Familiar Face

The warrior who kicked down the door looked immediately familiar, though I’d never seen her before. Hers was the face in the mirror, the mold from which I was cast, the one my maker could never let go of.

Then her eyes fell on me, and I watched a whirlwind of emotions collide across those features I knew so well, a war that resolved itself when her mouth twisted into a sneer. Oh, and the perfect curve of her lips made even her contempt look beautiful.

“What the hell is that?” she demanded with a sweeping gesture toward me. But for all the disgust I seemed to provoke, the ire was aimed at my maker.

“The doll is a remarkable substitute for the real thing, wouldn’t you agree?” Pride filled my maker’s voice. “But this one knows its place is at my side. It knows to be grateful for my attention. It never—”

Interrupting with a snarl, my double lunged forward, the graceful arcs of her blade catching the moonlight pouring through the hall’s great window. I had been instructed to run, to preserve the precious cargo I carried, but I could not bring myself to look away. For all the house’s protective wards, all the magic crackling through the air, the warrior’s ferocity triumphed. Yet even with a sword through the chest and blood pooling on the ground, my maker laughed in the last moments before death. “I’ll be back.”

Then we were alone together, my model and I, and as she turned to face me, I saw murder in those crystal-clear eyes. If I had a heart to call my own, its pounding would surely have been audible, even above the slap of her boots on the tile floor.

“Gonna draw a weapon of your own, or just stare daggers at me for killing your puppetmaster?”

Oh, was I mirroring her expression? I wasn’t even aware. Hard to resist the urge to perfect myself by adopting her mannerisms, and now that I was paying attention, I noticed the way I was shifting my weight in imitation of the way she carried herself.

The warrior closed the distance, and I felt the tip of her sword rest under my chin.

“Please.” At last I found my words. “Not there.”

She cocked an eyebrow. Slowly, carefully, I brought my hand to her sword. I paused for a moment, hesitating, but with a curt nod she allowed my fingers to rest on the blade and with gentle pressure guide it lower—past so many carefully sculpted curves—until I had the point aimed just below the notch of my belly button.

“My maker’s heart.” The words came out in a tiny whisper, as though the quiet might help conceal this betrayal. “Hidden inside me for safekeeping.”

With a brusque nod, she adjusted her grip to give her better leverage on the sword, readying herself to plunge it into me, but before committing to the motion, her expression softened.

“I’ll make this quick.”

I smiled. “Don’t.”

With fascination I watched how my words invited confusion—and something else—to play across her brow. Was I unconsciously imitating even that? I had no way of knowing.

Without further warning, she flexed her muscles, and I felt the pressure of the sword. My unyielding body resisted the sharpened tip, but only for so long. I did not need to look down to feel cracks spread from that small point as those familiar hands applied more force. The pressure building down there kept growing until at last the structural integrity of my exterior gave way, the cracks gaping wide enough to slip through. Slowly—just as I asked—she slid the naked blade inside my body with one smooth motion, right on target, drawing a gasp from me when she pierced my maker’s heart.

Her face so close to me, her breath hot on my neck, her lips parted in a perfect mirror of my open-mouth gasp, I couldn’t help but lean forward and close the distance between her mouth and mine.

Her kiss was utterly different from those I passively endured from my maker. No selfish hunger inspired her to slobber and suck like a starving beast; she kissed me like one would a person, soft and tender, her warm lips pressed to the cold of mine. She inspired such feats of mimicry in me that I never knew I was capable of, and my tongue danced with hers in almost choreographed precision.

We kissed as long as I was able before my strength failed. I slumped into her strong arms, and the last thing I saw of her was the look of compassion on her face as she laid me down.

I awoke in darkness, though I could feel sunlight’s gentle cascade from the window warming my body. The heavy cloth covering my head fell to the side when I sat upright, blinking in the sudden glare of daylight.

Oh, her cloak. Draped over me in a misguided show of respect for the dead? It still smelled just like her.

To my left, my maker’s heart, pinned to the wall with the sword. My beloved must have dug the heart out of my body with her bare hands. I scowled (the same way she would have) in distress that I missed seeing that for myself while my self-repair matrix shut me down. I pulled her cloak—mine now—over my shoulders and claimed the sword for myself as well. A few experimental swings of it, and I was satisfied that I could defend myself adequately. I may not have been taught any weapon skills, but I learned a great deal watching her fight.

I was made to imitate her, after all.

Better than a sister, better than a twin, she was an idealized me. I didn’t even know her name, and I couldn’t let her go. I wasn’t finished learning how to be her.

I left the house for good, following her footprints in the snow.