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The journey to Verweald General was quiet. Darius took the keys but handed them back without a word when I asked if I could drive. The late afternoon sun was an obtrusive spectacle hovering above the western horizon that ignored my efforts to block it with the car's visor. Darius retrieved his sunglasses from his shirt's collar and slid them onto my nose.

I took several breaths to begin a conversation—but I couldn't find the will to discuss the inanities I conjured up. The Sin's gaze wandered to follow the progression of traffic or, occasionally, to rest upon me. I ignored his attention and refused to ponder what murderous thoughts were filtering through that head of his.

Verweald General nestled among the foothills in the city's northern reaches, west of the hills hiding Evergreen Acres and yet south of Verweald City International. Roadway congestion thickened as we passed by the highway junction leading toward the airport, but soon the roads cleared and we reached the hospital with frightful celerity. The manic part of my mind had hoped the car ride would last forever.

"Look grief-stricken," Darius said as we exited the car and started across the hot, crowded parking lot. The sprawling white buildings of the hospital glowed in the setting sun, so alabaster and clean next to the weedy, parched hillside and the freshly paved stretch of the lot's asphalt. Ambulances cluttered the roundabout while patients or nurses in colored scrubs sat on the benches to smoke or eat an early dinner.

"I'll try my best," I responded as I matched the Sin's pace. I don't think he heard the dry humor in my words.

When we entered the main building and approached the front desk, I did as Darius said and sniffled as my shoulders drooped. The woman behind the desk was sympathetic and helped us find the room for our "father," Michael Strauss. We were handed sticky nametags to paste to on our shirts with the names Sara and Darius Strauss on the labels.

Darius scoffed once we were in the elevator headed for the hospice on the third floor. "Your acting is terrible," the Sin goaded as he took his own sunglasses from my face. "Thank the King below we didn't rely on you to bluff our way into any cult buildings."

I said nothing. I plucked at a loose thread in my sleeve until it began to unravel.

Strauss had been shuffled into a small room in the far corner of the quiet third floor. Darius and I found it without further assistance from the hospital staff, and Darius swiftly slid the door shut once we were inside the room, sealing us in with the scent of death and lingering antiseptic. I hardly recognized the withered man sleeping on the bed without his tailored suit or Martha at his elbow. Light poured through the uncovered window to splash gold and orange colors over Strauss' clammy countenance.

Darius snatched the clipboard at the bed's foot as I looked over the chipped end tables flanking Strauss. No flowers or cards. It seemed the man was alone in his end.

"Pancreatic cancer," Darius intoned as he flipped through the pages. "He's had it for a while but it was recently...exacerbated. I imagine Balthier and his predilection for worsening diseases had something to do with it. He does so love to toy with human frailty."

I snorted as I sat in the plastic visitor's chair. "I'm sure there's some sort of dark humor in this situation, but I don't care to see it."

Darius hummed in distracted agreement as he moved to the medical contraptions keeping Strauss alive. He thumbed a dial and several switches with knowledgeable ease. "There's no need to be gruesome. Honestly, ending the man now is a mercy he doesn't deserve...." Darius' hands hesitated as his questioning eyes rose to my face. "Do you wish me to do so?"

I didn't think myself capable of mercy after everything I had experienced, but looking upon Strauss as he lay struggling to breathe on his deathbed, I could only wave Darius on to continue what he was doing. Strauss had always been kind to me. Even if that kindness had been disguised mockery, I did not have to respond in kind. I was not a cultist. I was capable of benevolence and did not wish suffering upon the man when all I wanted was his life in restitution for taking Tara's.

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