This is a sort of Epilogue to The Confessional. It deals with Nooj and his situation about a year after the fall of Sin.
Agon and Eos
The Final Calm had come. Sin was no more nor would there ever be another Sin. The treadmill was broken. Spira had been recovering from the monster's depredations and re-assuring itself for more than a year. The world had roused from the nightmare of the the recurrent patterns of disaster, shaken itself, checked all over for signs of damage and, with a sigh, settled down to rebuilt with the knowledge that this time reconstruction could be for more than a brief respite in the horrors. Hope began to tentatively take root in the hearts of the populace concurrent with faith that Sin was truly gone and would not burst forth again like a lurking fiend from behind a rock.
Without a common enemy to unite them, the make-shift militia which had sprung up during the past decades had mostly disbanded and returned to their homes where the members resumed the civilian lives they had sacrificed for the good of the state. Some few remained loosely organized but were little more than small roving groups of brigands who cynically demanded tribute of lone travelers in order to protect them from 'robbers on the road'. Within the government, an upheaval was in the slow process of taking place. Yevon, having proven to be not the savior but the predator, was now worshipped by only a comparative few and those far away from the former Great Temple in Bevelle. The Praetors who had governed during the time of Sin had prudently taken flight and left the empty title to be borne and re-defined by another not tainted with their improvidence.
By and large the land was at peace. Most major quarrels had lost their savor through pure exhaustion. It was easier to be tolerant than to fight. At least for a time. A world so drenched in blood as Spira, one so accustomed to celebrating Warriors as the elite of its society , could not remain forever in a state of pacifism.
"I heard the number of fiends on the road to Luca is increasing again. What d'ya think is making it happen?" The nearly circular man in the creaking armchair remarked.
"It's probably just one of those seasonal things. You know we get waves of fiends when the seasons change." The second man was almost ludicrously the opposite of the first, being extremely tall and as narrow as a string. "Where's Le Blanc? She's just back from Luca and should know the latest about this."
Omri did not shift his position, it was not easy for him to find another way to fit into even the largest chair in the Chateau. "She's upstairs with Nooj. He came back from the city with her."
"Well, that's all right. She'll be in a good mood tonight. Is she showing him that statue she just got?" Logos leaned against the wall.
"That and some other things. You think he'll like it? He's pretty picky about how he looks with the arm and leg."
"If he doesn't, he'll wrap it around her neck with that left hand of his. You noticed his temper being a little uncontrolled lately? Last time he was here, when she called him that name she uses, I thought he was going to take the house apart."
"Yeah. Good thing he got a handle on it when he did. She's being more careful about calling him that to his face." Ormi chuckled deep in his barrel-chest. "Want to go downstairs and play some pallukon? "
"Sure. Why not? The lady won't be stirring for a while yet."
Meantime, upstairs in the overly furnished, overly scented bedroom with its suffocating curtains and heart-shaped artifacts, Nooj was smoothing his left breeches leg over the stump of his thigh, carefully tucking the material beneath the sheath which helped support his prosthetic leg. That finished to his satisfaction, he glanced at the sleeping form of the woman lying on the bed, her short flaxen hair disheveled against the pillow. She was adequate as a mistress, he thought to himself, particularly when her mouth was occupied and he did not have to listen to her inane nattering. But that absurd statue. ... He turned to look at the glass case on the other side of the room, the one housing the full-sized image of himself, complete with cane and spectacles. It was a good thing he was not a chocobo knight or she would have had a taxidermist supply one of the giant birds for the display.
How could she know him so little as to think he would be pleased or flattered by the doppelganger in the case? LeBlanc had been his regular bed partner for months now and understood no more about him than when they had first met. He snorted in disgust, softly so as not to wake the sleeper. He did not want to be trapped into conversation with her again just now. He turned to the mirror to make sure he had forgotten nothing in his hasty dressing. There was a bulge on the right side of his tunic. Curious, for he did not remember putting anything into the relevant pocket, he checked.
What he drew out was a battered recorder of a long outmoded kind. When he recognized it, memories came flooding back with an uncontrollable force. This was the device he had carried on the Crimson Squad mission, the one which had ended so disastrously. He had stowed it away here with some other of his lesser worn clothing and it must have slipped into the pocket when he pulled the tunic out of the box in which it had been kept. Nooj balanced the recorder on his left palm for a time, tempted to close the machina hand and crush the reminder of the best and worst days of his life. Then he shook his head and gently placed the item back in his clothes chest in the closet.
It was time for him to return to the crude encampment on the Mushroom Rock Road where he was planning a new campaign against the remnants of the Yevonites. He would not forgive them for their treachery. He began moving as softly as possible toward the door, then with a suddenly decisive air, he turned back and retrieved the recording machine from its storage place and slipped it into the pocket from which it had come, arranging the fur shoulder guard so as to hide the outline. It would not be wise to leave it where LeBlanc might come across it. Insatiably curious, she would not rest until she had coaxed from it its secrets and there were words on there he did not want her to hear. Words he did not want anyone other than himself to ever hear.
It was late when he arrived back at his camp. He was tired and dusty from the road. After a bath, he took out the recorder from the locked box in which he had secured it and, sitting in the leather chair with the attached rest for his left leg, he contemplated the scuffed buttons.
He knew what was preserved within the interior of the machine, sealed in the nearly indestructible particles of the recording medium. With a soft sigh, he let his head fall back against the cushion and permitted himself to remember. There had been the four of them and they had become one and he had shot the other three. It was a simple plot line but one he still did not understand. He had thought them dead but two had survived. Only the vital one, the one who had nearly saved him, the one ... He covered his eyes with his right hand. In the darkness of his life, she had been a torch and he had killed her. He did not know why.
Not for the first time in the past year, he wished he could weep. He longed for the thawing release of the frigid block he felt inside himself. It hurt, that frozen part, hurt worse than the places where the machina limbs connected to his living body. It stretched his throat with a overflow of unshed tears which made it hard to swallow and made his chest feel close to bursting when he would recall her touch and voice. Paine! The single word said it all.
When he had learned of Baralai in Bevelle - the Praetor, no less, and Gippal in Djose, leading a group of Al Bhed, he had nourished a flicker of hope. But time had passed and no word had come of the woman he had loved. Nooj had not made contact with the other two because of a reluctance to face them after the event at the Travel Agency. He could hardly expect acceptance and forgiveness after what he had done. And, besides, they were becoming political opponents as he established the Youth League in opposition to New Yevon and the motley collection of engineers who followed Gippal.
And he knew she was dead. He had gathered her limp body in his arms and felt the vacancy in the flesh. He had smeared her blood on his hands as he tried to rouse her. His grip on the recorder tightened as he relived those minutes of his absolute desolation. In spite of his attempts at control, a short cry escaped him and an attendant lifted the tent flap to see what was wrong.
"Are you all right, Mevyn?"
"Yes. Just a sudden cramp. No problem." Nooj managed to sound normal although it strained his powers and tore at his throat. Without real decision, he ran the spool back a little, then pressed the 'Play' command.
"I kissed her before I killed her."
His own voice startled him. He had forgotten he had said that. With a almost audible mental click, all the sights and smells of that time descended on him and he bent forward abruptly, shaking with agony, not all of it physical. It was as though a long-sleeping presence had awakened and was stirring inside his mind. A sudden spasm of his finger stopped the replay.
What had happened? Again he was tortured with the question. Why had he done it? Why had he thrown away his chance at life and happiness in so brutal a fashion? Why Paine? Had there not been people in the tents surrounding his, he would have howled his grief and pain to the heavens. The scab had been peeled off and the wound was as fresh as at the moment he had incurred it. He felt the numbness which had protected him disappear and the impact of memory was set free to ravage him as it would. He buried his face in his hands to stifle the cries he could no longer restrain.
When he had calmed somewhat, he struggled up from the chair and carefully locked the recorder back in the box. He did not want to hear any more of the contents of that journal from the past. Strong as he was, he could not bear to relive those days with the intensity he had just experienced. It was too much for a man to tolerate alone. And he no longer had any confidants having learned not to provide fortune with hostages.
He had changed since his experiment in being human, in learning to love. At first after he realized his crime he had tried with increased fervor to die but some inner governor stopped him time and again and finally the very thought of death had become repugnant as the lust for revenge took the place of his passion for Nothingness. He did not question the redirection of his energies. For some reason, it all seemed proper, even natural.
He turned to the work awaiting him at his desk. He had wasted enough time on what could not be cured. It was unlike him to obsess over the past. He was a leader of a rag-tag band of idealists who were determined to eradicate the last vestiges of the Yevon heresy and punish those who had so cruelly abused the people. They called him Mevyn; he could no longer permit himself to be addressed as 'captain'. Now, he needed more hidden or lost spheres containing incriminating material from the recent past. The more proof he could amass of the criminal incompetence of the Maesters and their enablers, the more angry citizens would flock to his banner and the more quickly he could achieve his retribution upon those who had destroyed him. Nooj was not a forgiving man.
Several days later, Nooj was contemplating another visit to Guadosalam. The stoic remove from emotional involvement to which he had become accustomed during the past year or so had returned and he was able to concentrate on the strategy he was evolving to settle scores with the remnants of the old religion. LeBlanc had sent word of the discovery of another sphere which might prove to be useful. She was notorious for claiming she had found something momentous and he had learned that many of her great finds were useless save as a ploy to command his presence in her spacious bed. Still, he would probably make the trip. He was growing restless. And lustful.
As he had suspected, the sphere was nothing unusual, just one of the old almost unwatchable recordings which turned up wherever a defunct news organization had stowed a cache for some purpose or another. He tossed it idly from hand to hand as the woman bustled around him, tucking a pillow beneath his shoulder, offering a bowl of fruit, twitching her extravagant skirt and talking. Ixion, how she was talking.
"And, Noogie ... er ... darling, I'm having the hardest time getting these things now. The competition is unreal. Everybody and his brother is out hunting for some sort of treasure and most of them don't have a clue. You won't believe it but this bunch of silly girls, you know, the giggly kind ... well, they've got this airship and they're flying all over the place. It's just awful; they don't know what they're doing. They're just messing things up for everybody else. And one of them is the Last Summoner. You'd think she'd have more dignity, but nooooo! And there's this totally stupid blonde - she's an Al Bhed, if you can imagine it and then there's this third one with grey hair. She can't be that old, I think it's just a pose and she dyes it. And these girls, they act like they know what they're doing and it just gets in my way, especially the grey-haired one with those dumb red eyes who acts like she's better than anybody else in her leather straps and...."
Nooj, who had tuned her out, suddenly lifted a hand and the babbling stopped at once. "Do you know the names of these women?"
LeBlanc made what she fondly thought of as a cunning moue, "Weren't you listening? I said one was the Last Summoner, you know that Yuna thing and the Al Bhed is called Rekka or something like that. And the last one, hmm, she has a funny sort of name, not a real name, more like a .... Paine, that's it! Her name is Paine, who would name a little girl Paine, when I have a baby ...."
He lifted his hand again and, again, she stopped short. "This is the one with grey hair who wears leather?" He kept his voice to a monotone but a small bit of the block in his chest began to thaw.
"Yes, that's the one. The one with those funny red eyes, too. And she carries a sword and ..."
"Where are they?" He leaned forward. The icy solid was breaking and subliming into a vanishing mist.
"They fly all over the place. They named themselves the Gullwings, can you believe, and just ..."
Nooj pulled himself to his feet, painfully. "Thank you for the sphere and the hospitality, LeBlanc. I must go now; there is urgent business which demands my immediate attention." He grasped his cane and made for the door which opened to the hall. His head was astir with images and his breath was becoming short. Could it be? He only knew he must find out for sure.
How many women could there be with pewter hair, red eyes and leather trappings? A swordswoman as well. She was almost as unique as he. It would be like her to take up with a band of adventurers. Paine had never been one for sitting around waiting for fate to find her. He was certain it was she. He paused, nearly losing his balance as the full recognition of it hit him. She was alive! She had not died! For a long moment, he stood in the door frame, one hand on his cane, the other braced against the wall. She was alive!
"You not going to stay the night?" The voice from the woman behind him was a plaintive whine. He could feel her manicured fingers plucking at his sleeve. At once the very notion of sharing a bed with this perfumed creature was abhorrent. He could smell the clean freshness of Paine filling his nostrils, the taste of the salt on her shoulder as she stood by the ship's rail was on his tongue and the lean muscularity of her body pressed against his chest. With a breath which lifted his entire body and dispersed the last fragments of the frozen block he had carried for so long, he turned to leave.
The air outside seemed fresher, the day brighter. As Nooj limped away on the first steps of a journey he could not define, moving steadily away from the querulous voice endlessly, senselessly nattering behind him, he felt everything had become possible again - even death.