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Artifact of Death

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Go ahead, tap its power. It's free! And it won't hurt you. (You'll do that yourself.)
"This loathsome relic has left a trail of corpses in the wake of its passage from one owner to the next, with every victim having conspicuously succumbed in a similar manner to increasingly unbridled and self-destructive desires."
The Coveted's description, Salt and Sanctuary

The Artifact of Death is an item that will eventually bring about the death of anyone who owns, uses, or comes to be associated with it, often in a grisly and supernatural manner. It can take any shape, whether ancient, toy-like, or high tech. This terrible item is often foolishly sought by many for its "power"... which, of course, always comes with a price: the life of the user. More often than not, it just takes, rather than both giving and taking, typically because it contains a terrible Curse.

Though it has a lot of overlap with the Artifact of Doom (especially the Evil Weapon), the Artifact of Death doesn't actually need to have a corrupting influence or magical powers, it just has to kill whoever uses it. Also, the time taken to kill whoever uses it varies. In some stories, the Artifact will kill anyone who attempts to use it on the first try. Other stories will have the owner die in a set amount of time, after a set number of uses, or it may simply shave years off a user's lifespan. It can sometimes be an Amulet of Dependency as well. It may also be used as an Immortal Breaker; if it can kill anything, can it kill the unkillable?

If an artifact is intended for the Chosen One and reserves its dangerous side effects only for other persons who try to use it, it's an instance of Only the Chosen May Wield (and/or possibly an Empathic Weapon). If it is a sacred object and/or imbued with divine supernatural powers, that's Holy Is Not Safe.

If the Big Bad is a walking Artifact of Death, see also Bad Boss. See also Harmful to Touch. Contrast Immortality Inducer.

If the artifact keeps bringing death to its wielders not by itself but at the hands of others seeking to possess it, it's an Artifact of Attraction — even if it has a property to induce unnatural desire towards it.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The anime Black Butler has the Shard of Hope, a piece of the Hope Diamond.
  • Zearth from Bokurano: anyone who is chosen as its pilot will die as soon as they've done so once.
  • The Death Note. Possessing one means the Shinigami who owns it will eventually write your name down and kill you (though typically, if they aren't the foxy Ryuk, they have to get the book back first.) Also, you can choose to gain Shinigami eyes so you can see the name and remaining lifespan of any person, which makes it much easier to write their name in the Death Note, but at the cost of half your own remaining life. Finally, if you use it, your life will suck. It's guaranteed. Ryuk even warns Light upfront about it: "But there is the terror and torment that only humans who have used it will experience..." The last appears to derive from strictly psychological reasons, because the power to kill with impunity is huge and yet useless, but When All You Have Is a Hammer…, everybody starts to look like a nail, and the role of a killer comes to define you, and your ethics are perpetually in crisis... most people don't have Light's perfect narcissism, and kill themselves fairly quickly.
  • The Book of Darkness from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. It grants ultimate power to its master if they fill up all 666 pages by draining the Linker Cores of other magical beings... and it does so by taking over its master and pushing their magical powers to the limit to destroy everything in its path, killing the master in the process. And if the master doesn't fill up the pages, they will still die as the Book feeds on their life force instead.
  • Naruto: Tsunade's necklace, inherited from her grandfather, Hashirama Senju, is said to bring quick death to anyone brave enough to wear it, except for her. It's probably a superstition, but Tsunade has seen her brother and boyfriend die to it, and its third recipient, Naruto Uzumaki, nearly dies right as she is about to give him it. Nevertheless, Naruto then wears the necklace for good, and it doesn't seem to affect him. It is later disclosed that the necklace's fame lies not just in death; it can act as a leash on Tailed Beasts (Hashirama being one of the few people who could rein them in), which comes in handy when Naruto lapses into his Superpowered Evil Side. However, when Naruto goes into Six Tails mode, the necklace is unable to contain its power, and it subsequently shatters to pieces.
  • The Silver Crystal from Sailor Moon: Using its full power is fatally taxing. Usagi manages to get around this by borrowing power from her teammates. However, she does die from it in the first season finale of the first anime, but her last act is to hit the Reset Button. In the R movie, she also does die from it, but recovers (there is a price paid, though).
  • The Anathema Scythe from Tetragrammaton Labyrinth! It is even more cursed than several hope diamonds put together!
  • Witchblade. Even the original Witchblade may be terminally taxing depending on the host's physiology or frequency of use, and attracts Ax-Crazy monstrosities. With Cloneblades, it's rather short one-way road: they have very limited resource, probably due to being neither alive enough to regenerate damage nor invulnerable enough to resist a lot of it in the first place. After a few hard fights, the user starts to suffer physical and possibly mental deterioration, then quickly turns into a pile of glassy shards with a broken Cloneblade sticking out of it.
  • The Millennium Items from Yu-Gi-Oh! bring death, madness, and destruction to those unworthy to possess them, and even characters that are worthy to wield one can suffer from their powers and other characters looking to possess them all. Considering that they were made by sacrificing 99 villagers and collecting all 7 can summon the demonic Zorc, it's not really a surprise.
  • YuYu Hakusho: The Mirror of Forlorn Hope/Darkness can grant the user a wish, but at the cost of his life. Kurama, who stole it, is quite calmly aware of this, but has no problem dying for his mother's life. Yusuke is somewhat freaked out by his zen. When Yusuke jumped recklessly in the middle of the wish-granting and told the mirror to take half of his life and half of Kurama's, so he didn't have to see Shiori broken up at the loss of her son, he managed to defy the normal ending. note  The mirror either was so impressed by this gesture that it granted the wish for free, or (more likely) took half of Yusuke's life and half of Kurama's life, knocking them out temporarily. The mirror has a small soliloquy afterward. It appears that it dislikes being an Artifact of Doom and wishes more people were like Yusuke, so it didn't have such a depressing name.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Unsurprisingly, a few cards are like this; the most straightforward example is probably Jinxed Idol, which keeps dealing damage to the player who controls it until they sacrifice a creature to hand control of it to an opponent.
    • Black magic has plenty of examples that do similar things, although they're not technically "artifacts". Graveborn Muse, for example, is a creature but basically functions like an enchantment or artifact that lets you draw extra cards at the cost of losing life — and it's not optional so if you don't manage to kill your opponent using the extra cards, the Muse will kill you.
    • Nevinyrral's Disk: upon use, destroys ALL creatures, artifacts and enchantments in play, including itself. Global Armageddon at the push of a button.
    • In a bit of Gameplay and Art Segregation, one artwork for the Mox Jet depicted it as this. However, it's anything but in the game, as it's a free black mana source that you can play more than one of a turn. In the right decks, this is a Game-Breaker, and it was one of the first nine cards to be banned (with four others using the exact same design as Mox Jet, but used for a different color of mana).

    Comic Books 
  • One of the Cosmic Cubes used in Marvel Comics slowly sucked the life force out of the user every time they used it. The cosmic villain the Magus had several Cosmic Cubes and similar devices he had to keep locked away in a special machine because direct use would poison him.
    • In the Ultimate universe, Reed Richards deliberately turned that universe's Cosmic Cube into an Artifact of Death as a trap for Thanos. He removed the Cube's normal limiters that caused it to only respond to the wielder's conscious desires, so that when Thanos picked it up his unconscious wish to die meant that he instantly killed himself.
  • The Ultimate Nullifier, seen in Fantastic Four and elsewhere in Marvel Comics, can destroy anything, but in doing so destroys its wielder... unless they perfectly understand who they're nullifying and how they work. Given that the first time the Nullifier is used, it's targeted at Galactus, destruction of the wielder was inevitable since no mortal can truly comprehend such an Eldritch Abomination. Fortunately, Galactus backs down from the mere threat of the Nullifier, as being hit by it would not only kill him, it would be disastrous to The Multiverse as a whole.
  • A variation in Green Manor: The Lance of Longinus has alchemical instructions written on it to make an elixir that makes the holder invincible, although it has a long history of said holder dying horrifically. Except not really: What it does is exacerbate any feelings of grandeur into full-blown delusions of invincibility (the alchemist who originally wrote the recipe was well aware of Ambition is Evil as a perennial flaw across mankind, and came up with the idea to ensure would-be conquerors would get themselves killed before they could spread misery and destruction).
  • The Ghost Key from Locke & Key might fall under this trope. If you open a door with it and walk through, you die and turn into a ghost.
  • Superman villain Lex Luthor gets cancer from his Kryptonite ring.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Total Drama fanfic, Courtney and the Violin of Despair, the titular violin carries a curse that tends to bring its owners to untimely ends.
  • With This Ring: Paul gives an orange power ring to a Citadelian officer who has thoroughly disgusted him, as payment for some slaves. As soon as the officer puts the ring on, Larfleeze senses his presence and furiously consumes his soul, just as Paul expected. Once Larfleeze is neutralised, orange rings become somewhat safer, although they still carry significant psychological dangers and should only be used by those with properly supervised training.
  • The World of the Creatures has the Biolangra - an artifact from a fictional note  fantasy novel written by the protagonists. If the The Conceptivore attains it, then it could use the Biolangra to destroy the entire world.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the DC Animated Universe crossover between Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest, The Joker gets a hold of a glowing green "jade" dragon statue. The previous owners of said statue all died mysteriously. Contrary to the stories behind it, it's not because of a curse or anything magical. The statue is Kryptonite, and Kryptonite being radioactive is far from harmless to humans (it just kills Kryptonians like Superman faster).
  • In the 1981 cult classic Heavy Metal, the Loc-Nar is the embodiment of evil, and quickly corrupts and destroys everyone it touches — only those who are incorruptibly pure of heart can resist it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Referenced in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. The two heroes come into possession of a medallion belonging to the titular mummy of Klaris. Not knowing what it is, they show it to a local who recoils in horror and explains that the medallion is "death to whoever holds it." The movie doesn't really get into whether or not the artifact is actually cursed, or if it just has that reputation (presumably because Klaris's mortal followers have a tendency to murder anyone who tries to steal from him).
  • The protagonists in the little-known sci-fi film Alien Cargo pick up a piece of debris from space that contains a Hate Plague. It ends up killing everybody who's been directly exposed to it.
  • In The Brass Teapot the titular Teapot provides money if the owner inflicts pain on himself. As time goes by, self-inflicted pain yields less and less money, so the Teapot’s possessor must go on to inflict pain in others and eventually start killing. Because of this the Teapot has collected a truly horrendous body count over the millennia.
  • In The Grudge, an entire house is this trope.
  • Indiana Jones:
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Ark of the Covenant supposedly grants the owner great power, and may be used as a Radio to God. However, opening the ark releases the Wrath of God, and anyone who looks upon the spirits that are released dies an extremely gruesome death.
    • At least one of the false Grails from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade causes one to suffer Rapid Aging till past the point of death, as Walt Donovan found out rather painfully. "He chose... poorly." As with the Ark of the Covenant, Indy manages to get through the Three Tests (of Penitence, Faith, and... spelling?) and chooses the right Grail by understanding there's more to the MacGuffin than just a nifty prize. Donovan and Elsa, again with the hubris... don't.
    • In short, the moral of both movies is probably, "Don't take things that belong to someone else, especially things with powers bestowed by the will of God himself". Of course, as obvious as that should be, the villains in the movies clearly didn't know better. The other moral could be "No Man Should Have This Power if it channels the power of God".
  • One of three henchmen tasked with retrieving McGuffins for fully regenerating the Mummy in The Mummy Returns is smart enough to know that what they're doing is much so that another of the henchmen teases him harshly about his continual warnings. Turns out, his warnings were all too true. That said, it never actually stops him from doing any of it or even just hightailing it out of there.
  • In Night of the Demon, a slip of parchment with strange writing is passed to people who then are torn to shreds by the demon.
  • In 2009's Night Train, it's said that anyone who looks inside the box will be dead by sunrise, and the movie's body count bears this out. The box contains Something for Everyone — depending on the viewer, it can appear as diamonds, gold, or anything else valuable enough to make the viewer willing to lie, cheat, steal, and kill to keep it for themselves. Even the characters who overcome their greed and realize it's an Artifact of Doom end up fighting (and dying) over it as a result of their desire to destroy it.
  • The Cursed Videotape from The Ring has been imitated so many times it could be a trope in itself. Anyone who watches the seemingly mundane video tape dies within seven days, unless they copy the tape and show it to someone else, akin to a video chain letter. This is an example of an artifact of death that actually seems mundane and benign.
  • The toy monkey from the Stephen King story The Monkey kills whenever it claps its cymbals, as does the one from homage Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders.

  • Fighting Fantasy does this sometimes. In Fangs of Fury you start the adventure with a cursed bracelet that kills you once it has glowed 14 times.
  • Lone Wolf:
    • The book The Caverns of Kalte "rewards" you with a big shiny jewel if you screw up a puzzle... which unholy radiation can end up killing you if you are not warned in time and discard it.
    • Another Doomstone appearing in The Darke Crusade has pretty much the same effect on its wielder, High Warlord Magnaarn. The Scepter of Nyras, on which it is mounted, is a powerful artifact allowing to control the armies of the fallen Darklords... but it is also turning him into an undead servant of the Doomstone itself.
    • The Death Staff from The Legacy of Vashna is also a quite deadly artifact. Just touching it causes Lone Wolf to lose Hit Points, and it drains some more every time it is used.
    • Given their very evil origins (the Doomstones were created by Naar's most powerful servant Agarash the Damned, and the Death Staff was forged by Naar himself) this makes perfect sense. The only ones who can use these things without any consequences are supernatural beings of pure evil such as the Darklords and the Deathlord of Ixia.
    • The Evil Sorcerer Big Bad of Book 7 avoids the lethal side-effects of using a Doomstone by coupling it with one of the Lorestones in a Yin-Yang Bomb.
  • The Nintendo Adventure Books series had items you could collect; however one item in each book would lead to one of the bad endings. A specific example was the anchor in Leaping Lizards. If Luigi collected it around the beginning, he'd sink later on when trying to swim in water and end up trapped in Pipe Land, leading to a Non-Standard Game Over.

  • The Shining Trapezohedron from H. P. Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark". Gazing into it allows you to see into the audient void and learn things man was not meant to learn, but the downside is that it also summons the god Nyarlathotep (or rather one of his many avatars) to hunt you down and kill/possess you.
  • The Traitor's Sword or Sword of Straw, in Amanda Hemingway's book. It's been passed down from King to King, but can be safely wielded only by the one destined. The problem is that many people have taken the chance that they are the one destined. It doesn't invariably kill the wielder, but may cause them to kill someone else!
  • Fellow Eternal Champion, Erekose, has the sword Kanajana. Kanajana is a sword that radiates deadly energies and it will kill almost any wielder that takes it out of its sheath of special materials. Only a godlike being (such as Erekose) can safely use this weapon — which causes a swift but agonizing death with even a scratch.
  • The cymbal-clanging wind-up monkey toy from Stephen King's short story "The Monkey" causes a person, or occasionally a pet, connected to the Shelburns to die each time it activates. It's also able to influence people to compel them to wind it up.
  • One Tony Hillerman novel had a mundane example. A very patient murderer gave an enemy a "lucky charm" that was made from radioactive uranium ore, causing him to die from cancer after a couple of decades of carrying it around in his pocket.
  • "The Blue Bottle", a short story by Ray Bradbury, features the titular bottle as an example. It changes hands frequently as its owners often mysteriously vanish, typically into a fine mist described as like a glass sculpture being smashed. For people like Craig, though, it's just a bottle of fine liquor. The protagonist, Beck, realizes the bottle is a wish-granter, and all the people who vanished had on some level wished to die. Most of the people who go about searching for the bottle are in some way unhappy with their lives and deep down, want it to end, and the bottle obliges. The reason it doesn't affect people like Craig is because they're already pretty content, and so the bottle just grants more basic desires.
  • The novel The Amulet features an amulet that, once put on, cannot be removed, and drives the wearer to kill someone in a gruesome fashion, and then shortly thereafter they are likewise killed in an equally-sticky Necro Non Sequitur.
  • The Moon of Rats necklace in Bride of the Rat God is used to sacrifice the wearer to the Rat God. It ends up being used as a prop in a Hollywood film.
  • The Nilstone from The Chathrand Voyages is a lump of rock from the Underworld that can grant near-limitless magical power to any mortal who holds it — unless they fear death, in which case it will kill them almost instantly. In all of history, only one person was able to wield it naturally, and even she couldn't hold on for too long (her reincarnation, one of the main characters, thinks she could hold the Stone for about five minutes or so before the reaction set in). Other people have tried to find workarounds, such as the Scepter of Sathek (a less powerful Artifact of Doom that, among other things, insulates its wielder against the Nilstone's touch) and enchanted wine from the Underworld (which temporarily removes the drinker's fear of death).
  • Dungeon Crawler Carl comes into possession of a ring that allows very rapid stat point growth, in exchange for killing other crawlers. By itself, that would just be a matter of selling out your morals for power, but what really makes it deadly to the user is the fact that once you've marked a target, you can't heal by any means until they're dead. (Oh, and it's extremely valuable to the sixth floor hunters, who have no qualms about farming crawlers and who will therefore be out to kill you for it.) Mordecai repeatedly tries to persuade Carl to ditch it.
  • Stormbringer, in The Elric Saga, is definitely this to its owner Elric — and to anyone else who stands too close, including his wife and best friends.
  • Touching The Fire's Stone, with the intense magic concentrated within, brings swift and painful death to anyone foolish enough.
  • Several from the Harry Potter series:
    • The Elder Wand is an extremely powerful wand, but only in the hands of its rightful owner. Incidentally, one can become the wand's rightful owner by defeating its current owner, so for most of its existence its owners came to sticky ends, as so many people assumed that 'defeat' actually meant 'murder'. Credulous types like Xenophilius Lovegood believe it has a curse placed on it by Death, but skeptics like Hermione think it just attracts attention. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
    • The Peverell ring is cursed by Voldemort to rapidly kill anyone who owns it. Dumbledore very nearly succumbs to the curse, and only survives thanks to quick thinking by Professor Snape. He still believes that it will probably kill him within a year. And it would have, if not for him dying by other means. Said ring also happened to be the Resurrection Stone (another one of the Deathly Hallows, like the Elder Wand), which could also induce death in its own way, at least according to the tale that the Hallows are from.
    • An opal necklace seen in the second book has a placard claiming it has killed a dozen previous owners. In the sixth book it's seen in action.
  • The eponymous device carried by E.E. Smith's Lensman is essentially benign, but is characterised by its tendency to kill anyone who touches it except when the Lensman who's matched to it is wearing it. ANYONE, whether they are actively attempting its theft/misuse or not. This is such a terrifying prospect that Virgil Samms specifically asks Mentor the Arisian what happens to it when he dies. (It disintegrates.) This is actually a feature, not a bug, as one of the problems with the badges they'd been using previously was that they could be stolen or copied. The Lens (at least initially) can't.
  • Redwall's Tears of All Oceans (six large pink pearls kept in a velvet-lined shell case) seem to have this effect despite the existence of actual magic in the books being dubious. The evil Emperor Ublaz is so desperate to have the pearls that he has an entire tribe slaughtered to get them, then the corsairs who picked them up fight among themselves, resulting in at least one death. During the obligatory riddle-based treasure hunt to find them when they're planted in the Abbey, the search leads to the death of an Abbeydweller. Not to mention Ublaz himself, after getting the pearls for his crown ends up getting killed by a Snake he had previously cowed.
  • St Michael's Sword from Preston and Child's novel Riptide is a good example as well. Spoken of vaguely as a sort of Spanish Excalibur (though even older than the Spanish in origin), it's written in legend as having the power to kill anybody who looks at it. It's also the grand prize item in an extremely difficult to penetrate treasure hoard, buried in the depths of an extensively booby-trapped island and sporting a legendary curse to boot. The mysterious lethality of all this becomes clearer as the story progresses — (the sword turns out to be made of extremely radioactive metal from a meteorite).
  • One Skulduggery Pleasant short featured a pen which caused the possessor to absently pick it up and write out a terrible death for themselves, only to find it coming true, apart from them being the only ones to see it, even if others may hear it (it was found after a grisly murder during which neighbours reported hearing a train rush through the house, though none was apparent, i.e. no huge holes in the house, but a living room covered in red paint that was once a man). Our Heroes manage to find the shutdown magic, which the creator seemed to have forgotten (leading to a trail of death as the thing kept on killing after the murder for which it was created) in time to stop a character being eaten by a shark on dry land.
  • Song of the Lioness: The crystal sword, actually made by Duke Roger. The Bloody Hawks' headman knew it was bad news (it fills the wielder with bloodlust) and tried to leave it in the desert, but the shaman retrieved it anyway and it consumed him during his duel with Alanna. It also manages to kill the boy mage Alanna is teaching. She fixes it by fusing it with her own sword.
  • Vasher from Warbreaker actually makes use of one of these in his combat strategy. His sword, Nightblood, is an Empathic Weapon that telepathically tempts nearby people into drawing it. It is also an Artifact of Doom that makes its wielder murder a bunch of his friends and then kill himself. Vasher doesn't actually use it as a sword; he throws it into a group of enemies, sheath and all, and waits for them to fall for the Schmuck Bait.
  • The Líserg Egg from Zero Sight is a black egg that hatches into a six armed monster that rapes and kill anyone in a range of fifty miles and attracts werewolves.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • A machine relic from an ancient civilization is capable of transferring life force equivalently between people, so while it's an Artifact of Death and Life, it still kills from overuse. It's telling that its use in that civilization was as a form of capital punishment.
    • Touching a seemingly dormant Shadow vessel is instantly fatal to at least one human researcher. Although the bad guys do later manage to put a live human pilot in a Shadow ship, the pilot instantly goes insane and starts firing on everything in sight.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has the 3000-year-old Lion's Head Nebula Beacon, which the Cylons found and which began killing them. It was covered with a mucous substance that really was snot — snot with a disease to which humans had evolved immunity but the Cylons hadn't. All the Cylons on the base star that picked up the beacon died, all because "someone forgot to wipe their nose", according to Adama.
  • The infamous Tiki idol from the Hawaiian episode of The Brady Bunch.
    • ... which was brought back (and referenced as such) in an eighth-season episode of Scrubs.
  • "The Glove of Myneghon" in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Revelations" might just qualify. Although the glove bestows great powers on the wearer, it can never be removed and seems to have said wearer at its mercy as well as giving her (Gwendolyn Post) the power to draw lightnings. Besides, if the wearer is right-handed and wears the glove on the right hand, I foresee some difficulties regarding trips to the loo.note 
  • In episode Two of Chernobyl, one of the doctors tells her colleagues to strip the first repsonders of their uniforms, as their close proximity to the burning reactor core exposed them to huge amounts of radiation. When the doctor dumps her load of clothes in the basement, her hands show the first tell-tale signs of radiation sickness. During the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue at the end of episode Five, the text states that thirty years after the disater, the uniforms are still in the basement of the hospital, and are still dangerously radioactive.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Agito: The G4 Armor uses a combat AI for support that doesn't consider the human operator's safety at all as a factor, to the point of killing them from the strain and then trying to puppeteer their corpse to continue fighting.
    • Kamen Rider 555: The Faiz Driver and Kaixa Driver are deliberately designed to shorten the user's already-limited lifespan with every use, in a failed effort to curb their potential use by a Phlebotinum Rebel. The Delta Driver, their Super Prototype, doesn't have this flaw, but it has other issues.
    • Kamen Rider Den-O: The Zeronos belt is a version that kills the user in a roundabout way: every transformation erases a random person's memories of the user. This sounds bad, but not deathly bad...except people's memories of the past are the past, and a person who's completely forgotten about by everyone will have never existed. The Big Bad has a similar artifact, a calendar that he can rip pages out of to send his monsters to the past by killing the version of him that existed on that day. Overuse of this power eventually causes him to disintegrate.
    • Kamen Rider Kiva: The Dark Kiva armor can be used to grant a human the powers of a vampire king, but most people will die after a single use. The biggest Badass Normal of the setting manages three uses before it kills him. The regular Kiva armor would presumably have the same qualities if used by a human, since it's essentially the exact same suit, but never gets used by one to confirm.
    • Kamen Rider Wizard: The Beast Driver lets an ordinary human use magic without needing a magical Enemy Within to draw it from, by giving them an artificial one that can absorb magic from their enemies. And will constantly demand that they do so, killing the user if they fail to feed it regularly. And unlike all of the prior examples, you can't take it off once you put it on.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: The Yomotsuheguri Lockseed is advertised as a Deadly Upgrade of this sort that turns the user's lifeforce into enough power to rival the main character's Super Mode. In practice, the Lockseed kills you so painfully that the user just ends up writhing on the ground in agony most of the time and can't do anything useful with the power.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: The Proto Gashats act like this when used by a human. Where the regular Gashats require a special surgery to use without inflicting the user with a potentially lethal virus, the Proto Gashats cause permanent damage and disfigurement if the user is properly prepared, while an unprepared user vomits up blood and dies.
    • Kamen Rider Revice: The Demons Driver can be used by people without the half-demon biology of the central trio, but weakens the user with each transformation. Various inconsistent explanations for why this happens are offered throughout the series, but they eventually develop a mass-production version that isn't so deadly as long as it's used sparingly.
    • Kamen Rider Gotchard: The DreaDriver is said to kill whoever wears it for too long, though it's unclear whether it's a supernatural effect or because the Driver uses its wearer as a meat puppet and doesn't particularly care how badly they get injured in the process. For extra points, the DreaDriver is also this to Chemies, instantly killing any Chemy whose card it reads and proceeding to pillage a new ability from its corpse. Fortunately it prefers to use Expendable Clone copies instead of the original Chemies themselves.
  • 'La Fin Absolue du Monde' in the Masters of Horror episode "Cigarette Burns". Pretty much anyone involved in the production of this film-within-a-film died because of it, as do people who try to go look for it. Somewhat appropriately, the title translates from French to "The Absolute End of the World."
  • One episode of Misfits revolves around a briefcase of money and its owner, who was struck by lightning during the magical storm from the start of the series. Anyone who the man touches becomes violently, homicidally obsessed with the briefcase, which basically causes everyone around him to become hostile to him and to each other. The effect only wears off when the man dies in an accident.
  • Supernatural has the rabbit's foot, which gives fantastic luck to whoever touches it — as long as they manage to hang onto it. Unfortunately, it always ends up getting lost or stolen... and then the luck goes bad. Really bad. We're talking Final Destination bad.

  • Michael Moorcock set the tale of the owner-slaying Black Sword to music, for two separate bands, Hawkwind and the Blue Öyster Cult.
    I have a feeling that my luck is not too good;
    this sword here at my side don't act the way it should,
    Keeps callin' me its master, but I feel just like its slave,
    Haulin' me faster and faster to an earlier earlier grave!

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Necklace of Harmonia in Classical Mythology was cursed. It did not harm to Harmonia herself (she being divine) but every mortal descendant who owned it came to a bad end, or brought misfortune on her family. Betrayal, murder, and tragic deaths followed the necklace from legend to legend.
  • Supposedly The Spear of Destiny makes one invincible in battle. However, if lost, the former owner will quickly meet his end.
  • The Ark of the Covenant in The Bible. If anyone who wasn't specifically authorized to touch the Ark did so, God would kill them right there.
    • Even one guy (Uzzah) who tried to prop it up when he noticed it was slipping out of the oxcart it was being transported in. For the record, he had it on an oxcart instead of having it carried by four priests like it was supposed to be. If you're handling a holy artifact, you'd better damn well transport it in the prescribed fashion.
    • Another incident where the Ark manifested its dangerousness was when the Philistines succeeded in capturing it. Every town they took it to was struck with a horrible plague of rats and tumors/hemorrhoids. (Bubonic plague?) The terrified Philistines sent the Ark back to the Israelites along with five golden rats and five golden tumors to end the plague. It worked.
    • Claims are often made nowadays that the historical ark was some sort of capacitor or otherwise was electrically charged, and therefore the smitings of non-priests who touched it were because they weren't wearing the holy (and electrically insulated) robes of the priests. MythBusters tested this. It is possible, with the technology of the time, for the ark to have been electrically charged. Historians just can't prove that it was (or indeed that the Ark materially existed at all). The relatively low power of the shock would be more 'startling' then 'divine smiting', though. (More like walking across a carpet in sneakers, and then touching a metal object than a Bolt of Divine Retribution, in other words.)
  • Older Than Dirt: Princess Ahura: The Magic Book is a New Kingdom Egyptian story (c. 1100 BCE) about prince Naneferkaptah, who covets the magical Book of Thoth, buried in the river in six nested boxes and guarded by snakes and scorpions. He digs it out, kills the guardians, and obtains vast magical power, but the offended gods promptly cause the death of Naneferkaptah, his sister/wife Ahura, and their son.
  • The magic sword of Norse Mythology, Tyrfing, from the poetic edda Hervarakivida, is said to be cursed in this way before being used by Angantyr. Each possessor of the blade found himself dying at the hands of the one who would wield it next, as per the curse laid upon the blade by the dwarves.
  • In Pacific Mythology, lava rocks and black sand are considered to be the children of Pele the Fire Goddess. As such, taking them away from where you found them is considered to be kidnapping them, and will awaken Pele's Mama Bear tendencies, bringing misfortune into your life until they are returned to their rightful place. Many such stones are returned to Hawaii after people who take them attribute to them whatever misfortunes have befallen them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 1001 Science Fiction Weapons for D20 features a couple of artefacts/relics, including the Xugulor, a vampiric thing which covers your forearm requiring surgical removal, and drains 1 CON point permanently per every 2d10 of damage it does. Also worth mentioning is the entire chapter on things you can use to hit other characters with, which are radioactive.
  • The Champions Universe of superheroes had the Juggernaut suit of power armour which can turn any ordinary schlub into someone able to throw down with the strongest superhumans on Earth. However, it's powered by a tiny but improperly shielded nuclear reactor so you'll be dead in a matter of months after starting to use it.
  • DragonMech has the elven artifact City Mech, Tannanliel. Tannaliel is the mightiest thing on the planet and has never lost a fight. Unfortunately this artifact, made by an elven archmage with some assistance from the gods , has a terrible drawback. It ages the user by a year per week of use, and even the long-lived elves find themselves on borrowed time when driving Tannaliel.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has many of these, called "cursed magical items".
    • For examples, the Hand and Eye of Vecna, especially if used together... and which led to the common joke about the Head of Vecna. To use the Hand, you must first cut off your own hand and attach the Hand to the stump. To use the Eye, you must put out your own eye. The Head of Vecna would have been a sort of instant Artifact of Death. (Of course, while that was a joke, the Heart of Vecna, which appeared in the module Die, Vecna Die, was a real Minor Relic of Vecna. Replacing your heart with it was a delicate and very dangerous procedure that would kill the user, but would restore him to life on the condition a healer was assisting who knew what he was doing.)
    • The AD&D 2nd edition rules gave a chance of accidentally creating one of these anytime a character crafts some magical item.
  • F.A.T.A.L. is full of these. Any piece of magical armor you find has a 7% chance of having an effect that will kill you. And these are uncursed items. But if you're actually playing FATAL, instant death is a fairly tempting prospect.
  • Magic: The Gathering provides the page image, and has many cards that will take away life points in exchange for a benefit. Ironically, the page image is not an example- it's an alternate art for Mox Jet, which has no cost and is considered such a Game-Breaker that it's a member of the Power Nine. It costs nothing and taps for one black mana, just like a Swamp. But it's an artifact instead of a land, meaning that unlike a Swamp, it's not restricted to one per turn.
  • Rifts features quite a few, in the form of Rune Weapons, some of which are actively out to get you, such as a helm in one issue of the Rifter, which caused a series of great victories for the wearer until a certain point, after which they and their army would be wiped out; Bio-wizard parasites in Atlantis, which grant super powers but will take a certain price straight out of your body tissues, leading to permanent disability, disfigurement and death; and any variant of the Juicer system, which also grants super powers but at the cost of reducing your lifespan to a few years, how many exactly depending on what type of juicer you were, eg. if you were a hyperion you wouldn't live for five years, a dragon juicer could live maybe twice as long as a standard juicer, while the Bio-wizard Para-Sym organism gives you 48 hours to enjoy a juicer's powers before it explodes, taking you with it as the next stage of its life cycle.
  • Rocket Age has a rather more mundane artifact of death than many on this list, for a given value of mundane. Ladite Radium Swords are made from a bronze-radium alloy, making them incredibly sharp and able to reflect RAY blaster beams due to the fact that they are so radioactive they glow in the daytime. Of course wielding one for any length of time is enough to give the user cancer. They can also be deliberately shattered and explode, killing both the wielder and their enemies.
  • The Savage Worlds adventure "The Curse of the Jade Monkey" has the Jade Monkey. As the legend goes, the statuette brought wealth and prosperity to the sculptor who made it, until the Emperor sent his army to take it. Hundreds died from various accidents in the effort to transport the artifact, and eventually the Emperor died in a fire that destroyed the palace and left the Jade Monkey lost to history. In-game, the Jade Monkey will cause whoever bears it to suffer bad luck at the GM's discretion, with a chance to have something good happen instead.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Sword of Khaine is an immensely powerful weapon forged at the beginning of time by the elvish smith god. Unfortunately, it tends to bring doom and madness on anyone who wields it, most notably the man whose son started the great elvish civil war of eons past.
    • The Skaven love these — not only can their normal "wonder weapons" decimate their own troops, but the magic items can cause madness, burn the skin off their arms, turn them into gibbering spawn or even suck them into hell. This doesn't stop them being used extensively. Well, when your army has an explicit rule called Life Is Cheap (a.k.a. "coratteral damage"), you should think about what gadgets you strap yourself into. A more serious take on the trope is the Fellblade, a sword forged from warpstone the Skaven made for the sole purpose of killing Nagash the Undying and making sure it stuck. The sword was so infused with lethal energy that its only wielder was driven insane and died shortly after his victory, and even standing in the same room as the thing can have adverse consequences (to add insult to injury, it only managed to cripple Nagash for a few centuries, and the Skaven were not interested in trying their luck on Round 2).
    • The Storm of Magic book brought with it two Mythic Artefacts clearly designed by people with more mystical power than sense: the Sword of Last Resort, which will make you stronger for one challenge and then kill you by draining your life energy before teleporting to someone else on the field, and the Black Book of Ibn Naggazar, which eats up to 3d6 models from its bearer's unit each time he casts a spell and will take the bearer too if there aren't enough victims or he fails to cast a spell from it in each of your magic phases.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Most daemon weapons tend to lead to their owner's death eventually. That is, if they're lucky... But if they're very lucky, it leads to death and ascension to Daemon Prince.
    • The Spear of Ulthanash is a specifically mentioned example; it was once considered too dangerous to use because it binds itself to the user and slowly drains his soul, until the Tyranids attacked the Craftworld where it was sealed away and Prince Yriel had to take the Spear from stasis to kill the central beast of the Hive Mind and drive the Tyranids from his home.
    • An artifact of Lost Technology, the Leviathan Dreadnoughts are archaeotech warmachines uniquely made on sacred Terra rather than industrial hub Mars. These dreadnought sarcophaguses are equipped with powerful forcefields and exotic weapon systems that make them unrivalled amongst dreadnoughts. Unfortunately, they greatly shorten the users lifespan. Space Marines live for centuries, regular dreadnoughts are immortal but Leviathan Dreadnoughts will kill its occupant in a few short years.

    Theme Parks 

  • BIONICLE: The Ignika, Mask of Life, is an Artifact of Death twice over. Its primary purpose is to restore the Matoran Universe; doing so, however, demands that the wearer sacrifice their life. On the other hand, if it judges that the universe is beyond restoration, such as in the case of a never-ending chaotic conflict, it can act as a self-destruct button for the universe by ending the life of everyone and everything in it. The more unbalanced the universe is, the shorter its countdown to death.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: Played with in a mission that sees the Templar confiscate a chest of gold from the gypsies. They're told the gold is cursed and will bring madness and death to anyone foolish enough to possess it, but scoff at the idea as superstition. Sure enough, as they try to bring the gold back to their base, several suddenly go violently mad. In truth, Ezio, the player character, is stalking them using his poison darts to make the curse come true, ultimately causing the Templar to abandon the chest. It is then Ezio's task to return the Romani's gold, made funnier by the fact that any Templar that sees you carrying it will run away screaming.
  • BeTrapped! has the Bloodstone, a large, flawless ruby. Legend has it that after five men stole it from the African tribe they died in specific ways:
    1. One died suddenly in his sleep;
    2. One was ripped apart by lions;
    3. One was burnt alive;
    4. One was drained of all his blood;
    5. One was disemboweled.
    • The legend also says whoever tries to take it will suffer the same fate.
  • Castlevania:
  • Chains of Satinav features the Fairy Harp, a mystical instrument which allows, among other things, the creation and command of magical nightmare-inducing crows. Any human that tries to play it will simply die. Only Fairies can play it safely, a quality which drives much of the game's plot.
  • In Crossing Souls: The Duat Stone will eventually kill the user (the heroes find it on the corpse of the previous owner in fact) unless it has a Gamma Bar to act as a Restraining Bolt (something Matthew, the resident Child Prodigy figures out). Near the start of the game, however, one of the kids, Kevin, ends up breaking the Gamma Bar while running from some thugs and dies from the Stone's power. You later have to replace the Gamma Bar with a new one.
  • The Black Marker, Red Marker and Golden Marker in Dead Space all qualify as this trope, in that their presence causes severe hallucinations, mostly of (deceased) friends or relatives; this might be a way for them to communicate with humans, though, given that they were probably designed to deal with radically different lifeforms. It's implied that the mere presence of a Marker is too much for the human brain to handle, and most people who spend too much time near them end up committing suicide in a grisly fashion, whether that's because the Marker commanded them to or not. Dead Space 3 reveals that the Markers are Artifacts of Death for entire civilizations.
  • In Dragon Quest, there was a chance of you getting Cursed Belts and Cursed Necklaces from certain chests. They did nothing good except strangle you, yet bizarrely they sold very well.. Considering how early you can acquire them, it's reasonable to repeatedly enter the (low-leveled) dungeon to acquire more belts to sell for lots of cash.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Giant Fist: The bracelet unearthed at the start of the game. Though sought after by competing factions, anyone who wears the bracelet finds their body forcibly transformed until they die. Unless they are an ancient Latour warrior or their descendant.
  • In Fate/stay night, on the final path Shirou gets Archer's arm, and consequently most of his ability with Projection. On the other hand, using it is guaranteed to kill him.
  • Final Fantasy
    • One of the items you can find in some of the games is the Cursed Ring. Its effect varies from game to game, but VI and VII fit this trope.
      • VI puts you on the clock by Condemning you at the start of a fight—you die if you don't win or escape the fight in 60 game ticks. OTOH, it also lets you learn one of the most powerful One-Hit Kill spells in the game at 5 times the normal rate. You can subvert the curse with a Lich Ring (this turns you into a zombie and invokes Revive Kills Zombie logic—death spells heal you instead).
      • VII is similar. It gives whoever it's equipped to a good stat boost, but there are two major downsides to it: The first being that as soon as the battle starts, the person who it's equipped to has Death Sentence cast upon them, which kills them after 60 seconds have passed (unless you finish the fight before then), and the second being that once it's equipped, it's a physical nightmare to unequip unless you meet certain conditions. Tifa tends to make the most of the curse since two of her weapons get big power boosts when she's Condemned.
      • Also featured in Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII. It gives the stat boosts, but inflicts Curse upon the user which stops their DMW from spinning, preventing Limit Breaks and Level Ups.
    • VI also has another "cursed" item, the Cursed Shield. It adds Condemn and a smorgasbord of bad status effects, and has terrible stats. But if it's used enough it'll become uncursed and transform into the Paladin Shield, a high-stat shield which is also one of the few ways to learn the Ultima spell.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. After your suit has been corrupted by Phazon, you run the risk of becoming fully corrupt and turning into Dark Samus (thereby resulting in a Game Over) whenever you enter Hyper mode. This can be averted, however, by exiting Hyper Mode before the corruption starts, or by firing rapidly to prevent the Phazon overload.
  • NetHack has the Amulet of Strangulation. It's usually generated cursed so you can't just remove it before it kills you. And it will kill you even if you happen to have unbreathing as an intrinsic (it cuts off blood flow). The only way to survive a cursed amulet of strangulation is to pray to your god.
  • Pokémon:
    • The Life Orb gives a 1.3 power boost to attacks but costs 10 percent of your health every time you attack. Other moves, such as Lunar Dance or Memento, do certain helpful things while the Pokémon faints. The Life Orb is less of a problem in Gen V. The ability Sheer Force gives certain moves a power boost and can then stack the power boost with the Life Orb and somehow negates the Life Orb's recoil damage. However, this trick only works on moves that normally have positive secondary effects, such as Flamethrower.
    • Pokémon X and Y has one that's also a Pokémon itself. Honedge is a Steel/Ghost sword possessed by an ancient spirit. Anyone who attempts to wield it will find the sword leeching off their life force.
  • The eponymous Elysian Box from Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. Eventually, it's revealed that its notoriously lethal fame is the reason why it's so fatal. The box is made from a material that releases powerful hallucinogenic fumes that makes people experience what they believe. Since most people expect death to befall them when they open the box, that's exactly what happens. The reason why our heroes survive is that they were skeptical of its reputation.
  • In Shinobi (2002), main character Hotsuma wields Akujiki, a cursed sword that devours the souls of whoever it kills. If he does not kill constantly, the sword will turn its hunger back on him, weakening and eventually killing him.
  • The Lares Medal from Solatorobo: Red the Hunter kills whoever it chooses for the Rite of Forfeit. You'd think with a name like that, Red would be a little more cautious about agreeing to help with this Rite - after all, what exactly is a big enough forfeit to seal a monster like Lares? Fortunately for him, Red is immune to it thanks to his Hybrid physiology.
  • While in-story it's an Empathic Weapon of evil, Soul Edge in-game is this for most characters in Soulcalibur II, whether it's gradual over time or whenever you hit with an attack, though in some cases if you land a hit you get an equal amount of health back. And everyone has their own version of this, even the guest characters.
  • The Dark Stone Of Invisibility in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, which gives the user invisibility, but kills them in the process. Fortunately, Prince Tutankhamun, the titular Mummy, is already dead, and can use it with impunity.
  • The Rune of Punishment of Suikoden IV is a decidedly powerful rune that grants powerful magics to the wielder. The possessor can generally destroy entire fleets of heavily-armed battleships with ease. But such attacks consume a tremendous amount of energy and can easily kill the wielder after using ONE of those blasts. Even worse, the rune itself is heavily hinted to be somewhat sentient, and will actually manipulate events in order to force the wielder to use the rune as such. In other words, if you're unlucky enough to gain command of this rune, you'd best make sure your will is up to date.
    • The main character can, however, subvert this: by forgiving the one person that does NOT deserve or want forgiveness, the Rune of Punishment becomes the Rune of Forgiveness, retaining the incredibly destructive power and removing the cost.
  • Super Robot Wars: The Z saga focuses on on the twelve Spheres, fragments of a godlike entity which harmonize with a particular human emotion and power up their giant robot accordingly. Unfortunately, all of them have horrible consequences themed off of their emotion: one protagonist gets despair, and the Sphere inflicts gradual loss of senses on them in order to ensure they suffer from Sense Loss Sadness. One of the villains gets love, being a king willing to make any sacrifice for his people, and since love is about being willing to make sacrifices, this Sphere's consequence is that it just straight-up kills you.
  • Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: El Dorado is a giant golden statue which turns out to be a golden sarcophagus containing a desiccated mummy — which carries an anthrax-like plague which turns all it infects into zombies. It destroyed the Spanish colony on the island and, centuries later, did the same to the Nazi team that had come to find it.
  • In the NES Adventure Game Uninvited you have the chance to pick up a ruby. Holding onto it for too long will result in various messages appearing warning you of how you are slowly losing your free will, which eventually culminates in you dying.
  • Utawarerumono: The Akuruka masks, inferior copies of Uitsalnemitea's mask. Anyone who wears one gains godlike power... at the cost of the Akuruka draining their lifeforce. Eventually, anyone who uses one will see their body dissolve into salt. The level of power gained depends on how many "generations" removed the masks are from the original: the prototype Akuruka potentially allows the user to gain Reality Warper powers, but will drain their lifeforce in a single use. The four second-generation Akuruka "merely" turn their user into a Kaiju capable of combating entire armies, and can be used multiple times before taking their toll. The mass-produced third-generation masks just mutate the user into a tough monster on par with an elite soldier, and cause them to lose their sanity.
  • Wizardry is fond of "cursed" (not removable without the special spell) items. A lot of them — including otherwise useful ones — also have negative Regeneration value and unless offset by equal or greater Regeneration from another item, drain a Player Character to death very quickly.
  • World of Warcraft used to have a wearable cursed trinket as a quest item, until they removed the "wearable" part away in a patch. You were never supposed to actually wear it, simply deliver it to a questgiver, but if you did wear it, it would quickly sap away at your character's life (note that this part is clearly signified in the item description as part of its effects). Nevertheless, some people would pass up on the experience and actual (lackluster) rewards provided by the end of the chain and would choose not to complete it, keeping the Artifact of Death instead because believe it or not, there are situations where quick death with no durability damage can be useful.
  • Ys Origin has an artifact called the Evil Ring, which first appeared in Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ Omen, which, when fully powered up, either kills its wearer or drives them utterly insane. At one point, you have to use it to unlock a door sealed by a powerful curse. Equipping it does 9999 damage (well above the theoretical HP cap of 999) and kills you instantly. There is a way to counter it, however: by first equipping the Blue Necklace, a pendant that can counteract most dark magic.

    Web Comics 
  • In Beyond the Canopy, it's strongly implied that the Remnant kills its anchor (a.k.a. the person who takes and uses it) after a few days. This is a problem because the protagonist, Glenn, is the current anchor.

    Western Animation 
  • The short cartoon Awfully Lucky has the Paradox Pearl, which grants its holder incredibly good luck — followed immediately by incredibly BAD luck. The end result for the protagonist was strokes of immense luck, followed by unsurvivable calamities, followed by enough luck to survive those calamities, and so on until he throws it away, having needed half his body rebuilt.
  • In Aladdin: The Series, Mozenrath's gauntlet is the source of his power but is slowly killing him.
  • Roger's golden turd, from American Dad!. Two men discover it, and one kills the other so he can keep it for himself. He then kills himself by driving his car onto railroad tracks after he finds out his wife is cheating on him. Later, a cop investigating it steals the turd and takes it home, but regrets it and decides to turn it in because he's going to retire in a week and is afraid he'll be found out. His wife then poisons him to prevent him from doing this. Then she is arrested for his murder and sentenced to death.
  • The Broodwich of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Anyone who ate the whole thing would be transported to another dimension where they would be axed to death.
  • Played with in Duckman and Cornfed in Haunted Society Plumbers with a diamond called the Sharon Stone.
    Cornfed: Isn't there a legend about the Sharon?
    Huntz: Legend? I don't think so. Oh, I suppose you could find some peasant who would say the diamond is cursed... that its very presence can unleash the ghastly spirits of its former owners, all of whom died in unspeakable terror and agony, vowing to return to torment ANY WHO DARED TO POSSESS IT!!!
    |dramatic thunder]
  • Happy Tree Friends takes this trope to its logical conclusion in the short "Treasure These Idol Moments". The idol found can kill off any Ridiculously Cute Critter in seconds.
  • In Regular Show, there is a sandwich sold by Death Kwon Do Pizza and Subs known as the Death Sandwich. If not eaten correctly (while wearing cutoff jean shorts and a mullet), the sandwich unleashes a Curse that kills within six hours and causes agonizing pain between consumption and death. The only known way to cure the effects of this is the Sandwich of Life, which is kept in a remote dojo. There is also the Double-Death Sandwich which kills the consumer instantly regardless of whether or not they have the jean shorts and mullet.


Video Example(s):


The Opening of the Ark

As in the scriptures, The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark is an inherently dangerous artifact. Indy and Marion aren't killed by it because Indy remembers the Bible saying not to look upon the open Ark. Those Wacky Nazis aren't so lucky, and pay the price in nightmarish fashion for their greed and arrogance.

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Example of:

Main / HolyIsNotSafe

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