How Much Are You Willing to Sacrifice?
"How much can you take away from someone…who already has nothing?" - Ogiwara Shigehiro
The entire base was extremely silent; almost as silent as a graveyard, even as the rebels watched their unofficial leader flipping through the pages of the recent Bingo Book that Imayoshi Shoichi had managed to steal from a member of the Royal Army in one of the larger cities when he and a few others have gone on 'Robin Hood' duty.
Shigehiro sighed even as Tamaki placed the book down onto the table, with two of the pages that they could see containing photos of Shigehiro himself and Tamaki—with a ridiculously high bounty amount on Tamaki's page.
"Well, the fat's in the fire now." Haizaki grunted, looking from face to face. "Truth be told, it is only a matter of time before they place us in the Bingo Book. Those guys aren't idiots. They should know full well that Tamaki and the rest of us are still alive."
Takao agreed. "After all, we worked for them once upon a time," he nodded. "They know what we're capable of."
"And if so, there is only one thing left here for us to do." Imayoshi noted, picking under his nails with the tip of his dagger. He then glanced at the surrounding faces. "If they come after us, then they shouldn't expect to return alive, if at all." There is a steely glint visible in his eyes that made Seirin shiver.
It is easy to forget, but once upon a time, nearly half of these guys here are former Royal Guard members; former soldiers. They were the best of the best; the kingdom's top killers. Particularly the former members of the Intelligence Unit that Kuroko Tamaki had once headed.
Tsuchida fidgeted, feeling really uncomfortable. "…If we do fight and kill those soldiers though…" He trailed off uneasily at the mere thought of killing fellow citizens.
True, they might call themselves 'rebels', but up until now, none of them have ever killed another person before. Even nearly a half month ago when they have gone to help Meiko Village, none of Seirin had ever killed a fellow human being. The killings have been done by the others.
"We won't be the good guys anymore, is that it?" Susa Yoshinari cracked opened an eye, understanding visible in his expression.
"Right from the start, there isn't any difference between the definitions of 'good' and 'bad' in a war." Otsubo Taisuke said solemnly. Only a soldier like themselves would understand it better than anyone else. "The difference between us and the kingdom's soldiers are the ways that we take to do what we believe is right."
Tamaki looked at Seirin. "The only thing that we're allowed to do…is to believe that we won't regret the choice that we made," she said. For a moment, Seirin almost thought that Tamaki seemed to be somewhere else. "After all, there are no victors in a war. The true victors are merely those that survive. Noting more than that. When both sides step out onto the battlefield, the lines between good and evil are blurred—thus making both sides evil." She closed her eyes briefly as if remembering something painful. "The last war taught us that." She murmured. Some of the others have similar expressions on their faces too.
"The last war?" Hyuuga echoed. "You shouldn't be old enough to fight in the last war." He pointed out. Hell, even Hyuuga himself isn't old enough to fight in the war, and he is quite easily amongst the oldest here.
The last war between the Teiko Kingdom and the Kamata West Kingdom had taken place more than a decade ago, and had lasted for nearly five years. As with every war, Teiko had taken a long time to recover after it had ended, but they did. It is Kamata West that is still a shadow of their former self, having initiated a war that had almost destroyed their economy and the lives of their people.
"We weren't." Tamaki agreed, exchanging glances with Haizaki and Shigehiro. "But our parents were."
"Our parents have been friends in the military academy." Shigehiro added, gesturing towards himself, Haizaki and Tamaki. "Thus, the three of us grew up together because of that. When the war between Teiko and Kamata West had broken out, our parents were called in to serve, as all of them have been in the Royal Guard. And when the war ended, we were then told that our parents were killed in battle. That is when the prince had offered to sponsor us into the military academy if we so wished it."
"He did?" Koganei sounded doubtful. "Somehow, I find that hard to believe."
Tamaki, Shigehiro and Haizaki have to resist the urge to throw their swords at him. Blade first.
"The…prince was a good man once." Otsubo said. "Everyone loves him. He loves this nation and the people living within it, and will die before letting anything happen to them." He sighed. "That is why so many people had a hard time trying to understand just who is the mad man on the throne now, and even why the Generation of Miracles have now become the kingdom's worst tormentors and nightmares."
"No matter what it is, what's done is done." Tamaki interrupted, standing up from the table that she is sitting at. Her face is a mask of indifference, thus, no one could really tell what she is thinking. "Imayoshi-kun. Takao-kun. In the Operations Room now. I need your help."
"Roger." The two mentioned drawled as one as they followed the teal haired girl into the building that everyone knew is the Operations Room where all the main communication machines and such were located, and even where Tamaki does her planning for operations and tactics.
The rest looked at each other, not knowing just what to say. Only those that have known Tamaki on a more personal basis when they were still in the Royal Guard knew that the topic of the Generation of Miracles—her former friends, is still a sore topic for her.
The truth is that no one knew exactly why the prince had made a complete 180 change the moment that he had ascended to the throne after the period of mourning for the late king and queen is over. And neither did anyone knew exactly just why the Generation of Miracles—the Royal Guard's five commanders have changed so much either.
Even Tamaki herself had quite a terrifying reputation the first few months after the king had started making all those royal decrees. It is only after six months when there were rumours going about that she is about the only decent member of the Generation of Miracles who won't arrest the civilians on some trumped up charge. It had never been proven that Tamaki had anything to do with 'criminals' giving the Royal Guard 'the slip', and thus, Tamaki had never been arrested.
"What made them change?" Izuki asked quietly at last. He looked at the others. "What made the Generation of Miracles change into the monsters that they are now? I remember them, you know? Or at least, what they have been once. Two of their members saved my village a few years ago from a group of outlaws and bandits. They were good people. Kind too. Honourable. With a strong sense of justice. I know that they were good soldiers once—the kingdom wouldn't have loved them as much as they did if they weren't. But now…" He trailed off slowly. "What made them change?"
Shigehiro and Haizaki exchanged looks between each other. "None of us know why." Shigehiro admitted at last. "It could be because of the atrocious deeds that they were each ordered to perform under the orders of the king that had changed them. Or it could be that they always had that darkness in their hearts. No one knew why they changed. And anyway, it didn't matter anymore." He shook his head. "All of us here have lost something important to the kingdom…and to the Red King." He said slowly. "That's why all of us are here, isn't it? In search of a better tomorrow."
There was silence for several moments.
"…What did she lose?" Kagami was the first one to break the silence, and as one, everyone's attention was on the tall redhead. "Kuroko. What did she lose?" He asked again. "There is something in her eyes that reminds me of brittle glass. And during that battle at Meiko… It makes me feel like she couldn't care less what happens to her. What happened to her? What did she lose?"
Shigehiro and Haizaki exchanged looks between themselves. "How much can you take away from someone…who already has nothing?" Shigehiro said at last. Everyone was confused at that strange question even as Shigehiro looked at Kagami. "If you try to answer that question, then you should already know the answer to the one you were asking."
"What do you mean by that?" Furihata asked with a confused frown.
"Because Tamaki-san is related to the royal family, didn't you know that?" Sakurai who had been very silent all this while spoke up, almost shirking back at the stares on his person. "She is the current king's cousin. The late queen had been her aunt—her father's younger sister." He explained, much to Seirin's shock.
"She's never mentioned it!" Hyuuga spluttered. "And if she is related to the royal family…" His brain worked furiously. "Wouldn't that make her in line for the throne? Something like a princess? Why would someone like that be a soldier?"
"Only a mere handful of us knew of Tamaki's relationship to the royal family." Wakamatsu admitted, picking beneath his fingernails with his dagger. "Not even myself, Susa and Imayoshi-san knew until we served under her in the Intelligence Unit for a few years in the Royal Guard. And even then, we only found out by accident. If Tamaki had it her way, I think that none of us would even learn about it. I think that the king and queen at that time wanted to protect her from any rumours that said that she only got to where she is by connections or something."
Wakamatsu glanced at his former colleagues.
Heaven knows that it happens all the time back then before the Generation of Miracles became the commanders. When they became the leaders of the Royal Guard, there was a full scale cleansing of the Royal Guard and Royal Army. Several squad leaders of the Royal Army have found themselves demoted to being mere palace guards or even messengers due to their lack of ability.
There have been people at that time that got to where they were due to family connections or even family names. It had given those that have both power and ability a tough time to get promotions, as one could only get promoted if they have a superior officer's recommendation.
"Okay…?" Kagami was more confused than ever. "So if she is somewhat like a princess, why would she become a soldier? Wouldn't that put her in danger?"
"Well, none of us understood why either." Miyaji admitted. "But I think it has to do with her family. From what I know from our former…commander—" He seemed to struggle with his words. "The Kuroko family had served as guardians and protectors to the Teiko Kingdom for generations ever since the inception of the kingdom, and by default, the royal family. They are highly skilled warriors and assassins, specialising in intelligence and assassinations. They were highly revered soldiers. But from my understanding, due to people fearing their power, the clan had lost many members throughout the years. The last war didn't help matters either. As far as I know, there is only one survivor from the Kuroko family. Tamaki is the last one left."
"So when you say that she's lost everything…" Kagami trailed off slowly.
Shigehiro and Haizaki nodded. "Her parents died during the last war, just like ours did." Shigehiro answered. "We were too young then to remember much. But after that, all three of us left for the Royal City to attend the military academy. Due to Tamaki's high scores and her combat ability, it easily set her apart from the others. She met the people who would later become the Generation of Miracles, and who are amongst the first to accept her as who she is. Then the king and queen passed away, and the kingdom started to change, and even her friends. It soon came to such a point that it is almost like everything is slowly getting taken away from Tamaki. It is enough to drive anyone mad."
"She is just this close to ending her own life once upon a time." Haizaki grunted, placing his forefinger and thumb so close together that they're almost touching. "I guess all the orders coming from the king as well as the number of atrocities that she had been forced to commit all in the name of Teiko and the king almost did her in. It is probably around that time when she started helping all those whom she could save. Those who were sentenced to be executed for the most trivial of crimes." He added, glancing at Sakurai who had a grim expression on his face as he recalled just how close a call that he had with Death via Aomine's blade if Tamaki and Imayoshi hadn't saved him.
"From my understanding, the Royal Guard is duty sworn to protect and obey the royal family with their lives." Riko said with a frown. "Wouldn't doing that make her a traitor? Why would she go this far?"
"We can't tell you that." Shigehiro said at last. "If you really want to know the reasons behind all of Tamaki's actions, you have to ask her yourself. That is only if she is willing to tell you."
It was nearly past eleven at night when Tamaki's stomach started to protest.
The teal haired girl groaned, pressing one hand against her abdomen whilst leaning over the table full of maps, papers and books in the Operations Room. Even though like all soldiers, she had been trained to go without food and water for a few days, not even she is immune to the effects.
The flap covering the entrance of the Operations Room was pushed to the side just then, and a certain tall redhead walked in, holding a tray of food. Kagami Taiga grinned at Tamaki. "They told me that you'd be getting hungry about now." He explained, placing the tray down on the only part of the table that isn't covered by maps or books. "You really are a workaholic, huh?"
Tamaki gave a small smile as she picked up the bowl of rice on the tray. "Thanks. Are the others asleep?" she asked.
"Yeah. Well, they had a long day." Kagami shrugged. "Takao is on guard duty tonight. I'm to switch shifts with him later at 6AM."
"Then you should get some sleep." Tamaki told him, digging into the meal that Kagami had brought her, and she paused. The food tastes a little different from the ones that Sakurai, Mitobe or even Shigehiro usually makes—and they're the three unofficial chefs here. "…Who made this?"
"Well… I did." Kagami admitted, scratching at his cheek with one finger. "I hadn't cooked anything ever since I'd joined Seirin, so everything that I'd learned during my chef training might have gone down the drain—"
"It's delicious." Tamaki interrupted. "Thank you for this." She looked at Kagami over drinking the miso soup that he'd brought her.
The redhead was seated in one of the chairs at the table, looking really uncomfortable. Tamaki had been a soldier for long enough to tell when someone is hiding something, and this particular redhead seemed to wear his emotions on his sleeve like a certain someone whom she used to know until Nijimura-san had beaten it out of him during his apprenticeship.
"A-Anyway, what are you doing in here?" Kagami asked. "Takao and Imayoshi had just walked out of the Operations Room a few hours ago, looking exhausted."
"Planning." Tamaki answered promptly, glancing at the numerous papers and maps scattered over the table. "I'm a strategist when I was with the Royal Guard. And even now, I'm the rebels' strategist. They're all counting on me to bring them back alive." She glanced at Kagami. "That is the job of the strategist. Often, we have to play the bad guy."
"Plans, huh?" Kagami muttered. "I never did think about it before. I mean, I've always been more of the action guy."
Tamaki was silent even as she finished her meal, and muttered her thanks beneath her breath. "You remind me of someone whom I knew once," she said at last. "He's always been more of the 'action' guy too. So much so that he tend to get into all kinds of scrapes if we hadn't been there to haul him out of the fire. But like I've told you before, plans exist for a reason. And if you don't follow them, you'll get us all killed. Especially at this current time." She glanced at Kagami. "Imagine this scenario: if a mini-war or even a riot was to break out, and there are going to be casualties, probably even deaths. And out of 500 men that you have, you have to send at least a quarter of them to their deaths just to claim a victory that can protect the lives of at least a thousand." Tamaki told the redhead. "This had been the situation that I was faced with when I'd just become one of the commanders of the Royal Army. No matter what it is, you have to believe that you've done the right thing, and that it is for the best, no matter how much people curse at you." Tamaki picked up a dark blue book by her side, flipping through it. "If you aren't ready to sacrifice everything, then you can't change anything at all."
"I still don't understand." Kagami admitted. "But I understand at least that what we're doing is right."
Tamaki was silent for a long while. "Right, huh?" she mused. "Who knows?" She murmured. "If what we're doing in the end is just killing, how does that makes us any different from the Red King and the Generation of Miracles?" She murmured, much to Kagami's confusion. She then looked at the redhead. "You wanted to ask me something, right?" Tamaki asked Kagami, and he jerked as if he'd just been shot. "I can tell. What is it?"
Kagami chuckled nervously. "Am I really that easy to read?" he asked sheepishly. Tamaki raised an eyebrow in response to his question, and he coughed. "Well… I've been wondering something for awhile now. Just…what are the Generation of Miracles anyway? What are they like before? Ogiwara and the others were saying that they were good people once, and that the kingdom loves them. And I just…"
"Can't believe them?" Tamaki guessed, and Kagami flushed. "I don't blame you. After all, you only know of them when they've started terrorising the kingdom. It only makes sense that you can't see them as good people." She fell silent for several moments. "Will you listen to me?" She asked. "Do you care to listen to a story? I'll tell you what you want to know. The people that the commanders of Teiko used to be."
Kagami stared up at the ceiling of the house that he and the rest of Seirin shared, the soft snores of his friends filling the room. But yet, no matter how hard he tried, he simply can't go to sleep. Not when his earlier conversation with Tamaki is running around his head.
"Shige-kun and Shogo-kun grew up with me in Meiko, and we went to the Royal City to attend the military academy together." Tamaki had told Kagami. "In Teiko's military academy, we go through three years of training before becoming apprentices for a year. We were then acknowledged as fully-fledged soldiers after that, going into the different combat divisions. Most of the students in the academy have lost family due to the war, and for most of them, that is the reason why they are even in the academy in the first place. Due to the high scores that I've gotten in the entrance test, I was placed in the advanced classes, with Shige-kun and Shogo-kun sharing a few classes with me, as they didn't score so well in the academic and politic part, but aced the combat part. It was also the first time when I'd met the people who would later become part of the Generation of Miracles."
Kagami turned on his side, trying to get comfortable.
"It is true what the others said. They are good people once upon a time. We share aspirations. Even dreams for the future. We tend to fight a lot—just childish arguments, but you couldn't find better people whom you can trust to guard your back in a fight." Tamaki closed her eyes briefly. "They are honourable, with a strong sense of justice. Especially Aomine-kun when he'd single-handedly taken on about five guys at once to defend some students from bullies when we were in our second year. There isn't anyone that I would trust more than them. Except for perhaps Shige-kun and Shogo-kun."
"What happened? What changed them?" Kagami asked. They really sounded like good people once upon a time.
"I don't know." Tamaki admitted. "It is as I've said earlier. It might be due to the number of atrocities that they were forced to commit all in the name of the king that had changed them. After all, the more 'bad stuff' that you do, the more that it will twist your character and personality to something unrecognisable. I've seen that happen countless times. And they scare me now." She admitted. "Do you know what is scary? The scariest thing about killing people is getting used to it. Honestly, I don't even know if we can call them 'human' anymore." She admitted. "Not when they don't even feel anything when killing."
'The Generation of Miracles…' Kagami thought to himself. 'What are they? What had happened to them?'
"When the former Captain of the Royal Guard stepped down, there have been several problems within the Royal Guard and the Royal Army. That is why our predecessor recommended to the king and queen for there to be five leaders instead of the usual one. I was head of Intelligence. Shige-kun and Shogo-kun were my deputies. Wakamatsu, Imayoshi and Susa served under me too. The Intelligence Unit are responsible for the investigations of all leads of anything that happens in the nation, and carries out the will of the king." Tamaki looked at Kagami. "When we, the Generation of Miracles became the commanders, we each swore a pact to protect the royal family and the kingdom with our lives if necessary. It would take a lot for us…for them to betray the Red King."
"I still don't understand why they would change." Kagami admitted. "Especially the prince."
"Power corrupts." Tamaki sighed. "It is truer than we think." She looked at Kagami. "I've been a soldier for a long time. I was raised to be one. The strong feed upon the weak. It is such an obligingly simply rule." She sighed. "Only victors are allowed to live. This world is merciless like this. Especially right now."
Takao stared at the wall opposite him even as he sat on the crate near the ladder that leads to the surface, his knees brought up to his chest. He wonders for a moment why everyone is talking about the past all the time all of a sudden, when the last thing that they want to do is to remember that their enemies have been once their former friends.
"Shin-chan…" Takao muttered, tightening his arms around his knees, remembering the annoyed look that the commander of the Protection Unit will give him whenever he calls the green head by that nickname.
Unlike most of his comrades who used to serve in the Royal Guard, Takao had never gone to the military academy. He had been a special case. He had lost his parents when he was fifteen due to slave traders, and had been kidnapped by them not long after. Takao still remembered how terrified he had been, not knowing just what is going to happen to him.
And then, the same slave traders were all defeated and rounded up by members of the Royal Guard. Midorima Shintaro and Kuroko Tamaki have been with the squad that was sent to arrest the slave traders and to rescue the slaves.
After all, under Teiko law, slavery had been outlawed for over three decades. There are still people who engage in it though, though it is usually kept under wraps, and only amongst the really rich nobles who engage in dirty activities.
Tamaki and Midorima were still serving their apprenticeship at that time, but Takao still couldn't get over just…how strong they have been. One of the slave traders had been ready to kill Takao when he had realised that he couldn't get away, but Midorima had shot him through his eye, thus killing him instantly and saving Takao.
Later on, when everything had been settled, Midorima had then taken Takao in, much to everyone's surprise. The Generation of Miracles were about to complete their apprenticeship at that point in time, and were soon to be given their own squads due to outstanding performance. And the shooter had then made the decision to take Takao in to train him as a soldier.
Then a few years ago when Takao had started questioning the Red King's recent decrees, and the king had then called for Takao's execution, Midorima had gone to Tamaki in a panic. Takao still remembered that, as Midorima had cornered Tamaki right in front of his cell in the dungeons.
"I know that you have your ways! Please… I've never begged you for anything in my life. So please, Tamaki! Save Takao!"
Takao buried his face into his knees. 'What are you thinking, Shin-chan? Are you good? Or are you evil? Are you truly on the side of the Red King? Why did you ask Tamaki to save me that day? I don't know what you're thinking anymore.'
In the Operations Room, Tamaki was about to blow out the candle and call it a night when there is a low bark at her feet, and she looked down only to see Aoi staring up at her, his tongue hanging out happily. Perched on his back is also a small white pigeon with a note tied to its feet.
"Aoi…" Tamaki smiled at her dog before bending down to pick up the pigeon, untying the note from its feet, and allowing it to flutter away. Hopefully, it can find a way out of the underground base.
The teal haired girl unfolded the note only to see the familiar calligraphy-like handwriting of a certain green head. There is only one sentence written on the paper.
Tomorrow night. Lost Forest. 12 midnight.