Through the Trapdoor
"That's why we are here: to seek a better tomorrow." - Kuroko Tamaki
Kuroko Tamaki was twelve when she had swore to protect the Prince—her cousin, to her dying breath.
Both her parents have been soldiers serving in the Royal Guard—the personal bodyguards of the King and Queen of Teiko, and they have given their lives to keep them safe during the war. Thus, both were granted First Class Honours after the war had ended. Regardless, that didn't make Tamaki feel any better when she'd received word of their deaths. Nor does it make Shige-kun or Shogo-kun feel any better when messengers arrived on their front doorstep, telling them that their parents have perished in the war too.
The Prince himself had sponsored all three of them into the military academy. And when Tamaki had turned twelve, and had thus started her apprenticeship under the Captain of the Royal Guard, she was placed on the Prince's personal guard detail.
Often, the Prince would sneak away to a flower field not too far away from the Royal City without any of his guards. But when Tamaki was assigned to his guard detail, the red haired prince found to his annoyance that he could never escape Tamaki's watchful eye. Pretty soon, however, he grew used to it, and both of them treasured the time that they had together when they don't have to worry about appearances, and not have to remember that they're a Prince and a soldier.
"I wonder… What makes a good King?" Seijuro wondered, lying flat on his back in the flower field, holding his hand up above his face, partially covering his view of the skies and the clouds. "What makes a good Kingdom?"
Tamaki who was lying next to him, reading one of her books, placed her book down, wondering how to answer that question. "Well… For starters, I don't like going hungry or even being cold." She shrugged. "I don't really know what makes a good Kingdom or even a good King. But I do know that as long as you follow your heart and your desired path, you can go no wrong. You are a good Prince. You only want the best for your people. You despise war and conflicts, and wish for peace instead. If you had a choice, I think that you wouldn't want to fight. I might be wrong, but I think this makes you a good Prince, and an even better King."
Seijuro smiled at his cousin, sitting up. "…I promise you, Tsuyu. I will be a good King." He promised, staring at his clenched fist. "I will protect this kingdom with my last breath, and even my people. And I want you to watch me do it."
Tamaki said nothing for several moments before she sat upright and drew out the blade resting against her waist.
The pure black blade that had been passed down through her family for generations, and that her father had carried into war with him, using that same blade to defend the royal family. And when she had left for the Royal City to attend the military academy with her two childhood friends, she had taken that blade with her.
"Tsuyu?" Seijuro was surprised even as he watch Tamaki struck the tip of her blade into the ground in between them, one hand resting on the hilt.
"…I hadn't finished my apprenticeship, so I really shouldn't be doing this yet, but…" Tamaki closed her eyes briefly before getting down on one knee, her head bowed.
At this point, Seijuro knew what his cousin had in mind now. How many times had he seen it performed? In the Teiko Kingdom, whenever someone enters the Royal Guard, they make a vow before the royal family, or whichever member of the royal family that they're assigned to protect explicitly. To the soldiers serving in the Royal Army or even the Royal Guard, that vow is sacred, and they'll choose to die before choosing to break their vow.
Tamaki closed the fingers of her left hand around the hilt of her sword. "With this sword, I hereby swear to you. On my blood, my soul, my life and my blade. This life will be yours from this day forth until the day that I draw my last breath. I pledge my allegiance and loyalty to you…" Tamaki looked up, meeting Seijuro's eyes. "…My Prince."
It had taken some serious acrobatic skills to get the unconscious Kiyoshi through the manhole and down to the sewers below without anyone dropping him. All in all, Aida Riko was very relieved when the last person went through the manhole, and the girl who had saved them earlier had closed the cover so that no one could follow them in.
The teen that had poked his head out through the manhole cover earlier had said that he'll 'go on ahead' and alert 'the others' about 'some guests arriving' or something along those lines, much to Seirin's confusion. But Riko and Hyuuga knew better than to question them, as it doesn't seem that these two are bad guys, and Riko had a feeling that they might probably be part of one of those rebel groups that are still around.
In the beginning when the king had first started turning Teiko upside down, there have been many people who weren't happy, and rebel groups were forming almost every single day. That is until the Royal Army and the Royal Guard started cracking down on them. Every single rebel group that was found and caught were executed on the spot. Now, nearly four years later, no one dared to defy the king anymore. The few rebel groups that were left have all gone into hiding.
Riko looked around her surroundings. She was surprised when they were led down into the sewers, but now that she took a good look, she saw that it is a lot cleaner than she expected, and it is properly lit. There were even wooden planks covering the areas on the ground where the sewage water runs through.
In fact, if she didn't know any better, Riko will say that the sewers looked almost live-in.
"All right." The girl from earlier leapt down to the ground lightly on her feet from the ladder on the wall that leads to the surface, turning towards Seirin. "Come with me."
Without even waiting for them to answer, she started leading the way through the tunnels, and Seirin started following her quietly, with Hyuuga and Izuki taking up the rear, supporting Kiyoshi in between them. Riko on the other hand was at the front, following the strange girl, with the rest of Seirin in between them.
The leader of Seirin then noticed the blade resting against the back of the girl, and she raised a brow. The blade was almost unusual, for it is an entirely black blade that isn't long enough to be a sword or even a katana of some sort, and neither is it short enough to be a dagger. Even the hilt is completely black, with silver moon engravings visible on it.
Just as Riko is pondering and puzzling over the strange black blade, she was then startled to realise that they've arrived at their destination.
It is a relatively large open area, resembling an underground secret base of some sort, or maybe even a small underground town or something, as there are strange looking buildings erected everywhere, and in the center of this large area are several long tables and chairs that seemed to be meant as an eating area.
Two unknown teens came hurrying up to them just then, placing Kiyoshi gently on a white stretcher that they have with them before hurrying to a nearby 'house' that has a red curtain covering the entrance, with the strange girl from earlier following them.
Seirin were all relatively stunned for several moments before their senses came back to them, and they hurried to that 'house'.
It resembles a hospital or something, with several beds, and there were even privacy curtains around. Kiyoshi was already loaded onto one of the beds where a meek-looking teen with brown hair that doesn't seem any older than them seemed to be treating Kiyoshi, and much to Riko's surprise, he seemed to know what he's doing. That black haired teen from earlier had both his hands pressed against Kiyoshi's stomach wound as the brunette was staunching the bleeding gash on Kiyoshi's chest.
"What serious injuries…" The 'doctor' muttered to himself. "Tamaki-san, who did he fight?" He asked, addressing the girl who had brought them in here.
Riko answered for the girl. "The Panther. We got a run-in with him."
The black haired teen cursed to himself. "Damn."
'Tamaki' approached them just then. "Let's wait outside. Let them do their jobs." Seeing Seirin about to protest, she shook her head, herding them all outside. "Don't worry, your friend is going to make it. Sakurai-kun knows what he's doing. He's handled worse injuries."
"Who are you? What is this place?" Kagami asked curiously.
"Tamaki!" A voice called out, and two boys hurried up to them. The shorter one had black hair and blue eyes whilst the taller one had gray hair and eyes. Both eyed Seirin with suspicion before turning back towards 'Tamaki'.
"Is everyone back?" Tamaki asked them both urgently, and the two teens nodded before telling Tamaki something in a low voice, and she frowned. "That isn't good news. Send word to Imayoshi. Tell him to be on his guard."
Kagami was about to say something when he felt something sniffing around his ankles and looked down only to see a small black and white figure sniffing around his ankles, looking up at him with bright blue eyes with his tongue hanging out happily.
Kagami gave out a loud scream that is enough to deafen everyone within hearing distance before throwing himself backwards so quickly that he basically tripped over his own feet, thus falling backwards in a rather comical fashion.
"Ouch." The shorter boy rubbed his ears. "You sure have a loud voice." He complained. "And what are you screaming for? Aoi won't hurt you." He glanced at the small black and white husky who is now nestled in Tamaki's arms.
"Sorry about him. Kagami isn't too good with dogs." Riko apologised.
"I can see that." Tamaki muttered. "Well, I'll make the introductions. Haizaki Shogo. Ogiwara Shigehiro." The two teens nodded to Seirin. "I'm Kuroko Tamaki." She introduced, much to their shock.
"K-Kuroko Tamaki?" Izuki almost spluttered.
"Formerly of the Royal Guard?" Hyuuga gasped.
"Well, I'll explain more later once your friend wakes up." Tamaki muttered. She then held out Aoi in her arms, and Kagami cringed. "And meet Aoi. He's our messenger of sorts. Whenever we are in a location where our communication devices don't work well, we use him. After all, who will suspect a dog of being a messenger?"
Almost as if agreeing with Tamaki, Aoi barked.
"Tamaki?" Takao Kazunari poked his head out of the infirmary. "He's all right now. Sakurai said that he should wake up at any moment now."
"All right." Tamaki turned towards Seirin. "Do you want to see him now?"
The sudden rush of feet towards the infirmary was her answer. Chuckling to themselves, Tamaki, Shigehiro and Haizaki made their way towards the infirmary as well. Takao was packing up the tools that Sakurai had been using whilst the brunette in question is tying the last of the bandages around Kiyoshi's torso.
"He's all right now." Sakurai told them. "But he mustn't move about much for the next few weeks."
Riko sighed in relief. "Thank you very much."
There was a light groan from the only occupant in the bed, and as one, everyone present turned towards the brunette currently lying there. Dark brown eyes opened blearily, and for several moments, he seemed to be almost confused at where he is.
"Everyone…" Kiyoshi croaked, even as Sakurai assisted him to sit up, propping a pillow at his back. "Where is—" His voice was caught in his throat even as Tamaki made her appearance, and his eyes widened.
"Long time no see, Kiyoshi." Tamaki greeted, almost as if saving long time friends from death is something that she did everyday. "A while like three years. And I see that you're as lucky as ever." She ignored Seirin's confused and curious looks.
Behind Tamaki, Shigehiro and Haizaki snickered. 'Lucky' doesn't even begin to cut it. Hell, the guy could probably take a bullet to the chest and somehow still manage to survive. They don't call him Iron Heart for nothing.
"Kuroko Tamaki…" Kiyoshi almost whispered, his eyes wide as he stared at Tamaki as if he'd just seen a ghost. "So you're still alive… And Ogiwara and Haizaki too." The two teens behind Tamaki nodded to him politely.
"Do you know each other?" Riko asked curiously, looking from one to the other.
Tamaki and Kiyoshi exchanged glances. "Something like that, yeah." Tamaki said at last. "We used to serve in the Royal Guard together. Kiyoshi was in Spec Ops though, before I helped him to defect about three years ago. We were also classmates in the military academy, though Kiyoshi was in a year above me."
"Wait? The Royal Guard?" Kagami spluttered. "The enemy?"
Everyone in the room was now staring at Kagami as if he'd just lost his marbles. Or rather, Tamaki, Shigehiro, Haizaki, Takao and Sakurai were staring at Kagami as if he'd suddenly grown two new heads.
Tsuchida coughed. "Um… Don't you recognise her name?" he said at last.
Kagami looked even more confused. "Should I?" he asked, and everyone sweat dropped.
Haizaki palmed his face. "I never thought that I'd ever meet someone as oblivious as Nebuya. Looks like I'd found another," he muttered, and Shigehiro grinned.
"Kagami, at least learn the names of the Royal Guard's five commanders." Hyuuga sighed.
"Anyway, I see now why the Royal Guard had never been able to find any trace or even any clue about the whereabouts of the remaining rebel forces for two years now." Kiyoshi said, turning back towards Tamaki. "So you are the reason." He smiled. "They really don't call you the Ghost for nothing." He joked. The brunette then turned back towards his friends. "Like I've said earlier, Tamaki is like me—a former member of the Royal Guard. She actually used to be one of the commanders. She used to be one of them—the Generation of Miracles. 'Mirage' Kuroko Tamaki. Also known as the Ghost. Former head of Intelligence of the Royal Guard."
Kagami was now looking at Tamaki in a different light. He had been with Seirin long enough to know just how fearsome that the five commanders of the Royal Guard are—also known as the Generation of Miracles. He had heard the rumours that only one out of the five is the only decent member amongst them, and that she alone had the support of the people.
But she'd gone missing two years ago, declared dead by the palace, and since then, morale amongst the kingdom had dropped severely as a result, and people are slowly losing hope. That is when Seirin had been formed, and Kagami had joined them after beating up two soldiers of the Royal Army, thus saving Furihata and Fukuda from getting thrown into jail.
"The only decent member of the Generation of Miracles…" Kawahara whispered, stars almost shining in his eyes. It is probably the dream of every single rebel in the kingdom to meet the one commander (or former commander) of the Royal Guard that is decent, and doesn't thrive in people's suffering and pain.
"I'd never died two years ago. They only said that because I defected, taking with me nearly my entire unit." Tamaki sighed, not really liking to recall how that had came into being. "Furthermore, the one on the throne wouldn't want to admit that one of his commanders had defected. It would give just cause for a nation wide rebellion. And it actually works easier for me too, as I can get around easier if people thinks that I'm dead." She glanced from face to face. "I've been building up the rebel forces here, as well as trying to improve the lives of the common citizens as much as we could."
"Rebel forces?" Koganei echoed.
Tamaki exchanged looks with her friends. "All right." She cleared her throat, sitting down on one of the spare beds, getting ready for a pretty long story. "Where should we begin?"
The teen that Seirin had seen popping his head out of the manhole cover earlier that had introduced himself as Takao Kazunari had been assigned to show them around their 'base', as he made simple explanations about the various 'buildings' and all that.
The place where they're standing in now isn't the only base for the few remaining rebel groups. There are others—all underground in the sewers, thus functioning as a mini-city of sorts. It is just that the place where they're standing in now is the main base for the more combat orientated rebels. There are several different bases all stretched out, though you have to know your way around underground, or you'll get yourself lost.
Takao had even introduced Seirin to quite a few of the others that are currently around. Not all the rebels are fighters, much to Kagami's surprise. Some are merchants, cooks, doctors and even crafters. There are even a few who are weapon dealers that explain where they got all their weapons from.
"Shige-kun left the Royal Guard about a year before I did." Tamaki explained the basic workings of their base. "That was around the time when the Royal Guard was coming down hard on the rebel groups. We knew that it is only a matter of time before all of them were rounded up and caught, and the situation in the kingdom will then get only worse. Under my orders, Shige-kun left the Royal Guard and started to round up the remaining rebels."
"It also helps that once they heard Tamaki's name, they're very willing to listen to me." Shigehiro added.
"I know how the Royal Guard works. Thus, I know how to work around their blind spots. I told Shige-kun that if any place above ground could always be found, then build our headquarters underground – in the sewers."
Honestly, Seirin could understand now why not a single trace of the remaining rebels could be found now. Who would think of looking for their base in the sewers?
"Your comrades—the other members of the Spec Ops left not long after you did." Tamaki told Kiyoshi who looked concerned. "I have no idea where they are now, only that they're definitely still alive. They out of everyone will know how to avoid the Royal Guard and the Royal Army. They're like us—they know how the Royal Guard works. After all, we used to work for them."
"I didn't think that there are still so many left." Riko said at last after Seirin had been shown to their allocated sleeping area. Honestly, after everything that they've seen, they are seriously starting to consider allying with them.
"You can say that again." Hyuuga agreed. "They know how to hide. And they know how to plan. We've been going along mainly on luck for the past two years. It is only by sheer chance that none of us had gotten ourselves caught. And earlier, if it hadn't been for Kuroko, we would have gotten ourselves killed." He admitted.
"The main rebel group here had been Phantom—Tamaki's group. One that we had been building even before she had left the Royal Guard." Shigehiro told them seriously. "Later on, more joined us. Groups like Touou, Shutoku, along with a few others. And there are some that went unnamed. Even individuals."
"Mainly, what we'd been doing now is to prevent more deaths and building up our forces." Haizaki added. "Also, some of the others have been smuggling food and stuff out to the villages that couldn't get them."
"Most of us never venture above ground after all." Tamaki rubbed her temples. "Those of us who did usually did so to get food and medical supplies, and even intel on the situation. It is basically like a mini city underground, stretching for miles and miles. The different bases that we have here are usually directly underneath one of the towns or villages. There are several different bases here—it is possible to get to where they are, though you'll get lost if you don't know where you're going. Even so, we have communication devices at each base to communicate with each other. We've been doing this for three years—ever since I'd helped the first people to defect."
"Things have gotten a lot more complicated…" Izuki murmured, still deep in thought over what they'd just heard just mere hours ago.
"The kingdom has changed. I don't even recognise it anymore." Riko admitted. "You're right on that point. But why didn't you try to persuade the king when he first…" She trailed off slowly.
Tamaki laughed almost bitterly. "What makes you think I hadn't already tried?" she said tiredly. "He doesn't listen to me. When he first took the throne, none of us were allowed to see him until nearly two years had passed, and by then, it was too late. And it wasn't just the kingdom that had changed. The soul and heart of the Royal Guard and the Royal Army—everything that we had ever stood for had changed drastically. The soldiers and even the people are expendable to the one on the throne."
"What do you mean?" Hyuuga asked with a frown.
Tamaki sighed. "First were those soldiers from the Royal Army," she said. "They were expendable. Then when the Self Defense Forces were sent to curb the rebellion when it first started four years ago. They succeeded, but at the cost of more than half their forces. They were expendable too." As one, Seirin's faces paled. "Then my unit nearly three years ago. I lost nearly half my men. That's when I started to give up hope, and started helping out those that were sentenced to be executed or even those who wanted to leave the Royal City secretly. Nearly half the people you see here are former soldiers. Former members of the Royal Guard, or even former soldiers of the Royal Army."
"Teiko has changed." Shigehiro said wearily, and next to him, Haizaki nodded. "Everyone has long lost their will to fight and live—to fight to live to see a better tomorrow. The few that do are all those that you see down here now. We are all that are left. Even if we succeed in this war and won, Teiko will never be the same again. Not our Teiko."
It was a little past two in the morning when Aida Riko woke up, feeling dryness in her throat. All around her, the boys of Seirin were snoring like no tomorrow in the small 'house' that was given to them to spend the night.
Smiling, as Riko simply couldn't remember when is the last time when all of them could sleep this peacefully without worrying that some soldier will come across them, she got up from her futon quietly, sneaking out of the small house for a drink of water.
Takao had shown them where to get fresh and clean water earlier during their 'tour.' In the first place, the kingdom's supply of water mainly came from the canals, the sewers and even the ocean. One of their blacksmiths had merely made it so that they could have fresh water, no matter what. The mechanics simply flew over their heads, and Riko would rather not try to understand it.
The brunette grabbed one of the glasses sitting on the small table next to where they get their water, and turned on the tap, filling the glass with fresh water before she quenched her thirst. Riko almost jumped out of her skin when she turned around only to see Kuroko Tamaki seated at one of the long tables, apparently poring over a map of some sort.
"What are you doing up at this hour?" Riko asked, approaching the younger girl. She doesn't seem to have just woken up either. If anything, she seemed to have been up for hours.
"Guard duty." Tamaki answered simply. "Someone needs to be awake at all times down here. We're constantly in danger." She added. Now that, Riko could understand. "Also, I'm planning out a route for you and your group to take if you want to leave once the fuss had died down." She added, turning her attention back to the map in front of her.
Riko took a look too, but she simply couldn't understand it at all, what with all the lines and crosses marked on the map.
For several moments, both females were silent, with the only sounds that could be heard being the scribbling of Tamaki's pen as she wrote something in a notebook that she had with her. Finally, Riko broke the silence.
"…What's the…king like?" She asked at last. "You know… Before…everything." She shrugged helplessly.
Tamaki said nothing for several moments before she sat down beside Riko. "He's a good man," she said at last. "Kind too. Gentle. He only wanted what's best for his people. He set up several public works and such during his tenure as Crown Prince. A hospital could be found in every town, no matter how small, because of him. He's a good man. Back then, all of us were honoured to follow him."
Riko was silent. If she hadn't known just a little of how the prince had been like when she was younger, she will think that Tamaki is talking about someone else. "What happened?" she asked at last. "What changed him?"
Tamaki shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "He's…not the man we used to know, and had vowed to protect." She looked at Riko. "I can understand why you set up Seirin. It is as much the same reason why Phantom and all the other rebel groups existed today." She closed her eyes briefly. "This is my kingdom—my homeland." She murmured, almost as if speaking to herself. "I grew up here. No matter who the king might be, I made a vow when I became a soldier to wield my blade to protect Teiko to the best of my ability. Even if everyone sees me as a traitor, I will fulfil my duty to this kingdom."
Riko was silent for a long time, remembering similar words once echoed by someone else in her past. "…My father used to say the same thing," she said at last, hugging her knees to her chest. "The king killed my father." She added. "Dad said that something is wrong with the prince barely a year after he became king. He said that he isn't acting like the man he used to know. The next day, soldiers came, and I never saw my father again." She admitted. "Hyuuga-kun and the others too. That's when we set up Seirin—to protect those who can't protect themselves."
Tamaki sighed. "Everyone here has lost family or friends to the person on the throne now," she said wearily. "That's why we are here: to seek a better tomorrow."
It was four in the morning when Ogiwara Shigehiro slowly made his way towards the ladder of the manhole cover where he saw Kuroko Tamaki sitting atop one of the crates placed there for the one on guard duty.
"I swapped with Takao-kun." Tamaki answered the unasked question even as Shigehiro sat down beside her. "What are you doing here so early? Your shift isn't in another two hours."
"I can't sleep." Shigehiro admitted.
The two friends fell silent for a long time.
"…Why did things turn out like this, Shige-kun?" Tamaki said at last.
"I don't know." Shigehiro admitted. "If you'd told me ten years ago that things would turn out this way, and that the person on the throne now will bring the kingdom down this path, I will say you're smoking pot."
Tamaki chuckled bitterly. "The person sitting on the throne now, and even those four…" She trailed off slowly, feeling anger building inside her the way that it always did whenever she thought about her former friends. "I don't know who they are."
"We might have grown up together, and had even gone through the military academy together, but as far as I'm concerned, they aren't the people whom they used to be." Tamaki shook her head. "They are not them any longer. I don't know who they are anymore. They are the enemy. That is enough for me to know."
Shigehiro sighed, feeling very tired, and also feeling extremely drained, both emotionally and physically. "I wonder, why do people fight?" he questioned, not really expecting an answer either way. "Why do people keep hurting each other? And I wonder… Since when was it when war start to mean 'kill everything in sight'?"
"Even since a monster like the Red King was born." Tamaki replied. She then sighed, leaning her head back against the wall behind her until she could see nothing but the pitch darkness of the walls above her. "Why do we even live?" She asked into the night.
There was no answer, and she didn't expect one either.