Katja had gone through hell to acquire the gazing ball. She’d fought off zombie soldiers and negotiated with dragons. She’d waded through a river of a viscous substance she was grateful she couldn’t identify, and she’d found the portal from the Otherworld to her own. She’d even managed to activate it correctly, despite the fact that the instruction manual was printed in a language she didn’t speak, and likely translated from another she’d never even heard of.
Now, though, it was time to put her prize to use.
Some gazing balls allowed you to revisit the past and make sense of the choices you’d made and the paths upon which those choices had set you. Others allowed you to glimpse the future, to prepare yourself for what might be coming.
But this gazing ball…
This gazing ball let you face your darkest fear.
That’s why, after the ritual bathing, and a simple meal of fruit, cheese, and nuts, Katja had dressed herself for battle. After all she was a mighty warrior. Her darkest fear was obviously going to be an ogre or an orc or a swamp monster… something bigger and stronger than she was, with teeth and claws instead of an external weapon… or maybe in addition to one.
Katja uttered the ritual rules and turned the ball three times, widdershins.
Then she waited.
She was expecting the crystal sphere to grow cloudy with mystical smoke. She was expecting the lights to flicker, or even burn out, as live flame was wont to do… instead, she gazed into the formerly clear ball and saw her own reflection.
Startled, she sat back in her chair, as by creating space between the gazing ball and her body it would break the connection.
Instead, her mirror self simply shook her head in silent chastisement.
Katja sat up straight again and squared her shoulders. Then she looked – really looked – at the other version of herself. That woman was not clad in a warrior’s armor, but a peasant’s dress. Her hair wasn’t rich with color, but faded and wispy. Her face, too, was lined with age, and her eyes seemed sad.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
Mirror-Katja held a finger to her lips, indicating that she couldn’t communicate with speech. She beckoned, meaning that Katja should lean closer.
Down and down, she bent, until her forehead touched the glass. There was a crack, and then blackness, and then she was looking at her reflection again, but it was in reverse. The face in the gazing ball was young and fresh, and wearing sturdy armor.
Panicking, Katja turned away, hoping that her fear was unfounded. A polished looking glass hung on the wall and she moved to check her true reflection. But something was wrong. Her body hurt when she moved, and her legs felt weak.
Still, she shuffled to the glass and peered in, seeing, not her youthful self but the aged version from the gazing ball.
She hurried, as best as she could, back to the table, where the second gazing ball waited.
And she was filled with horror.
The crystal sphere on this table was not a different one, not half of a set, or even a temporary manifestation, it was the very same ball she’d struggled so hard to acquire. She looked into it again, and saw the other Katja, whom she now realized was her future self, laughing.
Her worst fear hadn’t been any kind of creature she could battle, after all.
Her worst fear had been her own old age and failing body.
Katja reached for the sphere again, leaning toward it to attempt to reverse the switch. If she could just touch it with her forehead once more…
But her reflected self, her future self residing in her youthful body, was too quick. She took her sword and sliced through the air, cracking the original sphere in two.
Her sons, grown men, found their mother’s cold corpse with her head on the table two days later.
The gazing ball was nowhere to be seen.