My Greatest Foe

And the greatest battle of them all. Uh, maybe.

I was the Empire’s greatest gladiator, swordsman for all ages.

That’s what they called me: “Geminus, Swordsman for All Ages.”

I slew all I’d faced at the Arena, every warrior and rogue and miscreant from every corner of the Empire.

The only evidence of a wound on my own body was a scar tracing my right jawline, ear to chin — the result of falling onto some pottery after drinking too much wine.

I’d been lauded and feted. Honored at feasts and banquets. Offered maidens and minstrels.

But I was bored. So bored I’d fight with the sword in my left hand, or I’d hold it by the blade instead of the hilt, or I’d face foes while buried up to the knees.

Regardless of handicap, the blood staining the arid sands was never my own.

Eventually, all rivers look the same.

Following a victory over two Barbarians and a giraffe while blindfolded and juggling two figs with my left hand, I consulted Visceribus, the Empire’s alchemist, at his chambers.

He’d been expecting me. “So, Geminus, it’s a challenge you seek!”

“Yes, Visceribus. Is there no worthy foe I may face, from within or even outside the Empire?”

“Ah, there is actually but one opponent with equal skills whom you haven’t faced, and he awaits in that room.”

I stepped toward a closed door. “He’s in here? This looks like a closet.”

“It is a closet, but he awaits.”

With my right hand on the grip of my sheathed sword, I yanked open the door with my left. I saw a man, as large as I and as surprised as I. With the nimble reflexes that have been my advantage in many a duel, I drew my sword. I was shocked that he was able to produce his sword at that exact moment.

In his weary face I read similar shock, and we just stared at each other, our blades aloft. A scar like my own ran down the left side of his face.

Assuming this was merely an introduction rather than a call to battle within the alchemist’s chambers, I warily lowered my weapon. He had the same thought, lowering his own blade at that exact moment, a synchronized standoff.

The alchemist laughed. “You idiot, you’re looking in a mirror.”

I’d never seen a mirror this large before. I gingerly tapped the surface. The tip of my blade met the tip of the blade in the reflection. “Is this a joke?”

“It is no joke, Geminus. Though you do make me laugh, yes. Think about it. The only fighter with skills worthy enough to challenge you is someone with your skills. And no one has your skills — other than yourself!”

I took a closer look at the reflection. He was exactly like me, only he held his sword in his left hand, and that scar was on the left side of his face. “What are you saying? I’m supposed to fight a mirror?”

“No, Geminus. And this is no ordinary mirror. I’ve developed a spell to summon the image to appear in our own world, as flesh and blood. Facing your equal — that is your toughest test.”

I took the mirror home with me. For a week, I practiced thrusts and parries in front of the mirror, my copy copying every move. I’d never actually studied my own technique — there was never a need — but now I could defend myself, from myself.

I entered the Arena to the usual wave of cheers. I’d long become numb to the adulation, but this time unfamiliar pangs of nervous excitement percolated within my rib cage.

I strode to my typical spot in the center, Visceribus following behind with the mirror, where I addressed the crowd. “Citizens of the Empire! Honored Senators! And his excellency, the Emperor! Today you will witness an epic battle between the two greatest warriors who have ever lived!”

The crowd, usually attentive but restless, went silent. Even the Emperor shifted forward in his seat.

Visceribus planted the mirror into the sand, about a dozen paces away from my spot. From a pouch on his waist he pulled out herbs and oils. He rubbed them on the face of the mirror. Then he ran off to a front-row seat.

The smeared paste prevented the mirror from reflecting images. But it was noon, and the sun was high and hot. After a few moments the sun’s heat caused the concoction to sizzle. The paste turned to liquid and ran down the surface of the mirror, making it shinier than I’d ever seen it. As soon as I could see my reflection, it stepped out of the mirror and into the sands of the Arena.

The crowd gasped.

My twin slowly approached me, gripping his sword with both hands. I drew my own, identical sword. We were evenly matched, yes, but my practice taught me exactly how he would attack, because that is how I would attack.

He raised his sword above his head. I anticipated that opening move, because it was my opening move, and my reflexes prepared for a strike to the right side of my rib cage, because when I practiced in front of the mirror, I would strike the left side of his rib cage.

As I parried to my right to block the attack, I felt his sword strike me in the exposed left side of my rib cage. The force of the blow knocked me down, the blade buried in the side of my chest like an ax stuck in a felled tree. My twin put his foot on my hip to pull out the sword, and I noticed that his scar — my scar — was now on the right side of his face.

Removing the sword further opened the wound. As my life slipped away, I heard Visceribus yelling, “The flesh-and-blood double is your exact match, not a mirror image!”

Then I heard the crowd chanting, as it all went black: “Hail Geminus, Swordsman for All Ages!”