Patel didn’t often travel like this, he preferred to stick to more populated streets where he could visit shops and feel the admiring eyes of others on him. But the gazes of the cityfolk where he had called home for years had become less admiring over time, he had become…commonplace. He hated to even think it, but they considered him normal!
The primal shuddered as he stepped carefully through a patch of brambles. He felt their barbs run through his multicolored coat and stretched luxuriously as he stepped out of the darkness of the forest into a patch of sunlight. It felt warm on his back, and he watched the river ahead of him for a time, amused by the twigs that floated by, spinning crazily in the foam on the surface.
He walked across the river using a series of stones that peeked out of the water far enough for him to keep his hooves wet, but the moment he stepped onto the far bank, he felt his pelt crawl with unease.
He peered into the trees and cocked his head to the side, unsure of what he was seeing, but certain it wasn’t normal.
A creature walked toward him, it had four legs and a head where it belonged, but it was completely smooth, with nothing in its eye sockets and no color anywhere on its body. It looked almost as grey as the stones in the river, but as it came closer through the brush, it began to change.
Eyes grew in its sockets, the same vivid green as Patel’s, and an impossibly long tail sprouted from its backside at the same instant a pair of twin, forward-swept horns grew from the crown of its head. A pair of long, rabbit-like ears grew from the sides of its head at the same time as the short whiskers. Its legs grew thicker and stockier, its body thickening around the chest and neck. An impressive mane grew from its neck, throat and belly, shiny and as colorless as the rest of it.
Patel’s heart lurched as he realized he was staring at an exact copy of himself. The last changes–scales growing to cover its shoulders and back, the bridge of its nose–drew a shudder from the primal as he studied it. They stood staring at each other, and as Patel lifted his leg to take a step back, so did the imposter.
“What trickery is this?” he demanded, and was horrified to see the other drakiri’s mouth move in time with his own.
“I see no trickery,” the imposter said, and Patel flinched as his own lips and tongue moved with the other’s speech. “Only a reflection.”
“You look nothing like me,” Patel spat. “You are hideous, a creature born of lepers and filth.”
The creature took several steps forward, and Patel stiffened as he was forced to do the same. He had no control over his limbs as he was dragged forward, his stomach lurching as he neared the disgusting thing in front of him.
“I seeeee,” the imposter mused, dragging the word out in thought as he moved their heads from side to side, “someone who is so selfish, so self-absorbed, so desirous of the attention of others that he has left himself a blank slate inside. Someone who relies so greatly on the admiration of those around him that he has done nothing to make anything of himself. Someone who would sooner throw themselves into a river and drown than to be called ugly.”
Patel stared wide-eyed at the facsimile of himself as he was called out.
“And you hadn’t even considered this to be a problem,” the doppelganger said, disappointed. “You have so much soul-searching to do. Alas, you’ll do no such thing. You’ll continue on your way as if this never happened, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. You will exist as a beautiful, shallow painting, traveling around the world looking for people to gawk at it. What a waste of potential you are.”
The drakiri’s colors changed, mirroring Patel’s beautiful coat, but it was even more vibrant, shinier and more amazing. “There is always someone more beautiful than you. That’s what you’ve always feared, isn’t it? That you’re not special, not unique. It’s why you called me here. You wanted an excuse to not feel this drive anymore, to be loved by everyone you see simply for the way you look.”
The imposter leaned in close, until their noses were almost touching. “This isn’t the self-reflection you need. No one but you can accomplish that, Patel. No amount of wishing or hoping will do it for you, I can only look into your heart and tell you want you want to hear. You will never see me again after this.”
The drakiri’s form melted like wax under a flame, and flushed away into the river. The water foamed and bubbled, then went still.
Patel’s legs trembled and then he sank to the sandy river shore and cried.
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