Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
Author's Notes: 1,803 words. Yes, past me, write a complex scene with lots of identical characters and not name them half of the time, forcing present me to do plenty of editing. I hate myself. I was walking around in the mountains on a day that would eventually produce one of my favorite poems (Harvest Moonscape, for anyone who remembers) when I fleshed out this concept. It's clear that I focused more on the poem.
When Jonah awoke, his heart momentarily froze. He thought, however briefly, that all the events of the past day had somehow never existed. Now he was standing in his unkempt clothes, with a dirty and messy face and hair, in the midst of rolling plains and hills, shrouded in tough and thick grasses. This was uncultivated land, yet it looked far too like the scenery when he and his associates had dashed their way through Eimhin. Although, even Eimhin hadn't seen this bare, devoid of life, and raw and wild. Except, that's what he had surmised. Had the past day and a half been all but a dream? Had he fallen off of the horse and been abandoned? Except, his sister would've had to be more careful than that, unless she fell off as well. He couldn't see her anywhere.
His second start came in the form of seeing a young boy with dirty-blonde hair and the blue outfit of a royal sitting crisscrossed a short distance from him, staring down at the ground. It looked exactly like Jonah, down to the blood across the shirt and muddy countenance. It spun a smaller dagger in its hands as it realized it had an audience, looked up, and stared at Jonah with completely white eyes. They lacked any sort of a soul or meaning, much less the vibrancy of the boy's hazel eyes.
"What are you?" sneered Jonah in contempt and disgust, his effort to make himself seem above this duplicate marred by the fear that tainted his voice.
The duplicate smiled. It looked friendly. "I am you, child. I have been for quite some time now. Not for much longer, I'm afraid."
It felt as though somebody had applied a block of ice onto Jonah's back. He shivered, staring about him as though he was trapped and being locked in by some kind of force. The boy had his own interpretation for those words, but he knew that it wasn't the truth. Still, it was worth figuring out. "So, is that it? You'll just run off and hide? Where are we, anyhow? Is this some stupid dream?"
It stood up, with a grin that remained rather pleased and energetic. "Oh, child, I have been hiding for far too long. You would like to think you have, but you know they have given you far more privilege than you ever deserve. But, no life is made without some experience. For you, this will be no dream; I think of it as a brat's cage."
Jonah paled, and pulled out Braemer from his own pocket, pointing it at the replica. "Do you think you're any better, with your lifeless eyes over my body? What freak are you to hide in the shadows? What kinds of bloodshed do you harbor within you?"
"Ever so lyrical," mused the duplicate, walking over. "I needed something by which to distinguish myself from you." It flicked aside Jonah's dagger with his own. "Not for your sake, of course - I would never deign to make myself easily seen for the sake of a child. As for the blood, be lucky that it won't be yours. At least, not yet."
Jonah turned and began to run furiously. "Who is the one throwing insults and tirades? I don't think I'm the child here. I will wake up, and I will call my sister, and she will get to the bottom of your strange presence, and what exactly you are." He froze when he realized that he felt like he was being strangled, and had been running in place the entire time. The replica held its dagger at him while it stretched the other hand in a strangling motion.
The figure made a tsk! sound and walked around Jonah. "It does amuse me to make it look like I'm strangling you with my hands." It desisted from the gesture, and the pain remained. "You are so...simple-minded, and willing to throw your problems on others. I cannot be so easily killed or repressed, not when I have already used what little strength I have left to keep you within this frail mind. My name is not important at this moment, as I have something else in mind - a game."
"What...are the stakes?" gasped Jonah, placing his hands around his throat and struggling for breath. It was constricting, like a leash had been thrown over his neck and tightened. And, naturally, it ached and screamed. This felt too real; all of his sensations were working at overdrive, attempting to comprehend every inch of his surroundings. He could hear the whistling of distant wind, feel the prairie grass brush against his leg, and see his amused opponent. This corruption of himself, who was trying to accomplish its goals, which included trampling the boy. Jonah would not let it.
"This is a simple game. I do believe you will find military strategy to be amusing?" The duplicate stood in front of Jonah, holding out a black collar encrusted in diamonds, attached to a long, leather leash. "You need but swear that whoever loses must entrust the control of this mind to the winner. Otherwise, though you think you may resist me, I will keep you in here. I have had the ability to be patient for countless years; you, I suppose, have not had to have such devotion for more than a week. How long will it take before you crack, before your faith in your friends, who cannot help you, falls, and you turn to me? Days? Months? Years?"
The pain and suffocation of Jonah's neck grew. He began to kick and shout hoarsely, but the replica only frowned. After but a minute or two longer, Jonah’s head drooped, and he silenced. As the strangling sensation dissipated, he took a couple of deep breaths. "Fine," Jonah whispered at last, in defeat. "I swear that your mind game will commence, and the loser must surrender this mind to the winner, and be bound by the leash in your hands."
A large smile appeared on the duplicate's face as it took several steps back and pulled out a series of flashing blue cards with silhouettes printed on them. Jonah glared at him fiercely, enraged by his own submission and the battle he'd been thrust into, and shoved a hand into one of his own pockets, pulling out the same cards. He stared at them in confusion, although the impressions on them were eerily familiar.
"I'm not strong enough to be bound to my normal sources of power here," mused the replica as it flicked each of the cards into the air. "So I took the liberty of pulling from your memories and building my arrangement from that." Images of Eremia, Alarick, and Aquila appeared. However, they were not precisely clear and vivid. Alarick wore his helmet, did not hold any of his swords, and all three flickered or were distorted mildly. Only Eremia remained marginally unaffected. Aquila stared at him with piercing and skillful eyes, but those changed iris color with an odd frequency, and arms constantly reformed into wings and forms in-between those.
Jonah threw his cards into the air, and watched as the same trio materialized in front of him. "These are based on your memories, after all," commented the replica. "Those are so...pliable, and unreliable. Nevertheless, I will let you go first."
The boy closed his eyes and thought, unsure of what else to do. He would've rather said his battle plan, but he wasn't sure if that would work, and it would give his opponent something to manipulate. Jonah imagined his Alarick raising both of his swords and dashing towards the duplicate's version of Eremia. She was the weakest and would be least likely to dodge, and he decided using a brute force ploy would be an effective first impression. He opened his eyes when he saw his Alarick pull out those swords - long, stately and sharp blades, and enact his battle plan. He smiled maliciously, waiting for the clone to react.
In response, it merely shrugged and pointed toward its Aquila, and then to Jonah’s Alarick. Its Aquila, at once, transformed into an eagle, and rushed Jonah’s Alarick before it could attack the replica's Eremia. Jonah’s Alarick waved around his swords fruitlessly as both participants initiated maneuvers in their thoughts. However, Jonah did not see the replica's Eremia summon a massive, localized wind blast until it was too last, and his version of Alarick was sent spiraling into the air, landing behind him in a heap.
"A leader must be able to see and react to all conditions of battle," chided the duplicate. "One point of view is not enough."
Jonah gritted his teeth and sent his Aquila after the replica's, while having his own Eremia forge a gust of wind herself. The replica's Eremia was too tired to react, and his Eremia forged a wide column of air that swept the other combatants. The Aquilas were buffeted as the replica's was chased by Jonah's, but the duplicate's Alarick was only forced back a few steps, and otherwise remained steadfast. As such, there was nothing Jonah could do when the duplicate's Alarick rose its sword and sliced through his Aquila, which had been pursuing the replica's Aquila, itself having moved behind the replica’s Alarick. His Aquila collapsed onto the ground, and vanished in a plume of smoke, leaving no trace. Jonah looked behind him, and saw nothing of his Alarick either.
When he turned back to face the battlefield, he was horrified to see the duplicate make its Eremia craft a horizontal column of air. Jonah tried to move his own Eremia out of the way, but the replica placed Braemer in the column and watched as the impromptu air cannon shot the dagger. It went through the chest of Jonah’s Eremia, and he shouted in dismay as she collapsed and faded into dust, dying with eyes wide open in horror as they stared at him.
Jonah pulled the second dagger from the earth and held it in his other hand while the all of the replica's memory fighters burst in a cloud of smoke and ashes. "I had assumed you would do better, child," spat the replica as it walked through the cloud in a dramatic fashion. "I hope you will fare better than your playing cards in our personal duel. After all, this is the part of the game that you cannot lose. Though I had hoped our frivolous game would convince you of your futility against me, I suppose I must commend you for your willingness to stand. Now, this is the real challenge."
"What?" shouted Jonah, but now the duplicate was rushing him. They screamed as Jonah lifted his daggers and sent them down upon his replica.