24. Dark Return

Much to Chloe and Altena’s delight, Kirika has finally completed her pilgrimage and returned to the manor. Although Chloe’s guidance awakened some of her old memories and instincts, there are still blanks in Kirika’s mind, blanks which both Chloe and Altena are eager to help fill in.

Altena explains that, although Kirika was not born at the manor, she spent an important part of her childhood there, carrying out her first tasks as one of the candidates for Noir. Each of the three candidates was to be raised in a different way, with those that emerged the strongest taking their place as the true Noir.

The manor itself is truly a breeding ground for assassins, permeated as it with the memory of blood and death, from the bloodstained weapons in the armoury, to the rusted manacles in the dungeon. Kirika recognises it as her home, but it is Chloe who reveals to her the details of her life at the manor. As children, the two of them lived at the manor together for a while, and even at that early age, she was already performing assignments for Altena. In fact, it was Kirika’s assassination of the Bouquet family that inspired Chloe to become an assassin herself, a fact that Kirika seems somewhat ambivalent about.

That evening, in Altena’s study, Kirika spots a copy of the Langonel manuscript, the book she and Mireille failed to acquire despite their best efforts. As she sits down to read, Altena enters, happily listening as Kirika quotes from the book, before reminding the girl of the foundation of her beliefs- if love can kill, then hatred can save. It is a bleak philosophy, but one that Kirika, in her current state of mind, can agree with.

Tucking Kirika into bed, Altena advises her to get some rest- she will need all her energy to prepare for the upcoming ritual. As Altena leaves, Kirika calls out, but whatever she meant to say goes unuttered, and instead she merely wishes Altena goodnight.

The next day, Altena welcomes a group of nuns to the manor, part of the same Soldats order that she belongs to. Their leaders, Borne and Marennes, congratulate Altena on her efforts to restore Noir, and volunteer to stand witness to the completion of the ceremony.

Dressed in Greek style sandals and short togas, Chloe and Kirika head out to the ruins of the manor’s amphitheatre to practise swordplay. Whilst the two women spar in a masterful display of swordplay, Altena remains indoors with Borne and Marennes, discussing their “harvest”. In their opinion, Chloe and Kirika are well worthy of becoming Noir, but Mireille’s potential was long ago dulled from being left ‘in the wilderness’. But now, by taking the two candidates who have fulfilled their promise and completing the ritual to confirm them as Noir, they can ensure Altena’s dominance over the Soldats.

As the three women talk, Chloe and Kirika’s battle is coming to an end. In one final attack, Kirika shatters Chloe’s blade, and points her own weapon at her opponent’s throat. For a long uncertain, moment, Kirika does not move, until finally she pulls back. The battle is over, and there can be no doubt now as to who is the best.

As they wash themselves together after the fight, Chloe tells Kirika that for her, this is a dream come true. After all these years of waiting and longing, they will finally become Noir together. So saying, Chloe shows Kirika her most precious possession- the fork she took from Kirika after their moonlit tea party. Chloe recalls the fun she had at the party, and hopes that perhaps one day they can get together with Mireille and repeat the experience. Kirika tells her to forget it- Mireille is unnecessary.

Later, in the chapel, Altena returns Kirika’s gun to her. Taking the weapon, Kirika loads it, and is suddenly overcome by a flashback of a younger Altena handing her the very same gun so many years ago, and of her using it to kill the Bouquets. As Chloe watches in distress, Kirika raises the now loaded gun, and points it right at Altena.

Whilst Chloe prepares to stop Kirika if necessary, Altena reminds Kirika that, should the need arise, she should never hesitate in killing anyone, even Altena herself. The world is filled with darkness and sin, but Noir must never falter or turn away, even when they themselves commit sins. This life of darkness is the destiny of those who live within the manor- and there is no other place that they can call home.

Hearing Altena’s words, Kirika lowers her gun and collapses to the ground. Comforting her, Altena reassures Kirika that everything will be all right. All Kirika must do is accept the truth of her role- and take her place as part of Noir.

But even as the final preparations for the ritual continue, the final player is about to arrive. Having left Paris, Mireille is driving towards the manor, and towards her own role in this, the final act of a drama planned by Altena so many years ago.

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