An excursion to the Calm Lands
One other thing - this is set at a time shortly after the defeat of Sin and before the emergence of Vegnagun as a threat. In the world I am creating, the craze for spheres is just taking off and there are more available to be found than later in this interim period.
What is Truth?
It was probably only a coincidence that word of a new cache of spheres in the wastelands of the Calm Lands came at the same time LeBlanc recognized she was changing. She had taken pride in her tough demeanor and her ability to rise above the maudlin sentimentality of most women. Now she was horrified to feel her heart beat faster at the sight of couples nuzzling in corners and was appalled to look down at a paper on which she was outlining plans for a financial coup and see intertwined hearts with familiar initials drawn precisely over the calculations. It was as though she had become possessed by some entity which was using her for its own purposes.
It would be at least another week before she could expect delivery of the statue and her will power was beginning to wilt. It was unlikely she would be able to resist summoning Nooj much longer. Already she was beginning to fancy that she had forgotten his face.
"Logos! Ormi! Get up here!" She called, yanking on the bell pull as well.
When the two servants burst through the door, she greeted them with a flick of her fan. "When I call you, I want you here immediately. What took you so long? Get us packed. We're going to the Calm Lands." Leaving them to deal with the luggage, she stormed downstairs to call a hover for the long trip.
This could be her opportunity to lighten her mood, to become her old self again. She would be once again the LeBlanc who had made her own way in the brutal business world of Spira, casting aside this silly chit gone soft and sentimental, sitting around brooding, holding imaginary conversations. It would do her good to get back into the field, head to head with other teams of sphere hunters, particularly the Gullwings. It would remind her of who she was - LeBlanc, head of the Syndicate, not some moping adolescent, dreaming of a champion to sweep her away into some existence she could not even fantasize about.
"Spread out now," LeBlanc instructed the goons, gesturing with her fan. "I'm going to check out the trading post and see if any spheres have surfaced there and see who's working this site. You have the maps I gave you; go poke in some of the more iffy spots, the ones down on the ledges. Those silly Gullwings are too girly to risk their complexions in real hunting."
Logos dissented mildly. "The one they call Paine is pretty tough. I have a picture of her..." His voice trailed off as he heard what he was saying. "Oww!" He hopped frantically away as LeBlanc's heel came down hard on his instep. "I didn't mean nothing! I was just thinking!"
"Leave the thinking to those who have the tools for it." She set a brisk pace toward the little settlement in the west section of the wilderness. So this was the land where Noojie had spent those years learning to be a Warrior? The Calm Lands was so vast an area, she could not be sure just where he had lived and studied during that time. There was probably a camp somewhere with barracks and tents and all the things that went along with military training. She thought of the information she had collected about his days as a cadet. It had not been easy for him; he had found the discipline weighed heavily on his spirit and had been alternately beaten and praised. ... And had finished at the top of his class. She wondered if he had been in love with Death even then or if it had only come to that when Sin tore him apart.
She shook herself from her reverie when she heard the sound of haggling voices and realized she was on the grounds of the agency. A man dressed in the carefully preserved finery of a prosperous farmer called out to her.
"Hey, lady. Come meet my son. He's a good boy and you'll like him."
For no other purpose than to amuse herself, she strolled over to the importuning man. "What's so special about your son?" She asked idly.
"He's going to inherit my estate and any girl who catches him will be fixed for life. You interested?"
"If he's such a catch, why doesn't he speak up for himself," she queried with a smile.
The man looked over at the boy sitting on the bench and leaned closer to LeBlanc. "He's shy. Never learned how to court a woman. Not like his old man." A genial leer made his meaning clear. "Whadya think?"
She looked at the lad as she might have examined a colt for sale at a livestock market. He was obviously several years younger than she, short with a stocky build and hefty legs. His hair must have begun the day neatly combed but it was sticking up in the back where he had run his fingers through it. His, obviously best, clothes were a little too tight and showed sweat stains under the arms and in the middle of the back. Unbidden, the image of Nooj interposed itself between her eye and its object. The tall, once graceful form of the Warrior was such a bitter contrast with the pathetic bumpkin, LeBlanc grew chilled and almost gasped aloud. Collecting herself, she faced the anxious father and shook her head.
"No. I have an admirer already." She lied with the smoothness of long practice, flavored with the honey of hope. "Your son looks like a fine man and I'm sure he won't have any problems finding a wife to do him justice."
The farmer caught her flowing sleeve as she turned to go. "If you meet up with anybody needing a husband, could you just mention..."
"Of course, I'll be glad to." She hastened away to the open market, not looking back at the sad pair. She hoped nobody who knew her had witnessed her moment of kindness. It was absurdly out of character.
As the day wore on, LeBlanc and her team counted up their spoils. Searching in the less accessible and more perilous areas had paid off nicely. They had eleven spheres, all but a couple of reasonable value. There were no great treasures, but the haul would turn a modest profit and only two of the goons had been killed. The Lady considered the expedition to be a grand success, taken all in all. She stowed the three historical recordings away on her person to keep them safe until she could add them to what she privately called her 'Noojie Bait', the chest of spheres she relied upon to call him to her. The other six were split between popular entertainment and family mementos which usually found a good market among the more nostalgic members of the leisured class. Compiling amusing simulations of an imaginary past had become a fad of late and the wealthy competed to acquire the most outlandish pseudo-relatives. Yes, it had been worth the effort. Not only had she made money but she had managed to pass another span of time without yielding to the impulse to see and touch Nooj. Well worth the effort.
She considered staying the night at the inn and doing another sweep on the morrow but the thought of sharing space with the farmer and his lumpish son depressed her and she doubted there were many more recordings to be found. Nearly a dozen teams had criss-crossed the Calm Lands all day and none had gone completely empty handed. Better to go home and dream of the day his likeness would greet her when she woke and send her to good dreams in the night. She trembled in anticipation and doubt. Would it really look like him? The sculptor had not been able to work from life but had to rely on photographs and such. How good could the likeness be?
Suddenly, it was as though she stood within an incandescent column of fire as the desire for him enfolded her. Was this love she felt? Was that the answer to the eternal question he posed? Had she sought him out because she loved him to the depths of her being and always had? She found herself unable to breathe or move. Dimly, she heard the alarmed voices of her servants. When a hand penetrated her cell, she clutched at it desperately, only to find it belonged to Logos. With a great gasp, she slapped it aside and leaned against the rails of the fence penning the chocobos until she could stand unaided.
"Go get a hover," she commanded hoarsely. She needed quiet and privacy in which to try to puzzle out what had just happened. Love had been no part of her plans. She was not exactly sure what her reason was when she set out on her hunt but it had nothing to do with love. She did not believe she was capable of such an emotion. Desire? She was not an innocent and had enjoyed her share of men but love? No. Nor was it likely now. She was tired and the interview with the farmer had upset her. Things would settle down when she was in her own home again. She leaned back in the hover, closed her eyes and thought about shoopufs.