"Everyone is just waiting for death, if you just think about it. Some just have longer to wait than others." - Kuroko Tamaki
Takao looked extremely solemn as he listened to what Tamaki had to tell him during their graveyard shift for guard duty that night—two days after the teal haired girl had met with the green head.
It had been a meeting known to very few. In fact, apart from Tamaki, only Takao, Shigehiro and Haizaki were aware of Tamaki's meeting with Midorima.
"He really said that?" Takao asked, turning to look at Tamaki in the eye.
Tamaki nodded, seated on one of the crates by the entrance of the manhole that leads down to the sewers. She looked exhausted, and Takao seriously can't blame her, with everything that had happened for the past few months.
"You know Midorima-kun." Tamaki said tiredly. "He's stubborn to the point of obstinate. I've given him that same choice two years ago to leave the Royal Guard. At that time, he gave me the same answer too. Furthermore, as cruel as it sounds, you know that what he'd said is true too." She looked at Takao. "The Royal Guard has a bad name and reputation amongst the common citizens now. Our name has been dragged through the mud, with what the other commanders have done and committed all in the name of the Red King for the past four or so years. Hell, I've done some pretty bad things myself too when I was still with the Royal Guard during the reign of the Red King." Tamaki admitted, intertwining her fingers together with each other. "If we win this war, the common citizens will kill them. That will be the fate that awaits them should we win."
Takao closed his eyes briefly. "I know that," he said quietly. "But Shin-chan… He isn't really a bad person. He wouldn't have begged you to save us if he is. He's…" Takao struggled with his words. "There's nothing wrong with valuing your own life. All of us learned that lesson when we were still with the Royal Guard. So why does he seem to want to die that badly?" He asked in desperation.
Tamaki said nothing for several moments, leaning her head back against the wall behind her, staring up at the ceiling of the sewers for several moments without saying anything. "It's funny if you think about it," she said at last. "None of us have ever really feared death. After all, everyone has to die one day. Everyone is just waiting for death, if you just think about it. Some just have longer to wait than others." She looked at Takao. "I can understand to a certain extent what is currently going through Shin's head. It's probably guilt. And he isn't like you or me. He had never once acted and done the things that he wants to do. All along… Even throughout our time in the Academy, he had always been a stickler for rules. I've never really understood that part either." Tamaki admitted. "Probably…" She closed her eyes briefly. "No…" She shook her head. "Never mind."
"What?" Takao was confused.
"Really…" Tamaki murmured, tilting her head backwards to look at the ceiling. "Why do humans even live?" She wondered. "Why do we even fight?" She sighed. "Life really doesn't hurt until you think about just how much things have changed, who you've lost along the way, and just how much of it was your fault." She smiled sadly. "And yet… Why am I the only one amongst us five who can fulfil our promise from back then?" She nearly whispered.
Takao was silent for a long time. "I don't really understand it either," he said at last. "But I do know that I owe Shin-chan and you my life. I understand how fragile life and death could be—better than anyone else. But it's also because human lives are so fragile and tiny and insignificant that we work so hard to live them to the fullest with the time that we've got." Takao sighed, looking at Tamaki. "I don't understand why the other commanders are acting the way they did, but I do know that it's wrong. Everyone in Teiko fears them now—particularly the common citizens. They used to be so loved and respected." He whispered. "What has happened? What changed them?"
Tamaki eyed Takao next to her. "After awhile, if the fear remains, it turns to hatred," she said at last. "Hatred turns into the need to kill what they fear, no matter how young or old that person is. Humans are so easily corrupted with emotions; it makes me rather sad to see that."
"I really don't understand." Kagami admitted the next morning when he was on guard duty together with Miyaji. "What would change them? What could change Tatsuya so much?" He glanced at his clenched fist. "I used to hear stories about them—the Generation of Miracles. How righteous and strong that they are. How they have always been the guardians of Teiko. Yet…" He trailed off slowly. "What could have changed them this much? I mean, Tamaki used to be one of them, yet you don't see her becoming a monster like the rest of them."
"Well… Tamaki had always been different from them." Miyaji said, glancing at Kagami. "And honestly, none of us understood what had made them change too." He admitted. "We've long stopped asking ourselves that. They're the enemy now. That's all that matters to us."
Kagami didn't know what to say to that.
There was a low rapping on the manhole cover above their heads just then—a sound that echoed throughout the sewer passageway. As one, Miyaji and Kagami turned their heads upwards only to see the cover sliding open slowly, revealing the cloudy skies outside that soon threatened rain.
Miyaji released the safety catch on his handgun immediately, pointing it upwards at the manhole cover. "Who's there?" he called out sharply.
A head with bubblegum pink hair entered their visage just then, leaning over the entrance of the manhole cover. The face looked worried and exhausted, with a hood of a coat of some sort covering her head. Miyaji relaxed almost immediately when he saw the face, but Kagami was suspicious, as he had never seen the woman before.
"Momoi!" Miyaji called out to the pink haired girl. "So you're all right!"
Momoi Satsuki nodded before crawling into the manhole cover, sliding the cover closed as she did so, before she leapt down the remaining distance without even using the ladder, landing nimbly on both her feet.
"Is Tamaki-chan around?" she asked Miyaji breathlessly. "There's something I have to tell her."
Seirin were particularly curious as they eyed the pink haired girl with Kuroko Tamaki—both girls were talking in low tones next to the infirmary, looking particularly concerned and worried about something.
Tsuchida's death had been a big blow to all of them. Sure, all of Seirin were aware that in war, people die, but somehow, it had never really seemed all that real to them until one of their own had ended up dying. They have mourned for their comrade's passing for a day before picking up the pieces. Even still, the others at the Phantom base knew that something had changed with the usually lively Seirin.
"Who's she? I've never seen her before." Riko frowned even as she placed a spoonful of rice into her mouth, staring at the pink haired girl and Tamaki. It is currently lunchtime, and the lot of them are currently having their lunch.
"Oh, Momoi?" Shigehiro questioned, having seated himself in between Haizaki and Takao. "Well, it's not really that much of a surprise that you hadn't seen her before. She's away most of the time." He paused. "She's just like us – a fellow deserter of the Royal Guard."
"So… She's a former Royal Guard member too?" Hyuuga asked, impressed.
"Uh huh." Takao nodded. "She used to serve under Tamaki in the Intelligence Unit alongside Imayoshi and the others. Unlike them however, Momoi isn't used for combat purposes." He glanced at Seirin. "She's what you would call a spy—back then and now."
"Not many actually knew of her existence and even what her work entails." Wakamatsu grunted. "Even we've worked under Tamaki for a few years before we've even learned about Momoi's existence. Tamaki takes secrecy and security to a whole other level." He shrugged. "We're the Intelligence Unit after all. Only the head of Intelligence will actually know the jobs that Momoi undertakes."
"So… What's she doing here then?" Koganei asked with interest.
"My guess is that she must have come across important information and wanted to pass it to Tamaki." Haizaki grunted. "She's done the same thing for Tamaki even back when we're in the Royal Guard. Just a word of warning though: don't underestimate her. Just like Tamaki, she didn't get to be in the Royal Guard just by her looks alone." He warned. "Underestimating Momoi Satsuki is a mistake that most people won't live to make twice."
"They seemed rather close." Izuki noted, spotting the small smiles on the faces of the two girls.
"They were best friends even during their time in the Academy." Shigehiro said after a pause. "Tamaki and Momoi met through Aomine. Momoi had been his childhood friend." He said, much to Seirin's surprise. "Later on, both Tamaki and Momoi took the same advanced strategy and tactic classes—it is a class that one could only take with recommendations by the teachers. Most of us don't even know that this class existed. They become fast friends after that. Later on, when things got bad with the Royal Guard, Momoi had enough and wanted to leave. As most don't even know of her existence, it isn't that difficult for Tamaki to give Momoi a two month head start before she is obliged by military law to report her disappearance."
"She's not the only one, unfortunately." Otsubo said with a sigh. "Many actually tried to leave when things started going downhill when the current king came to power. But well…" He shrugged uncomfortably. "Once you're with the Royal Guard, you aren't just allowed to resign. A stint with them is a lifetime thing. Once you're in the Royal Guard, you aren't allowed to leave once you'd served with them—especially after the current king came to power. The only way to leave is unless they dismiss you, usually through death." That particular sentence sent chills down the spines of Seirin. "It is a service for lifetime or death for them. And under the new regime that was passed not long after the Red King came to power, the option to resign isn't part of protocol anymore." Otsubo stabbed his fork viciously into his mashed potatoes—almost like he is wishing that he is stabbing the face of the Red King himself.
No one said anything after that, and the rest of lunchtime was then passed in silence.
"I see…" Tamaki murmured, sitting atop one of the stacked crates near the infirmary as she listened to what her best friend had to tell her. "So he's who Shin had been talking about two nights ago…" She closed her eyes briefly. "Damn them… Does human desires and greed knows no bounds?" She murmured.
Momoi looked troubled as well. "One of my spies sacrificed his life to deliver that info to me," she told Tamaki. "I'm sorry, Tamaki-chan. I know that your left arm is still injured—" Momoi glanced at the bandages around Tamaki's left arm at that, "but we need you on this. You're the only one that can save him." She said earnestly.
"Don't worry about me." Tamaki said simply, looking at Momoi in the eye. "Even if I can't use my left arm, I can still use my right. Even if my leg is injured, I can still move. As long as I'm still breathing, I won't stop fighting until I can find him—until I can claim our kingdom back! I swore to protect the kingdom and the prince the day that I'd became a soldier—I know what I'm getting myself into right from the start. I've been prepared to die right from the beginning, Satsuki." Tamaki looked at Momoi. "I've always known that I will go down in battle someday. That is the fate of a soldier—particularly for those that serves the royal family. All of us knew that."
Momoi has no idea what to say to that. It is true after all. Even she knew that. All those that have served in the Royal Guard knew that as a fact. Most of the soldiers who served in the Royal Guard don't tend to live particularly long lives. Those that does often become outstanding soldiers—inside and outside the field.
"Can I leave this to you?" Momoi asked at last.
Tamaki nodded. "Yeah. You can count on me. I'll think of something."
"I know I can leave it to you." Momoi said with a small smile. "I have faith in you. You've always been better than me at strategy and tactics. I'm way better at intelligence and information gathering. We've always worked well together. That's why I served as a spy in your unit back when we're in the Royal Guard."
Tamaki was silent for a long time before she tilted her head backwards to look at the ceiling. "It is a very strange experience," she said at last, "to know war, and to experience a battle that didn't change anything, if at all. All of us have seen several wars and battles. And to know that no matter how many how died—how many hundreds, if not thousands have lost their lives… And yet, it didn't change anything at all. And just maybe, someday in the future, another war will happen again. All that is left are just memories of death, pain and sacrifice. And in the end, all that is left will just be pictures and words. But sometimes, those don't tell you anything at all." She looked at Momoi with some sadness visible in her eyes. "That is war."
Momoi smiled a small sad smile. It is after all true. "Tamaki-chan…"
Tamaki sighed. "…Hey Satsuki, Aomine-kun and the others… Why did they end up this way?" she mused, using her right hand to touch the thick white bandages covering her left arm—courtesy of her battle with Aomine just a few days ago. "What had happened to them—the them in the past? Back then, when all of us have finished our apprenticeships, we swore to serve the royal family and the prince, and to protect them with our last breath. The people they are now… I don't know who they are."
"I know." Momoi sighed. "They scare me now." She admitted. "Dai-chan especially. He never used to be like that. But you of course already knew that." They were both silent for several moments before Momoi glanced at the bandages around Tamaki's left arm. "…He did that, didn't he?" she stated more than questioned. "Dai-chan. He's the only one who can even so much as land a blow on you even when it is a simple spar or training exercise."
Tamaki said nothing, but Momoi knew her best friend well.
"He's changed." Momoi said almost sadly. "You are the only one who had never changed. Even back when the Red King had first started issuing all those decrees and orders, and you started to gain that terrifying reputation to your name… You alone had never changed. You had never betrayed your honour and integrity as a soldier and your duty to the kingdom. You had never committed sins against the people…against the kingdom."
"I still couldn't save them." Tamaki said with a sigh. "What kind of soldier am I if I can't even protect the people whom I'm supposed to protect?" She glared down at the ground below her. "I can't even protect my own cousin!"
"You are not a failure, and you know that!" Momoi said firmly. "You are our hope. Everyone believes that. Everyone in this kingdom loves you. They are waiting for the day for you to come out into the open to retake the kingdom. You are so loved and respected, Tamaki-chan. You just never realised that."
"You are my best friend." Momoi said earnestly. "You see things that I don't. You have better eyes than I do. You had never led us wrong before, and you never will. That's why everyone follows you. Please, Tamaki-chan. Don't give up. If you fall, we'll be there to catch you. Everyone here will give their lives if necessary. You…are Teiko's hope."
"I'm not." Tamaki muttered, staring at her hands. "Sei is."
"The Prince is Teiko's Heart. You are Teiko's Hope." Momoi smiled. "Tamaki-chan… Don't ever change. Don't give up."
"She said that?" Shigehiro frowned as he looked at a solemn Momoi sitting across him.
Momoi nodded, looking concerned. "Just keep an eye on her," she said, worried. "I think the stress of the war has been getting to Tamaki-chan. It had been two years after all…and countless deaths. She's been searching for the prince for just as long, and yet, has never been able to find him."
"Yeah…" Haizaki exchanged looks with Shigehiro. "We've been worried about that ever since the incident in Meiko." He admitted. He ran his hands through his hair. "We'll keep an eye on her."
Momoi sighed. "Thank you."
After dinner later that night, Tamaki called for a short meeting with all of those at the Phantom base. Momoi had left right after speaking to Haizaki and Shigehiro, saying that she is going to collect more information for something that Tamaki wants.
Tamaki said nothing for several moments as she glanced at the numerous faces facing her, and sighed. How the hell is she going to break the news to them, particularly to those who have known him when they were still apprentices?
Tamaki cleared her throat. "All right. As you are no doubt aware, Satsuki came by earlier this afternoon," she said, and everyone nodded. "She brought some important information to me that one of her spies had sacrificed his life for." She looked from face to face, seeing the sad looks that some of them had at the mention of an unknown comrade's death. "The Red King had been sending out Kise Ryota and Aomine Daiki in search for the whereabouts of a certain someone." She paused, catching Shigehiro and Haizaki's eye. "It is Nijimura-sempai."
The former Royal Guard members have shock written all over their faces.
"Nijimura-sempai?" Haizaki was the first one to break the silence, his face ashen pale.
"The former Captain of the Royal Guard?" Kagami frowned, having heard of the name of the former captain of the Royal Guard before the Generation of Miracles have came into power. "Nijimura Shuzo? Why would they want him dead?"
"Precisely because he is the former Captain that might be the whole reason why they want him dead." Tamaki sighed. 'Probably… He might just know where the real prince is being held…' "Satsuki told me that Aomine Daiki and Kise Ryota cornered Nijimura about a day ago. He's currently held in the palace to be executed via a public execution."
There was deadly silence for a long time before Imayoshi pinched the bridge of his nose. Even he had heard about the prowess and intelligence of the former Royal Guard commander, and how dangerous he could be. Probably, that might be the whole reason why the Red King had been after him.
"When's the execution?" Imayoshi asked at last.
"In a month." Tamaki said. "Myself, Shogo-kun and even Shige-kun trained under Nijimura when we were apprentices." She gestured towards herself, Shigehiro and Haizaki as she spoke. "We know better than anyone else how powerful he is. He left the Royal Guard the year we graduated from being apprentices due to his father's ailing health." She looked from face to face. "As far as I know, his father passed away not long after he left as well. Then when the Red King came to power, he was amongst the first to question the king's legitimacy. He was thus forced into hiding to avoid getting killed. But I guess he had run out of places to hide." Tamaki murmured.
"That's terrible…" Riko murmured.
"It isn't totally unheard of." Takao said gravely. "There were a number of people—nobles and commoners alike who have questioned the Red King's legitimacy when he first came to power, and started passing all those decrees and laws. Loads of people were found mysteriously dead after questioning the Red King and his motives. It came to such a point that no one dared to say anything against the Red King anymore."
Kiyoshi buried his face in his hands with desperation. Could his once comrades have really fallen that low that they would willingly kill someone in cold blood like this? "I really don't want to believe that they've fallen this low," he admitted at last. "I really have no wish to believe that they're capable of doing this…"
"Not capable?" Imayoshi glanced over at Kiyoshi. "Kiyoshi, most of us here have worked for them once upon a time. You know just how much this kingdom had changed ever since the late king and queen have passed away. You know exactly what they're capable of, and how far they would go to."
"Surely the number of villages and towns that have been razed throughout the past four years must tell you something?" Kimura added. "And not to mention the number of people sentenced to execution? If it hadn't been for Tamaki, there would have been more casualties."
"Anyway, Satsuki asked us to save Nijimura." Tamaki interrupted. "And honestly, I want to save him too. He's a good man. He doesn't deserve to die."
There was silence for a long time.
"…I get the urgency." Izuki said at last. "But going to the Royal City and saving Nijimura from execution…" He trailed off slowly. "It's suicide!"
"We'll be up against the Royal Guard, and possibly the entire Royal Army." Wakamatsu added, examining his sword. He then looked up at Tamaki. "For someone of Nijimura-san's status, the Red King would want a public execution instead of just some quick execution down in the dungeons. Particularly now when we the rebels are getting more active. He will want a message to be passed throughout the kingdom—that those who opposes him will die. That is how the Red King operates. All of us know that."
"No matter how you look at it, there is no way that we'll actually succeed." Sakurai agreed. "In the worst case scenario, all of us will get ourselves killed."
"Just how dangerous are they?" Hyuuga asked at last with a frown. "The Royal Guard, the Generation of Miracles, and even the Royal Army, I mean."
"The Royal Army are the common soldiers. In peacetime, they are mainly used as protection for our borders and guards for the various towns and villages, and even as guards for the palace." Susa explained. "The Royal Guard are the personal soldiers of the royal family—the king. He's the only one who can issue the order to move them. As for the Generation of Miracles…" He shrugged helplessly. "Surely you know how dangerous they are by now? There is a reason why they're christened as the Generation of Miracles. There have been many who have tried in the past to overthrow the one on the throne now. None of them succeeded because no one had ever bested them in battle. They're that dangerous."
"What about you three?" Koganei asked, turning towards Tamaki, Shigehiro and Haizaki. "I mean… You're part of the Royal Guard too, aren't you? Tamaki, you used to be one of them."
Shigehiro and Haizaki exchanged looks. "We aren't at a level good enough to face one of the commanders in combat and hope to win." Shigehiro admitted. "Trust me, we've tried enough times in the past. And that had been when they are using training swords, and we are using real blades."
"Haizaki probably could." Wakamatsu added. "But that is only if his opponent is Kise. That guy's the weakest of the five. He served under Tamaki for his apprenticeship. She taught him how to fight. His current fighting style is derived from hers after all. And besides…" Wakamatsu closed his eyes briefly. "Generation of Miracles." He waved his hand about. "Do I need to add more?" He asked wryly.
"Aomine-kun, Murasakibara-kun and Midorima-kun started at the military Academy the year that I did." Tamaki said slowly. "Kise-kun on the other hand joined the military Academy late. In Teiko, there are three years of training in the military Academy before we have to undergo a year of apprenticeship. Whenever a new batch graduates, all the squad leaders and commanders of both the Royal Guard and the Royal Army get together to decide whom they want under them to serve their apprenticeship. Most of the time, the Royal Guard doesn't take on apprentices. We were the first in a long time to be taken on as apprentices by a member of the Royal Guard, and the Captain of the Royal Guard furthermore. Aomine-kun and the others served their apprenticeships under the second-in-command of the Royal Guard at that time. Kise-kun started his apprenticeship under me when we were newly promoted as commanders of the Royal Guard. He became one of us due to recommendations, and because of his talent. He started later than any of us, and thus, is the weakest amongst the five."
"What about you?" Riko asked. "I mean, you took on Kise and the Panther—"
"It is true that I'm one of them, and I'm better than most when it comes to combat." Tamaki interrupted. "Even still, I'm a tactician, not a fighter."
Wakamatsu snorted. Yeah right. "Tamaki, you're the head of Intelligence," he said. "You trained us yourself. None of us would have been as good as we would have been if you hadn't trained us. You're more than enough of a match for any of the commanders. And from my knowledge, you're in most of the advanced classes when you were still in the Academy—and we know better than anyone else how difficult it is to get into the advanced classes."
"Even still, even for Tamaki, there is no way that she can take on all four of them at once." Shigehiro added. "We'll be courting death if we go as we are now—without a plan."
"We only have a month, from what I know from Satsuki." Tamaki said slowly. "Nijimura trained us himself. He's a formidable man. It'll turn the tides in our favour if we can rescue him successfully and get him to our side." She admitted. "Hell, we might even end the war early."
Silence fell for a long time before Haizaki broke it.
"…There are some people that we know who might be more than enough of a match for the Generation of Miracles." Haizaki said at last, and everyone turned towards him. "And coupled together with Tamaki, and then us… We just might succeed in rescuing Nijimura-san." He admitted.
"Who?" Kagami asked, confused as to who else could match up to the prowess of the Generation of Miracles.
Tamaki closed her eyes, knowing whom Haizaki had been referring to. She exchanged looks with Kiyoshi who looked particularly solemn—he knew whom Haizaki had been talking about as well. "The former members of the Spec Ops." Tamaki said at last. "The ones who does all the dirty jobs behind the scenes in the name of justice. They left not long before I did—disappearing before anyone even knew what is going on." She looked at Seirin seriously. "You might also know them as the Uncrowned Kings—the group that Kiyoshi had been part of before all five of them have left." Hyuuga's eyes widened a slight fraction. "They're Kiyoshi's former colleagues from the Spec Ops—the ones that does all the dirty jobs from the shadows. They're the true heroes that can't be acknowledged by the public. If we can find them, we might just stand a chance against the Royal Guard and the Generation of Miracles."
"But they've been missing for a little over two years." Kiyoshi frowned. "Not even I knew where they are, or if they are even alive. All four of them are good at hiding—they know how to remain hidden. It won't be easy to find them."
"You can leave that to me." Tamaki said mysteriously. "I have my own ways to contact them. And they're definitely still alive, Kiyoshi."
Without a word, she then got up and headed straight to her house—one that she shared with Momoi whenever she is back for the night. Shigehiro and Haizaki exchanged startled looks before following Tamaki, leaving the rest in a state of minor confusion.
"What are you going to do?" Haizaki asked the moment that he'd draped the dark cloth over the entrance of Tamaki's house.
The teal haired girl was stripping out of her clothes and letting it fall onto the ground, leaving her in nothing but her undergarments. Haizaki and Shigehiro averted their eyes politely until they heard the light clink of metal and determined that it is safe to look only to see that Tamaki had pulled on a black T-shirt with black cargo pants, also pulling on a dark hooded coat.
"I'll come up with something." Tamaki said grimly, looking over her shoulder at her friends even as she buckled her belt. "I always do."
She then went towards a corner where a duffel bag was lying on the ground, and reached into it, pulling out a small black leather pouch. It clinked as Tamaki placed it into one of the pouches by her side, and Shigehiro's eyes widened in realisation, as the pouch must have been full of money.
Tamaki then straightened up again as she looked at her two friends in the eye, grim expressions visible on all their faces. "Even if I can somehow manage to locate Hayama and the others, it isn't going to be easy rescuing Nijimura," she told them. "It is without a doubt, a trap. The Red King must have anticipated that we're going to try to rescue him if we know that Nijimura is in their hands. Why else would he go after Nijimura now just after we've shown ourselves after two years?"
Haizaki nodded slowly. "We'll take care of things here," he promised. "But what are you going to do? Where are you going?"
Tamaki straightened the collar of her coat. "I'm going to see the Undertaker," she said simply before pushing past them and out of the Phantom base.
Like the name sounds, the Undertaker is responsible for the disposal of corpses, and is a goldmine of information as long as one had the right price, and the right connections. Even still, as he resides in the Royal City itself, it had always been a risky business going to see him, even via one of the several passageways that the rebels always take within the sewers.
Tamaki had known the Undertaker for a long time—ever since her tenure with the Royal Guard, and the Undertaker himself had been fiercely loyal to the teal haired girl for some reason that no one could comprehend.
Shigehiro and Haizaki could only speculate that Tamaki must have saved him or something in the past. Even still, they could never bring themselves to trust the mysterious man fully, as he is a man of countless masks, secrets and lies. But as Tamaki trusted him, they have decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, the Undertaker had always delivered whenever Phantom required his services, which isn't often, as the Red King himself had always used the Undertaker's services for the disposal of bodies for the numerous executions carried out.
Utilising the services of the Undertaker is often a double-edged sword in itself.
The sun had long set by the time that Tamaki had climbed out of the manhole cover in an alley within the Royal City, and it is also pouring with rain. The teal haired girl glanced around her surroundings, and can't help but feel sad at seeing the oppressive atmosphere, along with the various homeless people that she could see. Some of the homeless are so skinny that Tamaki could almost count how many ribs that they have.
'Just what has Teiko become in recent years?' Tamaki wondered to herself even as she pulled up the hood of her coat to conceal her hair and face, walking down the street that she always took to the Undertaker's place. 'How many people have died at his hands?' She closed her eyes briefly. 'Sei… Where are you?'
Finally, her feet brought her outside a modest looking place with a black steel door. The windows are boarded up, and the worn looking signboard above the door read 'Undertaker' with a picture of a skull with crossbones on it.
Without even bothering to knock, Tamaki pushed the black steel door open. The hinges of the door are obviously well oiled, as it didn't let out a sound as she entered the Undertaker's place of residence.
"I thought that you would be dropping by sooner or later." The Undertaker grinned at her from beside a coffin that he is obviously in the midst of making, dressed in his usual getup of a black top hat and a black coat with black gloves. "Especially since the king had commissioned me to make about fifteen coffins within a month." He grinned at Tamaki, showing several missing teeth. "Apparently, he is anticipating many to turn up dead in a month—not just the one that had been sentenced to be executed."
"Has it been announced?" Tamaki asked blandly.
"Yes. Just this afternoon." The Undertaker nodded his head. "Notices have been sent out to every village and town too. Clearly, the king wanted word to be sent out about the execution."
Tamaki clicked her tongue in annoyance. As expected, it really is a trap.
"So what do you need?" The Undertaker asked Tamaki. "You usually are in need of my assistance whenever you come here."
Tamaki looked at the Undertaker in the eye. "This time, the help that I need might very well ruin your life here in the Royal City, and might force you to live as a fugitive for some time," she told him. Without wasting a beat, she then continued. "In a month, on the day of the execution itself, I need you to help smuggle some of my people to the execution site…in your coffins. Some of them are too well known to be able to just waltz into the Royal City just like that."
The Undertaker didn't seem too bothered. "It'll cost you," he said with a creepy smirk. He was slightly taken aback the next moment as Tamaki tossed a full pouch of coins at him that he caught with ease.
"That should cover it." Tamaki said coolly. "Eight of my people. Hidden in your coffins." She said again. "The rest of my people… We will take the scenic route. I'm going to get Nijimura out safe and in one piece if it is the last thing that I do."
The Undertaker raised an eyebrow at her suspiciously even as he counted the coins in the pouch, noticing to his surprise that there must be enough cash in here for him to stay hidden for at least five years. Clearly, Tamaki must have known of the risks that he will be taking should he help them on this rescue mission, and had prepared everything for him to hide from the Red King and the Royal Guard.
"There will be a house along the coastline near the southern border of Teiko—eight miles south of Meiko Village." Tamaki told the Undertaker coolly. "A hustle of ivies marks it. You can hide there. Also…" The Undertaker blinked again as Tamaki tossed a black choker with a silver dagger pendant towards him. "If Shin comes by here, give that to him. He'll know what to do. Also, tell him this. Tell him to give a message to the Captain: 'Please hang tight and wait'." Tamaki then turned to exit his residence. "I'm counting on you, Undertaker."
Then she is gone.
There was silence for several moments as the Undertaker stared at his door that Kuroko Tamaki had just walked out of. Nothing betrayed her presence in his house save for the wet boot prints on his floor, and the leather pouch of money that is currently in his hand. Finally, a smile crept on his face as he eyed the choker with the silver dagger.
"You're playing an extremely dangerous game here, Kuroko Tamaki." The Undertaker clicked his tongue. "You can't afford to play any games here…" He glanced at the materials in a corner that he uses to make his coffins, and sighed, "and honestly, neither can I…"
Nijimura Shuzo coughed harshly as he sat leaning against the thick stone wall, his wrists bound by thick chains, just leaving enough length for him to lay down, but it was pointless. He winced as he pulled on one of his cracked ribs, praying that it isn't broken. Hell, he could barely feel his legs or even his arms. Those bastards must have dislocated or even broken every single bone in his body.
Nijimura glared at the two guards outside his cell in the dungeons that he could see.
Damn… How pathetic is this? He who had once been a Captain of the Royal Guard now sitting in one of the cells within the dungeons as a prisoner. How they have even found him, he didn't know. Even still, he had known that it is only a matter of time, as he had been running out of places to hide.
There was the sound of footsteps just then, and Nijimura pricked up his ears, seeing a shadow fall onto the ground on the outside of his cell, and then, a certain green head wearing the black and white uniform of the Royal Guard entered his visage.
"I would like a word with the prisoner." Midorima Shintaro spoke stiffly to the two guards. "Leave us."
"Yes sir." The two guards saluted before leaving.
Midorima waited until their footsteps have died away, and he couldn't hear anything more before unlocking the cell door with the bunch of keys that he had with him, and entering the cell.
"It's been awhile, Captain Nijimura." Midorima said softly, inclining his head to Nijimura politely.
Nijimura coughed. "I'm not your Captain anymore, Midorima," he said. "What are you doing here? Going to go another round with me—like the way that Kise, Aomine and Murasakibara did when they treated me like some human piñata?" He sneered, and Midorima flinched. "No matter what you do, my answer is still the same—I don't know where Kuroko Tamaki is! And even if I do, I wouldn't even tell you!" He spat at the ground.
Midorima said nothing for several moments before he reached within the folds of his uniform and drew out a familiar looking black choker with a dagger pendant hanging from it. Nijimura's eyes widened when he recognised that item.
"I want you to carry on for me." Nijimura Shuzo told Kuroko Tamaki on his last day as the Captain of the Royal Guard. "I have faith in you, Tamaki. So take this…" He removed the black choker with the dagger pendant from around his neck, placing it around his protégé's neck. "My old man gave that to me for protection when I'd first left for the military Academy years ago. The dagger is a real dagger, and is meant to be used in times of emergency." Nijimura smiled at Tamaki. "It had always protected me. Now I'm giving it to you, so that it may protect you. And then maybe, when the time comes, once more…"
Nijimura's eyes were wide opened in horror and terror. Did they get Tamaki? They couldn't have! She wouldn't let herself get caught that easily!
"What did you do to her?" Nijimura almost whispered, his eyes wide with fear. "Did you kill her? Answer me, Midorima!" He demanded.
Nijimura's voice echoed throughout the cell.
Midorima approached Nijimura without any expression visible on his face, kneeling down so that he is at Nijimura's eye level. "She gave this to me through someone that I'm in contact with." Midorima told Nijimura quietly. After all, he can never know who is listening. Nijimura was somewhat bewildered even as Midorima placed the choker around Nijimura's neck silently, letting the dagger pendant rest against his collarbone. "Aomine, Kise and even Murasakibara aren't the observant type, so they wouldn't notice that you had something on that you didn't before should they come again. I also have a message from her." Midorima paused slightly. "'Please hang tight and wait'." Nijimura's eyes widened in horror. "That is all."
Midorima then straightened up.
"Tell her not to come!" Nijimura said quickly. He is no fool; he knew what the Red King and the Royal Guard are up to when they've decided to keep him alive for a month for a public execution when most of their executions for the past four years have been carried out within the dungeons of the palace. "I don't care what happens to me. If she comes…"
"I have faith in Tamaki." Midorima said simply. "If she says she will get you out, then she will. As her cousin, you should know what she's capable of if she should put her mind to it. After all, you trained her yourself, did you not, Captain?"
Nijimura was silent. He had been related to Kuroko Tamaki only by marriage through her father's side. Their parents have been third cousins or something, only related through marriage.
Due to the war with the Kamata West Kingdom over a decade ago however, most of their family have been killed off, thus leaving only Nijimura and Tamaki as the sole survivors, with Nijimura's father having passed away a little over four years ago. The Nijimura family had been kind of a branch family of the Kuroko clan, thus making Tamaki a member from the main family, and the heiress of the Kuroko swordsmanship style.
"Why are you doing this, Midorima?" Nijimura asked at last, raising his head to meet Midorima's eyes. He saw the sadness and guilt in the green head's eyes for a moment before it faded away. "You don't like what the Royal Guard and the Red King are doing, don't you? Why don't you just leave?"
Midorima sighed. "I don't know," he said at last. "I'm not really all that brave, unlike Tamaki and Takao. I'm just…" He struggled with his words. "Never mind…" He shook his head. "Have faith in her, Captain." Midorima said again. "Tamaki will come for you. Save the kingdom. That is all that I'm asking of you."
Then he was gone.