This is the final episode, the ending of this story.
It was sunset when he presented himself at the heavy door of the chateau. The fugitive rays which slipped into Guadasalam from the outside painted the wood with streaks of what might have been blood as though the entrance was marked by some memory of a brutal sacrifice. The emblazoned door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges to reveal the chatelaine herself. LeBlanc looked up, her head cocked to one side and he saw, to his disgust, that her eyes were glassy and glittering with the madness with which he had become all too familiar. It seemed to have become her usual state.
"My lady, I am here as you requested." He was determined to maintain what formality and normalcy he could. "You said you had some more spheres for me."
Once again he questioned his susceptibility to the lure of those largely forgotten records from the Spiran past. Why did he permit himself to play her games when he knew precisely what she was doing and why? Was knowledge that potent a drug so as to addict him in this fashion?
"Why won't you call me Talya? I think we know one another well enough now to go back to the names we used to use." Abominably, she winked and he felt his resolve harden. "After all, we're old, old friends, Noojie. Yes, I've got three new spheres for you. Exciting ones about that secret weapon Bevelle hid." She spoke too loudly and too fast. Suddenly she seemed to realize that and stopped. After a moment, she continued in a more controlled voice, "There are pictures of the hiding place."
"That is exciting," he responded. "Do any of them name it yet?" He stepped across the threshold, drawn by her claw-like grip on his right arm.
She was breathless and chattering again. "Not yet. But I have a lead on some others. Come in and have some dinner. It's all ready." She tugged him toward the reception room where Logos held the door open and bowed them in.
When they had eaten and sent away the empty plates, when the tall houseman had poured the after-dinner brandy, Nooj directed the conversation back to the ostensible purpose of his visit. "May I see those new spheres? You've made me curious."
"Of course. Let me fetch them." LeBlanc cast a tremulous smile at him and he noticed with dread that her hands were trembling. "They're in my room. Do you want to come up with me?"
He sighed inwardly. There was no use trying to avoid it. His possession of the spheres would come only after he had paid the price. That had been made clear to him during his last visit. He levered himself out of the low chair with his cane and, bending courteously over her hand, escorted her up the curving stairs from the atrium.
"Make yourself comfortable." She waved him to a chair and began rummaging in the chest on her dresser. After a few minutes, she found what she was hunting and spilled three shining spheres in his lap. "See? I told you they were good ones."
There was no way of telling what information was recorded on the objects without a viewer but these did look promising. They had obviously been kept in careful storage and protected from wear over the years. Nooj slipped them into the pouch he wore at his belt and was grateful. Now if only ...
LeBlanc minced up to him, a flare of desire striking sparks in her eyes. "Now, do you have something for me?" She simpered and his hopes fell.
He let her tug him to his feet and begin unlacing his tunic. Suddenly, a look of fear crossed her face and she clung to him, shaking.
"Please, Noojie. Please will you turn your other self away? He gets jealous when he sees us together and I'm afraid he'll hurt me again." She was genuinely trembling against his chest.
At first, Nooj did not understand what she meant, then she gestured toward the vitrine and the foul statue which stood inside. "He comes out those nights you're not here and punishes me. He says awful, insulting things and he ..." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "He ... abuses me because he's jealous. Oh, turn him away so he won't know about tonight."
So it had finally happened, he thought. She had tipped over the edge into the agony of her own mad world. He was frozen for an instant with horror and pity before he put her aside and did as she bade.
When the statue was positioned with its back to the bed, her playfulness returned. She unlaced and unbuttoned his garments, setting his belt and its pouch aside until he stopped her and moved to dim the light.
"Why do you have to do that?" She pouted flirtatiously. "I want to see you."
"No." He began disrobing her, a simple task given her style of dress. "I have my rules and you must follow them."
"Then take off the rest of your clothes and come to me. I want you." She slipped into the heart-shaped bed and held out her arms welcoming him even as she demanded him.
He took care to use her with gentleness, making sure she was satisfied before he sought his own release. He could not bear to bring her more pain.
When he rose over her in the dim light and looked into her face, he saw a strangely calm expression in her eyes. She had become, at least for this moment, the person he had known so many years ago. The fevered glitter had gone and she gazed up at him with a serenity and understanding which had become rare in his experience with her.
"Will you let me look at you, see your body?" She asked simply and softly.
He waited for long minutes, considering, his eyes searching hers for some hidden meaning. Then, without speaking, he reached for the hanging lamp and turned the switch to increase the light. That done, he lay supine beside her and cast aside the sheet which he had draped across his left side, leaving his body bare to her view.
LeBlanc pushed herself to her knees and looked at him. When her eyes had taken in the scars and crimson tissue of his hideous injuries, she stretched out her hand and traced, with a feather's touch, that which she had seen. Her fingertips slid over the melted wax-like areas where the limbs had been burned away and the hollows and knots left by the surgeries which had implanted the Al Bhed prostheses. She kissed the place where the tortured skin closed around the metal and ceramic rods of the mechanical shoulder and finally lay back alongside him, her eyes brimming with tears. "I love you, all of you," she whispered.
He still did not speak but lifted himself to lie upon her body, pressing her against the yielding mattress. His face slowly moved dwonward until his lips met her and he possessed her mouth as her arms crept around his neck, binding them together.
Nooj closed his eyes. His decision had been made when he had entered ther house and seen her wretchedness. This could not be permitted to continue. He was not that sort of a sadist. And so, his left hand in its black glove rose to her throat and tightened. He felt the beginnings of the tremors in her body as her lungs started their futile, unpreventable struggle for air. She did not try to release her mough from his but, with a supreme exercise of will, clung ever more closely until it was over. Her arms fell limply to the bed, the fingers curled loosely like those of an exhausted child.
He moved with terrible gentleness from her and tenderly closed the eyes in which now lay only peace. The illusion of sleep wrapped her in its serene embrace as he straightened her limbs and drew the sheet up to her breast.
Without haste, in the full light of the lamp, Nooj dressed and tidied himself not forgetting the pouch with the spheres. He paused for a final look at the woman who had once upon a time been Talya. Then he opened the door and limped out, closing it securely behind him repeating to himself like a mantra that two acts of love had taken place behind the featureless door with its muffling draperies.
When he reached the road leading from Guadasalam to the outside world, he had made up his mind where he would go next. Mushroom Rock Road held no appeal now but the Gullwings were somewhere in Spira and where they were was Paine. He would find her and confess at her knees - confess everything. She would cleanse him with her forgiveness.