In NeShattered Post 33, the Sepulchral Phantom is amused as he watches The Last True Answerer battling against the conjured figures of his old friend, Highemperor, and love, Losien Simon, under the charcoal-coloured sky of the NeS Cemetery. He manages to fend off Highemperor, who tumbles down a hill, allowing TLTA to focus on the figure of Losien. He brings up their relationship as he fights this mindless version of his one-true-love. He admits that she had saved him, not just by making him a hero, but also by adding depth to his Character. As he yells a condemnation of writing shallow Characters, this Losien manages to stab him in the ribs. TLTA finally stopped holding back against her and, after drawing close to her, he uses her own hairpin to stab her in the chest. As her body falls from the hill, he pulls the rapier from his torso. He proclaims that he has passed the test and that the Sepulchral Phantom must allow him to pass. The Phantom, however, insists that there is one more test, one that he believes TLTA will not survive. He had forgotten Highemperor, but manages to avoid the attack just a moment before it lands. However, TLTA finds that he has been cut off from his own Writer and, in that moment, he realises that this is the real Highemperor and no longer one of the shades. They speculate that this final, dramatic battle between them may have been orchestrated by Shattered Gebohq, but that would come at a great risk to the existence of NeShattered. Regardless, TLTA believes this would be a fight that would echo throughout the ages of the Never-ending Story and rushes to meet Highemperor at last.
The Sepulchral Phantom, a being of infinite dread and power, is seldom amused in his grim travels. However, standing atop the mightiest hill, watching The Answerer defending himself against monstrous figures of his own creation, he is inclined to admit a certain amount of unprofessional interest.
With a quick swing of his sword, TLTA forces his enemies, Losien and Highemperor, back. TLTA is simultaneously aware of three things - the relentless downpour of the rain, the aching pain of his now-many wounds, and the unshakable feeling that he would be able to solve this conflict if he could just distance himself from his attackers. Neither of his foes give him any pause, though. And TLTA knows why; they are giving him the same amount of mercy that he would award them, none at all.
TLTA: No hope, none at all...
Highemperor feints a right stroke, then attacks left. TLTA parries the blades above their heads, arcing the deadly metal down to his opponent's legs. Highemperor leaps above the move, twisting in mid-air to bring another swing about from over his shoulder.
TLTA: Nothing left but to fight..
Behind him, Losien stabs violently at his mid-section. TLTA jerks backward, sword pointed vertically at the charcoal sky, and for a moment all three blades connect with a sharp noise. Then TLTA regains balance quickly and rushes Highemperor, forcing him backwards. Highemperor's footing is lost and spectacularly tumbles head over heels down the hill. TLTA returns to Losien. His face is lit in a grin that is at once slightly deranged and crushingly sad.
TLTA: Ahh, my love. I saved you once. But you saved me too.
Losien's rapier dives for TLTA's left eye. Automatically, Gossamer deflects the blow.
Losien attacks right; TLTA blocks. Losien lunges; TLTA parries. Losien feints; TLTA counter-steps. All of it is peripheral, unimportant to TLTA - he feels himself slipping again, like in the moment that he killed Absolver. Reflexively, he fights the urge to lose control, but then suddenly, he remembers the lack of need.
TLTA: Because depth is really what we are all about, aren't we, my love? I mean, what would the point of writing a story about an utterly shallow, paper-thin VOID of a character be?! There isn't one, is there? IS THERE?!
His fists clench and he hesitates for an instant, lost in his own despair and rage.
In that split second, Losien plunges her rapier into TLTA's side.
A long moment passes, a moment of infinite beauty and grief, as the two stare unreservedly at each other, and the present's troubles are forgotten.
Then TLTA, finally able to withstand no more, grabs Losien and pulls her close. He wrenches from her raven locks a hairpin and viciously jabs it into her chest.
Nothing happens for a moment. Time appears to stop, not for the first time in the evening. Finally, Losien just...falls. She tumbles backward, down the awkward slope of the hill, and is lost to the darkness and rain. TLTA is once again alone.
TLTA: Me, just me....just me again.
A warm, aching pain is suddenly made aware to him, and he checks his side. He is losing a lot of blood, and begins to feel dizzy. TLTA pulls out the rapier and screams, dropping to his knees and hazing out to the edge of consciousness, coming back to his senses to the tune of raucous laughter from the Sepulchral Phantom.
SP: Bravo, bravo! How marvellously ironic! How inspiring! How...touching...
TLTA snarls, speaking through clenched teeth.
TLTA: I didn't do it for you.
The Sepulchral Phantom laughs again, crossing its arms.
SP: Indeed. Or perhaps you did without even realising, does that sit better in your troubled mind?
TLTA moans with pain and grief. He is dimly aware that he is being toyed with, manipulated by this monstrosity before his imminent death, but is unable to think of an escape. Violence once again seems the only option.
TLTA: I will run your gauntlet no longer. Let me pass or I will rid the world of grief.
He points the sword at the Sepulchral Phantom, who shakes his head reproachfully.
SP: I'm sorry, you still have one more test before the honour of dying by my hand. And I frankly doubt you'll survive, going by your current condition.
He turns, by intuition rather than any other factor, just in time to meet blades with Highemperor. Rising wearily to his feet, TLTA and Highemperor stand off. TLTA clutches his head, suddenly aware of a terrible certainty.
TLTA: I can...I can no longer feel the guiding hand of my Writer.
Highemperor: I have long since lost that luxury.
TLTA: Highemperor?...Is it really you?
Highemperor: No longer a shade. A final gift of bitter fate; we are granted the luxury of murdering each other for the last time.
TLTA: It doesn't seem real...the final confrontation, alone in the woods, both of us certainly doomed...
TLTA: Maybe, but he's running a terrible risk. If we die, this thread is all but lost.
Highemperor: Don't forget, we are no longer the emissiaries of our Writers anymore. We are estranged - doomed shades of what we once were. There is no salvation here.
TLTA: Then let us at least die with our terrible conflict resolved.
*They face each other, blades lifted to their faces in respectful challenge.*
TLTA: This will be a battle forever remembered in the annals of the NeS.
Highemperor: Then let our swords write our story, and our blood serve as ink.
As one, both blades lower into the battle stance. It begins...