The statue is finished and delivered
The commission was finally finished. A message had come the day before that the statue was ready to be delivered and installed in the glass case in the room at the top of the stairs. The case had been washed and polished until it was almost impossible to see the panes which made up its sides. No smear, no smudge, not a single fingerprint was to be tolerated on the gleaming surfaces. Looking at the vitrine, LeBlanc all at once realized the very brilliance of the glass would obscure her vision of the contents of the case and a hasty call was sent out for craftsmen who could treat the material with a non-reflective coating so that the barrier between the viewer and the viewed would be truly erased.
The mistress of the house had found the strength to resist her impulses until this day. She had not sent for the man she was preparing to receive in simulacrum, nor had she spent the intervening days swooning over the prospect of his arrival either in flesh or in replica. On the contrary, she had gone about her business of finding salable spheres and other valuable objects and turning those discoveries into the cash needed to keep her Syndicate afloat. The enterprise on which she was embarked was proving more expensive than she had thought. But then, she had expanded her pursuit in order to accomplish her plans more completely.
She closed her ledger and held out a slip of paper to Ormi. "Find an envelope for this. It's the final payment to the sculptor and his atelier. I don't want to have to bother with it once the installation is done. You take care of everything."
The man shaped like a pie pan bent as far as his physique would allow and grunted an affirmative before scuttling from the room.
LeBlanc was aware of the fact that both her personal servants were in love with her. She had know it for a long time and had found it advantageous to pretend she did not, casually abusing both Ormi and Logos as the fancy took her. She invented humiliating tasks for them and punished them cruelly when they failed at the impossible requirements she laid upon them. It helped to establish her reputation as one not to be crossed with impunity. It also amused her.
She considered what she had been doing. After the epiphany in the Calm Lands, she had become unable to think of love and its implications. Her mind skittered away from the very concept like a cat which has come too close to a fire. So, she dismissed the sensibilities of her servants with a ladylike snort and resumed her pacing.
It was done. LeBlance could not make herself stay to watch as the tall, shrouded figure had been moved gingerly up the curving stairs and throught the doors. She had barricaded herself in the back of the reception room and clamped her palms over her ears so as not to hear the thumps and curses floating down to the ground floor. When Logos tiptoed across the room to tell her the workmen had gone, he discovered his mistress in a state of terrified anticipation.
She was just passing through the door held open for her when the bell at the front entrance rang. Uttering a little scream, she jumped back and delivered herself of a stream of inventive curses.
"Go get that and tell whoever's there, I'm not home. Get rid of whoever it is," she hissed through her teeth, slipping out of sight so that she would not give the lie to her orders.
Logos obediently swung open the heavy door. "Sir! Meyvn! ... She's not..."
"Is the Lady LeBlanc in?" Nooj's baritone rode over the tenor of the willowy houseman.
From her retreat, LeBlanc heard the interchange and started abruptly toward the door. In her haste, one of her shoes slipped off and, rather than pause to recover it, she kicked off the other and proceeded, bare-foot, with what dignity she could muster to greet her guest.
"Noojie," she did not notice the ominous tightening of his brow, "How lovely to see you. Do come in." She held out a graceful hand in welcome just as Logos blundered up with her discarded footwear.
"Your shoes, madam."
She flipped a dismissive gesture in his direction. "Just set them down and go do whatever you're supposed to be doing right now. Meyvn, will you join me in the reception room?"
Her mind was a maelstrom with bits of thought swirling like debris after a storm and making her dizzy. There was the long awaited eidolon in the case upstairs; the one she was frantic to see. Here was the man himself. She stumbled slightly and felt the Meyvn's steadying hand catch her arm.
"I won't take your time. I can see you're very busy this afternoon. I promised you periodic reports on our history project and I suddenly realized it had been nearly a month since I made good on that promise." He nodded toward a portfolio he clutched against his side. "We have made some progress in deciphering where the mysterious spheres were recorded. It's all detailed in there with some copies of still photographs from the records. We are finding this fascinating and are extremely grateful for your co-operation."
"It's my pleasure," she responded automatically, holding onto him for balance as she eased her feet back into her shoes. Once shod, she felt less vulnerable, less like a sparrow before a hawk. It also helped that the stiletto heels prevented her having to squint up at him from such a distance.
In the reception room, LeBlanc waved her guest to a chair and, seating herself, surreptitiously completed the task of adjusting her shoes. Still somewhat flustered, she opened the portfolio he offered to her and pretended to read the closely packed pages of technical information contained within.
"You've learned a lot."
"Yes, some of it is potentially alarming. There are hints of another danger to the world lurking in a secret location." Nooj looked at her, his dark eyes sharp with the intensity of his concern. "I cannot tell you how important it is that we learn more. Any spheres from the past are critical, particularly any from Luca or Bevelle."
She nodded, trying to memorize his face. "I'll stay on watch. Never fear, You'll get all I can find." A passing stab of guilt pierced her at the thought of the carefully concealed chest stored behind the secret door, the chest brimming with hoarded spheres.
LeBlanc was having a hard time keeping her attention on his words. She wanted to touch him, to feel his skin under her hands. The saliva collected in her mouth until she had to swallow convulsively. When he raised a curious eyebrow, she had no response.
"I hope I'm not boring you, LeBlanc," he remarked courteously. "I sometimes forget that not everyone finds the mysteries of this planet as fascinating as I do." He began his preparations to rise from the awkwardly low couch on which he was seated. "I'll go now and leave you to your more pressing concerns."
"No, no. Don't go." She leapt to her feet and threw herself on the cushion beside him. "Please stay a little longer. How are things with you?" She watched the movement of his lips and the angle of his nose, drawing them in her mind so that she could compare them to the work of art which awaited her at the top of the stairs. With hesitation she stretched out her hand to touch the one which lay on his knee, the one with the bones and tendons under the skin. It was warm and strong. She knew the other would be equally strong but cold and unyielding, with black leather rather than lightly browned skin flexing under her touch. "Noojie ..." She was not sure what she intended to say.
"Please, I've asked you not to call me that." A quickly surpressed anger flared in his eyes as he withdrew from her touch. "I really must be going. We both have duties to attend to." With long practiced moves, he manipulated his prosthetic leg so that he could use it as a lever and, with the aid of the cane, regained his feet.
"It is always kind of you to receive me, particularly when I arrive unannounced and unexpectedly." He bowed over her hand and she felt the softness of his lips against her skin. Before she could catch herself, she placed both hands behind his neck and drew his face to her, kissing him passionately on the mouth. He did not resist for a moment, then gently disengaged from her embrace.
He stood for a short time looking at her with an air of bewildered amusement, then silently turned and limped to the door. LeBlanc remained as he had left her, astonished at her own impulsive action, clinging to the feel and taste of his lips. It was not enough.
She sprang up and rushed through the door, across the foyer and up the stairs. Without stopping to look at her new installation, she flung open the case and darted inside. Standing on tiptoe and wrapping her arms around the neck of the statue, she pressed her lips against those of the unyielding image, infusing it - in her fervour - with the warmth and flavor of the living man. She could almost feel the response.