(Author’s Note: The story is told from Kei’s POV.)
From the day I was brought in Saki and Kazuhiro never took it easy on me, they both saw the potential I had and they made sure I was prepared for anything. Between the two of them, I was probably their most advanced student, though not without my own shortfalls. There was one lesson that I refused to learn, and that was killing. I made every effort to sidestep the lesson. From faking sick, to simply just being absent without excuse. I could not condone taking another person’s life when it was within my power. In that regard, I probably wasn’t suited to war. Anyone who made every intention to kill me, I could justify self defense. But killing for the sake of killing, I just couldn’t do it. It was when I was forced to learn that lesson that I noted a separation of opinion between my sensei and myself.
Kazuhiro: You must strike down your opponent without mercy. If you don’t, your opponent will eliminate you without mercy.
Kei: I’m sorry, I just can’t.
Kazuhiro: Why is this such an issue for you Kei? You cleared all the other lessons we’ve put in front of you.
Kei: I’m more than happy to incapacitate them. I don’t think I could kill them.
Saki: Why is this an issue for Kei? I think I easily have the answer to it. You are just a bit soft, but that’s not a bad thing.
Kazuhiro: To be in the middle of war, Saki? It is.
Saki: There is some semblance of mercy that needs to be observed. We have taught Kei plenty of tactics to overwhelm and knock out his opponents.
Kazuhiro: We’re not here to take prisoners. Our job is to stop them from advancing. And if Kei can’t do that much…
Saki: Then he deserves to be sent home, I agree.
I balled my hands up into a fist at my pants. I did not want to be sent home for being incompetent. Thankfully, the issue was resolved in a different way, when a messenger came to us.
Messenger: Saki and Kazuhiro, your presences are requested on the front lines.
Kazuhiro: Take up your post, Kei.
Kei: Understood sir.
With that, Saki and Kazuhiro left me, and I took up my place with the fifth division as leader. Men and women served under me with the intent that I would not ask of them what I asked of myself. I never had a personal relationship with any of them. It was all business. We were at war, they knew what was expected of us. We must have waited hours for something to happen. I didn’t hear anything for three days, but a message did eventually come to us from the front lines. Something I wasn’t sure I was able to take.
Messenger: Kei, a message from the front lines.
Kei: Speak freely.
Messenger: The first four divisions have been completely wiped out.
I was completely stunned. Plenty of our strongest fighters were in those divisions. How had they been wiped out so completely? How had they been eliminated?
Kei: Tell me what happened.
Messenger: Its hard to say. Its hard to tell whether they were ambushed, whether they had hit a minefield, its unclear.
Kei: Leave me please.
The messenger quietly did so, and I retreated to my tent. I must have wept privately for an hour for my senseis thinking that the end had come to them. I spent the next hour calming myself and thinking what to do next. From there, I asked for assistance from the sixth through eighth divisions to be ready to see battle. They acknowledged my request, and we sent our request up to the higher ups. Our request was granted. Our warriors saw the fire of real battle. I can still remember the stains of blood, and just being on that patch of land haunts me.
Kei: We lost a lot of men that day, but so did they. In the end, we had caused them enough casualties to force them to retreat. We took back the land that the first through fourth divisions lost, but we still wondered privately how the first through fourth divisions had completely been wiped out. Those memories returned to me when I saw Saki and Kazuhiro’s names on the list of people within the Branch. So Saki, now I want an honest answer. What happened to your divisions?
Saki heaves a deep sigh.
Saki: Very well, I shall explain what happened to our units.
(Author's Note: The Story is now being told from Saki's POV)
As we stood on those front lines, we awaited our enemies to meet us for battle. Hours passed without movement as we waited to see our enemies. Yet, they did not come. Soldiers became irritable, hungry, and tired. However, we were greeted by our enemies, with an ambush. Several, literal, balls of fire, came hurling over the hill in the distance, and many of our men burned alive. We had been lured into a trap. As we tried to escape their catapults, many men saw their deaths. Many more men walked unknowingly into minefields. We were completely and utterly wiped out. The last of us who remained alive were very small. Twenty of us in total remained of troops that numbered in the thousands. Though we escaped, morale was low amongst us. While our remaining troops were low to begin with, we were cut in half again, as half of them succumbed to their wounds. We were left with ten good combatants including Kazuhiro and myself. We staged guerrilla warfare where we could and attempted to cause more damages. In secrecy, we sabotaged their biggest weapons. Their catapults attacked their own warriors, their bombs exploded on them, and their weapons refused to work. Without their knowledge, we made sure they were at a distinct disadvantage. After which, we retreated to safely. Our numbers again cut in half due to starvation. Five of us remained. Our other three soldiers caught by enemies. Kazuhiro and I survived. What we didn’t expect was a fatal blast. Kazuhiro and I had almost been killed by a small range missile. We survived, but we were incredibly wounded. The two of us however were lucky. Some kind beastkin took us in and nursed our wounds. They cautioned us to remain safe and find shelter where possible. We went AWOL after that. Kazuhiro and I felt ashamed for how we had led our men into such an obvious trap. There was no way we could show our faces again. At some point, we were retrieved by people calling themselves ‘the branch’. Despite my hesitation, Kazuhiro joined immediately. He probably still harbored feelings of resentment and shame, and I went along with him, in order to at least be prepared to eliminate him myself should the need arise.
Saki: We were kept in the dark regarding the Branch’s movements. We knew nothing. The only thing we knew was that our names were listed as members. Little did we know we had become enemies of someone we once called an ally.
Kei: And you just went along with it.
Saki: For Kazuhiro, it was an opportunity. For myself, it was simply being cautious.
Kei: And yet, here you are, standing before me again, except now, your numbers have been halved again.
Saki: Yes, Kazuhiro met his end through his own stubbornness.
Kei: All these years, thinking the two of you were dead.
Saki: I apologize for the deception, we couldn’t reveal ourselves, not to anyone.
Kei: So much has changed since then. We both scarred more than we like to admit.
Saki: The rigors of war left an impact on everyone. To this day, that field is a graveyard in commemoration of all the brave people that lost their lives.
Kei: And yet, no war crimes have been issued against the two of you for going AWOL.
Saki: Is that so?
Kei: The charred remains of bodies were combed over, but many bodies remained there, for their graveyard. I’m sure I had held out some sort of hope that the both of you might be alive, but that faded over the years.
Saki: But now that has all changed, I see you are now a ‘sensei’ Kei.
Kei: Its true, I’ve mastered several weapons in between then and now. Loved, lost, and loved again.
Saki: The one thing Kazuhiro and I did do, was keep tabs on you for a little while. We heard of your marriage, and we were saddened to hear of the grief you suffered. If nothing else, between the two of us, we had hoped you would never see the light of war again.
Kei: Unfortunately, trouble has a way of finding me.
Saki: Indeed, it does.
Yui: He...never told us any of this.
Saki: They are painful memories to him as well as I, I’m sure.
Kei: Its not anything I wanted to keep secret.
Rie: I never imagined…
Kei: Please, stop this now.
Saki: Sorry, I must see what your apprentices are capable of.