19. The Two Hands of the Soldats

It’s been dead end after dead end, and Kirika and Mireille still aren’t any closer to finding the mysterious manuscript that could answer their questions about the Soldats. For now the trail looks cold- until Mireille receives an e-mail from professor who she sent their first copy of “the sin within the sin” page to. Mireille is delighted to hear that he could help them, but Kirika seems more distant. As she repeats the contents of the page she recovered from the Alexander Trading Company, a few more words spring to her lips- “The two hands of the Soldats.” These words weren’t on the page, so how is that she knows them?

Following up this fresh lead, Mireille and Kirika pay a visit to the university to see Professor Chatel, an expert on ancient historical documents. On the way there, Kirika is once again distracted by the university students as she catches a glimpse of a normal life very different from the she leads. Mireille soon calls her back to attention, however, and the two go into Chatel.

Chatel has identified the page as being a copy from the Langonel manuscript, a work secretly transcribed at the monastery of Langonel back in the 13th century. The whereabouts and even the contents of the original are unknown, but copies have existed in both Paris and Berlin. Unfortunately, both known copies were destroyed in fires, but the existence of the photocopied pages indicates that others may well exist somewhere.

On hearing this, Kirika and Mireille begin searching for the manuscript in earnest. Whilst Kirika scours the library for clues, Mireille searches the internet, and eventually comes up with something. A copy of the manuscript may still exist in the possession of Casper Edlinger, an Austrian multi-millionaire.

Mireille and Kirika take a plane to Vienna, neither able to sleep with the anticipation of being so close to finding all their answers. But as Mireille reminds Kirika, there is still the matter of the promise she made when they first became partners- that when they found out the truth, she would kill Kirika.

Meanwhile, in an unknown location, the Soldats council gathers for a meeting, sitting in chairs around the fire of a Soldats mansion. The gathering seems informal, but the topic of discussion is not. The council members are fed up with Altena’s insistence on giving Mireille and Kirika trials, and as the chances of recruiting the pair seem slim, only one option is left- to kill them. Before, the orders to sanction them were just part of Altena’s game, but now they will be for real. And not only that, but their agents will go after Chloe as well.

Unfortunately for Mireille and Kirika, disappointment awaits them in Vienna as well. Two years ago, the Edlinger family library burnt to the ground, and the entire collection was lost, including the Langonel manuscript. Edlinger himself doesn’t think that there can be a single copy of the manuscript left on Earth, but, for what little good it will do, the two women can look at the ruins of the library if they want.

Standing in the ruins, Mireille bemoans the fact that they have run into a dead end, and worse still, that there may not even be any copies for them to find. But as Kirika sits and listens, she is suddenly distracted by a thrown pebble. Chloe has arrived, and teasingly she starts quoting the words from the page they already have, provoking annoyance and anger from Mireille.

Having caught their attention, Chloe recites the next part of the passage for them- “The two hands of the Soldats are two maidens. Blacker than black, burdened by sin, reaching out with mercy. Noir…”. As Kirika and Mireille listen, Chloe confirms the awful truth- the title of Noir has always referred to two blades, two killers who serve the Soldats.

In the past, a ritual was used to select members of this Noir, a ritual that was lost in the passage of time, until it became a title used by any outlaw looking to capitalise on the terror inspired by the name Noir. Mireille was just one of many who used the name without knowing its true meaning. Ironically, though, she picked the name because she thought people would assume Noir was only one person, never guessing that it referred to both she and Kirika. It is just another twist of fate that Noir was meant to be two people from the very beginning.

Naturally, Mireille is curious as to why Chloe is telling them this, but like any other task, Chloe does what she does because it is what Altena desires. Continuing, she adds that Altena has been watching them, awaiting the outcome of their trials- trials that decide who is to be Noir.

And another trial is about to begin, for the Soldats agents have caught up with the three women. Whirling, Chloe throws a pebble at one man, taking him down straightaway. As another agent fires back, the three dive for cover, Kirika and Mireille drawing their guns. Explaining that this is just another assigned task to complete, Chloe athletically jumps up the ruined wall, vaulting onto an old beam above one of the men. Jumping down, she expertly slashes him with her knife.

Kirika and Mireille begin firing on the agents, taking down all the men within range. Somewhat oddly, Kirika begins shooting at the wall, and it is only after a moment that Mireille realises what she is doing. Kirika has made a small hole, and with her usual accuracy, she shoots through the hole, taking out the two men behind the wall.

With no more enemies close by, Kirika and Mireille are forced to break from their cover and go after the remaining men. At first it goes well, until Mireille finds herself surrounded by three men. She takes one down with a high kick, only to slip and fall, leaving her at the mercy of another man’s gun

Once again, though, it is Kirika to the rescue, who in a series of rapid shots, takes down not only the two men standing over Mireille, but two others as well, before running off to deal with the remaining agents.

Getting back into the battle, Mireille grabs her gun and prepares to fire at the men attacking the other two, only to discover that she doesn’t even seem to be needed! Fighting back to back with fluid and almost superhuman skill, Kirika and Chloe dispatch all of their opponents. Mireille can only stand and watch in disbelief, wondering if this is the truth of Kirika’s past.

The ‘trial’ over, Mireille goes to approach Kirika, only to stop when Chloe gets there first. Saying that she and Kirika are the true Noir, Chloe mentions their past- how they were raised by the Soldats, where they showed great aptitude as assassins. Coming even closer, Chloe continues, whispering in Kirika’s ear that her true home is with the Soldats, and that deep inside, Kirika will find that she remembers everything.

In horror, Kirika only wants Chloe to stop. Desperate to be free of her soft words of truth, she cries out, but Chloe knows that she can get through to her. Raising her hand, two fingers outstretched, she begins chanting “Noir, it is the name of an ancient fate…” and instinctively, Kirika does the same. In unison, the two women continue their chanting, until, unable to bear it anymore, Mireille cries out to Kirika, causing her to stop, horrified at the realisation that Chloe was speaking the truth.

The moment over, Chloe leaves, but not before promising to return one more time to lead Kirika to the manor; and far away, at the manor in question, Altena herself finishes looking through a book- a copy of the Langonel manuscript.

Later, Kirika and Mireille stand together by a fountain, lost in thought. Kirika finally realises that all this time, a part of her knew, or at least should have known the truth, only to be held back by the hope that she could still find a way to live a normal life. Now, though, Kirika cannot deny the truth, and so everything has changed. For Mireille, the friend and partner who she has grown so close to, may never look at Kirika in the same way again.

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