Welcome Back

"There is no greater glory, than dying for that belief." - Shirogane Eiji

Tamaki knew that something bad had happened that night when she was on guard duty, and Takao had returned a little after midnight with red puffy eyes and with a look on his face that looked as if someone had died.

Everyone have been exhausted after the mission earlier that day to rescue Nijimura from getting executed. Having been used to going without rest and sleep for three days back during their days as part of the Royal Guard, Tamaki and Shigehiro have opted to take guard duty that night. The rest of the base was currently asleep, worn out from the events of that day. In fact, apart from themselves, the only ones still awake is probably Sakurai who is keeping a strict eye on a resting Nijimura who is still asleep in the infirmary due to the medication in his system, and Haizaki who is currently suffering from a bout of insomnia, and is currently doing an inventory check of their weapons.

"Takao?" Shigehiro spoke up, leaning against the wall opposite Tamaki who had been seated on a crate near the manhole entrance that leads to the surface. The two have been discussing in low tones about what Nijimura might know, and where the real prince had been held. "What's wrong?"

Takao looked at Tamaki with an upset look on his face, along with guilt even as he shifted on his feet. Finally, he took a step towards her, fumbling with something beneath his jacket at the back of his waist. He drew out a long sword with a black sheathe, with the engravings of green dragons visible on it. Takao held it out towards Tamaki silently.

The teal haired girl's eyes widened slightly in horror. She recognised that sword instantly the moment that Takao had held it out to her. How many times had she seen him using that sword? After all, he had that sword specially commissioned after they've graduated from the Academy.

"…Shin-chan is dead." Takao spoke hoarsely, unable to meet Tamaki's eyes even as he continued holding out the sword. "The Red King killed him." Shigehiro's eyes widened in horror. Takao met Tamaki's eyes with hesitance. "I thought…" He gulped, licking at his lips nervously. "I thought that you'd want his sword to…remember him by." His voice cracked.

Tamaki felt her breath get caught in her throat, and for several moments, she found that she couldn't even breathe. "Did… Did he get caught?" Tamaki asked at last, reaching out with a shaking hand and taking the sword from Takao. She fingered the engravings on the sword with her fingertips, feeling every inch of the dragons almost like how a blind man would read Braille.

Takao nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. "He said… He said that he's sorry." He told Tamaki, looking at her hesitantly. "He wants us…to save the prince…to save the kingdom…" He reached into the pockets of his coat, withdrawing a bloodstained paper and handing it to Tamaki with shaking fingers. "His last words…"

Shigehiro closed his eyes briefly, saying a short prayer beneath his breath for the green head before looking towards his childhood friend. Tamaki might have never said anything, but he knew that the teal haired girl misses her best friend and boyfriend, and wished that nothing had ever changed between them.

"Cornering Nijimura-san… Then the execution…" Shigehiro said slowly, looking from face to face. He might not have Tamaki's genius in strategies and tactics, but he is in no way stupid either. He wouldn't have made it as a member of the Royal Guard, even making it as part of the Intelligence Unit if he didn't have some brains. "There's no way that it's unplanned. And I don't think that it's as simple as trying to smoke us out."

Tamaki nodded slowly. "…The Red King probably knew that there is a traitor amongst their midst—within the Royal Guard. The execution… It is to find out who it is," she concluded through tightly gritted teeth. "Damn it!" She pounded her fist against the wall, causing it to echo throughout the tunnel. Tamaki then glanced at the bloodstained paper clenched in her fist before she smoothed the paper out and reading the writing on it.

It is written in an untidy scrawl—so unlike Midorima's usual neat and calligraphy-like handwriting in all his notes to her—even the notes that he'd often slipped into her locker during their Academy days. The words seemed to be written in a foreign language to anyone, but Tamaki knew better. She knew that it is written in code. In a type of code that only Midorima and Tamaki knew, as they've created that code during their days in the Academy.

Tamaki managed to decipher the code almost instantly the moment that she'd seen what Midorima had written. Her heart clenched in grief, and she closed her eyes briefly. Tamaki tried to push away her grief; she knows that there is time to grieve for the dead later.

Only two sentences are written on the note in code. And apparently, Midorima had scribbled it in a hurry.

Rakuzan Villa. Save the Prince.

It was just a little after daybreak when Tamaki arrived at the edge of the forest where Rakuzan Villa is located.

Not many actually knew that this place even existed, let alone the villa. The late king and queen have actually built this place years ago as a place to 'hold' the Red King as a child. Tamaki knew about it because her father had mentioned it to her in passing years ago, and had even pointed it out to her on a map when she was young.

Tamaki's father had been an excellent soldier—one of the best in all of the Royal Guard. And like most of the members from Tamaki's clan, her father had been a brilliant strategist and an even better fighter. He had taught his daughter everything that he knew, even the fighting techniques of their clan, even learning how to plot and plan out strategies and tactics of every kind possible.

Tamaki's parents are probably one of the few that actually knew about the existence of the Red King—the legitimate Crown Prince. At least until it had been proven that he is unfit to take the throne.

Tamaki's father had never agreed with the decision to imprison the Red King after the public announcement of the Crown Prince when the royal twins have turned five. But at least they've never tried to kill him. Instead, they've just placed him in a place near the borders of the Teiko Kingdom that no one even knew existed, trying to ignore his existence.

Tamaki is probably the only child at that time apart from her cousin that even knew of the Red King's existence. Her father had taught her everything that she had ever known, and everything that he had known, even leaving behind a stack of journals just before he'd gone to war in case he never returned. And in one of those journals, Tamaki's father had written that he had been one of the two soldiers sent to 'escort' the Red King to the Rakuzan Villa.

The other soldier had been someone whom the late royal couple had trusted with their lives, and he had been assigned to guard the Red King until the end of his life, making sure that he never leaves the Rakuzan Villa, and that no one stumbles across him. Food and necessities were sent to Rakuzan Villa under the cover of night throughout all these years for the Red King—a duty that had been undertaken by Tamaki's father.

In one of his journals that held a vivid description of the Red King's growing up years, Tamaki's father had expressed regret that he had to see a child grow up as a prisoner through no fault of his own. However, he had agreed with the royal couple as much that the Red King is in no way suitable to take the throne.

And honestly, Tamaki had agreed with her father. If there is anyone to blame for the Red King having turned out the way he is today, it is with the older generation—the late royal couple. It might have actually been a kinder fate to kill him when he was a child.

'Rakuzan Villa…' Tamaki mused from atop the cliff that overlooks the roof of Rakuzan Villa, a pair of binoculars trained to her eyes. 'I guess I really should have guessed it—that he will put Sei in the place where he'd been imprisoned in for all these years.'

Her mind went wandering to when she'd deciphered the code all those hours ago in their base. Shigehiro and Takao have told her to head to Rakuzan Villa to get the Prince whilst they'll explain the rest to the rest of Phantom, and they'll then be right behind her. Tamaki actually had to spend some time drawing out a map for them in case Nijimura couldn't wake in time to tell them how to get to Rakuzan Villa—with the dark haired man being the only one apart from Tamaki herself to know how to get to Rakuzan Villa.

'Sei… Please be all right.' Tamaki mused to herself even as she stood up, placing the binoculars through a strap hanging by her side, her hands running over the numerous weapons strapped in hidden pockets on herself, and even the sword visible at the back of her waist. 'I'm coming.'

Shigehiro, Haizaki and Takao stopped their motorbikes by a cliff where a familiar black and silver motorcycle is parked.

"Tamaki has been here." Shigehiro noted, lifting his visor and getting off his bike. He exchanged looks with Takao and Haizaki; all three of them remembering what had transpired several hours earlier just after Tamaki had rushed off to get the Prince, and they were called in by Nijimura who had apparently woken earlier than Sakurai had expected.

"She's gone to get the Prince." Nijimura stated more than questioned as Takao, Shigehiro and Haizaki entered the infirmary, with Sakurai going to prepare some food for Nijimura. The former Captain had bandages around both his arms, his neck and even his legs. There were even thick bandages visible, just peeking out from under the pyjamas that he had been wearing. "Right?"

The three teens exchanged looks, saying nothing, and not knowing what to say. When Tamaki had first told them the truth about the Red King, she had repeated her warnings over and over, emphasising that they must not tell anyone that the king on the throne right now is a fake, even under pain of death.

"Let me put it this way then." Nijimura said, seeing that the three teens in front of him isn't going to say anything unless he imparts some knowledge of his own. "Is the king on the throne now…really the king at all?" He questioned.

Shigehiro sighed. "You know too then," he stated, and Nijimura nodded his head. "Is that why you've gone into hiding? What else do you know? What did Tamaki tell you?"

"Midorima told me something when they've taken me out of the cells to the execution grounds." Nijimura said, and Takao flinched at the mention of the name.

"He's dead." Takao said stiffly, and Nijimura's eyes widened a slight fraction. "We think that the execution is a means for the Red King to smoke out the traitor within their midst. Shin-chan…" He closed his eyes, his face grimacing almost as if just the mere mention of the name hurts him. "Midorima… He's been our insider agent for a long time—ever since Tamaki had left the Royal Guard. He's the one that had been feeding us inside information ever since."

Nijimura closed his eyes briefly. "So that explains it," he whispered, lifting his left arm partially to brush against the dagger pendant resting against his collarbone. "He said some weird stuff to me when I was held captive. And he is the only one who had never tried to…hurt me. I thought that it was weird." He looked at the three teens. "Midorima told me the location where the real prince had been held captive—he probably already knew that he's going to die, and want to make sure that the information at least reaches Tamaki if he can't get it to her before he dies." Nijimura's cheek muscles twitched. "Tamaki…" He met their eyes. "She's gone to rescue him. The past two years… It has been all for this moment."

"Tamaki drew us a map." Haizaki grunted, pulling out a piece of paper from his back pocket and showed it to Nijimura. It is a pretty detailed map with directions on how to reach the location. "Rakuzan Villa. I've never heard of this place. Where is this?"

"Near the borders of the Teiko Kingdom—the west region." Nijimura answered, his eyes looking pained as he remembered the one and only time when he'd gone to the Rakuzan Villa with Tamaki and the real prince to visit the other royal twin. As far as the former Captain knows, that had been the last time that they've gone to visit him too. "Rakuzan Villa is the private property of the royal family. They have several all over the kingdom. Rakuzan Villa is just the only one that no one else is aware of. It is the place where the Red King had been imprisoned in for nearly all his life. As far as I know, only myself and Tamaki knew about it, apart from the real prince."

"Why did Tamaki never tell anyone that the one on the throne now is a fake?" Takao asked. He had wanted to know the answer to this question for a long time now, but anything regarding the Red King and the Generation of Miracles is considered taboo for Tamaki.

Haizaki looked at Takao. "Because if it ever got out that there are people who suspects the current king's legitimacy, the Red King will kill the real prince," he said solemnly. "The Red King knew that Tamaki knew that he isn't the real prince. But he also knew that Tamaki wouldn't risk anything, and would do anything in the world to find the real prince. He probably thinks of it as a game or even as a laugh of some sort, thinking that he can kill his brother anytime that he wants. He's that evil." Haizaki growled.

"Tamaki had always been devoted to the real Crown Prince." Shigehiro grunted. "All of us knew that ever since we have been in the Academy. Her clan have always been guardians and protectors to the kingdom and the royal family. They have been for generations. She has been working herself to the bone for the past two years, trying to find the real prince. Everything for the past few years…" He closed his eyes, understanding now why Tamaki had been so desperate lately. "It has been all for this moment. And if it is anyone who can cleanse this kingdom of strife and corruption, it is the real Crown Prince. Tamaki believes that. And I do too."

"If that's true, we can't waste any time here." Takao said quickly, looking from face to face. "Shin-chan died for this moment. I can't waste his sacrifice." He looked at Shigehiro and Haizaki. "Let's go! We have to save the Prince! If the Red King suspects that Shin-chan got the info to us before he'd died…" He trailed off uneasily.

Nijimura looked at them in the eye seriously. "Go. Back Tamaki up. Save the prince before it's too late. Also, send the rest in. I'll explain things to them."

Shigehiro exchanged looks with Haizaki who nodded grimly. They now understood everything.

"All right." Shigehiro turned to face Takao and Haizaki. "Get geared up. We're going to save the prince."

"Let's go." Shigehiro told the two with him who nodded. 'Hang on, Tamaki. Your Highness… We're coming…!'

Rakuzan Villa looks like a vacation home on the outside, with luxurious bedrooms and a fully furnished tearoom for appearances' sake should anyone stumble across it. But Tamaki herself knew that there had been a secret basement room in the vacation home—and that room had been where the Red King had been imprisoned in nearly all his life.

The vacation home is extremely silent, and looks as if no one has been here for years. Even still, Tamaki didn't let down her guard, with a firm grip on the handgun in her left hand, making sure not to make a sound even as she moved down the only pathway that leads to the basement. She didn't make it this far, and had stayed alive this long as both a Royal Guard soldier and a rebel by being careless.

Tamaki didn't meet a single guard along the way, but still, she stayed alert until she arrived at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement. Her eyes flickered from left to right to ensure that everything is clear before she made her way down the stairs slowly.

The metal door that leads to the basement was unlocked, and Tamaki pushed it open.

The basement room was furnished like that of a proper bedroom—with it having a luxurious bed, a study table, a bookcase full of books and everything. The only thing it lacks is a window. And sitting on the bed, with both his wrists cuffed to the bedposts was a certain redhead.

Akashi Seijuro's eyes widened in surprise and wonder as he caught sight of Tamaki. "…Tsuyu?" he whispered, almost sounding as if he is unable to believe that she is standing there.

Any doubts that Tamaki ever had of this man not being the real Crown Prince faded away almost instantly. After all, he is the only one who would call her by that name, and unlike the Red King, he had two red eyes.

"Thank god…" Tamaki rushed over to her cousin immediately, removing a lock pick from her pack and immediately start to pick at the locks of the handcuffs cuffing her cousin to the bedposts. "I've finally found you!"

Akashi rubbed at his wrists the moment that he is free, with the red marks obvious on his pale wrists. His eyes then widened when he caught sight of something behind his cousin. "Behind you!"

Tamaki turned around instantly at that shout, pointing the gun straight at the intruder that was knocked away almost instantly. She didn't let it overpower her however, and immediately drew out the blade at the back of her waist, parrying against the sword that threatened to take her head off.

Tamaki grunted as she glared at the man standing across her and leapt backwards, shielding her cousin from view, eyeing the intruder. "Shirogane Eiji," she almost hissed, recognising one of the two soldiers that the late king and queen have taken into confidence, and was also tasked with guarding the Red King in Rakuzan Villa. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Kuroko Tamaki…" The older soldier commented, appraising her carefully. "I thought that you'd make your way here sooner or later. Especially with the Crown Prince held here."

Tamaki hissed in fury. "You had been a member of the Royal Guard too! My father told me about you!" she snarled. "The late king and queen trusted you! How could you do this?"

"As a soldier, I swore to devote my heart to the protection of Teiko and the royal family." Shirogane countered. "There is no greater glory, than dying for that belief."

"I was hoping that things wouldn't come to this…" Tamaki muttered, closing her eyes and opening them again. "But it seems like I have no other choice." She held her sword before her in a battle stance. "The one on the throne now… I will never accept him as the king! He can't be for the good of Teiko! He'll only destroy the kingdom! And I will never permit it!"

"Shirogane! You're a good soldier once!" Akashi spoke up for the first time ever since Shirogane had entered, rubbing his wrists whilst still seated on the bed—apparently; he is too weak to even stand. "Why are you doing this? I know that you've watched over Seiki ever since he had been a child. But…"

"I believe that his is the path that Teiko must take to greatness." Shirogane insisted. "Your path of peace, Your Highness, will not bring Teiko power."

"Power corrupts, Shirogane. Haven't you heard that before?" Tamaki questioned. Upon seeing the look in the older soldier's eyes, she closed her eyes briefly in despair. "Then you leave me with no other choice." She declared. "May the king forgive me…" She glanced over her shoulder. "Your Highness?"

Akashi looked conflicted for a moment before he closed his eyes. "…We don't have a choice," he murmured before his eyes opened. "Do what you must."

"Understood." Tamaki nodded.

For several moments, no one moved.

Shirogane was the first to make a move, swinging his sword towards where Tamaki's head would have been if she hadn't moved out of the way, moving so fast that she looks almost like a blur to anyone watching. The teal haired girl didn't allow Shirogane to react however, as she appeared behind him and jammed her foot into the back of his knee.

Akashi let out a wince as he heard the loud resounding crack of a bone breaking, and felt certain that Tamaki must have shattered Shirogane's kneecap at least. 'She's fast. She's improved since the last time I saw her—four years ago.' Akashi thought to himself, barely able to keep up with his cousin's speed with his eyes. 'Compared to her, Shirogane is slow though. And his skills aren't as sharp as before.'

Akashi had been a mere child the last time he had seen Shirogane Eiji fought, but he had remembered it with clarity. It seems like more than a decade away from the field, being a guard had dulled his skills a lot. And his age probably didn't help any matters either. If so, Tamaki might just have a chance. After all, even back when he had still been an active soldier, Shirogane is more of the power than the speed.

'He's slow.' Tamaki mused to herself, dodging out of the way of a sword swipe, impressed that the man before her could still move despite his broken leg. 'I guess over a decade of isolation is enough to do this to anyone. If so…'

Tamaki kept an eye on the sword in Shirogane's hand even as she moved forward, the sword in her left hand parrying with the blade, before she then reached out with her hand and grab Shirogane's wrist—the one holding the sword, and she twisted, breaking the bones in the wrist and forcing him to drop his sword.

Tamaki then swung her foot towards his chest with enough force to break half the bones in his chest—possibly even sending broken bone shards into his lungs, thus sending him to the ground, and she then followed up by stabbing her sword through his shoulder and pinned him to the ground.

"It's over." Tamaki told Shirogane, kneeling on the ground by his side, still with one hand on the hilt of the sword through his shoulder. "You can't fight anymore."

Seeing as how Tamaki had broken just about half the bones in his body, she will be very surprised if he can still fight after all this.

Shirogane coughed out crimson blood, looking up at Tamaki through half glazed eyes. "You're…your father's daughter," he choked. "You fight…just like how he does." He coughed.

"You're a good soldier once, Shirogane." Akashi said from behind Tamaki as he managed to make himself move over to the dying soldier, despite how weak he felt. "Why did you do this?"

Shirogane coughed. "I…raised your brother for most of his…life… Your Highness…" He coughed. "He…has a brilliant mind… I believed…that his is the path…that could bring Teiko to…greatness…"

Akashi shook his head. "Nothing good ever comes out of conflict," he said. "You know that. You've fought in several wars and battles even before I was born. My parents told me that. Power only corrupts. I only wanted the people of my kingdom to live in peace without having to worry about conflicts and battles and even war. I didn't want the children of the kingdom to have to grow up knowing war…just like the way that we did." He glanced at his cousin.

Shirogane coughed out blood, laughing humourlessly. "It's…a strange thing…" he choked. "The people of this kingdom…have always been trying to shape this nation…to their own image…and their own…selfish desires. First had been the late…king and queen. They've…grown up in an era…where wars are waged relentlessly. They tried…to bring peace and power to Teiko…but failed when the war with Kamata West broke out. Then it had been…your brother. He wanted…Teiko to be the most powerful nation in the world. But I think…that in the end…the path that this kingdom will follow…will be your path, Your Highness." Shirogane looked towards Akashi, the light in his eyes slowly dimming, and he coughed out crimson blood. "Follow…your heart, Your Highness. Create a world…where the children…will not know war…and pain…and death…"

Akashi nodded solemnly. "I promise," he said.

"…Tamaki…" Shirogane rasped, turning his head towards the teal haired girl. "You…are a lot…like your father… He had…been a great…soldier… And an even…better friend… He would have been…proud…if he could…see you now…" He rasped. "Protect…the Prince… Lead…him… Make sure…that he doesn't…lose his way… Be for him…what your father…had been for the late king…"

Tamaki nodded solemnly. "I will," she promised.

Shirogane smiled weakly at them before coughing once more. "…I wonder…if this is…divine punishment…?" he rasped. "After all… I…as good as killed the king…and queen myself… If so, I accept it." He looked towards Akashi, breathing heavily. "Your Highness… Please do not hate your brother… He is the way…he is…because of how he had lived… Save him…from the darkness…that his heart is in… Save him…" Shirogane whispered. "Save…Teiko…"

His eyes then slid shut, and his breathing stilled.

For several moments, there is nothing but silence before the two cousins turned to face each other slowly, almost as if wondering if the other is real, and not a figment of their own imagination.

"…Sei…" Tamaki's voice cracked, and her eyes looked suspiciously glassy. Before Akashi even knew what is going on, he found himself with an armful of his cousin. "Thank goodness… Thank goodness…"

Akashi smiled to himself even as he patted the back of his cousin's back. He could only imagine what she had gone through for all these years. He had always believed that she would come for him. She had promised that all those years ago.

"…I'm back, Tsuyu." Akashi said.

Tamaki tightened her arms around her cousin's neck, not wanting her cousin to see that she had been crying. "…Welcome back."

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