Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?
She was her own creation. Once long ago, she had been someone else, a dry little girl with dark hair, scrawny and as agile as a lizard. Her name had been Talya then and she had lived in the island village of Kalika. Sometimes when she looked into one of the numerous mirrors which reflected light in every corner of her house, she saw that skinny dark child peeking at her from around the edge of the glass, making rude faces and laughing. Well that had been than and this was now. She gave herself a critical examination, tucking in a flaxen curl which had slipped out of place and twitching her skirt back into alignment. What ever had possessed her to make lavender her signature shade? She didn't even like that colour.
When her world had fallen apart with the dissolution of the team of friends on the island, when all three of the boys had gone their own ways and she had been left to choose amongst the more limited opportunities available to the females of her culture, she had spent her days brooding, hiding in the many secret places to be found in the jungle and plotting revenge on everyone who had conspired to destroy her life. Emerging from a prolonged bout of self-pity, she decided to take matters under her own control and set out for the mainland. There, she re-invented herself.
If she had been a brunette when he left her, she would now be a blonde. She had her thick hair cropped and crimped until it framed her face like the petals of a chrysanthemum, then bleached and toned until it resembled that flower in colour as well. Next step, a good corsetiere. Then off to a dress-maker. It took almost every penny she had been able to save to pay for her transformation but it was worth it. Even the choice of lavender had been a deliberate turning away from everything which had defined her earlier.
The final step was to choose a new name. Talya did not fit the sophisticated and seductive creature she saw reflected in the shop windows as she passed nor was it suitable for a woman who caused heads to turn when she ventured along the streets and byways. It took a while, but one day while she was trying on yet another pair of stiletto-heeled sandals, she noticed the brand of a fashion house so exclusive only the most affluent could aspire to its goods. That was it! Just what she had been looking for. Henceforth, she would be the Lady LeBlanc!
With a last critical look to make sure she was a nearly perfect as she could manage, she flicked her fan and turned away from the looking glass. She was expecting a guest and must welcome him properly.
She was nervously pacing the floor of her bedroom when the bell sounded in the downstairs hall. The faint voice of her houseman, Ormi, floated up the stairs followed by a deeper voice, speaking so distinctly she could make out the words even at this distance.
"Good afternoon, I am the Meyvn Nooj of the Youth League. I received a message that I might learn something of interest if I came here."
Another murmur in the lighter tones of Ormi and the sound of the door closing, more murmuring - she stood up and checked in the mirror again. So he was finally here; she would see him again. There had been so many years between the days they had played adventure on the island and this time when adventure was work not entertainment. She wondered if he would recognize in her the skinny brown girl who had been there when he killed his first man and who had strapped up the bullet wound which had shattered his shoulder. She doubted he would. She had changed - changed herself - and he had been changed by fate, or so she heard.
The walk down the curving staircase was an eternity and a eyeblink, rather as she thought the walk to the scaffold might be. Ormi had put the guest in the reception room, the one with the great table of refreshments and the comfortable chairs. LeBlanc hesitated and almost fled as she reached out for the knob. Courage! That was the watchword. She patted her pocket, feeling the rotund shape of the Sphere tucked inside. If he did not know her, she had an excuse for summoning him here and need not blurt out her identity. She swallowed the saliva which had collected in her mouth and turned the latch.
The well-oiled door swung silently on its hinges, not alerting the man who stood near the dais with his back turned. LeBlanc looked at him. He had grown taller since she last saw him and his hair seemed darker. He was thinner and ... he was lame. He leaned heavily on the cane he held in his left hand, a hand itself odd in appearance, sheathed in a leather glove and attached to a wrist made of - metal? And the left leg? Metal as well? She had not known the details of his injuries. Her own work had kept her occupied most of the time and she had little leisure for news gathering as she had clawed her way up to her present prominence. Could this be the Nooj she had played with on their island? The strong, swift leader of their team? She knew he had been hurt during the final year of the war against Sin but not like this ... Not this much ... Hastily, she composed her face before speaking.
"Meyvn Nooj?" He turned slowly, as she perceived he must do most things these days and met her gaze. Her heart broke a little more when she saw the spectacles insecurely balanced on his nose.
For a moment, a flicker of puzzlement crossed his face, then disappeared. "Madame. I am at your service. You sent for me?"
"Yes, please be seated. Ormi, some tea, if you please." She gestured toward the sofa and chairs around the small individual tables.
He lowered himself to the sofa, the prosthetic left leg stretched out in front of him as though it was too much effort to bend the metal knee. "Thank you." Again that quick question glinted in his eye.
"I am LeBlanc, the founder of the LeBlanc Syndicate. We make it our business to hunt out spheres of all types and offer them on the open market. I have heard of your search for ancient spheres dealing with the history of Spira. Since the historical spheres are worth little compared to the others, I have decided to offer those we find to you for your research project." She chuckled lightly. "At no cost; it will be our gift to the planet. And we can deduct the value from our taxes." Another laugh. "All I would like in return is a regular report of how the study is going and what you have learned."
Nooj had sat up straighter in surprise as her offer became clear. "Madame LeBlanc, you are generosity itself. I shall make it my personal concern to keep you up to date on what we discover and shall make prominent mention of your support in our quarterly report. This is an unexpected gift and one most appreciated." He leaned over to take her hand and bestow a formal kiss on the back.
LeBlanc shivered inwardly at the touch of his lips on her skin. He had never kissed her before. He had gripped her shoulder, patted her back, slapped her lightly on the head but never kissed her. Should she tell him who she was? She found her mouth dry and her tongue wooden. All she could manage was a weak smile and a nod.
Silently, she pulled the sphere from her pocket and handed it to him. It was a very old one, showing some sort of mysterious vault under a temple and the half-obliterated image of a great musical instrument, a structure resembling a pipe organ, whose purpose was still a mystery. The scholars in the hire of The Syndicate had been unable to tease out the meaning of the record; perhaps those affiliated with the Youth League would be more successful.
As the man beside her hungrily turned the sphere over in his hands, she let herself look more deeply at him. The face she remembered from her youth was lined beyond its years and the fierce hawk's eyes tamed behind the lens of the spectacles he now wore. But it was still Nooj, still the echo of the boy she had known so long ago. Behind it all, behind the replacement limbs, the cane, the pain so deep inside she could only just perceive it, she caught a fugitive glimpse of the companion of her childhood. They had grown up, both of them and were no longer the partners they had been on the island. She had traded her stolen knife for a selection of fan-weapons and the obedience of a small army of supporters. He had traded his short sword for ... what? She wanted to know everything about what had happened to him since those days, wanted to be his confidante - and perhaps more. For a wild moment, she was inclined to tell him who she was but something, perhaps fear stopped her. This was not yet the time.
He looked up and caught the intensity of her gaze. "Forgive me, madame, I keep having a feeling we have met before. You seem strangely familiar. Is it possible we have attended the same celebration or something of the sort?"
LeBlanc shook her head. "I would remember, I am sure. No. I think this is the first meeting between LeBlanc and Nooj. I am sure it will not be the last."
If he was curious about the odd phrasing of her response, he did not show it, turning his attention back to the sphere before carefully stowing it away.
"I must be off on League business, Madame LeBlanc. Again let me tell you how grateful I am for your incredible offer. I can see we shall have much to discuss in the days ahead." He struggled to his feet and, bowing over her hand, took his leave.
LeBlanc leaned against the door which had just closed behind him. So, there must be a fresh start. A new beginning, this time on more equal footing. Firmly she put aside her memories of what he had been and her sorrow at what he had lost. He was as newly created as was she and they could find whatever was meant for them together. She would not lose him again, no matter what it took. She would not lose.
She had set her hook well and firmly and needed only to twitch the line from time to time. She smiled at the thought of the chest of spheres in her storage room, spheres which she would dole out one by one to draw him to her. To LeBlanc. She would see if he could abandon what she had made of herself as easily as he left what she had been.
With a grin of anticipation she tasted her childhood name for him and thought how surprised he would be to hear it again.