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"He's the only man you've called a friend. Can you really fight such an opponent?"

Thomas tosses his head irritably, as if shaking off his brother's words. Even in the face of Ryoga's determination he refuses to believe that his friend is gone for good, still hopes against hope that the man who now calls himself Nasch will come to his senses. And if this is what it takes—

"That's why I have to go."

—then so be it.

It isn't right; the clunky, overlarge emblem on his chest doesn't suit him at all. Thomas has half a mind to tell him so, if only to remind him of the last time they fought side by side, making unsubtle jabs at one another even with so much at stake.

"Isn't that you and me? If it's broken, isn't it alright to link it up again?"

Thomas throws every ounce of his damaged heart into their duel, only to be beaten back again and again before doubt finally sets in. Surely the Ryoga he knew wouldn't be this ruthless, would never intentionally hurt the people he had grudgingly befriended. But Ryoga himself shows him the undeniable proof, forcing him to watch as the self-styled Emperors mercilessly slaughter everyone who dared stand in their way, and his heart finally shatters.

Thomas's anger is a familiar place now, almost comforting in its simplicity and clarity. Nasch is not Ryoga. He doesn't know Nasch, harbours no feelings for him other than rage. Nasch has taken his only friend from him, and Thomas now has a different reason to fight.

Defeat is familiar too, a little too familiar for his liking. Nasch turns away as if he can't bear to look at him any longer, and Thomas is struck by the regret in his opponent's voice as he bids him farewell.

He understands now. Despite everything, it does make him feel a little better. Ignoring the pain as he is violently thrown backwards, he closes his eyes with a smile and waits for death.

When he opens his eyes again, what is left of Ryoga—because it was always Ryoga after all, wasn't it, no matter how much he tries to convince Thomas otherwise—stands before him. He smiles up at his friend, feeling oddly at peace with the world. There is nothing more he can do now but say goodbye.

"I'll wait for you in hell, Ryoga."

Vision fading fast, his eyes slide shut for good, and the last thing he sees as he breathes his last is Ryoga's eyes brimming with tears which refuse to fall.

"Did you think I wouldn't come rushing to your aid, my friend?"

Whichever life he lives, Durbe has always been drawn to Nasch. His memory of their first life spent together has only been recently recovered, but he finally understands his fierce, previously inexplicable attraction to his leader, just as he finally understands the truth behind Vector's deep-seated animosity towards both siblings.

That animosity has caused the loss of a dear friend before, and Durbe will not allow it to do so again. He's been here before, only this time he's fighting at Merag's side instead of her brother's, and Nasch is nowhere to be found.

Despite their combined skills and tactics, Vector's newly acquired power quickly threatens to overwhelm them both. In her fury, Merag swiftly lays the foundation for a suicide attack, intending to finish Vector once and for all. It is calculated and brilliant and everything Merag is from one life to the next, and Durbe knows he cannot lose her again.

Even as her strategy fails and she barely escapes by a hair's breadth, the stakes are raised as Vector reveals yet another one of his tricks, taunting them with the image of Nasch bound and at his mercy. Durbe follows his princess's example now, willing to die if it means dragging Vector to hell with him, but Vector is always one step ahead and fool, did he not learn his lesson from the last time he contracted with a god?

Vector's malice targets Merag once again, and as he gazes sidelong at the quiet despair in her eyes, Durbe knows what must be done.

If anybody can be trusted to love Nasch as much as he does, it has to be Merag. There is no other option; he knows now that he was doomed from the moment they had agreed to duel this traitorous snake. So he throws himself down in Merag's place, protecting and strengthening her now when he could not before, never doubting that she will not fail. Her tears and Nasch's grief remind him that he has always had friends worth protecting, that in the end his life was not wasted.

It's only fitting, after all, that he dies in the form in which he'd first met them.

'Merag, Nasch… I really am thankful for having met you both."

He dies with a smile on his lips and Nasch's screams in his ears.

"I can't believe you'd actually dare to lose in front of me."

Merag still remembers when she'd said it, her first words since regaining consciousness after her near-fatal accident. The irony is almost laughable now.

But then, that was never really her, was it?

The real Rio is dead, has been dead for years now, and Merag is better off abandoning her human ties as her brother has done. The only remaining ties from her true life as a human are to Nasch and Durbe… but Durbe is gone too, murdered by this power-hungry scum gloating before her now.

She takes full advantage of the strength Durbe has left her but it's not enough, still not enough to defeat the Mad King, and she remembers when Ryoga told her—no, not her, she isn't that girl anymore—that she still had a long way to go.

It feels like a lifetime ago now. In a way, it really is.

Vector taunts her with the truly unsettling puppet which bears her likeness before readying his coup de grâce, and through the wind roaring in her ears she can hear Nasch pleading for her life.

"I'm glad we were able to walk down the road of fate for so long together."

She knows she's meant to be with Nasch, throughout every lifetime forever and a day and how could everything have gone so wrong?

Almost as sickening as the knowledge that she will never again stand by her twin's side is the realisation that Durbe died for nothing, that she could not avenge their knight or protect Nasch for his sake as much as her own. A memory of her childhood comes to mind, a happier time when she and Nasch had been filled with naïve hopes and dreams for the future. The image punctuates the completion of her role as Merag better than Vector's crude words ever could.

Rio Kamishiro was never anything but a pretty little lie. Still, it's all she has left now.

In her final moments, does it really matter what she chooses to hold on to?

"Ryoga… I wanted to be with you just a little longer."

She falls, with no one but her murderer and her other self to bear witness.