18. The Darkness Within Me

Down in the sewers, Kirika watches as Mireille tries to work off her frustrations with target practice. No matter how hard she tries, however, she cannot prevent the memories of her return to Corsica from running through her mind, and in her anger and despair, she swings her gun around to a new target- Kirika herself.

Standing unflinchingly in Mireille’s sights, Kirika listens as her partner finally explains the truth of what she discovered on her trip- that her parents were Soldats and that Kirika is part of the true Noir. Continuing, she admits that Kirika is an even more skilled assassin than she is, but there are times, like now, when she wishes that they had never met.

As she hears Mireille’s harsh words, and feels her friend’s pain, Kirika eyes fill with tears. And when Mireille begs her to just go away, Kirika can do nothing but accept her friend’s wishes.

With little to do, Kirika at first passes the time by sitting at a bus stop. A woman waiting for the bus tries to engage her in conversation, but the two cannot connect; Kirika’s thoughts and feelings are too deep for the woman, who just wants to discuss everyday matters. When the bus comes, the woman boards it, leaving Kirika alone again.

Alone with her thoughts, Kirika wanders the railway tracks, before returning to town and ending up in a deserted café. As she sits there drinking her tea, the waiter brings a message over for her, from a man waiting outside in a car. Opening the message, Kirika reads the now-familiar “Noir. It is the name of an ancient fate…”.

Deciding to meet with the sender of the message, Kirika leaves the café and gets into the car. A man is waiting inside- an agent of the Soldats, but not one sent to kill her. As Kirika already knows, there are different factions in the Soldats- Altena and Chloe represent one, whilst he speaks for an opposing group. The deadly and fearsome Chloe answers only to Altena, and as a countermeasure, his faction would like to make an ally of Kirika.

Hoping to win Kirika over, the man tells her that his faction will offer her information she desires- all she has to do is visit the Alexander trading company. Getting out of the car, Kirika tries to phone Mireille to update her on what she has found out, but Mireille is still down in the sewers, and the phone goes unanswered.

Kirika doesn’t come home that night, despite having left both her gun and ID card behind, and the next morning, she pays a visit to the Alexander Trading Company. The place is deserted, and it is clear that the main office has been ransacked. The body of a dead worker lies on the floor, two pieces of paper clutched in his hand. Taking them, Kirika realises that they are photocopies of two pages from the book that first told them about the Soldats.

The only other item of note on the floor is the dead man’s mobile phone; taking it, Kirika calls a number stored in the phone’s memory, and gets through to the man who she talked to the previous night. Kirika wants to arrange another meeting, but the man is reluctant; the killing at the Alexander Trading Company indicates that his life is in danger as well. However, on hearing that the man had planned to give her a copy of the entire book, Kirika pleads with him to meet her just one more time, and he relents. He will meet her at eight o’clock in front of the Carillion Theatre.

Once again, Kirika tries phoning Mireille, and this time her friend answers. But on hearing Kirika’s voice, Mireille puts the phone down again- she still isn’t ready to see her partner. Resigned to remaining alone for a while longer, Kirika continues to wander, waiting for her meeting with the Soldats man.

But with less than an hour to go before the rendezvous, Kirika finds herself meeting with someone else- Chloe. Although she knows about the man who contacted Kirika, and the killing at the Alexander Trading Company, these aren’t the reasons why she come to meet Kirika. Instead, she has a warning. The orders to sanction Kirika and Mireille still stand, and rather than slacking off, their hunters are busy thinking up new ways to accomplish their task. Chloe explains Noir’s adversaries have a foolproof way of luring Mireille to Gustave Square at eight o’clock- and once she goes there, they will kill her.

Chloe doesn’t know any more details, and she hadn’t even planned on saying this much- only the fact that Mireille is a friend of Kirika’s caused her to act. But now Kirika has a decision to make- should she meet with the Soldats man and gain the precious manuscript, or save Mireille from the trap that she is even now walking into?

A quick call to the apartment reveals that there is indeed no one there, and with that, Kirika’s mind is made up. Thanking Chloe, she runs away in the hopes of finding Mireille before it is too late.

Eight o’clock arrives, and Mireille walks through the square, somewhat apprehensive but seemingly unaware that someone is trailing her. As she waits at a road crossing, her follower steps into the crowd behind her, waiting for his moment. Meanwhile, having taken a taxi to the square, Kirika jumps out of the car and runs the rest of the way, grabbing a toy bus on the way, and breaking it apart until all but a metal axle remains.

At the last moment, Mireille finally recognises the danger. Whirling, she sees a fat man behind her, the jacket on his arm slipping away to reveal the silenced gun he meant to kill her with. But the gun has not fired, for standing behind the man is Kirika, and she has just stabbed him in the back of the neck with the axle of the toy bus. The very person Mireille did not want to see again has just saved her life.

Mireille has been saved, but at the sacrifice of the manuscript. After waiting outside the theatre until a quarter past eight, the Soldats man decides he can wait no longer, and signals to his driver to leave.

Standing together on a bridge over the river, Mireille queries Kirika, both disbelieving and grateful that the girl never even thought of going for the manuscript instead of coming to save her. By way of thanks, Mireille hands Kirika the ID card she left in the apartment. As Kirika accepts the card, Mireille apologises for selfishly wallowing in her pain when Kirika’s own wounds must run much deeper. Kirika agrees that that may be so, but she still has to find out the truth- whether that means finding herself within the darkness, or finding the darkness within herself…

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