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a beast of a burden

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You don’t have to do this.

I do. Nasch closes his eyes. Yuuma is still getting his bearings, behind him. There’s so little time.

You don’t, Durbe urges. You can stop. It’s all right. You don’t have to do this for us.

Whether it is really Durbe — whatever’s left of his battered soul, trapped in his Over-Hundred Numbers, whispering into Nasch’s mind — or whether it’s an illusion, Nasch’s own voice of reason taking Durbe’s voice on because in life, that was Durbe’s job, wasn’t it, tempering Nasch when Merag didn’t, keeping him in line, helping him untangle himself. He half expects to hear Merag, too, wit that thread exasperation in her voice, like she’s the older sibling. Part of him is still waiting for the whole chorus of voices to chime in, for all six of them to tell him what it is they want from him.

But they can’t answer, of course, not as they are, so and it must be an illusion after all, grief giving his mind Durbe’s voice because it’s the only way he can have Durbe with him right now.

You don’t have to do it for us, Durbe is saying, but Nasch already knows that. It’s not about debt. Nasch doesn’t have to do anything, he has never had to do anything, he could have gone on to the Astral World in peace and glory hen he died. Becoming a Barian was Durbe and Merag’s punishment, for accepting the corruption of Don Thousand into their hearts, for staining their bright souls black. There’s nothing wrong with Nasch’s soul. That’s the whole point. Nasch can choose, and he always has chosen in the end to stay with them.

It’s just that he loves them: Durbe and Merag, Alit and Gilag and Mizael, even in the most twisted of ways Vector. He loves them enough that he won’t allow them to die, not for Don Thousand or the Astrals, regardless of what they deserve, regardless of what it costs. Nasch doesn’t want a peaceful afterlife where he’s pitted against his best friends, his comrades, his sword and his shield. He’d rather ruin himself until the end, to keep them with him, to keep them alive as they are.

“Shark…”

Yuuma is talking to him. His eyes are wide and dark and sad. It shouldn’t even hurt, Yuuma is a thirteen year old boy who he hardly knows; Nasch is old and strong and ought to be impervious. Yuuma looks at him, though, and Nasch feels the ache deep inside him. Yuuma is so important. Nasch can’t even muster up any bloodlust, any real rage, just a dull painful resignation that something always has to be given up, to keep the others alive, and today that thing is Yuuma’s friendship. Ryoga Kamishiro is dead, he says, but he’s afraid to realize that Barian Lord Nasch loves Yuuma too.

He can feel the pulse of the other Lords’ power. It’s slowing down, fading away, and Nasch puts a hand over his Extra Deck as if he can hold them alive a little longer. Hang on, he thinks. I won’t let you go.