“What did you say?” Lorelei asked.
“I said there are two Gwens!” the Hunter said, shock and confusion apparent in his voice.
Lorelei stood there in silence for a moment, staring at her phone. “All right, Jackson,” she said. “Where are they?”
“They just left Pisces District, past Grim Night’s,” Jackson said, his voice coming out in speaker so that Will could listen, too. “You sure you don’t want me to do anything?”
“No, we’ll handle it,” Lorelei said, hanging up and rushing forward, Will following close behind.
“He said two Gwens,” Will said. “What’s that about?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Lorelei said.
Chelsea and Gwen have both seen those strange doppelgangers. But no one else ever did, so I thought maybe…
But I guess I was wrong. They’re real.
So who is the other Gwen?
And what do we do about her?
Judging from reports from other Hunters, the duo weren’t moving fast, so that helped Lorelei and Will, who weren’t the most mobile of Hunters. Their jog was a silent one, saving their breath for the run, but Lorelei and Will weren’t very talkative to begin with.
But it’s comforting working together. Like we’re always on the same page.
There was Grim Night’s, its lights just going out as they closed down for the night. Past that, the pair emerged from the narrow streets of Grimoire to Lunar Park, its wide open spaces broken up by only a few trees and low hills, and the widely-spaced buildings of Grimoire University in the distance.
“There,” Will said, pointing even as he started running again. Lorelei ran alongside him, spotting the two dark shapes as well.
Just walking. Yet there’s a purpose to their movements.
Where are they…?
Lorelei’s eyes widened.
The Gate. The Cove?
What could they want there?
Soon they had crossed the distance between them, and Lorelei cried out, “Gwen!”
The two women turned around, and Lorelei and Will came to a stop ten feet away.
On the right was Gwen, the Gwen that Lorelei knew, her golden eyes pale in the moonlight, her auburn hair just shorter than shoulder-length. She was dressed in red and gold, her favorite colors.
Beside her was…
She really does look just like her. And yet…
The other Gwen had the same golden eyes, the same hair, the same face. She was dressed much differently, in only a knee-length black dress and short black boots, leaving much skin exposed to the frigid winter chill. Yet she smiled and stood steady, as if she didn’t feel the cold at all.
And while Gwen’s cheeks had their usual slightly rosy tint, the other’s skin, even that of her face, was pale. And though she looked just like Gwen on the surface…
There’s a darkness in her eyes. She’s not Gwen.
She’s some kind of monster.
“What’s the matter?” Gwen asked. Something was odd about her voice. She sounded breathless, speaking with a distant air as if she was caught up in a wonderful dream.
“Who are you?” Lorelei asked, directing her question and her fierce gaze at the other.
The other cocked her head to the side, smiling. “It’s plain to see, isn’t it?” she asked.
Sounds just like her, too.
Lorelei noticed the pair were holding hands. She looked at Gwen. “You should stay away from her,” she said. “You know all about Chelsea’s struggles, everything she told me, everything you’ve seen in the shadow world. You don’t want to give into her.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Gwen said, eyeing Lorelei strangely. She clutched the other’s hand tighter. “She isn’t some other person. She is me, and I am her.”
Lorelei raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”
“Exactly what she said,” said the other. “We appear to be separate, but we are one and the same. We only appear this way because it’s been so very long since Gwen’s allowed me to surface, and after this part of her was repressed for so long, it simply…” she spread her free hand, as if delighting in the simple feeling of the wind on her skin, “came out stronger than we ever imagined.”
This can’t be right.
So what’s the truth here?
I need to separate Gwen from her, one way or another. But seeing how they are, violence might just get me into a fight with Gwen, and I don’t want to hurt her.
And I have no idea what the other is capable of. Chelsea’s never enacted violence, but she was also never threatened.
There’s far too much we don’t know.
“Explain yourself,” Lorelei said. “Don’t talk in riddles or play vague games. I want to understand what’s going on here. If you’re as benign as you say you are, then you aren’t helping your case so far.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Gwen said so softly Lorelei barely heard her.
“What are you two trying to do?” Lorelei asked.
“What’s so important inside the Cove?” Will asked.
Gwen and the other both stared at Will strangely. “Perceptive one, isn’t he?” the other asked, still smiling. “We just need to have a chat with someone.”
“Care to tell us who?” Will asked.
Someone in the Cove… a person they want to talk to…
I remember, now. Gwen’s been to Grimoire before, long before I was born.
The Radiance ruined her life, destroyed her home and her family. And she came here for…
“You know they won’t let you near anyone in there,” Lorelei said. “The two of you draw too much attention to yourselves, raise too many questions.”
“We aren’t at all concerned with how they think or feel,” Gwen said. Her eyes had taken on a hard, frightening look to them, and she spoke with a hollow voice. “We have unfinished business, and questions that need answers.”
“You can’t just charge in there,” Will said. “It’s guarded by dozens of the best Hunters, not to mention the Jailer. You won’t get far at all if your intentions are hostile.”
“It’s difficult, isn’t it?” the other asked, seemingly to no one in particular. “Being underestimated so often.”
“At least explain to us who you are,” Lorelei said, staring at the other. “We’re Gwen’s friends. If there’s something the matter, we can help.”
The other cocked her head to the side. “You misunderstand,” she said. “We are neither requesting nor accepting assistance from anyone in this matter.”
“Gwen,” Lorelei said. “Please. Remember Chelsea. Remember the shadow world. Remember the Light, and all you went through. Remember the truth, the truth told to you and Chelsea, to help you escape from the shadows.”
“Let it go,” Gwen said, shaking her head. “How can I let go of myself? It’s a monstrous notion, one that would tear apart my very soul. I’ve hid from who I am, rejected who I am, but no longer.” She smiled as she looked at the other. “I’m finally whole.”
“Do you intend violence against anyone in the Cove?” Will asked.
“A bold question,” the other asked. “The Royal Guard Nyx is imprisoned there. Naturally, she must not be allowed to live.”
“Then we can’t just let you walk away, can we?” Will asked. “We can talk this over. You don’t have to kill anyone.”
Both Gwen and the other’s eyes flashed with anger. “After all they’ve done to me,” Gwen said, “death may be too good for them.”
“This isn’t —” Lorelei started.
I don’t want to believe it’s her, but…
That’s exactly what’s happening here, isn’t it? I don’t fully understand, but…
This evil, the evil that the other radiates…
Is she really Gwen? They look like two, but they’re really one and the same?
But if that’s the case…
“We’ve had enough of this,” the other said, turning on her heel.
Lorelei saw an opportunity and took it. Her glove flashed with light, and shimmering sapphire ice leapt from the ground, blasting at the other.
Lorelei was left gaping in stunned silence when her ice shattered, dissolved, and melted away by the barest contact with the other. She turned around, unharmed, sneering at Lorelei. “And so she shows her true colors,” she said.
“What…?” Lorelei asked.
“You don’t understand?” the other asked. She snapped her fingers, and rushing wind blasted across the field. The shimmering snowy whiteness of Grimoire was washed away in a raging torrent of darkness, fierce black clouds that billowed and swirled, surrounding the four where they stood, trapping them in…
A shadow world.
“But this is…” Lorelei started.
“Your perception of darkness is sorely lacking,” said the other. “Your perception of what I, and Chelsea’s ‘other,’ are, is sorely lacking.”
“You never lied about anything,” Will said, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. “You’re darkness, but… not like the separate darkness they fought at the Library of Solitude. You don’t exist apart from a person, but…”
The other grinned. “The boy’s figured it out,” she said.
“But then darkness can be…” Lorelei started, struggling to believe it.
“Not ‘can be’,” the other said. “Darkness is, it lives in all mortal beings, Human and Enchanted alike. The two of you have your own ‘others’ as well, but they’re not some other person, you see?”
It lives inside us?
But I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never…
“I don’t like seeing this,” Gwen said, looking fearfully at the swirling clouds. “Must it continue?”
“Only a short while longer,” the other said. “We have to deal with these two, after all. They will see the truth.”
What Chelsea and Gwen faced in the shadow world…
She means to draw out our own darkness?
“Will, stay strong,” Lorelei said softly, so she wouldn’t be heard by the other over the howling wind. “Think of light, and goodness. Think of why we’re here and what we need to do.”
“It’s becoming more difficult to see how we can do this,” Will said. “The other… really is Gwen, right? How do we separate them?”
Lorelei stared at Gwen, ignoring the other. “With light,” she said.
“Are you two coming to terms with your true selves?” the other asked.
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Lorelei said defiantly. Though she spoke in response to the other, she kept her gaze fixed on Gwen. “So darkness is born out of us, exists in all of us. But to act like that’s our true selves, like that’s the core of who we are and what we’re meant to be, that’s absurd.”
“What?” the other asked, her tone mocking, on the verge of laughter. “What rich nonsense are you spouting?”
“It’s not nonsense,” Lorelei said. “It’s the truth. The Light said to let it go, and so we can, and we must. Chelsea did. Chelsea’s darkness would have had her killing innocent people. That’s something she desired, something she wanted… but she doesn’t anymore. She realized it was wrong, she realized the truth, and she made a choice. She chose to reject her darkness.”
Gwen finally looked up, her golden eyes meeting Lorelei’s determined gaze.
Lorelei thought of Chelsea, of all the struggles she’d faced, of all the fear and rage she’d overcome.
There’s darkness inside her. I’ve seen every bit of it.
But that’s not all there is.
“We all have a choice,” Lorelei said. “Darkness isn’t all there is in us. There’s light, too. Or how could you be so kind, Gwen? How could you do so much good for so many? You’ve been through such horrific heartache, I can’t even imagine it. But you never fully gave in to evil. You don’t have to now. That’s what the Light meant, that’s what it is to let it go. Let go of your hold on your darkness, and let go of its hold on you. Make the right choice. Choose light, like you have before.”
“Trite, saccharine, childish,” the other said, rolling her eyes. “The words of one who’s denied her true self all her life, who doesn’t realize what she’s missing, doesn’t realize how incomplete she is.”
Lorelei couldn’t help but feel pity for the other, for the darkness of Gwen’s heart made manifest.
“I… can’t do it,” Gwen said softly, lowering her gaze. “Even if I wanted to… I’ve tried. I can’t just let it go.”
“You can,” Will said. “Because… you don’t have to do it alone.”
“And you’ll never have to,” Lorelei said. She started walking towards Gwen, and Will walked alongside her.
“But I…” Gwen started, shaking her head frantically. “I want this. But I don’t…”
“You don’t want to want it,” Lorelei said.
Gwen stared at her, and the wind stopped howling. Sound vanished in an instant, holding that silence for seconds that stretched on around them.
Tears formed in Gwen’s golden eyes, glistening with light in the midst of this shadowy world. She nodded once. And then she lifted her hand, staring at it.
She wasn’t holding onto the other anymore.
“You can’t —” came the voice of the other, penetrating the silence for a brief moment.
“I’m letting go,” Gwen said, keeping her eyes locked on Lorelei.
The other said something, but it was drowned out by a sudden swell of white noise. The swirling black clouds split apart and vanished into the night, and when Lorelei, Gwen, and Will stood back in snowy Grimoire…
The other was nowhere to be seen.
Gwen stepped forward, wrapping Lorelei in a tight embrace. “Thank you,” she said softly.
Lorelei hugged her back, smiling as snow fell around them.