(Set just after Consult The Oracle)
Technically speaking, he has only encountered his doppelganger three times - in two separate instances. Ever since the second, he has faced himself in his dreams.
Sword in hand.
This double is the picture of aristocratic languor: sprawled elegantly over his mother’s antique couch in a studied pose; head tipped elegantly back in a manner that would be almost - foppish - but for the blood.
There’s a deep, wet rent across his throat - half-congealed, as though old. Torn, as though the one who inflicted it did so - in haste.
“No,” says Armand. Heatedly. “No, not now. Not here. If I say this now - if I refuse - will you understand that I’m sick of it?”
His own eyes blink inscrutably back at him.
“I’m tired of trying to work out what you mean,” he snaps. “Tired of rooting through whatever it is you’re willing to disclose for some kind of clue - tired of pretending that this is even anything to do with me. Or with her. Or with the city. I’m done with thinking we’re not quite past the point where we could talk it out.” He takes what he can only hope is an imperious stance: feet planted square; back forced so straight he’s trembling. “So I order you to tell me this time. I’m sick of this, and I need answers. What the hell is it that you want?”
No reply. The apparition merely smiles.
“And don’t say this is because I’m an abomination, or that I can’t go back home again - or any other vague, portentous bullcrap that’s supposed to make me not want to skewer you. That’s old hat. I’m not impressed anymore. I’ve seen you die, and it doesn’t scare me like it used to.”
“Perhaps,” says his double - slowly now, drawling - “that is all we ever wanted.” He cups one hand carefully under his chin.
Armand sneers back. “Spare me. You look like some mincing son of House Graves when you do that.”
“There are worse people to resemble. Surely she would agree.” He lifts an eyebrow. The same expression he might have made at a poorly-executed parry, or a foolish comment - but these are not his expressions, and that is not his face.
“The mistake everyone keeps making,” says Armand, with slow, deliberate patience, “is imagining I give a solitary shit about what she thinks.”
His double gives a short, hacked-off bark of a laugh, and sits up straight again. “Better a stylish Acryn nobleman than a jumped-up island rat in borrowed armour and a fake accent - no?” He’s speaking quickly, now: obscenity rendered sophisticated through aristocratic disdain.
“Don’t be pathetic,” says Armand - vowels as pure as cut glass. “We both know it isn’t like that. Besides - I think it can safely be assumed that I’m not jealous of him.”
“Most people assume otherwise.”
“Most people believe The Passion of Richard Salic is a remotely well-constructed play, and that hazelnut rolls aren’t disgusting. You tell me if you feel inclined to trust in the authority of popular wisdom.”
His double smiles, faintly, as if acknowledging a slightly better-constructed parry. “You’re getting very good at deflection. It’s a pity that’s the only thing you’re learning.”
Armand’s knuckles whiten against the hilt of his sword. “Why don’t you get up and let me show you what I’ve learned?”
The doppelganger laughs: hard enough that the wound - the wound tears at the edges. Leaks. “Really? Am I to take it you’ve finally made your decision this time?”
“Fight me,” says Armand.
“Oh,” says the double. “Don’t I always?”