Shana stared in shock at Chelsea and…
They were certainly different, with the other Chelsea wearing a long black dress, a black necklace with an emerald, and nothing else. The other Chelsea also had long, wavy hair compared to the real Chelsea’s short, messy style.
But there was no mistaking that they were both… Chelsea.
“Wh-what…” Shana started.
“Everyone else, go on ahead,” Chelsea said. Though she’d seemed freaked at the sight of the other Chelsea, she now spoke strong and clear. “I need to deal with her alone.”
“Playing the hero,” the other said, cocking her head to the side as she smiled. “Should I be impressed?”
“We can’t get separated,” Shana said.
“As long as I’m not afraid, I can find the path, right?” Chelsea asked. “If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter if we split up. I’ll find you again.”
“But aren’t you already –” Shana started.
“She,” Chelsea said, pointing at her doppelganger, “is not a nightmare.”
“It’s not like your friends can have anything to do with this,” the other Chelsea said. “You and I need to talk alone. As you well know.”
“As if we’re going to talk,” Chelsea said, cracking her knuckles.
The other simply chuckled, then raised a hand. She snapped her fingers…
And she and Chelsea vanished.
“Where’d they go?” Kathryn asked, staring in shock.
“To be alone,” Midnight said, a wary look in his eyes. “I’m not entirely sure what she’s involved in, but… she’s right. As long as she doesn’t give into fear, she’ll be able to find her way. Either way, she’s beyond our reach now.”
“No,” Shana said. All eyes turned to her. She balled her hands into fists, gritted her teeth, shook her head. “I won’t have it. We’re in this together.”
“But what can we do?” Kathryn asked.
“Don’t worry about me,” Shana said. She started to float, first a few inches off the ground, then a few feet. “I’m going to go find her. Whatever she’s up against, this is a place where I can use my Dreamer powers, so I can help her. The rest of you can go on ahead. We’ll join you in no time.”
“But Shana…” Fae said, staring up at her sister.
Shana forced a grin. “I’ll be all right,” she said. “We need Chelsea, so I’m gonna go save her. No sweat.”
“Be careful,” Fae said.
Shana nodded. Then she turned her eyes skyward, and took off like a rocket.
I’ll find you, Chelsea. Wherever that lookalike took you, I’ll find you.
You don’t have to face her alone.
Chelsea and the other were alone. The landscape still had the dark emptiness of the Nightmare Road, so they must still be there somewhere. But the platform they stood upon, about twenty feet in diameter, was isolated, a small stone island in the void. There were no paths to or from, no stairs, no signs.
There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
“This is better,” the other said, smiling. “More intimate. Personal. Just how it should be, don’t you think?”
“I thought I was never going to see you again,” Chelsea said.
“You should have learned back in Grimoire,” the other said. “You saw me then. And I told you the truth. You can’t defeat me. You can’t escape me. I’m not some dragon you can slay. In all honesty, I’m rather hurt that you haven’t realized the nature of our relationship.”
Chelsea reached into her pocket, her hand touching one of her lighters. But she didn’t take it out.
There’s no way that’s right.
There’s no way she’s…
But what else can she be? Who else can she be?
She’s the only part of that shadow world that’s followed me. Everything else stayed behind. Everything else, Gwen and I were able to conquer, to escape.
But not her.
…really only one explanation, isn’t there?
“Why are you stopping me here?” Chelsea asked. “I have work to do.”
“Always putting up such a strong front,” the other said, sauntering towards her. “And you put up that ‘tough girl’ act even more strongly when you feel most threatened. Most afraid.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You can’t lie to me.” The other stopped just inches away from Chelsea, gazing into her eyes. “But I can’t fault you for trying. You’ve been trying your entire life.”
“There are other ways, you know,” the other said. “Other paths you could take. You don’t have to be the hero. You chase Caleb, you chase the act of saving others, but what do you really want? What’s always been your goal, ever since that terrible day?”
“I’ll find Jormungand,” Chelsea said. “When I do, I’ll kill him, and leave no trace behind. But he isn’t everything.”
“Then what is?” the other asked. She leaned forward, and Chelsea stayed still. Placing both hands on her shoulders, the other brought her lips to Chelsea’s ears and whispered. “What matters most to you?”
Chelsea felt a shiver run through her body, head to toe, but not something cold or frightening. It was a thrill, a rush.
Immediately she recoiled, pulling away from the other. Stone crumbled as her heel touched the edge of the platform.
“Don’t play your tricks on me,” she said. She was breathing faster, and her face felt flushed. “You tried that before, and I told you to stop. You listened to me then.”
“I thought we could work something out,” the other said, pouting slightly as she folded her arms across her chest. “Find some sort of compromise. But you keep avoiding me, ignoring me, slighting me, rejecting me. A girl can only take so much.”
“Maybe I can’t escape you,” Chelsea said. “But if that’s the case, why don’t you leave? I don’t need you. I never did, and I never will.”
Chelsea blinked. She wasn’t on the edge of the platform anymore, but in the center. The other was behind her, draping her arms languidly over Chelsea’s shoulders, resting her forehead against the back of Chelsea’s neck.
“You can’t just cast me out like that,” the other said, her voice thick with emotion. “You know there’s nowhere I can go. Perhaps revenge isn’t everything to you, but you are everything to me.”
The other ran her fingers lightly down Chelsea’s arm, grazing her with just her fingertips. Another shiver. Chelsea pulled away, stepping forward, hugging her arms to her chest.
“Stop that, already,” she said, glaring back at the other.
But there was no one there.
Chelsea turned around in a wide circle. Everywhere she looked, she was alone on the platform. When she turned back around to where she’d been facing at the start…
She was looking into a mirror.
The mirror was as tall as Chelsea was, with an ornate black frame. On each corner of the frame was embedded a glittering emerald the size of Chelsea’s fist.
In the mirror, Chelsea’s reflection looked back at her.
But there was something odd in her reflection’s eyes. And when she leaned forward to look, she instantly flinched back.
Her reflection had, for a brief moment, morphed into the other.
“You know the truth,” came the other’s voice, sweet and inviting, directly inside Chelsea’s mind. “Why do you continue to run from it? Be who you really are. Stop wearing so many masks, putting on so many acts.”
“Shut up,” Chelsea said.
Her reflection only smiled.
“You don’t have to fear me, Chelsea. After all…”
Here it comes.
“You and I are one.”
A dark, chill wind blew across the platform. Chelsea shivered.
Her reflection morphed into the other, then back to her again.
“Then be silent,” she said. “Go somewhere deep and dark and hidden inside my heart, and stay there. Don’t speak. Don’t act. Be as if you never existed.”
“How can you be so cruel?”
The reflection in the mirror morphed into the other, and then stepped out of the mirror. She took Chelsea’s hands in her own.
Her hands were soft, and warm, and gentle.
“Can’t you see?” the other asked. She gazed into Chelsea’s eyes, and Chelsea looked away. But when she looked back, the other continued to gaze at her, never breaking eye contact.
“See what?” Chelsea asked. Her mouth was dry.
“Your anguish, your turmoil, exists only because you continue to deny me,” the other said. Her voice was like silk, coating Chelsea in a soft comfort. “We are only separate like this because you fight. Your heart bleeds, your soul aches, because you are torn in two.”
The other raised one hand, cupping Chelsea’s cheek in its gentle warmth. Instinctively, Chelsea leaned into it, letting out a soft sigh.
“We are divided,” the other said. “But we can be one again. You must love yourself, Chelsea. Only then can you be at peace. Only then can the nightmares stop, the fears abate, and the truth be clear as day. Broken as we are, divided as we are, we are both fragile, weak, useless. But together we can be strong.”
The other came closer, until her forehead rested against Chelsea’s. She smiled. Chelsea’s heart pounded in her chest. The other’s breath touched Chelsea’s lips, and she opened them, sighing.
“There’s no more need to resist,” the other said. Softly, so softly, so gently. She was close, so close, getting closer.
Time stood still.
Chelsea couldn’t breathe. Her body wouldn’t move.
Thoughts came slow, so slow, too slow.
A voice, like an echo, like the wind, like nothing but the faintest whisper. Its words…
She didn’t need to hear them to know them.
She could breathe. She could move.
She stepped back. Pulled her hands and face free. Opened her eyes, stared at the other.
The other stared back, her eyes filled with anguish. “Why…?” she asked, in a voice so mournful Chelsea’s heart split in two.
“I…” Chelsea said softly, struggling to find words. She shook her head, and started to look away.
But no. She looked back at the other, met her eyes.
“I’m letting you go,” she said softly.
A pang shot through her heart, and a stinging sensation ran up her body, from her toes all the way to her face. Every single part of her burned.
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
The other looked back at her, crying as well. The mirror behind her cracked, then shattered, and vanished into darkness. A low rumble filled the air. Beneath their feet, the platform was coming apart, falling to pieces, down into the void.
Chelsea thought, for a moment, there was something beautiful about that place. That solitary island, that only she and the other shared. Despite herself, she wept for its loss.
The stones fell away more harshly. Suddenly, Chelsea stepped forward.
The other wasn’t moving. Chelsea started to reach out…
But she stopped herself. Her outstretched hand she clenched into a fist, and then pulled back.
Between Chelsea and the other, the stones fell away completely. The gap widened, and widened, and widened, until it was much too far for any to breach.
A storm of emotions blazed in Chelsea’s heart as she watched the other vanish, like smoke on the wind. Pain shot through her, and a bitter longing gripped her heart.
But some small part of her felt light. And as the stones finally gave way beneath her own feet, and she started to fall in the emptiness, she watched her tears drift upwards.
And she smiled.
Chelsea opened her eyes.
She lay on stone, and looked up at a dark, formless sky.
“Oh, thank goodness,” came a voice. “You wouldn’t wake up, no matter what I did. Are you okay?”
Chelsea looked and saw Shana kneeling beside her.
In the darkness, in this forlorn place, Shana alone shone with light.
“What’s wrong?” Shana asked.
Chelsea didn’t understand at first. But then she felt the sting of tears.
And yet she was smiling.
She reached out her hand and pointed at Shana. “You’re an angel,” she said softly.
Shana laughed. A laugh like music, like light, like hope.
Chelsea couldn’t find it in herself to laugh. But she drank in that wonderful sound, her heart so parched now full to bursting.
And she smiled.