Disclaim or Die: Read Or Die (R.O.D) is copyrighted by and the property of Hideyuki Kurata, Akitaro Yamada, Studio Deen/SME, Sony, and currently licensed to Manga Entertainment. Noir is copyrighted by and the property of Ryoe Tsukimura, Bee Train, Victor Entertainment, Inc. and currently licensed to ADV Films.
Kirika and Mireille stopped before entering the designated meeting place, a library with a brilliant stone facade and glittering broad glass windows. With the two of them being a seasoned Parisians, they could pass by sites of their past hits on a daily basis with barely a twinge of nervousness or flash of reminiscence. Though this locale wasn't exactly the site of one of Noir's infamous massacres, this was a place that one of the two frequented in their search for Soldats, the first clue starting with Langon's Manuscript.
Church bells from the cathedral across the street made their morning time announcement. The pair's eyes cast about, looking to see anyone suspiciously loitering outside the stone steps, but no one could catch their eye. Just civilians, students, and tourists were bustling inside and outside in broad daylight. They looked up to find the sky was lightly littered with thin traces of clouds.
Kirika squinted towards the horizon. "The clouds are coming from the southwest," she quietly observed.
It was an open forum, maybe this meeting place was neutral ground; or those who arranged the meeting knew of the fleeting significance this place held in their search, though Kirika's efforts at this library were fruitless.*º
Mireille frowned. "We've been given a time and a meeting place, but no way to identify our contacts. I see no point in continuing on from here. I refuse to play into the hands of another secret organization." She closed her eyes and turned away, a little miffed.
The young Japanese girl walked past her, continuing into the library without a word.
The blonde opened them as she felt motion past her. "Hmm?" She sighed in resignation. Kirika's instincts were sharper than hers, but she had enough of being involved with faceless shadow organizations and becoming their pawn.
Cool conditioned air greeted their skin, a change from the warming touch of the sunlight.
The pair looked about, trying to pick out any of the quiet and demure readers as one of their contacts. So far, they only knew that there would be two and that they were from the British Royal Library. One of them had to be a woman, what with the codename given: Madame Profondément.
Mireille turned to her partner. "We should-"
A librarian with a severe purple headed bun walked by, looking sternly at the two.
Talking much more softly this time, Mireille repeated what she was to say. "We should go to the reference section, find anything pertaining to the British Library, and see if our contacts are there."
Nodding minutely, Kirika agreed, and the two of them made their way into the darkened narrow corridors of bookshelves.
The serious bun headed librarian watched the two out of the corner of her eye and followed them discreetly into the stacks, making sure to pass through the walls of wood and books in her way.
Miss Deep stopped as she found her partner, The Paper, who was gasping in ecstasy as she was caught between aged volumes, wondering which one she should while the time away with.
"Ah... oh my... They're all so lovely!" she tittered childishly. "I don't know which one I should re-" A tap on the shoulder interrupted her. "Oh, Nancy-san, what are you doing here?"
"I think Noir is here."
"What makes you say that?"
"No one has gone near the books pertaining to the British library all day. Besides, I overheard them." She smiled cheekily.
Yomiko looked nervously at her partner, and then back at the books, trying to make a decision. Resigned, she took hold of her travois and followed after Miss Deep as she phased ahead of her, in and out of the sectionals.
As the two were to round the corner, they stopped and peered aside. The blonde and brunette were idly looking up and down the shelves, only a few paces away from each other.
Mireille stared at the varying heights of book spines that were lined up before her, her eyes roaming up and down the line up of leather bound texts and tomes. From the way her vision traced them, they looked like the fluctuations of a pulse. She smiled at herself, realizing that it was a very funny observation, since books themselves were the very lifeline of a library.
"Yoisho," came the soft sound of exertion from Kirika.
The Corsican's greenish blue eyes darted quickly to her side, and her hand slipped into her purse, ready to pull out her Walther P99. Though Noir was now out of commission, that didn't mean they were safe; the two still habitually carried their trademark pistols with them, everywhere they went. She relaxed her hold on the gun as she saw that the noise was made because she had bumped into someone. Namely, that strict librarian that shushed her moments ago.
Both of them were reaching for a book, but the taller woman had the advantage and promptly pulled down the text, only to hand it to the girl. Behind her thin spectacles, the librarian narrowed her eyes slightly and looked them over.
"Je supposé c'ést Noir," the librarian said simply in French. Her tone was even, but her pronunciations were slightly peppered with an accent.
Her hold on her gun tightened again, but only momentarily, letting her hand slip back out of her purse. "Yes," she answered cautiously in English.
Kirika blinked, still looking up the woman who had identified herself as their contact. "Madame Profondément."
"Call me Miss Deep. I assumed that you two would be comfortable in speaking only French."
"I guess you assumed wrong," Mireille smartly replied.
"Miss Deep, where is the second contact, The Paper?"
Miss Deep looked behind her. There was no one there. A few tense moments passed, but their ears happened to catch the squeaking of tiny wheels approaching them.
"That would be her."
To Noir's surprise, a raven-haired woman with two braided forelocks and ridiculously large horn-rimmed glasses shuffled towards them, dragging a brief case on a travois behind her. Bundled up in her tan and brown trench coat, she smiled widely at them, cradling her latest find in her arm. She didn't seem like a professional of any sort.
"Gomen ne, Na- ah, Miss Deep, but I just passed by this collection that the library had of Schopenhauer's works, and, you see, I just had to read it! I'm sorry to keep you waiting, but you must understand..." She drifted off as her eyes darted to the pair of maidens that they were to meet. She bowed to them politely and extended her hand. "Hello, I'm Yomiko, Yomiko Readman!"
The two blinked at the newcomer. This girl was definitely not a professional.
Yomiko continued to look at them expectantly. Her hand twitched a little, waiting for a handshake.
Kirika tentatively put her hand in the older woman's, giving it a curt shake. "Kirika Yuumura," she said with a polite smile of her own.
"Fate has decided to play one big practical joke on us," sighed Mireille. She crossed her arms, regarding the two ladies. "I have to ask, why did you choose this of all places? A library?" She narrowed her eyes skeptically, questioning the significance of the chosen point.
The bespectacled woman blinked. "Umm... well, you see, I really liked this building... And I haven't really been to Paris often, and I had a little bit of an experience at the national library. I got a little carried away there once, before..." She poked her two index fingers together, looking down sheepishly. "Um, let's just say I'm not allowed back in there for a while."
Paying no mind to that comment, Miss Deep gestured to Yomiko. Nodding in response, The Paper bent over her travois, and opened up the suitcase loaded on it, taking out a couple of file folders and handing it to Miss Deep, who in turn gave them to Noir.
"Our superiors, Joker and Gentleman, have provided us with all the necessary information to brief you two. The things you will read about in the reports may seem shocking, but I assure you, they are true."
The library agents stood in silence, waiting for the two to finish reading through the portfolios, filling the two in on why they needed their help.
Mireille cocked an eyebrow after skimming through some pages. "Superpowers? The I-jin?"
"Cloning? Beethoven's suicide symphony?" Kirika chorused behind her.
"Oh my, they weren't even halfway through the reports!" Yomiko mused quietly.
"We've been through much before: Soldats, Le Grand Retour, The Manor, but the things written here... They push the very limits of my belief!" the blonde protested sharply.
Miss Deep cleared her throat and pushed her glasses back up her nose. "Then I'm sorry to have taken up your time. I hope you have a good day." She held out her hand, waiting for a parting handshake.
Mireille reached out to accept it and be on their way. She reached out... and felt nothing. She looked down, finding Miss Deep's fingers submerged through her own palm. Those dismembered fingers wriggled playfully, waving back at her. Gasping, she pulled her hand back and looked back at the purple haired woman in shock.
"Would you care to reread those files?" Yomiko asked, smiling widely.
The two women nodded absently, and in tandem, opened up their folders again.
The four women sat in a secluded corner of the library, strategic enough for no one to overhear them, not even pay mind to them. At Yomiko's urging, the two pairs had swapped stories, a guarded briefing on each couple's background information. The I-jin and Soldats, two secret organizations with aspirations to take the world for themselves, which they were currently fighting against. Both of them were quite amazed at what each had gone through.
Yomiko smiled and clapped her hands gleefully. "There! Isn't it nice to find out these things about each other? They'll help us get along better for the mission!"
The waif smiled softly. "Hai... Miss Deep, Miss Readman... Can you tell us anything about how the I-jin might be tied to Soldats?"
Mireille nodded in agreement. "Is there any connection at all that you can make?"
"I'll let The Paper brief you on that."
Taking her cue, Yomiko cleared her throat meekly and pushed her glasses back up her nose. Shuffling through her briefcase, she pulled out photocopies and excerpts for the assassin duo to peruse. "You see, over the course of time, phrases or words become corrupted as they're translated and retranslated again. In our collection of ancient English alchemical manuscripts, there's mention of The Great Reader; it's an obscure legend explains how a book was made from the pulp of the Tree of Life. One can find their destiny through this book and realize their greatness to bring about revolution, to bring about change, or find those who do have that power.
"Soldats covers one thousands years of Europe's dark history, and Noir embodies that very darkness. Around the time of Noir's emergence, this myth had reached its peak in being known... which isn't by much considering it was rarely even mentioned before. In the very few documents we found pertaining to Soldats and Noir, there was only one that mentioned The Grand Reader. Judging by Kirika-chan's descriptions of Le Grande Retour, it follows the same mysticism and methods of alchemical purification, refinement in the service of love, or, ah, in this case, hatred. It's quite a mystery how three specific people could be chosen as the Trees for Le Grande Retour..."
The Corsican crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Are you saying that some magic book told Altena and her order who had the potential to become Noir?"
"Um... yes?" the bibliophile replied.
"And now super-powered clones are using the information from ancient manuscripts and travelers' journals to find some magic book?"
Miss Deep shook her head. "Yes, it does seem too far-fetched to believe, but we had our most reliable sources working nonstop around the clock to find even the smallest scrap of a connection between what the I-jin want and what Soldats has, or had. That's how we were able to find out about you two. All we ask is that you help us stop them. The very least you can do is guide us to The Manor that you spoke of; we can recover the book on our own."
Kirika's eyes, changing from the blank stare of integrating this information, shifted to glance at the shadows behind the shelves. "But Soldats... they're watching us. If Noir even dares to reemerge, they will come after us."
Nancy gave a look of sympathy to Kirika - she knew what it was like to live your entire life under the shadow of a sinister entity. "I'm sure that the current higher ups of Soldats could do without what they believe to be an overly superstitious, outdated ritual, so I believe they wouldn't give us much interference." She winked conspiratorially. "Besides, if they do, you have the far-reaching arms of the Royal Library Force to run into."
Yomiko smiled. "Hai! We could always use new agents! It would be great to work with Kirika-chan and..." she looked at the blonde woman, "I... I didn't get your name."
She sighed in defeat. She may as well give in to the insanity. "Mireille Bouquet," she stated plainly.
"That's such a lovely name! We'll have a wonderful time working together! Don't you agree, Deep-san?"
"Hai, Yomiko... But since we're all getting to know each other on an first name basis, I may as well join in too." She nodded her head, making it a substitute for a curt bow. "Nancy Makuhari."
Miss Deep slid each assassin a small envelope, which they opened up to find a tiny earpiece for them, invisible to any passerby. They put them on and were greeted by a distinguished male voice.
"Welcome Noir. You are hereby honourary agents to the Royal British Library Division of Special Operations. Or DIET, for short. I will be your temporary superior, Joker. A pleasure to have such skilled professionals with us today."
Mireille looked to Kirika. "Charmed, I'm sure."
"My, you don't sound too pleased. I assure you, you will be rewarded handsomely for your cooperation." From his tone, they could tell a cool smirk crossed his face. "Ladies, I would hate to be a bother, but time is of the essence. We'd like to immediately set ourselves on getting that book out of the I-jin's clutches. We currently have a trace on your location; head for the Eiffel Tower and wait for further instructions."
Deciding that the business order of their meeting should be taken elsewhere, the two pairs stepped outside of the library, finding it to be noon. The sun shone still, just a little bit hotter, but the breezes were also a little cooler, and when in Paris, such an atmosphere meant that taking a leisurely stroll was a viable activity to engage in.
It was an idyllic outing, considering how they were all being called to save the world from some unknown danger.
Kirika watched uninterested and Yomiko looked longingly at the bookstores while their respective partners browsed the shops together.
As their feet took them to approach the Eiffel Tower, their eyes meandered to the very top of the famed historical structure and pinnacle of French tourism.
"Hmm..." Nancy made the subtle motion for them to stop. "Joker, we're at the Eiffel Tower."
"As I can see. Our satellites are currently sweeping our side of the globe for any I-jin activity; this might take a while since we have some meteorological interference to deal with. For now, go up to the very top, your support will meet with you. The Paper, I'm sure you'll be glad to see him again-"
"Drake-san!" cried Yomiko in joy, then made a run for the base and its elevators.
An amused sigh echoed in their earpieces. "Just don't be too rough on the old boy."
The trip up was a bit of a hassle, taking elevators up and climbing stairs was no feat, difficult with all of the tourists they were mixed up in. Finally reaching their meeting place, Yomiko and Nancy were relieved to see their support, Mr. Drake, looking well and recovered.
Their brute force was busy appreciating the Parisian skyline, facing away from them. He was currently carrying an extremely large rucksack on his broad back, making him look like a backpacking tourist. It was most probably filled with the munitions needed for the mission.
That sure got his attention. "Well, it finally took you long enough. And don't give me that tourist season excuse. This is the last thing I need, you know? I was just released a couple of days ago when they hand me the assignment to go to France. I thought this would be a pretty sweet deal: I hang around, eat a baguette, buy some souvenirs for Maggie. I read the newspaper today and it said 'Expect a great windfall - big fortune ahead!' Instead I turn around and find bad luck and big trouble heading my way." He stopped mid-rant and noticed the two new pretty faces behind them. "Is that them?" he asked, glancing in Kirika and Mireille's direction.
The Paper and Miss Deep nodded.
"And they're really good professionals?"
He shrugged, resigned. "I think I'll let the fates call it even."
Joker's voice came back on all of their communication pieces. "Agents, we have the reports. Our satellites tell us that there is an unusually dense cloud cluster moving from the Bay of Biscay to the mainland. It has a straight course towards the Spanish-French border. Judging by how the I-jin are fond of using steam, I wouldn't be surprised if the cloud cover is for their latest base."
"So what are you suggesting we do about it, Joker?" asked Drake.
"Right now, I'm suggesting an intercept course while I begin mobilizing whatever forces we have at hand."
"And how are we going to get there?" asked Kirika softly.
Yomiko smiled widely and wheeled her travois up the nearest service entrance. She broke out running up the maintenance stairs - she was going to climb to the very top of the Eiffel Tower.
Nancy grabbed the two honourary agents and followed after The Paper. "Come on!"
Drake slapped his forehead. "Not again." Hefting the heavy knapsack, he lumbered after them.
All of them held tight to the railing as they raced upwards to the precariously stable platform. They had caught The Paper just as she was opening her suitcase and unleashing her arsenal. A flurry of square snowflakes immediately surrounded her; her arms were waving about like a maestro, directing each sheet to its proper place.
Mireille and Kirika were amazed by the sheer display of her power for the first time. Then their jaws dropped as they saw what she had constructed.
A giant paper airplane. Complete with aerodynamic tail.
The Paper hopped up into the very fold, settling herself there as pilot, and motioned for the others. "All aboard!"
Smirking, Miss Deep took a running start and launched herself forward, phasing through the bottom of the plane and out of her librarian disguise. She popped up beside her partner, reclining in her utility cat suit.
"C'mon ladies, we don't want to be late for the party," said Drake.
"Hai!" exclaimed Kirika as she took her seat on the makeshift aircraft. She actually seemed to be excited about all this.
Mireille looked at the weapon in her hands then made her way to the plane. "This is a mad, mad tea party!"
"Everyone ready?" cried their support as he prepared to launch. "I'll take your silence as a yes. Three!" He made a running start.
"Two!" His arms prepared themselves for the throw.
"One!" At the edge.
The paper airplane went sailing, and their support man jumped after them. He landed right on target, clutching the tail to keep himself on board.
"You and your bright ideas," he grumbled. He then turned his head to the women of Noir, holding tightly to the plane and their weapons. "Don't worry. She won't drop us... this time."
Their flight had gone relatively smoothly, thanks to Yomiko's handling, it was just a matter of riding the air currents and thermals. They followed Joker's directions, which was pretty much heading straight towards the new I-jin base.
They sat tight, and watched the group of clouds in the horizon get bigger as they approached it.
"Mission team, you're making good progress," commented Joker through their earpieces. "As soon as you get past the cloud barrier, it would help if we were given a visual of the base."
"I got your visual right here, Joker," said Drake. He reached under his skullcap and flipped some view-finding contraption over his eye.
"You needn't speak so rudely, Mister Drake."
They were getting much closer; the wall of steam warmed the cold air of the high altitude. At the speed they were going at, the looming white puffs of air threatened to swallow them up.
"Slow your approach, Yomiko," suggested Nancy. "We want to avoid detection. Plus, we don't know what's behind the cover. It's better to be safe."
Gliding at a reasonable pace, they were ready to break through the steam curtain. Everyone held tightly to what was on hand, tense with anticipation, waiting for an attack on any and all sides as they passed through.
Nothing so far.
The haze was beginning to thin out, and they could make out a few faint shapes ahead of them. This was it, this was the base.
Pushing forward, they were greeted by the sight of a flying island of metal. It was similar in design to the sea-faring base that they dealt with months earlier, but instead of a rocket as the middle pillar, it was a large broadcasting tower, and four smaller towers aligned perfectly to the four winds.
Drake tapped his eyepiece. "You getting this, Joker?"
"Quite a sight," he replied. "Move in for a closer look."
Leaning hard, Yomiko maneuvered the craft to circle the flying base, slowly spiraling downwards to record any and every detail possible for Joker and the library to use to its advantage.
As they made a slow pass around the smaller western tower, they saw two female figures perched on a girder. Everyone could not believe their eyes as they saw that one of the two was Yomiko! The second one, her companion wore the strange old-fashioned period clothing that many of the I-jin were prone to wear, and she was beautiful as well, but no less deadly.
"Welcome to Laputa,*¹" called the Yomiko clone. She nodded. "You have the honours, Tokyo Rose."
Her companion smirked and readied the microphone in her hands. "Thank you, Paper Cut." She addressed her captive audience. "I'm sorry that the last thing you'll see is Utopia in the making." The Rose aimed at a point in the air, close to the mission team.
"What is she doing?" Mireille wondered aloud.
She was answered when a thunderous sound erupted from their starboard side. They didn't feel the heat of an explosion, but it sure had the force of one.
"It's a sonic boom!" Kirika's reply was punctuated as another one rocked the air underneath the plane.
Concentrating, sheets ballooned out from under them into a paper cocoon, protecting all those inside. The white sphere flew up as another sonic boom popped it high into the air and hopefully out of the Tokyo Rose's range.
It reformed back into the plane, and dove for cover on the other side of the center tower. Floating in the shadow of the main tower, everyone recouped their wits.
Joker had witnessed everything that was going on through Drake's portable camera. If there ever was a time to smooth down his hair, this was it. He watched the most prominent members of his team looking quite shaken.
"Th-that was me..." Yomiko choked out in disbelief. "How could that be me?!"
Nancy answered, a flash of memory coming to her. "Ikkyu... he said he could simply make a clone of you! He must've taken your DNA when you were captured!"
"This is an interesting development indeed," Joker said. He paused to rub his brow in thought, considering the next course of action. "Mister Drake, same protocol as the last mission: scout the base for our analysis and we'll relay the information for you to sabotage it any way you can. The Paper, Miss Deep, and Noir are needed groundside to find and retrieve the book. Give them the proper munitions and be on your way."
Joker watched as the slight shaky movement on screen meant that Drake was reaching back and rummaging through his pack. He produced two large semi-automatic rifles and presented them to Noir.
Kirika eyed them, then refused. "Something smaller."
"Trust us," Mireille took out her Walther while her partner followed suit with her Beretta. "We'll need something smaller."
They were presented with an arrangement of pistols. They each took one more, a balanced gun in each hand.
"What? You're not gonna take any extra bullets?" he asked in disbelief.
"No," Kirika said simply and pocketed the firearm.
Joker smirked at the exchange. Digging into reports of their past hits, Noir was capable enough to make efficient use of every single bullet. He straightened himself as the view showed that Mister Drake would be leaving the company of the paper plane crew.
"Agents, good luck and god speed."
The two I-jin looked around, scanning where their quarry could be.
Paper Cut stared out in thought. "If I know them, they'll split up. Mata Hari and myself will be the main force. The brute is offense; he'll set out to blowing up whatever he thinks is important. Those girls... they're wildcards, but my guess is they're cover fire, so they'll be with the other two."
"We should split up then." Tokyo Rose tapped her headset. "I'll track the oaf down by detecting the transmission waves."
She shook her head. "He doesn't matter. Knowing myself, she'll insist that they get the book first."
Their eyes traced around the main pillar, and the Paper Cut was correct as the plane darted out of its shelter, fleeing at a downward angle.
"Get Fabre, tell him we need to borrow one of his pets."
The four women held on tightly as their descent whipped their hair and clothes about them. They could see that the ground was coming dangerously close to them. Each detail grew: the mountains in the distance, the village before the foothills, the hint of a wine grove on the other side...
"Slow down!" cried Mireille. "We want to live long enough to fulfill the mission!"
The plane righted itself straight and level, bringing them closer to stability. Their speed rate was decelerating, meaning air currents weren't rushing at them any more.
"Gomen ne..." Yomiko apologized sheepishly. "I'm just in a rush to get that book, you know? Do you know where they might keep The Grand Reader?"
"No..." started Kirika. She scanned the ground below. "There is a village, and The Manor itself. The book might be in the village church... Altena said that the Inner Trees were blessed by a priest... Maybe it is there. And maybe it is in The Manor. I don't know."
Nancy readied the guns in her boot holsters. "Then it's best to check both out. I doubt the I-jin know where it is specifically, so we have at least one advantage over them - we have two people who know the locations well."
Kirika spied a small clearing in the forested foothills around the village. It was small enough to house them, and it was close enough to a path that would lead them to The Manor. She knew that path well... it was where that old woman sacrificed her life for her own. Just so that a single Tree might live on, so Le Grande Retour could not be prevented. So many people died for her to become Noir, which she refused to become. She would not let their deaths be in vain, she would seek light by Mireille's side.
Hesitantly, she pointed at that clearing. "Land there."
Yomiko did as told and eased the plane into the clearing and into the shelter of the trees. Well hidden and on the ground, everyone unloaded the craft.
One preliminary check showed that they were equipped and ready, and all four were ready to walk down that path.
The Japanese girl put her hand up, stopping the library agents.
"Please, stay here and out of sight. I don't think the villagers would take too kindly to any outsiders. They are Soldats as well, and they will only welcome their own."
Nodding in understanding, Miss Deep and The Paper watched as Noir made their way out onto the path and headed for the village.
Kirika looked around herself in a place that was recreated out of her perfect memory. She turned her head to her partner, who looked at the village with a sense of detachment. Their two hearts were of one, but Mireille didn't see when the village was in its humble flourishing, the very same village that had housed her as one of its own children.
They were making another pilgrimage as Noir, but this time it wasn't to the past, but rather towards their future - for all of humanity's future.
The final stop in their pilgrimage was the very village they were currently in. For hundreds of years, a thousand before now, it worked only as a checkpoint before weary pilgrims could journey to the Manor, like Glastonbury was to Avalon, serving to lodge the tired Trees or those of the highest order in Soldats.
Tradition kept its firm grasp on this place, the place where time flows slowly, for it stood before Kirika's eyes as idyllic and humble as it was in her memory. Not even the scorched earth tactic the deviated hand of Soldats employed could eradicate its hold.*²
It was eerily supernatural that it would rebuild itself so quickly, regenerating over all of its past scars and burns, so well that the devastation was barely seen, like it didn't exist anymore, but small traces made themselves known. Only the eyes of Soldats and Noir could see and judge for themselves.
Why wouldn't it be strange? They were of Soldats. They were like a nest of insects, a colony that lived underground and scrambled over each other as they festered in the darkness... Noir could eliminate wave after wave of their armies of men, but another legion would spring from the fallen like dragon's teeth...
No. That image was too brutal, too mindless; that wasn't Soldats. They were not like insects, rather, they were like blood. The children of this village, every single person who belonged to the order of Soldats, were exactly like that; no more grotesque and malevolent than insects, but as natural and disturbingly staining as blood. They flowed out as naturally as blood from a wound. Wipe the blood away, and only more crimson liquid would pool out in its place.
They were the blood of Soldats, the very life of the body that flowed from the wilderness, spread itself all over the world, and flowed back into the body again. A body with two hands, the two hands of Soldats: Noir.
Mireille and Kirika walked down the pale dusty paths, passing the villagers. They looked to the two and recognized Kirika, and quickly assumed the other to be Corsica's child. Now they saw that Chloe was not the True Noir.
Mireille looked around her, starting as she heard passers by gasping softly. She looked around, seeing them stop one by one to bow their heads. Women peeked their heads outside their houses then cast their eyes to the ground, men removed their caps and paid their homage to Noir, children stopped playing and reverently did the same. Mireille was slightly unnerved at the sight as Kirika brought her to the eastern edge of the town.
They spied the shrine, lovingly rebuilt as well, housing the stone relief of Noir. Mireille blinked at the relief of the two hands facing each other, the carving that was on her father's pocket watch was enlarged and bared right before her. She couldn't help but feel sickness and pity that everyone lived their lives for this image, that they were so complacent to base their faith in the myth that two women could take the sins of the entire world; couldn't they see what their belief did to Kirika? No, they were blinded by their acceptance of the darkness, and could see nothing else, forgetting everything that surrounded them as time did in turn with this place.
The tinny peal of the brass bell called to Noir, and they stood before a building slightly larger than all the others. Its steeple gave its purpose away, calling the people to mass, but what religion did these people have? Neither of them knew that mere hours before Soldats' retaliation, they had reaffirmed their faith in the two maidens, bowing their heads before the ancient tapestry and their sacred swords. They would lay their lives down to strengthen the Tree, to bring about Le Grande Retour.
Both of them placed their hands on the solid wooden doors, pushing at the firm reconstructed entrance. They entered the chapel, finding black pervading its entire space. Not even the light that pierced through the looming glass windows could breach the darkness, like the light was trapped in the glass, going no farther than the clear barriers, looking on from the outside in.
Without the light they could make out the shapes of pews, two neat rows separated by a wide aisle. Their eyes were led to the pulpit, where an altar was laid out. Where normally one would see a crucifix over the altar, two slim swords were placed side by side together, the light gleaming off their polished surfaces. Above the twin weapons, there was the bright tapestry of the two maidens, face to face, clad in their white robes. The eternal guardians of Soldats.
The women blinked as they saw a figure kneeling on the steps of the pulpit, head bowed and his hands clasped in prayer before him. His attire was black as well, and the trace of white along the neck meant that he was the priest of this chapel.
The doors spread themselves wide, letting the sunlight further in, elongating their shadows until the tips touched the deacon's back. Nonplussed, he turned to catch sight of the maidens of his faith.
"Noir," he breathed out. With great effort, he brought himself up and turned to face them, a limp hindering him.
With the light at their backs, they were walking shadows in the priest's vision, the face of Noir obscured.
Their clothes were swept up with every step they took, and their shades followed, tendrils of black shadow fluttering in the wind they created.
Invisible shrill and bass melancholy strings seemed to hum with their approach, silent accompaniment to the symphony of their bodies' movements. If the angels were singing now, their voices would be ringing a dirge of melodic chants that crescendoed and peaked by Noir's very presence.
"My children, what can I do for you?" the priest asked as they stopped before him.
"Tell us about The Grand Reader..." the waif said softly.
"The Grand Reader? You must mean Le Grande Retour."
"You know what we're talking about." Mireille narrowed her eyes.
"I only blessed the children who would become the Trees - you two, and Chloe."
"Tell us if you fear the eternal darkness," they demanded in unison.
The elder man sighed and touched his handicapped leg, something that he was rewarded with for protecting the young Tree. "The Grand Reader... I was present for the choosing ceremony, along with Altena... The Grand Reader was opened and found to be blank. After being baptized with her blood, it was then tested and purified in fire. Still intact among the embers and with writing on it, Altena read the clues leading to her destiny: to find the children would become the Inner Trees. It led her to you. But I do not know where it is kept. All I can tell you is that it must be at The Manor; it is a holy book, and so it must be kept on holy ground."*³
Kirika sighed. "Thank you."
"Why do you seek it, my children?"
"Because in a world of darkness, we seek light instead," answered Mireille.
He turned to the altar, where a bowl of bread and cup of wine sat. Preparing the materiel for communion, he broke off pieces of bread and dipped them into the fine red wine, replacing them in the bowl. He turned back to face them and the light, holding the bowl up in offering.
Reverently, they accepted the sacrament.
With the high priest's blessing, the pair left the church and went back to the their awaiting teammates.
*0 - Another reference to Noir, episode 19, "Both Hands of Soldats" The library across the street from the cathedral can be found in the research montage that takes place about 5 minutes into the episode. I chose this library instead of the one in episode 10 ("True Noir") because of its scenery and its purpose. Instead of using a library that was a killing ground, I chose the other one that was used for research, looking for the truth.
*1 - Laputa is the name of the flying island in Gulliver's Travels, which was home to a civilization of misguided scientists.
*2 - The village that was described and the events that pertain to it can be found in Noir episode 22, "The End of the Journey." The church scene is pretty much my vision of Noir enacting those dramatic, sweeping scenes that are usually found in John Woo action films. Don't you agree that Mireille and Kirika would look damn cool if they did one of those scenes if they had trench coats and sunglasses? ^_^
*3 - In the final episode of Noir - episode 26, "Birth" - During Altena's monologue, there is a montage where a flame sparks and a book appears within the flame, then there are flashes of realistic like photographs on single colour backgrounds. I totally spun that image off into something else entirely, but just for the purpose of this fic, any small detail is utilized to bring the two series together.
The third chapter is still the third chapter, even if it is split into two parts! This part was getting too big for my liking, and I didn't want to bore you readers on all of the details I've been mashing into this last chapter. But don't worry, I assure that the second part will fulfill the standard quota for cool action scenes and ingenious ways of killing. ^_^