He pulled skin and muscle aside, his fingers finding the bone beneath as they tore their way through flesh. Working his fingers between the tight spaces, tendons and cartilage popped and snapped as it released from the ribs, which in turn creaked and groaned before finally breaking. He could feel the bone bend and fracture, and each snap and crunch was satisfying to him. He clawed his way through them, the slow beating of the heart they protected taunting him, luring him ever deeper. This was his prize and his torment, and he was so very close. So very, very close….

At last his hands found what it was they were seeking. Gently, tenderly they worked their way around the steadily pumping network of valves and muscles. This, he thought, this thing, the source of so much joy and pain, was now literally in his hands. Hands that now took firm hold, being careful not to squeeze too hard.

And then ripped.

It did not come away easily, veins and arteries stretching, sinew and tendon fighting to hold on, in protest pulling it back into the safety of the chest. But they could not hold on. In one swift stroke he tore the beating heart away from the body, blood spraying everywhere, covering him. He did not care.

It was done.

He studied the fist sized hunk of muscle resting in his hands. It was still beating, slow and steady. Curious, he thought. But no matter. It was done, finally. After all this time, after fighting for so long to come to this point, it was done. No feelings washed over him or settled on him, only the realization, as he looked to the horizon, that he was free.

He thought for a minute about finding a safe place to put it, but decided that it had brought him enough trouble, and he let it fall carelessly to the ground as he walked away.

The heart, alone and empty, never stopped beating, but it mattered not to him: he could no longer feel it.

He was now one of the heartless, and he was free.

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