Towards the End

"To be human is to be a monster, and the act of being a monster makes you truly human." - Kuroko Tamaki

The infirmary caught quite a bit of attention two days after the Crown Prince was rescued, and when Sakurai had finally cleared the redhead for visitors.

Tamaki was amongst the first visitors, naturally. Shigehiro, Haizaki and even Nijimura were with her. The latter was really supposed to stick to strict bed rest for a month at least; due to having his bones re-broken and set properly just the day before. But like most of the members of the Royal Guard, Nijimura had been stubborn.

Having been used to the stubbornness of the former Royal Guard members, Sakurai had given up on trying to get Nijimura to stay in bed when the prince is finally ready to receive visitors.

The brunette doctor had enough problems getting Tamaki, Haizaki and even Shigehiro to stay in bed when they were injured that nothing short of tying them down to the bed would make them stay where they are. Sakurai had finally given Nijimura a pair of crutches that Mitobe had crafted, telling the former Royal Guard Captain sternly that he'd best not undo all his work, or it'll be another week of bed rest for him.

Thus, the infirmary got quite a bit of attention that day, though with the red curtain covering the entrance of the infirmary, no one could see what is going on inside, and Tamaki had basically restricted everyone from even venturing near it.

Imayoshi had taken over temporary command whilst Tamaki is with the prince, instructing the rest at base to perform patrol or even guard duty whilst Miyaji and Kimura were sent with Hyuuga and Riko to one of the other bases on Tamaki's behalf to request for some weapons. And with the number of weapons that Tamaki had been requesting, Hyuuga and Riko both have a feeling that the civil war might soon be coming to an end, and that they might be making their final stand soon.

"It's really difficult to believe that he is the real prince—the rightful heir." Kagami was telling Takao quietly as he prepared the ingredients for lunch slowly, with Takao, Mitobe and even Koganei as his helpers for the day. For once, the atmosphere surrounding the base isn't tense like how it had been for the past several months ever since their first confrontation with one of the Generation of Miracles. "The rightful king."

Koganei nodded absent-mindedly whilst peeling some potatoes with the knife that he had with him. It is almost a miracle that he didn't accidentally chop off his fingers whilst doing so. "Otsubo-san is right. He is really a good man." Koganei remarked, glancing over at the red curtain covering the entrance of the infirmary as he did so, wondering for the umpteenth time that day—along with every other, just what they are currently discussing inside. "It makes me feel that everything will turn out fine in the end."

"He has that charisma." Takao shrugged, having been the only one amongst the four males to actually meet the real Crown Prince, and know him as the man that he is. After all, up until two days ago, apart from Tamaki and a few of them, nearly all the rebels have assumed that the Red King is the real Crown Prince, and not an impersonator. "The Prince. That's why everyone follows him." He murmured absent-mindedly, slicing the carrots into equal sized pieces, recalling his own vow to the Crown Prince when he had first finished his training beneath Midorima and Tamaki, and had joined the Royal Guard under Midorima's command not long after that. "That's why Tamaki, Shige and all the others swore when they were young to protect and serve him until their deaths. To them, he is their master. Their Prince. Their King. Their Lord." Takao glanced at the other three. "They will follow no other." He told them solemnly. "He has never treated any of his followers as dirt. No matter who it had been, the Prince had always treated them as equals. He is a good man. That's why everyone loves him."

"I wonder what is going to happen now?" Kagami wondered.

"Is it really for the best?" A mournful six-year-old Akashi Seijuro asked Kuroko Tamaki and Nijimura Shuzo even as the two younger ones waited patiently as the older teen saddled the two horses. "Is it really for the best?" He asked again, turning his head towards the Rakuzan Villa behind him.

"You know that nothing we say can convince the king and queen to release him." Tamaki told her cousin quietly. Honestly, she doesn't think that it's a good idea to simply lock the older royal twin up either, but the other alternative is… "Besides, there had already been a public announcement about the Crown Prince—you."

And if the public learns about Seiki and his true nature, there would be a true scandal like no other, was on the minds of all three, but not spoken out loud.

"Come on, Your Highness." Twelve-year-old Nijimura Shuzo held out a hand to the red haired prince, ready to help him on the horse whilst Tamaki got onto her own horse with some difficulty due to her small size. "We should get back."

"I know." Sei murmured mournfully, looking back at Rakuzan Villa wistfully. "I…can't come back here again, can I?" He asked, but neither one of the two with him answered. "Locking him up like this… Not even allowing him to take a step outside… Not even allowing anyone outside ourselves, Shirogane, Uncle Takeru and Aunt Mayumi to learn about his existence…" Sei trailed off. "Wouldn't it be a kinder fate if they'd just killed him when he was a baby?"

The infirmary was silent for a long time after all four of them—Tamaki, Shigehiro, Haizaki and Nijimura have finished telling Akashi Seijuro everything that they knew, even answering all his questions with the Crown Prince drilling them on everything that had happened for the past four years ever since the murders of his parents, and then when he was somehow drugged and woke up the next day within the confines of Rakuzan Villa, with his twin brother taking his place as the Crown Prince.

"I see…" Akashi murmured at last, finally managing to look at his subordinates' eyes. The things that they'd told him that had been happening in Teiko for the past four years have been horrific, and he almost didn't want to believe them. But he knows his own brother, and he knew that it is what Seiki is capable of doing. "So Midorima is…" He trailed off slowly, looking at his own cousin who looks ready to cry.

Neither Midorima nor Tamaki have confirmed or denied the rumours going around that they have been dating back before things have gone spiralling down to Hell, but Akashi is neither blind nor deaf. The two have been amongst the few that took on regular bodyguard shifts for his guard detail, especially after they have finished their apprenticeships. He had seen the way that Midorima and Tamaki have looked at each other, and he definitely didn't miss the way that Midorima's second-in-command—Takao Kazunari had looked at Tamaki. But as it wasn't any of his business, Akashi had said nothing, and had kept out of his cousin's love life.

"I told him not to do it!" Tamaki burst out. "I told him to stay alive! 'To be human is to be a monster, and the act of being a monster makes you truly human'." Sitting on a chair behind her, Nijimura stiffened—as that had been what he had told Tamaki before he'd left the Royal Guard. "Shu-nii told me that once. So why couldn't he…— Why couldn't Shin stay alive?"

"Tamaki…" Shigehiro murmured, feeling rather guilty.

"I…never even…said that I'm sorry…! I never told him that I love him!" Tamaki covered her eyes with her left hand, not wanting any of the males currently in the room with her to see that she had been crying. "I know that he went the way that he want to. I know that he died a hero's death—by making sure that you could be rescued. But… There must have been a better way. Why must he be such a martyr? The true victors in a war are those that survive. We both knew that. I'd never blamed him for doing what he had to do, as it is what he has to do under the Red King's rule to survive. So why…? Why does Shin have to die?"

No one knew what to say for several moments after hearing the pure anguish in Tamaki's voice.

"I think that maybe the guilt had been gnawing at him for a long time, especially in recent months." Nijimura said at last solemnly, with none of the others knowing just what to say. "You know this, Tamaki. You went through it yourself. Didn't you come this close to offing yourself when you were given orders to raze down about half the villages in the western continent of Teiko four years ago?" Tamaki flinched, remembering just what she'd done, and the guilt that had wrecked her. She had lost countless nights of sleep over it even. "In ways, he'd already forgotten what it means to live. In several ways, death might have been a better way out for him."

"I'm sorry, Tsuyu." Akashi whispered, guilt wrecking him. It is almost like his cousin had even forgotten how to smile. Nijimura had just been in the next bed beside him when he'd woken up two days ago, and had told him briefly what had happened, and why Tamaki had stopped smiling.

Tamaki shook her head. "It's not your fault," she said earnestly, and Shigehiro and Haizaki nodded. "If there is anyone to blame for this, the fault lies with Seiki. You know that. He is never meant to be the King of Teiko—he doesn't have the right mindset for it, and he wouldn't protect and defend the citizens and the kingdom the way that you and the previous king would."

"Tamaki's right." Haizaki shrugged. "Forgive me for speaking out of bounds, Your Highness, but the Red King had turned the kingdom upside down in just four years. Thousands of people have died by now. And the once loyal soldiers to the kingdom… Can they even be called soldiers now? Maybe about half of them feel ill at what they have to do—and only remained with the military because it might be the best way that they feel would allow them to protect the kingdom. But what about the other half? The Red King had corrupted them. They don't deserve to be called soldiers anymore."

"He might be your brother, Your Highness, but even I feel that death might be too easy a punishment for him." Shigehiro stated, a hard glint entering his eyes. The others turned towards him in surprise, as Shigehiro is usually the last person to want to wish death on someone. The Red King must have really pissed off the normally calm and cool-headed teen for Shigehiro to say this. "Not when he had so much to answer for. But…" He closed his eyes briefly. "I think…that the person to decide his fate…should be yourself or Tamaki."

"What are you going to do, Your Highness?" Nijimura asked Akashi blandly. "Everyone is waiting for you. All the deaths and fights for the past four years… It has all been for this moment. The Red King might be your brother, but he is an enemy to Teiko. We will never accept him as our leader, or even as a Teiko citizen. Not when he'd ruined so many lives and caused the deaths of so much more."

Akashi closed his eyes briefly in despair.

He had a pretty good idea of the horrors that Seiki had caused in his guise even when he was still imprisoned in Rakuzan Villa. Shirogane was kind enough to tell him, and Seiki is never one to keep his mouth shut when he'd come by to gloat. And then when Tamaki had rescued him, his subordinates have told him everything, not mincing their words in the least. They have his complete trust even before his parents have passed away because Akashi knew that they would tell him the truth, no matter how difficult it is for him to hear.

As a Prince, Akashi had his responsibilities and his duty to his people. He has a responsibility to protect them, no matter what he has to do. Even if the culprit is his own brother—his own blood…

"We don't have a choice…" Akashi finally murmured, opening his eyes once more, determination shining in red orbs. The four former Royal Guard members were almost startled and taken aback to see the pure determination shining in them.

"My Prince?" Tamaki dared to speak.

"They're not the people whom they used to be." Akashi murmured, despair entering his eyes when he recalled what Tamaki, Shigehiro, Haizaki and Nijimura have to tell him about the commanders of the Royal Guard, and just how much people have feared and hated them now when just a few short years ago, they were so loved and respected. Out of the Royal Guard's five commanders, probably, Tamaki is the only one that is still loved and respected by the people. "Those people… I don't know who they are." He declared. "And if they've been terrorising the kingdom and the people like they are…" He trailed off slowly. "They don't deserve to be called soldiers, or to even be part of the Royal Guard—the kingdom's guardians." Akashi looked at the four in front of him. "I have one request as your prince."

"Yes?" Nijimura asked politely, having a good idea what Akashi might order. The Crown Prince might prefer peace over fighting—rather the opposite of his twin brother, but he is still a leader, and he knows that in order to regain peace for his kingdom, blood must be shed.

"Kill them all." Akashi looked tortured to have to order this, but he had stayed firm. "Don't leave them alive. I realise that this might be hard on you to do." He looked from face to face, "but we don't have a choice. They were my guards as a child too. They were my friends more than my guards." He admitted, recalling those days. Tamaki looked sad too as she recalled those days. "I don't want to kill them, but I don't have a choice." Akashi admitted. "My hands are tied. Seiki… My brother… He's tainted them. Even back then, he has a word with words and twisting the psyche of someone's mind. Little wonder why Shirogane who is absolutely loyal to my parents would betray their wishes and orders and take sides with Seiki. This is my first order to you." He looked from face to face, determination shining in each of their faces. "Kill them. Don't let them leave alive."

"Yes, My Lord."

The entire base was in an uproar when they heard what the prince had ordered, and nearly all of them have even been in to speak with him—as per Akashi's request, as the Crown Prince was feeling extremely guilty with what the kingdom had to put up with because of his brother.

But one thing that everyone had agreed on is that if it had been them, they wouldn't have done any less if they had been in Akashi's shoes. Several of the soldiers—the Royal Guard's remaining commanders especially… They are beyond redemption now. Not with what they've done.

Though the little titbit about the Red King being a master at human psychology and having this uncanny ability to twist the psyche and minds of humans didn't surprise anyone by now. After all, if he can do that to the commanders of the Royal Guard—who have once been so loved and adored by everyone in the kingdom, then he has to understand the way human minds' work, and had to be a master manipulator. The fact that Tamaki and the rest of them, along with Midorima, could escape his manipulations is already considered a miracle in itself.

"Iwamura-san sent a message back that he could probably get the number of weapons that I've asked for, along with the ammo." Tamaki was saying later that night even as she sat in the infirmary with her cousin, playing a game of shogi with her cousin. Two beds away, Nijimura was sitting up in his own bed, reading a book. "But it'll probably take him about a month and a half, as he needs to contact his contacts with the black market."

"A month and a half, huh?" Akashi mused even as he studied the board in between the two cousins, pondering over his next move. "By then, we should be fully recovered and at full health." His red eyes flickered over to Nijimura who smirked whilst reading his book. Akashi then glanced at Tamaki. "So what's your plan? You had to have a few. You're the Royal Guard's top strategist after all."

Tamaki smiled. "You know me too well," she remarked, moving one of her pieces. "First of all, we make no movements for a month. By now, the Red King should have learnt of your escape and Shirogane's death."

Akashi raised an amused brow. "To unsettle him first, huh?" he mused, knowing how his cousin thinks. "After all, if Seiki is unsettled and nervous, he is more prone to mistakes and rash decisions. After that?"

Tamaki raised an elegant brow at her cousin, ignoring Nijimura's amused smirk two beds away from them, with the older man not even bothering to pretend that he's not listening to their conversation any longer. She then picked up a bishop piece, holding it in between the forefinger and thumb of her right hand.

"The generals will be the most bothersome ones," was all that Tamaki said, even as she took one of her cousin's generals.

Akashi frowned even as he stared down at the shogi board in front of him. Unlike how his cousin looks, her plans sometimes tend to be quite risky, and some of the better ones even involved quite a few sacrifices. But no one can deny that Tamaki's plans have always been damn effective. There is a reason why she's the Royal Guard's best tactician after all.

After all, the Kuroko clan have been strategists and assassins for generations. Tamaki's father had taught her everything that she knew, and the rest, she'd learned out of journals and books that her father had left behind after his death.

"What are you planning, Tsuyu?" Akashi asked, having a feeling that all of a sudden, this game between them isn't just a normal game to 'catch up'.

Shogi games are often used to train strategy after all. The final examination for Strategy Planning in the military Academy actually involves a shogi match against the head instructor. And from what Akashi knew, Tamaki had scored a perfect score against the head instructor, being the first student in over thirty years to beat him in a shogi match, with the last person to beat the instructor in a shogi match being Tamaki's own father when he had been a student.

Tamaki said nothing for several moments, looking between the pieces on their own sides of the board, her eyes resting on the two knight pieces and the single rook piece surrounding the king piece on her side of the board. She then moved her bishop piece forward, being in a good enough place for her to take one of Akashi's generals.

"…I got an idea."

It was dead silent in the streets, with not a single sound to be heard. Even the stray animals that could usually be seen wandering the streets, begging for some scraps of food are currently sleeping.

Thus, no one took notice of two young men darting across the streets, plastering the notices in their arms to the walls with glue.

Hyuuga Junpei approached Izuki Shun, glancing at the part of the street where he'd covered, noting with satisfaction that the notices that he'd pasted are in full view. There is no way that no one would notice it.

He is almost looking forward to the uproar that would erupt the following morning all across Teiko. Honestly, he would never want to get on the bad side of Kuroko Tamaki. He had already had that thought in mind when she'd saved Kiyoshi, and then when Izuki had told him about the brief battle that he'd witnessed between Kuroko Tamaki and Kise Ryota several months ago. But this plan just about beats everything.

Honestly, for someone so petite and innocent looking, they would never guess that beneath it lies a devious mind. Hyuuga guessed that she really did deserve her rank as one of the Royal Guard's commanders, and why she is named as head of Intelligence.

"You done?" Hyuuga asked Izuki who nodded grimly. He then looked up at the skies only to see the first signs of dawn fast approaching. "It's nearly dawn. Let's go."

Izuki nodded, glancing back at the notice that he'd just plastered to the wall, with a large paragraph of words written beneath three photos—the first is that of a redhead with two red eyes, the second being that of a redhead with the same face as the first, only with two different coloured eyes, and the third photo are that of two red haired babies.

"Let's go." Izuki echoed before he followed Hyuuga.

Uproars broke out all across Teiko Kingdom come the next morning, and by mid-afternoon, there have been rumours and stories flying all across the kingdom that the one currently on the throne isn't the real prince at all.

From there, from one person to the other, the people then have started whispering; that it all makes sense now. That the real prince wouldn't have subjected them to so much brutality when he has nothing but the best for the kingdom and the people in mind since day one. That it must be the reason why several members of the Royal Guard have 'betrayed' the king within a year after he had taken the throne.

The Royal City have taken steps to curb those rumours and speculations, with the soldiers claiming that it is just rumours. But within the Teiko Kingdom, rumours have a habit to spread all across the kingdom within a week at most. And if it involves the royal family, then they are even faster.

Thus, within a week, all of the Teiko Kingdom were doubting the current king's legitimacy, and the commoners were rekindled with a new hope in their hearts; that the real prince would return to save them. There were even rumours that the real prince is currently with Kuroko Tamaki, and that she had been the one to save him from the clutches of 'the evil one'. If it is even possible, the common people have even loved the former head of Intelligence even more after that.

Needless to say, the Red King was furious about those rumours, and had been demanding answers as to who had been the one to spread those 'false rumours', and have plastered those notices and photos all over the Teiko Kingdom—even the Royal City. And it is still a mystery to this day how the culprit could enter the Royal City and plastered those notices all over without anyone seeing when the Royal City is the most heavily guarded.

No one had dared to confront the Red King about his legitimacy to the throne. Not after one foolish legislator had done so and had gotten beheaded in the throne room for his trouble.

Whilst chaos and uproars have broken out all over Teiko Kingdom, with the soldiers especially uneasy, the rebels were particularly silent, with no one having seen hide nor hair of them for nearly a month and a half now—not ever since Nijimura Shuzo had been rescued from being executed.

"Well, the surface are all in an uproar." Wakamatsu said the moment that he'd returned from his recon mission, a bright grin on his face that looks almost creepy to anyone watching. But no one had cared, as they knew what Wakamatsu is so happy about. All the others that were sent on recon missions have came back grinning as well.

"They are now having doubts about the Red King's legitimacy to the throne." Imayoshi nodded, with all the other rebels surrounding Tamaki and Akashi who had a large map spread out in front of them on the table where they usually had their meals. As the battle tent is too small to hold all of them, their strategy meeting had been moved out to the main area of the base where they usually have their meals. "When one person starts asking and doubting, the others would soon follow. And like a domino reaction, every other person in the kingdom would do so." Imayoshi had a satisfied smirk on his lips. "We don't really have to do anything to ruin the reputation of the Red King and the Royal Guard after that—they would do it by themselves. Though not like they had much reputation to talk about anyway." Imayoshi shrugged.

"If he had ruled Teiko as a king should, the kingdom wouldn't have hated him so much." Susa agreed. "So what next?" He asked Tamaki. "By the looks of things, we should be preparing for the final battle, right?"

Tamaki nodded. "It's been long enough. We're going to end this war," she said, and there were loud cheers at that. "But first things first." She turned towards Iwamura who had been standing to the side with Kasuga Ryuhei—both with satisfied smirks on their lips. The two are mainly the ones getting their weapons from the weapon merchants that they have contacts with. "The weapons that we need?"

"I've been in constant communication with the other bases and even the weapon merchants in the black market." Iwamura told Tamaki. "We would be getting it tomorrow." He told Tamaki proudly, and loud cheers soon followed. Bright eyes and excited looks were on everyone's faces—so unlike the usually downed and gloomy expressions that had been common for nearly four years now.

"We would move in five days." Tamaki told the entire room calmly. "Not only would it give us time to go over the weapon inventory, we can also finalise our strategy. Satsuki, the Royal City?"

Momoi Satsuki who had returned that afternoon had a bright smile on her face as well. "They're in complete chaos due to all the rumours going around," she told Tamaki with a grin. "The soldiers are all trying to curb all those rumours, and trying to arrest those who have been talking about it in the streets. Trying, because the moment that they tried, the rest of the townspeople would start attacking the soldiers with pebbles and stones. Security in the palace is tighter than usual, with most of the Royal Guard stationed there. But I don't think that we really need to worry about the Royal Guard members save for the commanders." Momoi said solemnly. "The Royal Guard soldiers never liked what they were ordered to do right from the start. The only reason why they've stayed this long is because they thought that the Red King is the real prince. The soldiers of Teiko have always been a loyal bunch. When they serve, it is to serve until their deaths. All of us know that."

There was silence for several moments as everyone contemplated Momoi's words. Truth be told, the few that have left the service of the Red King are the only ones brave and willing enough to do so. They have known all along that about half of the soldiers currently in service never wanted to do what they have been doing all along.

"If we enter the palace, then no doubt that those few that are loyal to the real prince would switch sides." Haizaki said at last.

Shigehiro agreed. "The northern, southern, eastern and western gates are always heavily guarded though, even from the time when we have been soldiers," he remarked, glancing at the four marked spots on the map in front of them. "We will have to break our way through."

Nijimura frowned. "Assuming that the side gates are still functional…" he said slowly, looking from face to face, his finger tracing the eastern side gate marked on the map, "then it probably won't be as heavily guarded. And guarding the side gates have always been the job of the Protection Unit. Now with Midorima…" He trailed off slowly, and there were flinches from the few that actually knew Midorima personally. "Do you think that the side gates would still be guarded?" He asked Tamaki.

"Takao?" Tamaki asked Takao who frowned.

"I don't think so." Takao shook his head, and Otsubo, Miyaji and Kimura nodded in agreement. "Guarding the side gates have always been the responsibility of the Protection Unit. The duties and missions that the soldiers of each division of the Royal Guard gets have always been strictly secret—known only to soldiers of their own division. Just like how we never knew what the soldiers of the other divisions do, I doubt that they knew that guarding the side gates have been the duties of the Protection Unit. Now with Shin-chan gone…" His face looked pained. "Probably, the side gates haven't been guarded since that night."

"And with the death of their commander, the soldiers of that unit have long fled the palace." Kiyoshi pointed out. "Didn't several of them join us just recently? Some of them even took on the role as 'civilian soldiers' to defend the common people from getting arrested lately."

"All right. Then I say that we use the large numbers that we currently have to our advantage." Tamaki said, much to everyone's surprise. "A small number of us would slip into the palace whilst the rest would create a diversion outside the palace. Whether we would walk away with a victory or not will depend on that group. That's why we would be sending our best fighters in there. We'll be up against the commanders of the Royal Guard." Tamaki warned, looking from face to face, seeing just about everyone ready to volunteer to be amongst the group to enter the palace. "We might die. So think carefully before you go off marching to your death."

There was silence for several moments before a voice spoke up. "I got a debt to settle with the Panther." Kagami Taiga grunted, slamming both fists together, a fire burning in his eyes. "He nearly killed Kiyoshi-sempai that night!" All of Seirin flinched when they remembered that night when they'd nearly died against Aomine Daiki and his blade if they hadn't came across Tamaki. "And he killed Tsuchida-sempai! I want my revenge against him!" He looked at Tamaki. "Please! I'll keep my head this time. Let me come."

Tamaki studied Kagami for a long time before she nodded. "Very well," she said. "Just remember to come back alive." Kagami grinned and let out a whoop of victory. "Needless to say, we would be going into the palace too." She gestured towards herself, Haizaki, Shigehiro and Nijimura. "Kiyoshi, Mibuchi, Hayama, Nebuya and Hanamiya." The mentioned five perked up when their names were mentioned. "Form a team of your own, as each of you would be leading the diversion attacks on the side gates." An almost feral grin appeared on Nebuya's face, and an almost maniacal grin appeared on Hanamiya's. "The rest of you would be within the Royal City itself. And with any luck, we'll end this war with this last battle." She said quietly, and everyone quietened down. "Four years… Too many people have died."

Everyone bowed their heads for a moment of silence for all those that they have lost.

"Wait." Takao's voice interrupted just then, and everyone turned towards him. "Let me come with you." He told Tamaki with determination, much to everyone's surprise. "I… I need to see him dead with my own eyes." He admitted. "That man…" He clenched his hands into fists. "The Red King killed Shin-chan. I… I need to see him dead with my own eyes."

Tamaki exchanged looks with Akashi who nodded. "Very well. Then you'll guard Sakurai," she told Takao, much to his surprise. The brunette doesn't look very surprised which must mean that he must already know. "I got a feeling that we might need his skills as a doctor within the palace. That is why he would be coming with us. Takao-kun, guard Sakurai with your life."

"I will." Takao promised.

"What about the prince?" Kasuga asked, looking at the prince. "Will he be going into the palace too?"

"Of course." Akashi nodded. "After all, this entire war started because of me in the first place. I have a responsibility to see it end."

"It's too dangerous!" Riko protested. "We can't lose you, Your Highness! If something happens—"

"Just because I'm the Crown Prince doesn't mean that I'm totally defenceless." Akashi interrupted, annoyed. "I'll have you know that I was trained in the art of the blade since I was young. I often trained with the Royal Guard when Tsuyu and the others were apprentices."

As one, everyone's heads swivelled towards Tamaki who nodded solemnly. "Teiko's royals are trained in combat from a young age," she told them. "We're not known as the Kingdom of the Blade for nothing. Besides, if worse comes to worse, we'll protect him." She gestured towards herself, Shigehiro, Haizaki and Nijimura. "And…" Everyone stared even as Tamaki reached onto her back and removed the pure white daito, handing the sword towards Akashi silently. "I think that it's time I hand this to you, Sei."

Akashi recognised the sword that Tamaki had handed to him almost immediately. After all, he had seen pictures and even paintings of this sword in the palace and even in books during his studies. One half of the sword pair that is said to be wielded only in times of danger when the kingdom is being threatened.


Tamaki nodded, ignoring their gobsmacked audience even as Akashi took the daito with trembling hands. "In times of danger, the 'Light' blade will be handed over to the one who will bring the Teiko Kingdom to the light," she recited what her father had often told her when he had shown her where he had kept the Light blade of the royal family. "Until that happens, the blade will always be in the guardianship of the Kuroko Clan. The royal family's 'Light', and the Kuroko Clan's 'Shadow'." She touched the pure black short blade resting at the back of her waist. "These two blades come as a pair—only to be wielded as one when the kingdom is in danger."

"Rest assured." Nijimura grunted, looking from face to face. "Even if you can't trust me with the prince's safety, you should trust Tamaki. She wouldn't let anything happen to the prince."

Akashi nodded. "I trust them. All of them. All of you." He said. "They have never failed me before, and they never will. I'll trust them with my life. The same way that I know they'll keep me from harm, no matter what."

"Besides…" Tamaki got a dark menacing look in her eyes that simply caused shivers to run down the spines of everyone present. "I got a score to settle with the Red King anyway." She looked from face to face. "Five days from now, it will all begin. Let this be the final battle—" She shook her head. "No, let's make this the final battle!"

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