In which Chloe buys a litre of milk.
Chapter 1: A Beautiful Morning
The sun peeked through the clouds. Rivers of light poured earthward, splashed through an exquisite four-panel window and pooled on a soft, silk-sheeted bed. A gentle ocean breeze washed through the patio door (left open overnight), around the legs of expensive antique furniture, over the bed, and tickled past a peach-soft cheek.
A young girl with hair the colour of grape-juice stirred from sleep. She rose, stretched, and yawned, once, in a polite, surreptitious manner. She was short, yet powerfully built, with a face like a knife: sharp, hard-edged, and made in China. She had the intense, narrow, and violet eyes of one who had complete and total confidence in herself and her place in the great order of things (or a permanent squint).
Outside, morning bells were ringing. Songbirds saluted the new day. Swinging out of bed, she adjusted her pyjamas (pink with a riot of hedgehogs upon it), and headed out to join them.
Gracefully, she rolled and flipped back to her feet, mildly vexed. She gave a nearby bell-pull three sharp tugs.
The bedroom door immediately swung open. An elderly man, either chronically overdressed or a butler, leaned through, and raised an eyebrow.
"Alphonse?" the girl said, in a quiet voice.
"Yes?" the overdressed butler replied.
"I will take breakfast in three minutes."
"And please see to the floor," she added.
He glanced at it, and then nodded, once. "Sleep well, m'lady?"
She gave no answer; he didn't expect one.
"Ah," he said, remembering something. "A message for you; it arrived this morning." He laid the silver tray bearing the letter on a side table, bowed, and left.
She would read it in the garden, she decided, picking it up.
She stepped over the corpse of the ninja assassin sprawled out on the carpet ("I knew that dream was a little vivid," she thought) and out onto the patio. A curious sparrow landed on her shoulder, and gobbled the seeds she grabbed from a nearby feeder. She wandered through a riot of chrysanthemums and wildflowers, studying the shape, texture, colour, and scent of each in minute detail.
Eventually, she came to a clearing, actually the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the cape. Waves crashed against it, their scent borne to her by the rising winds. She sat on a weather-worn chunk of granite, plucked what appeared to be an unusually sharp letter-opener from her sleeve, and opened the envelope.
"My darling Chole," she read. Her heart leapt just a little, as it always did. Her thoughts drifted back to that strange, distant land she called home, and to the woman who had raised her there. Under her benevolent gaze she had learned the truth about the world of men, and her place in it, of her destiny to save that world from drowning in its own sin as an avenging maiden of darkness, one half of the pair of assassins that made up the legendary masters of death -- Noir.
"Tales of your noble deeds reach me even here, a world away," the letter continued. "You have done so very well, and now you are almost home. You must have been so tired from your long journey when you arrived here…"
"I wouldn't have been," a voice in her head said, "if you'd let me drive."
"…And I hope you are well rested." She nodded. Home was home, of course, but she did like this little safe house. The sun, the wind, the garden with its many flowers, the ocean waves…
"But, alas, the winds of Fate have changed direction. Before you come home, there is another task you must perform." She grew serious. A mission. A trial. A quest. She would not fail. She cleared her mind, steeled herself, and read the command.
Waves crashed against the black rocks below. A gull soared by on a wind from afar, with a cry.
She read it again.
She turned the letter over. Blank.
She read the front side of the letter again, paying particular attention to the last few lines.
She took a deep, cleansing breath of ocean air. Subconsciously, her hands crumpled the paper as they curled themselves into fists.
"This is just one of the many trials one must overcome in order to become Noir," she reminded herself, breathing meditatively. "The survival of countless battles and traps; the skilful and efficient execution of missions; this is my life. I am the True Noir. I will carry out this task without question, without fear, without hesitation, no matter what it may be."
Breathe in, breathe out…
"No matter what."
A flock of starlings erupted from the garden as an aspiring maiden of darkness with a remarkable set of lungs screamed, "DAMN YOU, ALTENA!"