Another dream… another stone temple that, at the same time, is a wooden platform on an endless sea.
Tom once more stood across from his doppelganger, whose left arm grew black and was casually placed halfway out its slacks pocket. To the side floated a table with many glass bottles and vials around a simple felt top hat. Tom, rather than in his bedclothes, was in a varying mix of various mental costumes he’d considered “planeswalker-y”; tonight’s mix was decked in chains and bright blue leather. The doppelganger wore the same costume and held a small hourglass-cube in its exposed hand.
“You recall the rules.” It smiled in an innocent and friendly way that Tom knew looked insufferably arrogant; he’d worn it himself often without thinking. “The Philosopher’s Stone. Or you could try fighting yourself again… you do so well at that lately.” Tom scowled, holding his breath and counting slowly. “I particually enjoyed that Lunassault, you looked so surprised when I used it on you.”
“Shuddup,” Tom walked towards the table, eyes closed. He didn’t have to look at the vials and containers any more than he needed to spell out his own name. The contents of each one were inscribed on the inside of his mind, and each one represented… aspects. Symbols, fragments of materials splayed across probability. He knew the-
“Tick-Tock… we don’t have all night.”
Tom tapped his foot, ignoring the doppelganger’s irritating sing-song. He knew the connections between symbols, the concordances, even the-
“I’d try the radium, just there.” The doppelganger leaned over, smiling that blank smile.
-the tastes he’d associated with the individual ingredients provided. True, he’d spent a few nights in battle with this doppelganger of hi-
“I remember when you tried that roller-skating spell, very nice. It was so easy to break your legs.” The Tom-ganger hovered behind the table, sitting in midair and watching Tom with bemused interest. Tom refused to look up at him. Himself, er… personal pronouns got iffy when you were dealing with what amounted to yourself.
“Yep. If I’m you, then shouldn’t you be refusing to look at yourself?” Tom raised one eye, impatiently. “I see you decided to go ahead and look at yourself. Or me, if you’ve decided I’m a separated fragment or just another aspect of yourself.”
“Are we engaging in a philosophical debate, or are you asking me to eliminate the problem?”
“You tried that, about fourteen times so far.” Doppel-Tom smiled.
“Is it not written, ‘Fifteenth time is the charm’?” Tom replied, perusing the rows of glass containers.
“No, it’s not.”
Tom waved his hand without looking, conjuring a floating scroll in the doppelganger’s face.
“Ha, cute.” It dispersed the scroll, sitting back. “So, what are you trying tonight? You only get so many REM cycles a night, you know…”
The planeswalker glanced up again. “You know what I’m thinking, or so you claim. Why ask?”
“I get bored easily, just like you. Plus, we don’t talk anymore.”
Jason knocked on Tom’s bedroom door, impatiently. “Tom, Nick wants you downstairs…” There was no answer, aside from the flicker of magic across the doorframe.
“Just because you take on my face and pretend to be one of my inner voices, you aren’t. Whatever you are, we never ‘talked’.” Tom selected one of the vials and removed the stopper, emptying liquid crunch-of-snow/peppermint-tea/itching-neck into the top hat.
“That one you’ve only used once or twice before. I thought we isolated that as an inferior ingredient.” The doppelganger leaned closer, peering into the hat. “And with only… thirteen minutes left on this cycle before you have to go. A bold move.”
“If I didn’t have to deal with your identity crisis, I’d be done by now.”
“If WE didn’t have to deal with your identity crisis, there’d be no reason for you to be here.”
Tom paused and conjured a folding chair, sitting back and looking at the being wearing his face. He said nothing, expectantly.
“Yes?” The doppelganger hovered in a similar position, arms crossed.
“I’m waiting. You want to work out my personality problems to the nearest decimal point, so let’s go for it.”
“You want to spend the rest of your time chatting?”
“I won’t get to finish until we do, right? Say your piece and let’s get on with this recurring dream.”
“Did you get Tom out of his room?” Nick asked, sitting at a small table with paperwork stacked on it. Jason shook his head.
“I don’t know if he’s even in there… I’m pretty good with defensive magic and I can’t tell if there’s even a ward there.” He sat down and muttered at a symbol on the table, waving his hand. A sweetened tea appeared in his fingers, and he took a slow drink.
“… So, you think my persona is fragmented and I’m out of touch with my mandala, as per the Jungian model?” Tom smiled, amusedly.
“Probably. I AM you, after all, and look what I have to work with.” The clone floated, seated.
“Even I can see that’s half-psychobabble.”
“Takes some to know some; you’re the one talking with yourself.”
“Again, I’m not convinced you’re me.”
“Exactly how are we going to determine that?”
“I don’t know, you’re the testing device.” Tom smiled. The doppelganger frowned.
“Are too. You’re some kind of test; the Philosopher’s Stone trick is a good one. And, if you are me, you know that I can read any test you throw this way.”
“Lies and slander, Tommy boy. The stone’s the thing. I’m just the facilitator.”
“You’re my damn test, and that means I get to take it the way I want to.” Tom stood up, pretending to glance at his watch.
“You can’t talk to me that way-”
“I’m sorry, my time is up, let’s try this again, same Bat Time, same Bat Chan-”
“-nel.” Tom was standing in what was at the same time a stone temple and, this time, a laboratory. Across the room, his doppelganger stood in a wildly changed outfit, a black coat and collared oxford; the darkened arm still slipped into a pocket. Tom’s outfit was similar, except the coat was white with similar chains as before. This was the first incarnation of the other him that wasn’t an exact copy. The doppelganger smiled exactly the same way as it had before, making the same subtle motions.
“You recall the rules? The Philo-” it started, as Tom pointed at him.
“I call on heaven, in all it’s power, and lightning bound in will and word, and earth carved high in maker’s guise, and-”
“So you’re trying something new? Interes-”
“- by this and all things of might and light, I call on wholeness and rhyme to bind your form, be naught but what you are-”
“Boring… if you aren’t going to attack, I will…”
“I call ye forth, scion of the Trickster, to serve for a time and end this circle.” Tom snapped his fingers, sending a small shockwave of energy between the two. A small orb of energy hovered before him, and the doppelganger rose into the air, drawing out its endarkened arm, and pointed towards Tom, frowning. “What new trickery is-”
“SPEAK ONLY WORDS OF TRUTH,” Tom thundered, and the energy burst open in rabbit-shaped sparks.
What had been a stone temple overlaid with a laboratory had simply transformed to a stone temple with strange runes on the walls. Two large doors stood side by side, with deep lettering of an unknown alphabet. Tom stood quietly at the far end from them, looking around in confusion. The doppelganger sat in midair between the doors, looking down on the original and glittering faintly.
“Well, I’m frankly shocked, since you just converted a mishmash of illusion and self-deception into a warp to the Blind Eternities.” It shivered slightly, going out of focus. Its form twisted and morphed as the image of a giant beast with many legs and eyes appeared in the haze around it. The shape solidified back into the doppelganger of Tom, the image of six glowing eyes faded behind its head. “Despite your fragmented personality and inexperienced use of magic, you did something right. I applaud you.” The doppelganger smiled. Its smile was halted only by a beam of energy from Tom’s hand blowing a clean circle from its nose to neck. With a sickening squelch, the flesh and bone regrew rapidly, and the doppelganger descended, stretching its jaw irritatedly. “Oh, I AM going to destroy you.”
“Bring it on, ugly.” Tom cracked his knuckles, dodging to the left as the doppelganger mimicked his laser spell. Under both of Tom’s feet formed two pairs of spheres, lifting him off the floor and accelerating him towards the wall. A quick change in direction ducked the second volley, and the doppelganger flew towards him in a rage, his darkened hand still concealed in a pocket. The planeswalker screeched suddenly into the corner, halted, and turned to face the oncoming shifter. “Stop, this is going to end up the same damn way, isn’t it?”
The doppelganger paused, midair, and looked down at the original. “With me winning? Of course.”
“A bit boring?”
“Yes.” It pocketed its exposed hand, contemplatively. “I admit that spending my time outmuscling you time and time again has a monotony that grinds against my soul.”
“Do you even have a soul?” Tom asked, cheerfully. The doppelganger looked down at him wryly.
“Are you sure you want me to answer?”
“Well… anyway, I’m getting bored too.” Tom leaned casually against the wall. “Wanna play a game?”
“A… game…” The doppelganger dropped slowly to the floor, staring in slight disbelief. “You ask me, who’s lived more of your lifetimes than you’ve drawn breaths, to descend into… hm.” It paused. “What are the rules?”
“You know them well; it’s practically ancient in its own right.” Tom stepped into the center of the room. The doppelganger crossed over to stand across from him, about two feet apart.
Jason swirled the remnants of his Brisk with a contemplative stare. Nick was bent over a clipboard, muttering to himself, and neither of them noticed as a faint shockwave rippled the air. And then a second. Peepers sat down, conjuring a second glass of Brisk as he watched the other two club members. “Any word from Lee or Tom?”
“Nope.” Nick lifted the sheet he was working on, and started on the next without looking up.
“One, two, three… SHOOT!”
Tom thrust a hand forward, all five fingers splayed. The doppelganger extended a clenched fist. Tom barked out a few syllables, and a thin disc of energy formed in his palm, launching a thick beam of energy past the doppelganger, narrowly missing. They stepped back, and displayed new hand positions; the doppelganger showing his darkened hand splayed, this time Tom showing a closed fist. The doppelganger forearm faded and a barrage of thin hands sprouted from its surface, extending forward at an accelerated rate to crash into the ground around Tom’s dodging feet, cracking the stone floor with force. The doppelganger retracted the attack with a sweeping arm motion and threw out two fingers, which Tom mirrored simultaneously. They both took a step back.
“It’s been too long since Lee’s tried to get us to help him with something,” Peepers said quietly. He and Jason had begun a game of Magic, and there was little doubt that Jason’s clerics would trounce Peepers’s angels. No matter how many fliers he brought to the field, the defenses Jason had built up couldn’t be budged. He folded, and slumped back in his chair, looking at the field. Maytee had come in to watch the game, the three of them ignored by the industrious Nick during his work.
The two competitors panted, at opposite ends of the temple. Tom staggered a little, walking forward. “You getting tired, yet, mortal?” the doppelganger called out, slightly tired itself.
“Of course not. The great Aa’nyanhahn’zee doesn’t get tired over…” it started, its darkened hand limp at its side, and slumped against the wall. “… trifling children’s’ games”
“That your name? Aa-”
“Yes. That is my name. Aa’nyanhahn’zee, the Weaver of Deceit.” It slumped to the ground, sitting back. “I was worshiped by men before the birth of literature.”
“And yet… you fell to me…” Tom muttered, coughing.
“You can barely stand… ” the ancient thing replied quietly, as the planeswalker fell to one knee, slumped down. It started to laugh. “Soon, you will die, and I will continue on.” Tom raised his head, looking up, and brushed his fingers across the floor. Lines of broken stone glowed as a pattern emerged, reaching across from Tom’s feet to a rough circle around the slumped being. Aan’nyanhahn’zee blinked, looking around as eight hands extended around it, grappling it to the surface of the wall tightly. Tom stood up, limping slightly, and walked towards the restrained immortal. With deliberate slowness, the planeswalker blearily looked his doppelganger in the eye.
“I’ll be going now… be seeing you.” Tom smiled, and limped towards one of the two doors across the room. The runes and lettering seemed to shift in Tom’s hazy vision, to read “Development”, and he pushed it open slowly, throwing his shoulder into it.
Aa’nyanhahn’zee watched him leave the temple, and slowly broke the hands off his body, dusting off. The door closed, and the ancient smiled to itself. “…Halftime.”