In NeShattered Post 34 the final battle between The Last True Answerer and Highemperor ensues. TLTA takes a moment to untangle from the fight, sliding on his gold shield, Equitas Deux, as Highemperor pursues. Highemperor is unused to being limited in his powers, his mighty, white sword, Drynyrn, unable to destroy Gossamer. Both of them have been separated from their Writers and the Sepulchral Phantoms stands by, ensuring this match is not interrupted by interlopers. Separated from their Writers, Highemperor asks what worth do they, as Characters, even have. TLTA believes their worth is measured in depth of Character, but Highemperor insists he had worth when his Writer loved him and gave him power, before TLTA turned Highemperor the Writer against him. Highemperor scoffs when TLTA claims this is for the sake of the Story that they should have depth, but TLTA pushes the issue as the Characters are the Story. The Never-ending Story is a Character-driven story, not a story pushed along by Plot. But when TLTA keeps called Highemperor by his full name of "Highemperor", he becomes enraged. TLTA keeps trying to persuade Highemperor through hope, but Highemperor insists that hope is gone and that this is his curse. They fight on through the rain until Highemperor manages to overcome TLTA, who has sustained significant blood loss since his fight with a shade of Losien Simon in NeShattered Post 33. Just as TLTA asserts that Highemperor wants to have no hope, he wants to play the tragic hero, so Highemperor now asserts that TLTA is playing to the honourable villain trope. On the verge of killing his long-time foe, he is suddenly stopped by Charlie, the Old Man of Young Hill. Charlie is revealed to be Highemperor the Writer. Highemperor is confused as he believed his Writer to be dead, and Highemperor the Writer confirms that he did die, and this is merely a lasting memory of a wishful child. Though Highemperor initially assumes this to be Iriana Emp, the Writer claims it is a boy of eight. The boy that wished to be a helper to humanity, in order to help himself. When that boy was caught in a storm, he rose from the ashes of the storm as a man, a man who swore he would never allow himself to be hurt again - Highemperor himself. Highemperor the Writer admits that he is broken, he is broken as his own Character won't listen to the needs of the Story, a Character-driven Story with collaborative Writers at work, rather than the ego-centric narrative of Highemperor. A moment later, Highemperor stabs Highemperor the Writer and he disappears. TLTA is horrified and, suddenly, they are surrounded by the ghastly visages of many Sepulchral Phantoms. When Highemperor demands to be allowed to pass, the Phantom admits that he is not barring his way and Highemperor leaves, with a final smile at TLTA. The Phantom is here for TLTA, with the offer that TLTA may now join with him and become the true version of The Answerer. At this moment, however, TLTA decides that he no longer wishes to become the Answerer and he is allowed to pass. When he does, he finds that he awakens as a boy, and there, with him, is Losien and they run together happily. This ends NeShattered Chapter II, according to a Non-Story Note at the end of the Post. Highemperor the Writer also feels that Highemperor and TLTA should not return after this, feeling their narrative has ended, unless The Last True Evil the Writer objects.
Their blades sing.
One man leaps over another's thrust. He lands down, landing on a shield of amber and gold, sliding down the hill away from his opponent. The other, caped one, follows.
Their hearts cry.
Highemperor's white sword of power cannot sunder Gossamer. Unused to a situation not covered by his powers, he angrily presses his attack, giving no quarter. And receiving none.
Their lungs scream.
TLTA is for the first time guideless. Lost, confused, he has no hope. Time disappears, but for the one singular moment of battle in which they are eternally locked.
Their lips, however, are grimly silent.
No one watches their battle, save the Sepulchral Phantom. No hordes of audience members, or heroes, or gods, or villains dare to intrude upon the war of the outcast characters. No writer guides their steps.
TLTA: *whispering* For we have become beings in our right, have we not?
Highemp thrusts forward with Drynyrn. TLTA blocks the point with the point of Gossamer, creating an even but unsteady balance as the swords face each other, tip-to-tip.
Highemp: And yet, what beings such as we have worth?
Slowly, in each his turn, they test the balance, never taking their eyes off one another.
TLTA: But we have to have worth! This story has done what nothing else could, Highemperor - it has given you depth.
Highemp: Since when did depth equal worth? I was worth something once, I was worth the world, because my writer loved me - loved me with all his mind and soul. But you, you turned him against me.
Their blades, still balanced against the other's point, glisten faintly with rain in what little light there is.
TLTA: For the sake of the story.
Highemp: For the sake of-!
Cutting himself off, he smiles slowly, grimly.
Highemp: And for the sake of the story, so you, too, have been abandoned.
TLTA considers for the briefest of moments, for the longest of eternities. "For the sake of the story. . ." That damning phrase, which curses all it comes in contact with. And then he realizes-
TLTA: The characters ARE the story!
Highemp: What did you say?
TLTA: We are the story, Highemperor.
Highemp: Don't call me that.
TLTA: It is we who determine the fate of this thread, simply by virtue of the fact that this is a character-driven story, and not a fake, plot-driven one, we who have worth.
Angrily, Highemperor breaks the balance of the blades and resumes fighting.
TLTA: Don't you see, Highemper-
Highemp: *screaming in rage* DON'T CALL ME THAT!
His white sword of power arcs downward to land a blow on the Answerer's head. Fueled by rage, he cleaves a patch of skin off, barely deflected in time by Equitas Deux.
But TLTA is now driven by a silent determination, a nameless but ever tangible hope.
TLTA: Highemperor, there is still hope. For you, for me. For all of us.
Highemp: NEVER! Hope is gone! It has no place within our hearts!
TLTA draws himself away momentarily.
TLTA: Highemperor, I begin to think you don't WANT there to be hope. That you like pitying yourself. That you are so intent on being the tragic hero you deny yourself everything.
Highemperor stops short, as though the breath were knocked flat from his lungs. Tears glisten in his eyes. He turns to look up at the sky, the everpresent rain alighting on his face in rivulets.
Highemp: *shouting at the sky* Is this then my curse? To live in this hell You call LIFE?
TLTA: *coughing* It would. . . seem so, friend.
Highemp turns to glare steadily at his former friend. His gaze is vindictive, his force powerful. But the fire behind his eyes has long faded.
Highemp: Curse you. Curse you all to the deepest chasm of Hell.
TLTA: No, Highemperor. There is hope. Yea, even for you.
Highemperor gives a bellow, and attacks again, furiously, with all his might and main. Lightning forks down from the sky, lancing about them, setting the grass aflame momentarily again and again, as it is again and again put out by the rain. TLTA blocks his blows, staying on the defensive, but is weakening from blood loss.
TLTA: Would you. . . *hacking* . . . kill an opponent so helpless?
Highemp: *staring at him, then letting out a short, sharp laugh* Hah! If I am intent on being the tragic hero, YOU are intent on being the honorable villain. May your honor give you comfort. . . IN DEATH!
Displaying a mastery of hand-to-hand combat, he triple-feints and double-twirls and quadruple-leaps, managing to slice off the hand holding Gossamer. TLTA screams in pain.
TLTA: *gritting his teeth* You. . . you. . .
Highemperor smiles coldly.
Highemp: You have damned me to this life. Now I damn you to dishonorable death.
And he stabs down.
TLTA sees inevitable doom descending upon him, and does not flinch. Closing his eyes, he waits for the blade to fall. Seconds slow to hours, minutes into days, and then-
Grizzled Male Voice: No.
TLTA opens his eyes to see an old man, hooded in a rough-hewn brown robe: Charlie, the Old Man of Young Hill, who has caught Highemp's wrist. Highemp turns to glower at the old man, whose grip is aging but fast.
Highemp: You! But- I- you- what? How?
Charlie lowers his head sadly, before mustering the resolve to look up again.
Charlie: I am - was - Highemp the Writer.
TLTA's eyes widen, as do Highemperor's.
Highemp: You - but you're dead!
Charlie: *smiling with an infinite sadness* Yes, I am. I am not truly Highemp the Writer, but his last dream. The final, lingering hope. . . of a child?
Charlie: *shaking his head* No. This one is a boy. An 8-year-old boy.
Highemp and TLTA glance at each other.
Charlie: This boy, all his life, determined to master the elements of time and the cosmos itself, for his sake, for the sake of all. At age eight, this mastery began to manifest itself. For his name meant "helper of mankind", and that was his first, last dream.
Highemp: To help mankind?
Charlie: To help himself.
TLTA: What happened to him?
Charlie: The boy. . . *he pauses to exhale* The boy died. In pain and suffering he bore a silent storm which killed him and rose him from the ashes as a man, a dark phoenix reborn from fire into death, not life. He robed himself in black, layered his heart in blood and ink, and swore never to let himself be hurt again, swore to change the world!
Highemp: Who. . . who was this boy?
. . . though he has a sinking feeling he already knows.
Charlie: You, Highemperor. You.
You. You. You. The words echo mockingly through the trees. The Sepulchral Phantom, over on the hill, is silent and unmoving. It is now TLTA's turn to laugh.
TLTA: Okay? So what? What does this have to do with anything now, other than to cement Highemperor as a tragic hero? *this last said with scorn*
Charlie lays a hand aside Highemperor's shoulder, whispering to him. TLTA overhears.
Charlie: My son, let go. Be vulnerable. Hurt. It is the price of love.
Highemp: I. . . can't.
TLTA: *staring hard at Charlie* Who are you? Really?
Charlie turns to gaze at TLTA, then lets out an inhuman bellow, and the wind speaks with him.
Charlie: I am the last hope of a child, the last dream of a first fever, the first nothing of a final wish. I am- *his voice changing, becoming old and feeble once more* broken.
TLTA: *understanding* He's broken, Highemperor. He's tried everything to let you see. But you refuse to see. His own heart and soul refuse to let go. Only the story matters, the character-driven story, in which we all are the writers and the participants. But you - you hold on to a hopeless dream.
Highemperor is silent for a moment, then gives a cry - and STABS Charlie through the heart. A whirlwind surrounds the old man, ink and blood flowing together into the rain and wind, disintegrating his form, as he decomposes instantly. When the debris clears, there is nothing left.
TLTA: *in horror* Highemperor?!
Highemperor says nothing, but turns away and walks to his own grave. A semicircular ring of phantoms, including and all identical to the Sepulchral Phantom, stands before him. They regard him silently and the silence is more terrible than any words. . .
Highemperor: Let me pass.
Phantoms: *simultaneously* We do not bar your way.
Highemperor turns toward TLTA, and smiles. The first, true, genuine smile he has ever seen upon that hardened chiseled face. He then walks forward, THROUGH the phantom's form, as though it truly is an intangible phantom.
TLTA blinks, the wind blows, and Highemperor is gone. But the phantoms remain.
TLTA: Why do you stay?
Sepulchral Phantom: For you. You have the option to dream his dream, once and for all eternity.
TLTA: What is in there, behind your cloak?
Sepulchral Phantom: A never-ceasing river of light. Everlasting torment in blood. *shrugs* Does it matter?
TLTA considers, making his decision. He can never come back. Then he realizes - he doesn't want to. Let someone else - even another TLTE - become the Answerer. He has suffered enough.
He walks through the cloaks. . .
and he is a boy once more, and there is Losien, hugging him, and they ran to join all their friends, and they were all laughing laughing
END CHAPTER II
OOC: Chapter III will begin shortly. Neither Highemperor nor TLTA can technically come back, though I suppose we can always find a way around that technicality if we need to. I just thought as Highemp and TLTE are both so intent on forcing the story to their individual needs (tragic heroism and honorable villainy, respectively), that they should realize their mistakes and repent.
TLTE, if you take exception to this, let me know, and we'll work to change this. Aelychana@excite.com