been many people on the third floor when Edgard had walked in. In fact, it had been relatively empty like it always was. As he backed away, however, he noticed that, other than the Father and the armed guards, there was no-one around now at all. All the tables but his were empty. How did I not notice them sneaking up on me? Are they here because of the incident outside of the town? It has to be that. I haven’t done anything else . . . Well, not that would warrant being apprehended.

“Edgard. It’s Edgard, right?” one of the new men asked, drawing his sword as he approached Edgard slowly. “Just calm down and take it easy. This doesn’t need to escalate. Why don’t you keep your hands where we can see them and come with us nice and slowly.”

“Hey? What’s going on?” Cedric called from the stairs, holding two overstuffed trays of food and alcohol. “Why do they have weapons?”

“Steady your temper, Cedric. These men are just here to take Edgard into custody,” the Father said as two of the armed men came closer to Edgard.

“Do I at least get to be told why?” Edgard found his back against the wall, literally, as he ran out of space to edge away.

“We’re taking you into custody for the wanton murder of innocent people.” The Father’s stern face belied the calm in his voice. The imposing old man kept talking to Edgard like he was a child who needed to be soothed after losing his temper. “Just come with us. If you’re really innocent, then there shouldn’t be a problem, should there?”

“And if you decide that I’m guilty?” Edgard looked at the blades on their swords. If this had happened a day before, he’d have tried to fight them and would have accepted his death just to repeat everything again without an incident. This time, however, he wasn’t entirely convinced that he’d come back, and the idea of suicide to escape whatever fate had for him didn’t seem too pleasing. “Will you exile me from the town?” he asked, hopeful. It had happened to transgressors in the past, and it would mean he wouldn’t have to risk his neck on their verdict.

“I’m afraid not. If it were theft, maybe. But if it’s true that you spilled blood, that you murdered innocent people, then we’ll have to send you to God so that you may receive his mercy, Edgard. It will be the only way to atone for your sins, for denying men their purpose in this realm.” The Father was edging closer to Edgard and closer to the two men that were nearly upon Edgard with drawn blades.

“And how will you prove my guilt?” Edgard, unable to move any further back in the direction he had picked when standing up from the table, started scooting across the wall towards the side of the hall with the stairs. It would take almost a full circle to get around them, but, given how slowly everyone was moving, he wasn’t about to waste the opportunity.

“Well, for one, you’re covered in dirt. The accuser claims that you blew up a bunch of people outside of town, and that’s how you got that way. If we go out there and see bodies, well, that’s a good place to start.” The Father’s tone shifted from that of soothing a child to one that was slightly impatient, the words no longer flowing gently off his tongue.

Edgard let out a small chuckle. “I meant: How can you prove that they were innocent people? What if we go out there, and you find each and every one of them holding weapons like they intended to raid the town and kill us all.”

“Edgard, lots of people carry weapons when they travel. Our town even uses armed escorts when we send peaceful envoys off into dangerous lands. Blades prove no guilt on their part.” The father started motioning something with his hands to the man behind him. “Did you kill the men, Edgard?”

“I did.” He didn’t feel like lying. What’s the point? They’ll see it anyway. I could accuse the person who accused me, but it’d be my word against his, and that wouldn’t do me any good. After all, I’m just the bastard with no rune to them. The kid with no dad, no rune, and lately no mother either. I don’t even have close friends like the rest of the people in town either. Edgard started chuckling to himself. “I killed them all because they were on their way to kill us. You say that their having weapons isn’t proof of their guilt, but ask yourself: How did I know they’d be there?”

“What?” The Father stopped where he was. His sly creep across the floor came to a halt and he stood up straight. “Hold it, men.” He signaled for the two people approaching Edgard to stop as well. “Let’s hear him out.”

“Edgard, you didn’t!” Cedric exclaimed in shock. “That can’t be right, Father. This weed has no muscles or brains. He’s just putting on airs because he knows the town will lynch him one way or the other.

“No, Cedric, I did.” Edgard felt horrible as the words left his mouth. Seeing the twisted expression on Cedric’s face was its own sort of fresh dagger stabbing him, but the absurdity of the situation couldn’t take away the light-hearted, comic feeling that had started to overtake him. This must be what Kenway feels, having to constantly deal with these idiots harvesting idiots. Edgard aloud as he looked away from Cedric and back to the Father. “Come on, Father. You’re smarter than that, aren’t you? I mean, you have to be, right? You couldn’t pull off that scheme under the church if you weren’t.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! I haven’t done anythin–”

“Involving dead bodies?” Edgard grinned. Is he actually sweating? That’s right, Cedric is here, and these men might not be your accomplices. You might just be getting found out, old man. “But come on, Father. Think for a moment. How could I possibly ever know when to leave the town, where to plant a bomb and how big to make it?”

“What is Edgard talking about? What scheme?” Cedric asked, but no-one was listening to him anymore.

“You couldn’t . . . You’d have to– No. It didn’t work. That woman tried a thousand tests and nothing caused it to work! It was a failure. This . . . This can’t be . . .” The Father started mumbling. “You were a failure . . .”

“What? What didn’t work?” Cedric asked, but the words might as well have been Edgard’s as he mouthed them too. “Edgard, what is going on?”

“I saved our city from destruction, and, in return, the Father wishes to kill me.” Just in case the old patriarch really was ignorant of the town’s grim purpose, Edgard hoped the Father would believe he really had used his rune to save the city. The old cleric obviously knew more about the rune on Edgard’s chest than he did. He even knew who put it there. That woman? Is he referring to my mother?

“Our city? From destruction?” the Father said, starting to back away from Edgard even as the men kept approaching. “Then that means . . . if you die again . . . then . . . then we’ll all . . .” The Father seemed to have an understanding of the mechanics of Edgard’s rune even though he himself didn’t. “Don’t let him escape . . . or die!” the Father shouted, amending his orders. This wasn’t an arrest anymore. It was a containment. “If he can kill himself, we’re all dead.”

“Whatever you say, boss.” One of the two swordsmen sniffed and then gave out a soft laugh as he got closer to Edgard. “I can cut off a limb or two though, right?”

The father considered things for a minute. “Yeah, we can burn the wound shut if we have to. Don’t worry about hurting him. Just don’t finish him off or let him escape.”

“Great, I like that,” the other swordsman added and nodded as the chuckling swordsman’s laughter grew a little louder. “You hear that, boy? No trial now. We get to cut you up right here.”

“Who gave you permission to pull up weeds in my garden!” Cedric shouted as he tackled both of them in one go. Edgard and the Father were both left stunned as they watched the mountain of a man crash so hard into the wall with his two victims that the building felt like it was shaking. Edgard had been so focused on the soldiers in front of him, and the Father behind them, that he hadn’t noticed Cedric until he had made his move.

“RUN!” Cedric yelled as he backed up from the two toppled soldiers. “Get out of here, Edgard!” Cedric shouted again, but, as he stood up, Edgard was unable to move. The sight before his eyes had paralyzed him. Cedric was dying. When he bodychecked the two men, one of their swords had ripped right into his gut, and it would only be moments before Cedric passed away from blood loss.

I can’t just leave him to die. Edgard panicked, but the recovering swordsmen gave him no time to think. As one started to bolt towards Edgard, no longer gently closing the gap but attempting to do it in an instant, Edgard reacted out of instinct and shot to the side.

“That woman would kill to find out she was right!” The Father exclaimed, unprompted, as Edgard did his best to dodge an incoming downward slash aimed at his right shoulder.

Cedric! Edgard screamed in his head as he saw his long-time friend struggling to breathe as he slowly slumped onto the floor, his powerful muscles clearly failing him

“You can’t run, boy!” The soldier who had closed the distance threw another stab at him, but it buried deep into the wall behind Edgard instead, leaving him momentarily preoccupied as he struggled to pull the blade free. Edgard immediately seized upon the opportunity and punched the swordsman square in the jaw, knocking him flat on the first attempt. That was much easier than it was with Derian, Edgard thought. Or I’m just better at it. Considering the second possibility, he still managed to take the opportunity that presented itself just then. He ripped the stuck sword free and charged the other bladesman–the one recovering–whose weapon of choice was still pincushioned into Edgard’s best friend. Fear gripped the poor man’s face, but it was too late as Edgard landed the killing blow. He immediately crouched down next to Cedric, careful not to lose sight of the Father and let the old man see his back.

“Cedric. Cedric, are you okay?”

“Weed? When did you . . . get good at fighting? Who has been growing you so poorly?” Cedric tried to laugh, but blood quickly caught in his throat and spilled out his mouth.

“Cedric, you’re going to be okay. Just . . . You’re dead, aren’t you?” Edgard cursed a few times in his head when he realized it.

He stood back up and extended his blade out towards the Father. “Why? Why did he have to die when all you wanted was me?”

“To be fair, he did kind of do the interfering part on his own. That wasn’t my doing. I just wanted you taken alive.” The Father had switched back to his first voice, calm and gentle, and he was once more talking down to Edgard. Even if his tone was technically polite, any idiot could tell he was being patronizing.

“What is my rune?” Edgard demanded, his outstretched sword slicing through the distance between the two as Edgard took full and hasty steps towards the Father. “What does it do? Why do I have it?”

“You don’t know already? You must know by now. It’s the eighth rune, Edgard. You’re the only success. We thought you were a failure, but you’re the only success! The eighth rune worked! She’d be so happy! Look, I can take you to her. Just come with me downstairs. She can explain it. I don’t need to. She knows more anyway.” The Father frantically tried to usher Edgard towards the door. “Just ignore that bit about arresting. You’re a hero after all. Come on downstairs. I can tell you all about your rune. You must be curious, right?”

Come on downstairs. Leave this room. He must have more guards. He won’t say anything until I try to leave. If I try to leave with him, I might get arrested. No, I could escape, go out the back or out a window or down a garbage hatch. I could be out of this town before sundown . . . but . . . Edgard looked over at Cedric’s corpse. But if I don’t reset, then it’s all over for him. His family, his kids, his life . . . He’ll lose them all if I don’t try.

You might just die too though, and then nothing will be accomplished, a voice snuck into his brain, beckoning him to take the surefire escape route. No, I have to. He hated to admit it to himself, but he knew he did.

“Look, just come with me, Edgard. I can explain everything,” the Father insisted again.

He may also just be stalling. Edgard was starting to grow paranoid. If he’s stalling, then that means I don’t have much time. I need to make a decision quickly. Make a run for it or try the reset. He thought about it for a moment, his eyes unable to leave Cedric’s corpse. No, his life is worth more than mine. He has more people counting on him than me, and he risked his life in an instant to buy me just a chance to escape. I have to try it. Edgard gulped, clenched his fist tight around his sword, and then slit his own throat.

It didn’t kill him, at least not quickly enough, and it hurt more than he had expected, so he took the sword and stabbed it up through the fleshy bit behind his chin as hard as he could–ultimately aiming for his brain–the whole while hoping that he’d get to wake up at least one more time.

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