Copyright © 1995-1996 Terry O'Brien

"I am the soul of mystery: mirror upon mirror, always reflections, never reality; and even I do not know my true nature or appearance.

"Which is at it should be."

-- A Vesuvian Doppleganger saying, recorded in Urza's Tome of Common Lore of the Summoned Creatures

# # #

As a doppleganger I am a secretive member of a secretive race, difficult to find and difficult to bind. Nonetheless, years ago I was bound to Dolphus' service upon the defeat of his enemy, and this day I felt the irresistible, invisible, tickling touch of power that is his summoning, and so I came with all haste to Dolphus' keep of sorcery deep in the Hidden Wood, to be another soldier in his army in his battle against his life-long foe Jerrimax over the contested islands in the waters of the Bay of Thunder between their keeps. Which is as it should be.

As I stand before Dolphus, I must wonder how he sees me, as a glimmer of mist shrouding a shadow of a form, a ray of white light throwing rainbows about his chamber, a mysterious human figure cloaked in enveloping white robes? All these things I am, or have been, or will be. Whatever he sees, however, he sees it through covetous eyes.

Dolphus holds the flashing silver disc that is his summoning token, that he had won from his opponent years earlier, toying with it between his hands in eagerness or frustration. At his imperious command I look into his scrying mirror and see not my own face but the face of Jerrimax' general, which is as it should be. It is an old superstition that a doppleganger must never see their own face in a mirror or they will lose their powers. Dolphus points his wand at me: I feel the power he has summoned from the plains to the west of his keep flow into me. One further look, and the visage in the mirror becomes mine.

"You have your orders," Dolphus barks hastily to me, and I reply in the general's raspy voice "I have. Victory shall be yours!"

# # #

In the forests to the east of his keep I review the armies of elves and centaurs Dolphus has assembled for his campaign. I look about, seeking the stout Treefolk that I had been told to expect, but I discover that Jerrimax' sorcery has returned them to their deep woods and their deep slumber. An ill omen, this; Jerrimax has struck the first blow, one we can do naught but answer. Which is at it should be.

Though they do not think I notice, I see the commanders of the armies I lead look aside after I pass: they know of my status and whisper the legends, or know not and fear the reputation of the warlord. This form was an ill choice by Dolphus, possibly the only one he had to use, but bound as I am to Dolphus' service I cannot question it, which is as it should be.

# # #

The initial campaign goes against us. The warlord within me howls in frustration: the troops respond slowly, and their advance is blocked by the endless ocean or by the walls of sorcerous might Jerrimax has erected around his keep at the tip of Cape Dread, while the troops of Jerrimax fly above us over Dolphus' walls, oblivious to our armies and attacking at will. The other forms within me that I or any other doppleganger have ever been or ever will be quarrel and quibble over tactics and strategy, arguing ceaselessly in the back of my mind. I ignore them all, which is at it should be.

I also sense the sorcerous might in direct conflict in the air about us: my master holds his own in that battle, but he and his foe are too evenly matched: his ill-considered war against Jerrimax will be decided by force of arms rather than force of magic.

Which is at it should be.

# # #

The battle is over. The troops I led have been decimated by the cunning of the merfolk and the sudden, hidden strength of their powerful monarch, attacking our troops under the cloak of twilight from the concealing depths of the Blue River running through the Hidden Wood. The pitifully few elves and centaurs remaining in the army have scattered into their native woods at the edge of the battlefield, never to return. They have learned the wisdom of joining in the battles of sorcerers, at a terrible cost. I remain in the center of the battlefield, alone, with the terrible wisdom that, like I, they will be summoned over and over again. I also know that I cannot join them, which is at it should be.

At Dolphus's word and by his sorcery I am summoned directly to his side. "The final battle will be here," he says wearily, sweeping his arm about his chamber of sorcery.

I nod in reply, noting that Dolphus has lost the flush brightness of his false confidence. Jerrimax and his cohort of sorcerers have severely wounded his body and his pride and destroyed his defenses. Unbowed, though, Dolphus withdraws a glittering necklace from a worn wooden box and places it around his neck. At his touch I am transformed into the shape of an Enchantress. Again, I cannot complain, only nod in agreement, which is at it should be.

# # #

Dawn breaks over the Hidden Wood: the last dawn of this battle, I believe. From the battlements I sing of the cycle of life and death that is the province of the Enchantresses. Beside me the Enchantress Dolphus has summoned in his final hours to aid him sings the counterpoint. Below me, I see Jerrimax has come to lead the final attack in person, accompanied by his coterie of attendant sorcerers and summonings. They laugh and joke in the early morning light, then stop when we begin to sing.

At a signal from Jerrimax, the sorcerers in his troupe all point at me. Death, the final shape, looms near me, but Dolphus interposes the Enchantress between us, who accepts the death meant for me as another turn in the cycle of death and life. Thus I am spared, which as it should be.

I step inside the keep. Dolphus stands nervously within his carefully drawn Circle, running his tokens of summoning nervously through his fingers: the constant drain of his defenses leaves him with little mana left with which to summon or attack, and Jerrimax has successfully broken or blocked many of Dolphus's ties to the free lands he could draw from. Only the necklace is saving him now, but even it will not last, and then I will be free again. Which is at it should be.

# # #

I stand above Dolphus' lifeless body, lying in the middle of his ruined protective circle in the center of his main summoning chamber, the remnants of his sorceries lying broken at his feet. Around the edges of the room stand the pitiful remnants of Dolphus' conjurations and summonings.

Jerrimax stands in the middle of the room and looks at each of Dolphus' summonings and conjurations in turn, then points to me, dismissing the rest. "You will serve me, now," he says harshly, finally, as he kneels and takes the silver disc that is my token in his hand from Dolphus' blasted body. He stands, then turns and stalks away, his depleted cohort of sorcerers and summonings trailing in a fractious group behind him.

I nod once, unseen, in acceptance, as I follow at their heels, alone and unnoticed. He is the victor, he has the power, he has the mastery. I forget my service under Dolphus, those memories fading like dew, like the memories of so many previous masters, and I leave to begin my service with his conqueror, Jerrimax, knowing only that one day, too, I will leave him.

Which is as it should be.

Copyright © 1998 Terry O'Brien {dragonmage@sprynet}