Summary: The first time is always the hardest.

Author: Ijemanja

Title: The Blood on Their Black Hands

o

Mireille is fourteen years old. It isn't the first time she's held a gun, but it is the first time she's looked down the barrel and held a human being in her sights.

'There's time,' her uncle says, calmly and evenly. 'One shot.'

The same sort of thing he always says. She can feel his hand hovering over her shoulder, but not touching, not disturbing.

She only needs one shot.

Her eyes take in a head of curly dark hair - the patch of grey at his temple like the centre of a bullseye. He bends his head over a chessboard and she follows the movement. Her hands do not shake, but they will soon.

Guns are heavy - no one can hold such a stance indefinitely.

That's another thing her uncle always says, but now he is silent. He is letting her make the choice, she knows. But this isn't a choice for her - at least, it doesn't feel like one.

This man will die by her hands, or another's - her uncle's probably, if she lets her hands drop. There is no negotiation to be made, no clemency to be granted, not by her or anyone. It almost doesn't matter what he's done, at this point. And everyone dies in the end, anyway. That isn't a choice, either, but a matter for fate to decide.

She lets the unrest in her mind subside, she lets the weight on her shoulders dissipate to nothing. She lets the decision fly out of her hands, and the man falls from his chair onto the grass.

It was a choice, after all, she realises.

Her uncle lets his hand fall now, touching her back as he leads her away.

'Good shot,' he says encouragingly. 'It will be easier, next time.'

She looks up at her uncle and smiles as she slips the gun into her bag.

It was easy this time.

o

Chloe isn't fond of guns - they are too heavy, too loud, and they smell.

She prefers to play with sharp things, like swords and knives. Blades keen and light and quick, like beautiful music. And silvery, like moonlight.

Sometimes she cuts herself, but she just shows the blood to Kirika, laughing. And Altena only shakes her head as she bandages the stinging wounds.

'Your fingers are still small,' she says.

She can't wait until she is tall and strong like Altena. Chloe is nine years old, though, and she is not too small for this adventure.

No one notices her - she stays in the shadows. It isn't cold, but the woman pulls her shawl tighter around her shoulders. And she's so busy looking around her she isn't watching where she's going. Chloe helps her up when she stumbles and falls.

'Thank you, child,' she says, patting Chloe's hand distractedly. But then she lets go with a gasp, and turns white - she has seen Chloe's face.

'Altena is sorry it came to this,' Chloe delivers her message in her most important-sounding voice.

The woman draws herself up, standing straight and dignified, looking down her nose at Chloe. She almost reminds Chloe of Altena in this moment.

'She will regret this path she has chosen,' the woman says. 'Tell her that.'

'I will,' Chloe promises. 'I'll tell her everything.'

She looks down at the blade, after. The blood on it gleams darkly.

She can't wait to show Kirika.

o

The shots are loud in the big room. There is a boy on the floor, and a man.

'Take care of my Mireille,' the lady says.

She is tall and beautiful and not at all afraid. The gun is growing heavy in Kirika's hands as she holds it aloft, and then there is one more shot, and the lady is on the floor, too.

Somewhere there must be a girl, the one Altena told her about, but Kirika does not see her. Kirika wonders how old she is; a big girl maybe, or a little girl, like Kirika and Chloe.

'My Mireille,' the lady called her.

Kirika walks over to where Chloe is waiting for her. She can hear music playing, and everything suddenly smells funny. It is the blood, she realises. All that blood on the floor - she didn't know it would smell like this.

Kirika is five and half, and there is blood on her shoes. Her toes are sticky, and she wants to go home. But Altena will be so pleased with her, and Chloe is happy, dancing beside her.

'Kirika, you did it,' Chloe says excitedly.

It's time to go. Kirika puts the gun in her pocket where it weighs down her overalls and bumps against her leg with every step. Chloe grabs her hand and swings it back and forth.

She looks back over her shoulder for a moment, realising that behind them, in the big room, the music has stopped.

It reminds her of something important. Something important that she mustn't forget.

Somewhere, there is a girl named Mireille, and Kirika has to look after her.

o

Before she pulls the trigger there is only one thought in her head: this is what guns are for.

It's so loud it hurts her ears, but it is only just a little more pain.

There is blood on her thighs, and blood on the walls, and in her hair, and on her hands. She's hungry, and she hurts, and she's alone. Her family is dead. But she is a Soldat, and she knows what that means. It's all that matters, now.

Altena kills the soldier with his own gun, and it is nothing. His life, she thinks, is nothing.

She walks away, leaving a room filled with death behind her.

Noir. The word is like a seed in her mind.

She is ten years old.

end