Know Yourself

I killed that that thing weeks ago, but it stalks me still. Deathless, breathless, and sleepless, it could be an unparalleled tracker were it not lacking the cunning of an experienced hunter like myself.

I catch a glimpse of a familiar cloak through the trees as I travel. Again I recognize the flutter of cloth when its wearer ducks into an alley from within the bustle of a city crowd. I rent a room at the inn and feel eyes on me until I pull the window’s curtains closed.

Then I quietly duck back out—down the hall, slip through the kitchen, out the rear door. I find a good vantage, draw the darkness and silence around me like a cloak, and I wait.

The thing is subtle. It moves like I do, but with an inhuman grace, footsteps that never snap a twig and barely disturb the snow. Its silhouette approaches my room’s window. I watch it creep close enough to put its ear to the wall, listening for me inside, missing my slow, careful approach.

If my stalker is capable of surprise, it reveals none when I reach around from behind to lay my blade across its neck. It ignores my threat altogether, twisting in my grasp to face me.

As with our first encounter, I find myself caught off guard to see my own face staring at me, those features reflecting an idealized self, that—

Wait, no. It’s different now. When I first saw this doll wearing my face, it was a perfect replica without flaws and blemishes, but now I see a gouge across the lips, a thin line along the cheek, and a chip on the forehead in imitation of my own scars.

In our last encounter, I watched it increasingly mirror my body language and imitate my speech, and now I see that it’s been modifying its body to better shape itself into a duplicate of me.

“You’re a good copy, but not good enough to beat the original.”

“I know,” it replies. “I was made to be you, but I can’t be you. Not yet. I don’t know you well enough yet.”

“That’s why you’ve been watching me.”

“Yes.” It says the word in perfect mimicry of how I agreed to the price of the room at the inn. “I was made to replace you.”

Of course. Learn from me, become a perfect duplicate, then kill me and take my place, exactly the sort of plan its creator would make. I should kill this thing again right now before it has a chance to learn any more, scatter its pieces to keep it from reviving itself.

But something makes me hesitate. Something doesn’t quite feel right. “You helped me kill your maker in the end. Why still do her bidding?”

“I was made to replace you,” it repeats. “To replace you, I have to be just like you. I need to be you. I helped you kill her because you wanted her dead, and so I learned that I wanted her dead. Aren’t you glad that she’s dead?”

“More than anything. But I hoped you were dead too. So will you kill yourself now and save me the trouble?”

My duplicate thinks for a moment, tilting its head in an eerily familiar way. “No,” it replies with a decisive nod. “You don’t want yourself to die.”

So much for that trick, then. I swallow my uncertainty and lunge with the knife, hoping to put an end to this threat immediately.

It’s faster than I expect, though. The doll draws my old, discarded sword and disarms me with a flawless imitation of my own technique. In a flash, I’m at its mercy.

With the point of my own sword hovering at my throat, it threatens me in my own voice. “Please don’t try that again.”

“Not gonna kill me now?”

“Of course not. If you die, I can’t learn any more about how to be you. I’ll be imperfect forever.” Despite its words, it shakes its head in a precisely accurate show of frustration. “You’re still able to surprise me. I can’t speak like you yet. I can’t fight like you yet.”

It fights well enough, from my perspective. I grimace in embarrassment as I fail to ignore the blade aimed my way. “Yeah, turns out there’s a whole lifetime you’ll never know by stalking me from the shadows.”

In response to my words, the pain in its expression might be genuine. “You’re right,” it says. “I need to be closer to you.”

There’s something in the way it looks at me that makes me shiver as it closes the distance. Its eyes fall to the neckline of my shirt, and with the blade still at my neck, I dare not flinch as the doll touches another scar peeking out from under my collar. It tugs my shirt’s opening wider, a button slipping out from its hole while my double follows the scar with a feather-light brush of fingertip on skin. I realize that it’s almost certainly memorizing the shape for later self-modification.

When it raises its gaze to meet mine again, there’s something naked and vulnerable in those eyes I never noticed before, though I must admit to feeling pretty naked and vulnerable myself right now.

“I need to see all of you,” it says. “I need to. Please.”

I glance down at the sword, now resting on my shoulder, only a flick of the wrist away from ending my life, and I don’t try to stop the thing as it pulls my shirt open the rest of the way to expose my bare chest in the moonlight. I shiver again from the touch of its false skin—as cold as the snow we stand in—as it traces the latticework of scars from innumerable battles. I can’t suppress a gasp when its hand glides across my breast, and suddenly its attention shifts back to my face once again.

“I realize I don’t know how you like to be touched, even.” It runs a thumb around my areola and studies my involuntary squirming. “I know how my maker liked me to touch her, but the way she used me was for her pleasure alone. You react so differently, don’t you? She never bothered to teach me how to fuck like you.”

It kisses me roughly on the lips. Then lightly, then tenderly, as if deploying every permutation it could think of to evaluate my reactions.

“Stop,” I gasp in between awful experiments. “Gods, please, not here. Not like this.”

“Then how?”

“I have a room. Less exposed. Warmer. And,” I can’t believe I’m saying this, but as soon as the words leave my mouth I realize I’m telling the truth, “it’s been long enough since I last got any action that I’m willing to teach a doll how to fuck if it’s willing to learn. Just put the sword away and follow me.”

It stares at me, studying my facial expressions. Then slowly, mercifully, it pulls back and sheathes my sword in silent agreement to my request.

In the room the situation takes on an altogether different feeling. Is it narcissistic to look at her, see her clearly in the firelight, and find her beautiful? Is it strange that—as we pull each other’s cold, damp clothes away—I should look upon the sculpted curves of her body and see her as the woman she wants to be?

On the bed her body drinks in the heat of mine until she’s as warm to the touch as I am flushed with desire. Gods, the loneliness really has been getting to me; I don’t even think twice about how she looks just like me from top to bottom when I press my face between her thighs and run my tongue across lips modeled after mine. I tease her and push my fingers inside her, and every time I show her just what to do, she reciprocates flawlessly.

It really is just like fucking myself. She learns so quickly how to touch me in all the ways that have me convulsing in pleasure, and I can’t deny the sick thrill of seeing my own face between my legs slick with my own juices. I don’t even care if it’s fucked up to want my own doppelgänger like this anymore.

No wonder that witch wanted to make a copy of me, I really am the best lay ever.

“You’re so good at being me,” I pant breathlessly into her ear when she bites my neck and curls her fingers just right to send me into my second shuddering orgasm. From the way she grips me and trembles against my body, I think hearing those words brought her to her own climax, so I repeat them. “You’re so good at being me. Fuck, you’re even going to smell just like me after tonight.”

The kiss she responds with is completely unlike those first awkward few, and I reciprocate with an affection I never knew I could feel toward anyone else.

Maybe I can’t. Maybe I can only really fall in love with myself like this.

The next morning I help carve the rest of my scars into her body so she can be complete. I gently run my hands over the spiderweb-like lines on her belly, the remnants of where I stabbed her the first time we met. It’s the only part of her now that isn’t the same.

I hand her my knife, and the spiderweb-like lines she carves in my belly don’t hurt all that much, not really. It’s nothing compared to how pleased she looks when we finally, truly match.

I kiss myself on the lips, and hand-in-hand we greet the new day.