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Karmic Death / Literature

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Karmic Deaths in literature.


  • The Adventures of Strong Vanya: Grand Duke's servant Anissim gets killed by the same wildfire which he starts when he attempts to murder Vanya.
  • Diogenes Pendergast from the Agent Pendergast novels spends two books trying to ruin his brother's life, by getting him arrested and destroying his loved ones, while he's set up for their murders, use the same device that robbed him of his own sanity on hundreds of people, and additionally trying to drive his brother's ward Constance to suicide first by seducing her and then revealing the truth behind her extended life in hopes the despair will crush her. This last tactic harshly proceeds to bite him back in the ass. Constance instead becomes so rage-driven at the way she was used that she winds up chasing him halfway across the world all the way to his remote home; every time he attempts to kill her she completely outsmarts him, and it all culminates with her causing him to fall down a volcano. He could have avoided all the trouble that inevitably lead up to his death and got away scot free after his "drive innocent people mad" failed if he hadn't have been such a cocky bastard and not tried to eff with her mind.
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  • In Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, Briar Cudgeon is attacked by Opal Koboi after the latter learned he was planning to kill her off after taking over. She then rammed him into plasma, where he was fried.
  • The Belgariad: The Grolim Chamdar attempted to kill the last descendants of the Rivan King by burning their house down. Years later, the sole survivor's first conscious act of magic is to set him on fire. Made even better by the fact that Garion is horrified by this sudden use of magic and watching someone burn so he decides to put out the fire. However, his aunt then tells him Chamdar killed his family, so Garion makes the fire hotter and burns Chamdar to ash.
  • The Books of Ember: In The City of Ember, it's revealed that the mayor drowned in the river while trying to leave Ember ahead of everyone else.
  • Brother Cadfael novels:
    • Ellis Peters manages to wrap up a judicial duel with a Karmic Death in One Corpse Too Many. Hugh drops his sword after disarming Adam, choosing to continue the fight dagger-against-dagger. When Adam goes for Hugh's sword, Hugh tackles him. In the ensuing wrestling match, Adam rolls onto his own dagger and dies.
    • In The Raven in the Foregate, the new priest lacks the critical virtues of charity and humility. He pronounces a naïve penitent irredeemable and refuses her absolution, and she drowns herself in the millpond. Later, he slips on a patch of ice near the same millpond, hits his head on a stump as he falls, and goes into the water unconscious. The one person who saw it happen doesn't feel any guilt about not helping him — extra points for irony because he viewed the Holier Than Thou priest's fate as divine judgment — the measure the priest gave was the measure he received, just as Jesus said.
  • In The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen:
    • King James is thrown off the battlements of Alegria castle by Mordalayn, to plummet into the woods a mile below. This was after murdering Leppard in a similar manner earlier in the book (dropping him into the Abyss room).
    • Also Susan Veer sets a magical trap for Queen Sophie that she herself falls into. As she was a former Queen of Alegria the trap works equally well on her, despite not activating when Jared Miller stood directly on top of it moments previously.
    • Finally Rancidrain, who is killed by a rainbow blade. A similar weapon to the one he used in his failed assassination attempt on the Emerald Queen.
  • Several of these occur in The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness:
    • In Wolf Brother, after Hord goes off the deep end and tries to kill Torak and Wolf in order to make amends for his part in the creation of the demon bear, he dies when he's caught by the bear and they're both buried by an avalanche.
    • In Spirit Walker, Tenris meets his end at the teeth of a killer whale after he killed its offspring just to have its teeth as spell ingredients.
    • In Oath Breaker, Thiazzi dies by falling off the top branch of a massive oak when he loses his protective charm against fire and is ignited. This end is fitting because he killed many predators by burning them and murdered Bale by throwing him off the Crag.
  • Circleverse: In Cold Fire, it's revealed that this is actually the law in the Namornese Empire. The punishment for the Big Bad, an arsonist whose fires killed people, is to be burned alive at the site of his greatest crime.
  • Codex Alera: Invidia Aquitaine is pretty much a poster child for Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. So much so that the Big Bad can't even bring herself to be angry at her sudden but inevitable betrayal because that's what Invidia does. This gives it a significant amount of irony when her death results from being stabbed from behind, by a person she couldn't see, using a weapon she couldn't sense coming.
    • This happens to her twice if you count the assassination attempt that brought her into said Big Bad's service (she only survived because the Big Bad put her on life support in exchange for her service). She was shot in the back by a traitorous underling using a poisoned bolt. To add insult to injury, she herself had given the underling the bolt to use on whoever had outlived their usefulness to her.
  • Near the end of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, the appalling Mr. Grandcourt finally meets his end when he falls off a boat and, unable to swim, asks his wife to throw him a rope. She hesitates just a moment too long...
  • The villains in the Dirk Pitt Adventures (the National Underwater and Marine Agency) of books written by Clive Cussler tend to die this way.
    • The person who wanted immortality and nearly flooded the oceans with a very hard-to-kill Gorgonweed ended up killing herself by taking the potion meant to make her immortal, because someone she had killed had messed with it, making sure that anyone that drank all three of the shots needed for immortality would die from it.
    • One person who wanted to destroy the world's fish trade with mutant fish was eaten by his own creations.
    • A third person wanted to control the world's water and ended up dying by drowning, but the place where she was ended up blowing up, so that may have killed her instead.
    • A fourth whose improper disposal of waste was poisoning the local water tables, causing madness in those who drink the water, is tricked into drinking that water which has been secretly bottled and brought to him.
  • In Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son, Carker dies by accidentally stepping back into the path of an onrushing (and symbolic) train — right in front of a horrified Mr. Dombey.
  • In Dragon Bones, the father of the protagonist is a cruel man who likes to beat horses into submission. He has an ongoing war with a particularly fierce stallion (he never rides mares, that would be unmanly), whom he hasn't managed to break, despite trying to do so for several years. Close to the beginning of the novel, he is brought home, severely injured after having fallen off that horse. (The protagonist inherits the horse, and renames it "Pansy". It turns out to be quite a nice Cool Horse once he's tamed it, using more gentle methods than his father.)
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Storm Front: Victor Sells had tried to kill Harry first by siccing a demon on him, and then sending gargantuan scorpion constructs after him. How does he die? Victor Sells uses the demon's True Name in Harry's earshot, so Harry uses that to free the demon from his control. The demon attacks Sells, and knocks him into a pit of his scorpions, where he is devoured.
    • Madeline Raith is a Villainous Glutton whose feeding on her victims is far more violent and unrestrained than that of other White Court vampires, both in terms of the raw Emotion Eater aspect, and the Mind Rape that accompanies it. At the end of Turn Coat, she's eaten by her cousin Lara, who devours her in a fashion that makes even Madeline's tactics look tame.
    • Changes: The Red King prepares a ritual to target the Dresden bloodline by harnessing the life force from hundreds of human sacrifices. Unfortunately for him, because all red vampires share his blood, they are as vulnerable to the curse as Harry Dresden is. As a result, when Harry kills the youngest Red Vampire on the altar, the Red King and his whole Court are destroyed by the energy of all the hundreds of people they murdered.
  • A regular occurrence in Tim Dorsey's Florida Roadkill novels. The most notable example being an insurance claims worker whose job it is to deny medical coverage, especially if said coverage is an official part of the claimant's policy. He gets shot and taken to the emergency room. The calls to his insurance company (the one he works at) get routed to his desk, which, since he is at the hospital instead of at work, he can't answer. So he is denied coverage, the bullet remains in his body, and he dies of lead poisoning.
  • Gideon the Ninth: The Holier Than Thou Knight Templar Silas performs the Dangerous Forbidden Technique of soul-siphoning during a fight, ignoring both common sense and his own cavalier begging him not to. It gets the cavalier possessed by a malevolent spirit, who immediately kills Silas.
  • Harry Potter:
  • The titular character of H. P. Lovecraft's short story Herbert West–Reanimator is in the end killed when a horde of the more or less insane (mostly the former) victims of his experiments swoops into his laboratory and brutally rip him apart.
  • The Hunger Games: Marvel got an arrow in his neck from Katniss as revenge for killing Rue.
  • In Death:
    • Memory In Death has Trudy Lombard, a greedy Manipulative Bitch, get killed off by being clubbed very hard in the back of her head by her own sap, which happened to be a sock stuffed with coins.
    • New York To Dallas has Eve's mother kill a cop by slicing across his throat with a laser scalpel, and later her own partner Isaac McQueen kills her by slicing across her throat with a knife. The irony and poetic justice of her mother's death was not lost on Eve Dallas.
  • Jane Eyre:
    • Bertha Mason's death by fire is very karmic, since she started it in the first place and Mr. Rochester went back in to get her as well.
    • Similarly, we have Jane's cousin John who had always bullied her and gotten away with it many times. Even when he was an adult, his mother helped him twice get out of jail, paying off his debts, and he still returned to his ways. For the third time, his mother finally refused to help him and it was suspected he committed suicide to escape his debts.
  • Journey to Chaos: Dengel teaches Eric magic string sewing for a mage contest and drills him until the strength of the string satisfies him. This is the very skill that Eric uses to hold him in place long enough to banish him (i.e. make him a wandering spirit again).
  • Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (not to be confused with The Film of the Book) has Hammond blaming everyone else (except Nedry) for the mess he's created, pausing to admire how pretty the Compsognathi slowly surrounding him are, and then admiring the respect they show him as he slowly dies of their poisoned bite. It's really quite a moving scene for a Karmic Death.
  • Kane:
    • Mollyl from "Cold Light", who liked to cause pain to his helpless victims and was the first to carry out Gaethaa's commands to torture and kill, dies in the most painful way of all men hunting Kane: he is burnt alive.
    • Sitilvon from "Misericorde", who loves poisons and has studied them extensively, mostly on helpless travellers kidnapped by her family, is poisoned by Kane (whom she was trying to poison herself).
  • Stephen King seems pretty fond of this trope.
    • Annie Wilkes from Misery watches the novel she wanted to read more than anything in the world get burnt, is forced to swallow it by her most favorite writer, who also beats her to death with the typewriter he used to write it. This death would be so sad... if it wasn't, well, Annie Wilkes.
    • All the characters who bullied Carrie get killed by her power, that they activated by making her so enraged. Special mention goes to Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan (who are killed when Carrie takes control of the vehicle Chris tries to use to run her down), as well as Margaret White (in the movie, Carrie actually crucifies her fanatically religious mother).
    • Patrick Hockstetter from It gets killed by leeches growing in the fridge he used to kill animals. Also, leeches are the only thing he truly fears.
    • Norman from Rose Madder is killed in a Rasputinian Death by a monstrous version of the woman he abused for years, who gives him an Ironic Echo before biting him to death (Norman loved to bite his wife).
    • Jack Mort from The Dark Tower series, who killed people by pushing them under vehicles, is forced by Roland to go in front of an upcoming train.
    • In The Shining, the hotel possesses Jack and takes over his body completely, using him as a tool to try and kill Danny to get at the boy's psychic powers. Unfortunately for the hotel, Jack was the one who remembered the boiler needed to be dumped each day to keep it from exploding, while the entity parading around in his body did not. By using Jack the way it did the hotel accomplished nothing but ensuring its own destruction.
  • In The Lord of the Rings:
    • Saruman is killed by much-abused servant Wormtongue, and Gollum falls into the volcano by dancing too exuberantly. In The Film of the Book, the former was entirely cut from the film and only viewable on the extended DVD.
    • Used straight by the film adaptation. Gollum goes over the edge while struggling with Frodo for the Ring rather than simply a misstep.
    • The Witch-King stabbed Frodo with a Morgul blade, and the same is done to him by Merry, allowing him to be killed by Éowyn.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • In House of Chains, Karsa Orlong kills the paedophile priest Bidithal by ripping off his privates and stuffing them down his throat.
    • Scabandari betrays his closest ally and friend Silchas Ruin by knifing him in the back and buries him alive within the grounds of an Azath Tower for potentially millenia. Later, a couple of Elder Gods hunt him down, and Kilmandaros punches in his skull and catches his soul within a Finnest in the form of a dagger, where it remains for a couple millenia. None other than Silchas Ruin uses the dagger as a power source to create a new Azath Tower.
  • Matthew Hawkwood: In Rapscallion, Morgan dies when he tries to escape with as much of his ill-gotten wealth as possible. In a combination of Death by Materialism and Killer Outfit, he drown when Hawkwood pushes him off the side of the ship, declaring that he can have a freedom if he can swim if he can swim to shore, knowing full well that the villain is wearing a waistcoat with a fortune in gold sovereigns sewn into the lining.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel I, Lucifer, the male villains are killed in straightforward ways, but Mrs Seff self-disposes. She goes to murder the dolphin trainer who has been working for them, since he's a loose end now the role of the dolphins has been discovered. She comes across him as he's harnessing the dolphins to a tow-rope for their next task, and doesn't notice that she's standing in the coiled far end of the tow-rope. When she shoots the trainer, the dolphins panic and take off, the coil tightens around her foot, and she's dragged into the water and killed.
  • The Mortal Instruments: In City of Ashes, Valentine arranges the death of a teenage warlock whose blood he needs by tricking the kid into summoning a demon that will be able to bypass the magic circle used to contain it. In City of Glass, Valentine has setup his own magic circle to summon the Angel Raziel to force it to remove the powers of the Shadowhunters that refuse to serve him. His daughter Clary, whom he has effectively bound and gagged nearby, manages to alter the circle, allowing Raziel to smite him in punishment for his evil deeds, but only after giving him "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • In Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt, Count Rosenschiöld takes aphrodisiac drugs, which enables him to keep on sexually abusing much younger women. But after he has brutally raped and almost killed Beatrice, the story's female protagonist, his decadent lifestyle finally catches up to him only a few days afterwards, when he becomes sick and dies what we only can hope is a painful death.
  • Patternist: Doro the Body Surfer has run a Super Breeding Program for 4000 years, forcing his "seed" villages into arranged marriages and incestuous pregnancies and murdering anybody who fails to obey him. He finally produces a new variety of Psychic, who, when he tries to control her like the rest, devours his soul exactly like he'd consumed tens of thousands of his hosts.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray the protagonist stabs his magical painting that gave him eternal youth and absorbed the physical effects of his sins (because he was disgusted and paranoid about people finding it), thereby, making himself age rapidly, transferring the physical effects of his sins to himself and restoring his painting. He is found by his servants, stabbed in the heart and horribly withered and aged. He had previously stabbed the painter with the same knife. (And the painter had offered to destroy the painting with a knife when it was just made).
  • In the Dale Brown novel Plan of Attack, the Jerkass General Gary Houser, who had obstructed Patrick McLanahan and steadfastly denied the possibility of a Russian attack on the American mainland, dies when he is caught in the attack.
  • In The Railway Series book 15, The Twin Engines, Douglas' trains were delayed because of a Spiteful Brake Van.. Although Donald did shut him up, it was Douglas that ended up crushing the brake van while helping James up the hill... by accident!
  • In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, John Clark organizes one of these for the book's main villains; a monstrously fanatical environmental group that attempted to use a modified Ebola virus to wipe out everyone on Earth except themselves. The Rainbow Team tracks them to their headquarters in the Amazon Rainforest, destroys everything useful, and then leaves them to "live in harmony with nature". Clark speculates they might last a week if they're lucky.
  • The Raven Tower:
    • The first time Airu leads his soldiers in a grand attack, he disobeys Mawat's orders in doing so, nearly sabotages the entire mission, and is almost executed for insubordination. The lesson doesn't stick: he leads his men in another grand attack, chortling all the while about how lucky he is that Mawat isn't there to rein him in, and gets butchered in the resulting ambush.
    • Mawat has unquestioning faith in the Raven Physical God's power and in his own power as the heir to the Raven's Lease, and repeatedly brushes off Eolo when he calls those beliefs into question. He ignores Eolo's warning that he no longer has the Raven's protection and dares an enemy god to kill him; the god does just that.
  • At the end of the Redwall book Lord Brocktree, after Brocktree (apparently) killed Ungatt Trunn and threw his broken body in the ocean, Ungatt wakes up on a beach half out of the water, all his bones shattered. When one of his minions finds him, he begs for help. Too bad it was the minion whom he had kidnapped, and killed his entire family. Instead of saving his life, the minion pushes him further into the ocean, yelling the lines of praise he was forced to say every day, but this time inserting all the titles that Ungatt had despised and previously banned.
  • In Romance of the Three Kingdoms:
    • Sun Jian, after he was accused of stealing the Imperial Seal, proclaimed, "If I have this seal and am hiding it myself, may my end be unhappy and my death violent!" He later dies from rocks on his head after only one chapter.
    • Emperor Cao Rui orders Lady Mao to commit suicide after he found a new favorite consort. One chapter later, his wife comes back from the dead to haunt him, and he becomes deathly ill.
  • The Saint: Simon Templar made this a regular part of his repertoire as he matured in the stories.
    • In "The Man from St. Louis", he manipulates a nastily ambitious punk gangster into murdering an even nastier Dirty Coward with Chief Inspector Teal as a witness.
    • In "The Million Pound Day" he boomerangs a villain's murder attempt back onto the bad guy using a kid's toy,
    • In "The Death Penalty" he "deliberately and with malice aforethought" (his own words) visits the title punishment on a villain who under English law did not deserve it... but under The Saint's law, well...
  • In Salamander, Maridon convinces Coelus that he, Maridon, needs to be the subject of the Cascade ritual because if something goes wrong and the subject dies, he's expendable and Coelus isn't. Naturally, his attempt to Take Over the World is interrupted when something goes wrong with the ritual and the subject dies.
  • In Jack London's The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen is struck by a migraine while trying to steal the protagonist's lady love. The migraine is a symptom of the brain injury that leaves him paralyzed and eventually kills him, while the protagonist and lady love stay at his bedside and spoon-feed him.
  • Caro King's Shadow Spell:
    • Strood, while trying to kill the heroes, accidentally triggers the Curse Escape Clause of his Complete Immortality, causing all his previous "deaths" to catch up with him. His end is rather gruesome.
    • And shortly before that Strood subjects Ava Vespilio, the most evil of the Seven Sorcerers, who is also responsible for making Strood what he is now, to a Fate Worse than Death, by killing his current Host, then throwing his Heart Drive Ring into a literally Bottomless Pit, making sure he can never possess a human again and will remain locked in the ring forever.
    • Earlier, Mrs. Dunvice, a brutal, remorseless werewolf in Strood's employ, is killed by the Skinkin which she was transporting for killing Nin.
  • This happens in the Sherlock Holmes stories wherein several criminals get killed by the murder weapons and methods which they used to kill others.
    • The Speckled Band: The venomous tropical snake used to murder turns on the man who sent it.
    • "The Devil's Foot'': The exotic drug used to attack the victims, resulting in death and insanity, is used on the killer by the suitor of one of the victims.
  • The Silent War: Sorcerer Arvar leads a gruesome massacre of an isolated village, so his coven will have the area to themselves. During the climax he summons demonic spirits into some of the corpses and turns them against heroine Katja. Soon after a different evil force animates the rest, and they attack both of them. Katja slashes him in the leg and leaves him to be killed by the corpses of his victims.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • A Game of Thrones: Viserys Targaryen marries off his sister Daenerys to the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo in return for the Khal Drogo's assistance in regaining the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. When Viserys loses his patience, he ignores his adviser's comment that Drogo will offer assistance when he is good and ready, gets drunk, and publicly insults Drogo, Daenerys, and the entire Dothraki people. He proceeds to demand that Drogo gives him the crown he "paid" for with his sister. Drogo agrees to give Viserys a crown, melts down the gold from his belt, and "crowns" Viserys by pouring the pot of molten gold onto Viserys' head.
    • In the same book, Janos Slynt takes special glee in pushing Ned Stark onto the block during his execution, after betraying him earlier. Later, during court, Ned's daughter Sansa sees him enjoying his new position and wishes that some hero would kill him, but thinks that there are no heroes. Janos is eventually knocked down a peg and forced to join the Night's Watch. Four books and three years later, Jon Snow, Ned's illegitimate son and Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, is forced to deal with Janos' continual insubordination. He decides to execute Janos and beheads him personally — in the very same manner his father taught him.
    • A Storm of Swords: In Tyrion's youth, he became married to a commoner named Tysha when she was nearly raped by a gang near Casterly Rock. When Tywin hears of the marriage, he has Jaime lie to Tyrion and say she's a whore, and then Tywin has his entire guard rape Tysha and has Tyrion finish her off. Tyrion then turns to a life of whoring, which Tywin constantly chastises him over, resorting to brutally beating one and threatening to hang any more whores he finds in his bedroom. In the end, Jaime comes clean to Tyrion that Tysha was who she said she was. When Tyrion goes to kill his father, he finds his former whore in Tywin's bed, proving him to be a total hypocrite. Once Tyrion kills Shae, he goes to confront his father in the privy with a crossbow demanding what he did with Tysha. When Tywin calls Tysha a whore a second time after having been warned not to, Tyrion kills Tywin on the privy for it.
    • A Storm of Swords: Lysa Arryn had a lot of people who she didn't like executed by throwing them off a mountain. Later, after she nearly kills Sansa by the same method, Littlefinger tells her that the only woman he ever loved was her sister and shoves her off the mountain himself.
    • Arya becomes good at dishing these out. In A Clash of Kings, Raff the Sweetling captured Lommy, a boy with an injured leg. When Lommy said Raff would have to carry him, Raff stabbed him in the throat. Arya later stabs him in the leg, has the exact same conversation with him, and then stabs him in the throat. The Tickler asks his victims certain questions as he tortures them to death. When Arya stabs him to death, she repeats those same questions.
  • In the Spider-Man Sinister Six Trilogy, The Gentleman, who always put wealth above anything else, is killed by The Chameleon and has all of his fortune stolen from him. To rub salt in the wound, a detective whose life The Gentleman ruined confronts him as he lays dying. He thinks he has the final laugh until the detective points out he'll die a pauper. The detective then lays a penny on the opposite end of the room and leaves knowing The Gentleman will crawl for it.
  • One of the genetic supermen in Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars is in the UN, defending his policy of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans using sarin gas when he and everyone else are suddenly gassed as well. He even remarks on the irony of it before he dies.
  • Star Wars Legends: A few times in Galaxy of Fear.
  • In The Sword of Truth karma appears to be squarely on Richard's side, since practically everyone who disagrees with him dies unpleasantly. This may be because he or someone who works for him killed them, but if they don't then fate will see to it for them.
  • The Three Hostages ends with a one-on-one struggle between the hero and the criminal mastermind on a remote mountainside. It ends with the villain falling to a death which the hero could have — and, being the noble sort, would have — saved him from if he hadn't been disabled by the injuries the villain gave him in the struggle.
  • In the Civil War alternate history series Timeline-191 (aka Southern Victory), the dictator of the Confederacy, Jake Featherston, institutes a genocide of blacks in the South analogous to the real life Holocaust. He ends up getting gunned down by a black guerilla fighter whose parents died in this timeline's equivalent of Auschwitz and who escaped the same fate by chance. This is a particularly satisfying Karmic Death for the CSA as a whole. Towards the end of the series, the city of Charleston, South Carolina, gets one too, being nuked by the Union for being the birthplace of the Confederate States.
  • The Twits are offed by gluing them upside-down to the floor after they have tortured Muggle-Wump and his family by making them stand upside-down on top of one another.
  • The Voyage of Máel Dúin: Under attack by a band of sea-raiders, Ailill Aca Ocar takes refuge in a church, but the raiders burn the church with him inside. This detail is a hint that Ailill's death was a divine punishment for the rape of the prioress: That the house of God fails to protect Ailill suggests that God denies him protection; the raiders do not respect the sanctity of the building, just as Ailill did not respect the sanctity of the prioress.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In Brothers of the Snake, the Dark Eldar kabal who tried to bring Ork invasion into the Reef Stars is killed by an eldar when the same Orks are lured to their planet. For bonus points, the Imperium uses the same method the kabal utilized earlier to manipulate the greenskins.


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