Chapter 12: A Marvelous Spectacle

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Jane stared around the room.

Twenty Janes blinked back at her with varying degrees of interest.

Some of the Janes looked cheerful. One looked bored. Two others, toward the back of the room, wore expressions of immense dislike.

Jane could not explain how she knew, but she knew—as though the Pool of Dreams had planted the information in her head—that one of these figures was the real Jane, and her task was to choose the right one.

She wiped the residual tears from her cheeks and sucked in a fortifying breath. It was okay. She could do this. She had survived the barrage of visions from the Pool of Truths. She was almost there, almost done. How hard could it be, picking out the proper copy of herself from a roomful of Janes?

She strode to the first desk, where Jane #1 met her eyes. She was cheery and smug, like she'd just scored a hundred on a stats exam. The expression was eerily familiar—she had seen it recently enough in some of her visions—and for a moment Jane paused, wondering if she had already found the right answer. The copy caught Jane's eye and flashed her a smirk. Jane shook her head and kept walking.

Jane #2 looked unfamiliar. She wore a coy, almost seductive expression, and she looked down shyly as Jane approached. Jane, slightly horrified, stepped closer and peered at the copy's lips. Was that makeup? Jane wanted to definitively cross this Jane off her list, except...

Jane turned to Jane #3. This copy met Jane's eyes straight on. Her mouth slanted upward, in a cruel imitation of a smile. It was like looking at Nikolay in one of his darker moods.

Jane shuddered and kept walking.

On it went, one after another. Frustrated Jane, angry Jane, tearful Jane, guilty Jane...

Jane paused longest before the eleventh version of herself. This was the only version that gave a genuine smile as Jane approached. She looked confident and put together, without being overly smug.

Competent. That was the word she was looking for. Competent, wise, and trustworthy—all the things that she desperately wanted to be.

Jane reached a hand toward the copy. She wanted so badly to pick this Jane.

But she knew it was the wrong choice.

She kept going.

Silly Jane, bored Jane, nervous Jane, fashionable Jane, hateful Jane, hopeful Jane...

Jane turned to the figure in the last desk. This version of herself shrugged and sighed, looking almost as lost as Jane felt.

Jane returned to the front of the classroom and began going down the line of Janes again. A faint hum of panic coursed through her veins. She had temporarily forgotten about her goal while the Pool of Dreams showed her those visions, but she couldn't ignore it now. Every minute she wasted here was a minute she could be helping fix the Rune protecting Dalnushka. Her friends above ground might be dying while she fumbled over the choice of which Jane to pick.

The problem was, there was no obvious choice. None of the other Janes seemed right somehow...

Her eyes landed again on Jane #3, who winked at her and mouthed, 'You know it's me.'

No, she thought. No, thank you!

She found her eyes drawn to self-absorbed Jane again. That was the version of herself that she'd seen most in the visions that the Pool had shown her. Behind self-absorbed Jane, nervous Jane caught her eye, biting her thumb with her teeth. Jane swallowed. If she was anyone right now, she was nervous Jane...

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