A/N: A chapter, a chapter, my kingdom for a chapter!
Harry strode confidently towards the windworn bridge that represented the single precarious path forwards. Despite its obvious age it still looked sturdy and though the drop was sheer he'd never had any kind of fear of heights. He walked up in clear view of anyone watching from within the temple on the far side, he was firm in the belief that his shield charm, which he'd placed about himself, would be more than up to the task of deflecting any fire should it come to that. He very much doubted that they had any way in which they could hope to injure him.
As he stepped onto the bridge the wind snapped around him and his clothes flicked and flapped noisily. For a moment he reflected that it probably made him look very impressive indeed. A particularly strong gust hit him as he stepped farther out onto the bridge and he began to pay more attention to his footing in the unbalancing wind. It was strong enough to almost pull the breath from his lungs and he could feel the bridge flex alarmingly beneath him.
"Oi!" he called up when he reached the midpoint of the bridge. "Anyone home?"
For a moment he thought his words had gone unheard, swept away by the whistling wind but then a response came. "You shouldn't have come here, weak one!" an angry and heavily accented voice cried down from some unseen nook high upon the monastery's carven stone facade.
"Hey now," Harry called back as he made calming gestures with his hands. "Calm down. N—"
The crack of a gunshot cut through the whistling winds and echoed across the canyon at the same moment as Harry's shield charm flickered dimly into existence. Harry shook his head in disappointment. He hadn't expected any better really but he'd still held out a faint hope.
He just wanted to know what had driven these men to such homicidal violence. Surely working together to escape was much better than trying to kill everyone who stepped foot on the island?
At least he'd managed to convince Lara to hang back. Not having to protect her from gunfire meant he could dedicate his efforts towards much more destructive endeavors.
"That wasn't very polite!" he shouted to his unseen assailant. He flicked his wand into his hand from where he'd kept it concealed up a sleeve and brandished it at the heavy wooden doors that stood closed at the base of the cliff before him. The wind rose again about him and his next word was lost completely to his enemies as it was swept away.
Though the incantation might have been whipped away by the wind, the spell itself was not. The powerful and invisible spell instantly shattered the door into a cloud of broken wood and splinters as cries of surprise and pain came from the men who'd been hidden behind it.
A bare moment later, just enough time for the men in the monastery to process the shock, gunfire erupted from all of the windows and balconies of the canyon temple.
His shield charm flared more brightly this time but still every bullet was stopped dead by the wall of light and magic. Carefully, and without much concern for the torrent of metal being fired at him Harry began to sight on his attackers and methodically knocked each of them out of the fight with well-placed Bombardas which exploded their cover about them.
He wasn't worried about the chance of injuring them. It was clear these men were beyond any kind of reason. Even after the war with Voldemort Harry held that killing should never be a first option, and for someone with magic it never needed to be. At the same time he didn't want his enemies waking up and potentially putting Lara or her friends in danger. He had no real way of holding them permanently that wouldn't cause him a severe inconvenience, or possibly endanger Lara and himself.
The more permanent methods he could think of to hold them could more accurately be described as methods of prolonging death, rather than as methods for keeping prisoners. It wasn't like he was going to build a gaol and keep them fed while he was exploring the island for the source of the blanketing wards.
So he settled for inflicting fairly grievous injury with stony shrapnel. After the earlier fight in the village and what had been likely to happen to Lara he felt very little guilt about it indeed.
As he thought of his companion she entered the fight in spectacular fashion. An arrow flew flawlessly through the gusting wind to strike the throat of one of the men on the roof of the monastery. But it was the explosion that followed that caused Harry to stop for a moment to watch in a mixture of pride and respect as the whole roof was engulfed in flames. Another four men were thrown from the roof to fall screaming into the black depths of the chasm.
He turned back to give her an enthusiastic thumbs up but when he did he was confronted with a completely unexpected sight.
Japanese samurai carrying swords and full medieval looking armour had appeared from the subterranean pilgrimage path and Lara was scrabbling backwards on the ground as a huge man, at least the size of Hagrid, advanced on her. In both hands he held a colossal mace, at least as long as Harry was tall. It would turn Lara into little more than a smear.
"Harry!" he heard her cry in desperation. "Help!"
Without any further thought or planning Harry stabbed his wand towards her. "Accio!" he shouted on instinct.
She screamed in surprise as Harry's spell yanked her towards him roughly. He realised a moment later that catching her wasn't likely to be easy but before he could follow that thought any further her flying body collided with his and sent them tumbling along the bridge in a messy rolling ball of bruised limbs.
They ended up laying at the base of the stairs that lead to the temple amongst the ruins of the great doors.
"Urgh," Harry groaned groggily as he tried to shake off the effects of the dizzying tumble.
Lara shifted on top of him and grunted quietly herself. She'd probably got the worst of the deal, unlike Harry she didn't have any magic to soften the landing.
There was no time to check on her though as he could see the samurai figures advancing on them both across the rubble-strewn bridge. Their swords flashed menacingly and Harry could hear angry shouting, though he couldn't make out any words. Behind the samurai walked the hulking troll-like thing clad in armour that would have looked at home on a Muggle tank.
He scrambled out from beneath his companion and brandished his wand with a shout, "Expulso!"
Bright blue light flashed from his wand towards the nearest of the encroaching samurai and dissipated almost completely against his armour. The armoured man was knocked back on his heels but nothing more, he shook his fearsomely masked head and in moments was advancing on Harry and Lara again. The curse he had used should have blown any human back hard enough to break bones.
Harry reached down and hoisted Lara up and put her arm over his shoulder as he half carried the dazed woman backwards towards the dubious safety of the temple behind them.
Spells flew from his wand in a torrent as he sought to find something that would hold the approaching samurai back. Cutting Curses, Slashing Curses, Blasting Curses, Hurling Hexes; none of them did anything more than knock his targets back slightly. Bizarrely the Jelly Legs Jinx he tried in desperation was perhaps the most effective option. It was not even close to being enough though.
"Bombarda Maxima!" Harry cried as he levelled his wand at the ground at the feet of the still encroaching enemies.
The explosion threw the group back and two were blown off the bridge entirely and fell into the foggy depths with incoherent angry shouts. Seeing the result of that Harry quickly altered his strategy. He released Lara, who stumbled on towards the heap of rubble that had once been the doors to the temple. He was gratified to see her steps become more sure with each moment that passed. His shoulder squared and he faced his foe head on.
"Depulso!" he incanted. The chunks of rock and wood that had been blasted free by his earlier spell shot towards their attackers with blinding speed. He was sure there were some broken bones from that attack. Finally, something was effective against the strange anti-magic that had been infused into their armour somehow. It was at least as resistant as dragonhide.
He'd have to retrieve some of it later.
Banishing objects into them was the more effective strategy and soon the bridge was coming apart under Harry's magical barrage. It was as if time was running in reverse and the bridge was slowly deconstructing itself one aged stone at a time. Each would lift away from the bridge and hover in the air for a moment before a shouted "Depulso!" would send it careening into the nearest of the encroaching Samurai.
Harry quickly realised it was not a sustainable plan. Not only was the bridge rapidly falling apart at the seams, but the huge giant-like leader was able to almost completely shrug off the heavy stones Harry was throwing his way. Their unusual attackers were slowly advancing on him, the remaining samurai sheltered by their much larger compatriot.
"Lara!" he called urgently, hoping she could hear him amid the wind and Japanese shouting. "We need to get away from here, I'm running out of bridge to throw!"
She didn't respond so he simply had to hope that she'd heard. After ten more long seconds and their enemies getting ten feet closer despite his best efforts he started to get worried.
Just as he was about to shout to her again he felt her hand on his arm. "Come on, we can hide inside," she said urgently into his ear from mere inches away.
Harry nodded. "Incendio!" he cried and a wall of fire sprung up between them and their attackers. He hoped that it would delay them but the magically dampened armour would surely make it almost useless. Magical fire was impressive, of that there was no doubt and against the uninitiated could seem terrifying. Once again, he could only hope that, despite their magical resistance, they were unfamiliar with it.
He was pulled quickly towards the pile of wood and rubble that had replaced the great temple doors after Harry's attempt at diplomacy. The doorway was still gaping open near the top of the rubble pile and they both hurriedly scrambled up the heap of broken rock.
The room beyond was a mess. Part of that was down to the short-lived battle that had just taken place, but it was obvious that it would be been pretty unpleasant even without Harry and Lara's input.
Dessicated corpses were tied up to poles, an obvious warning to anyone who would enter the temple. Skulls and other human bones were scattered across the floor and the walls were heavily daubed with graffiti and prayers to the Sun Queen.
The air smelled of death, both old and new.
"They've all gone," said Lara as she looked around, her eyes lingering just a moment on the strung up corpses. "I couldn't find any sign of them… other than the obvious, of course."
"Huh," said Harry, shrugging that mystery off as one that would probably be solved in short order. "But it doesn't matter, we need to move and they'd only slow us down so it's best this way."
He looked at the three exits from the large room. "Which way do you think?"
"Up, definitely up," said Lara with certainty. She pointed to the right-hand corridor which led to some stairs which disappeared higher up into the temple.
"Right, keep close then."
Conscious that every delayed second surely brought their pursuers closer they crossed the room to the doorway Lara had indicated. The stairway beyond was old and crumbling, in places even completely destroyed by the ravages of time and whatever it was that had happened there over the centuries.
Soon, they heard shouting and screams coming from up ahead, joined by angry shouts from below as their pursuers charged after them having finally negotiated the enchanted flames.
"Can you block the stairs behind us?" Lara asked as the shouting from behind them echoed louder and louder.
"Oh!" said Harry, mentally chiding himself for not thinking of that first. "Good idea, I doubt we'll be going back that way anyway. Engorgio!"
The stone that Harry had gestured at grew quickly until it was wedged immovably across the stairway they'd been climbing. It was by no means a perfect fit, a sprightly person could probable squeeze over the top to continue the pursuit but they'd almost certainly have to leave their armour behind.
The stairs were not long and soon they reached another room, this one almost certainly right above the one they'd just left. Here too there were corpses everywhere. Some had obviously been brought low by Harry's indiscriminate explosion spells. But not all.
"Harry, look at this," said Lara when she found something particularly unpleasant.
It was a severed head, and the body was nearby. Harry hadn't done this. "Shit," he said immediately. "Some of those samurai guys are in here too."
"Lets just get out of here," said Lara, sharing his reaction. "I don't want to be here if they decide to come back."
That was a very good point and he was reminded of her earlier statement, exactly where had they all gone? They could only have had minutes to kill everyone in the room and yet there was no evidence of them save the mess they left behind.
"Agreed. But keep an eye out," he suggested. "They must still be in here somewhere."
In the absence of any other path they continued deeper into the cliff through a tunnel rough-hewn through the rock. Slowly the walls become better defined and the ancient engravings they'd seen earlier returned to the walls. Suddenly the path opened into a large room.
"It's a tomb," breathed Lara as she looked up at the huge statue that stood proudly in an alcove at the far end of the room. In the centre of the room was a large and heavily adorned stone sarcophagus.
To either side of the statue, sat in prayer in a way curiously reminiscent of the many Buddha statues Harry had seen in his time in Japan, were the statues of two powerful looking warriors carrying the yari spears of ancient Japan.
"The Sun Queen and her Stormguard," said Lara as she approached the statues slowly.
"That's what those things were?" asked Harry in surprise. "Stormguard? How in Merlin's name are they still around after all these years?"
"Some kind of cult, maybe?" said Lara as she read the inscriptions upon the sarcophagus.
Harry couldn't believe that. "That managed to keep going without its figurehead for more than six centuries?"
But Lara wasn't listening. "Himiko," she whispered as she brushed her hand reverently over one of the inscribed words. "The first Sun Queen."
She turned to Harry with a broad grin on her face. "This is her tomb, Harry!"
Well that scuppered Harry's single theory for how the Stormguard had managed to sustain itself over the long centuries. Unless… He moved forward and with a grunt managed to slide the heavy stone lid back a bit so that he could peek inside.
A glint of gold shone within and after a whispered Lumos he found himself looking at the very definitely dead crowned skeleton of Himiko herself.
"Shit," he muttered to himself.
Lara heard him. "Is she not there?" she asked as she pushed in closer to get a look. When she saw the remains she looked at Harry in confusion. "That's a bad thing? After what you said I was expecting zombies."
"It means," said Harry with a small amount of chagrin, "I have no idea who's leading the Stormguard. They have to be lead by someone and my first guess was this lady. Looks like that theory's a bust."
"But it could still be any one of the other Sun Queens, Himiko's successors?" suggested Lara after a moment. She realised what she'd just said and laughed. "Was that me actually trying to be positive?"
Harry smiled at her joke. "You're actually doing a good job. Immortal magic users I've seen before, I have an idea of how they might have done it. If it's something else entirely we might be in trouble."
"So, in this case the unquiet dead is the good option?" said Lara, still amused by the irony.
"Oh hush," said Harry at last.
Lara shook her head and turned to look at the huge murals painted onto the walls. "Harry, look. Maybe these will give a clue."
There were four of them and they were, all four, almost impossibly well preserved in the dry dark of the chamber. In the first was a young woman, engulfed in flames. Her arms were raised in a gesture of supplication and on her face was a look of beatific tranquility.
"A sacrifice?" suggested Lara.
She was probably right, but Harry couldn't help but comment, "She seems awfully happy about being burned alive."
"That's common in images of this type," said Lara, reminding Harry of her much more impressive resume when it came to archeology. She actually had one, for one. "In most ancient cultures it was considered a blessing to be sacrificed, in some they even competed for the honour of being offered up to their God."
"I imagine they had second thoughts," said Harry, still a little disbelieving. "Fire hurts."
Lara shook her head and smiled. "Perhaps, but you'd be amazed how fanatical some of them could be. Even in the West there are tales of pagan witches laughing even as they burned..." She trailed off when she realised Harry was trying to stifle his laughter. "What?"
"Wendelin the Weird," he said simply. "Strange one, that."
"She was burned at the stake?" asked Lara, her brow furrowed in confusion.
Harry grinned. "Yep, forty-seven times. Flame freezing charm," he explained after he took pity on her. "It means that getting burned alive actually just tickles. The only people actually burned alive were probably not witches at all."
"That's…" Lara cast around for a response. She gave up. "Well her name was fitting, I suppose." She turned back and moved to look at the next image.
This one contained another young woman, this time in happier circumstances. She was walking from the sea to a mountain while the sun shone brightly overhead.
"A pilgrimage," said Lara with certainty. "Maybe to this temple?"
"Does she get burned alive before or after the pilgrimage?" asked Harry, his lips quirking slightly in amusement.
Lara shot him a quelling look, it didn't last long though and Harry could see the merest beginnings of a smile adorn her face. "I assume the burning happens after."
In the next image were two figures, one grand and with the light of the sun radiating from her head, the other of smaller stature, the same as in the previous images. The grand figure was emptying a jug of water into another jug held by the pilgrim.
"Some kind of symbolic offering, perhaps?" Lara tried as she looked closer at the image. "If the images run clockwise perhaps she was given the water by Himiko to bear to the place of worship and sacrifice?"
Though he couldn't quite put his finger on what exactly it was, it didn't feel quite right to Harry. He knew that magic users loved their pointless ceremonies but this just seemed overly contrived and pointless. It was more like the kind of thing a Muggle would do to try and convince the Gods to smile upon them. A magic user who had literally installed themselves as a deity would have little need for such artifice.
"Wait, no, it's—" she was cut off by a shout of panic from behind them, it was abruptly cut off and followed by the inarticulate growl of the huge Troll-samurai thing. It lumbered into the room with deceptive speed, its great size meaning that even its slow stride covered the distance quickly. Behind it was dragged the great mace, sparks occasionally flew from where it scraped upon the stone and narrow grooves were left in its wake.
Instantly, Harry's wand was back in his hand and the capstone of the sarcophagus flew through the air to shatter against the beast's bulk. "Lara, we need to move, now."
"There's a way out up there," she said as she pointed towards some ancient scaffolding, erected at some time in the murky past for a reason now lost to all. "But it might be hard to get up there with that thing attacking us."
Harry spun his hand in his hand until he was holding it downwards in his fist and he stabbed it towards the ground. The earth shook with the power of the spell and a deep chasm opened up at the feet of the creature, now bare feet away and raising its club in preparation to strike.
"Then let's get moving!" he cried as he turned towards her. The chasm he'd created was not especially wide and it certainly wasn't bottomless. The creature would be able to clamber across fairly quickly once it regained its footing after the tremor.
They ran the short distance towards the scaffolding and Harry cast about desperately for an easy way to climb up to the exit that Lara had seen high upon the cavern wall. There was no ladder they could use and so he'd have to make one himself using magic. He began forming it immediately, his mind focused completely as he transfigured an aging spar of wood into a rudimentary ladder for them both.
"Harry!" called a voice, Lara's he realised belatedly. At the moment he comprehended the warning through his concentration he was hit by a heavy weight and borne to the ground under it.
The weight was Lara. He became aware of a crash as the beast's gigantic mace flew through the space he'd been standing until just a bare second earlier. It bounced across the ground and threw up sparks and chips of shattered stone where it struck before completely destroying a large part of the creaky scaffolding.
On the other side of the chasm he'd opened the Troll-samurai roared at them both in rage, loud enough to cause dust to drift down from the ceiling. Then it slowly started backing up from the opening. Getting a run-up, Harry realised. He was running out of time to get Lara out.
"Hold onto your hat," he suggested from his position below her as he brought his wand around to point at her, it was awkward but possible.
She opened her mouth to speak but before she could say anything a whispered Depulso saw her flying through the air towards the opening. "Harry!" she screamed in surprise and panic.
He pushed himself up slightly and cast a cushioning charm on the upper wall towards which she was flying. She bounced off his charm and fell heavily onto the scaffolding which creaked ominously.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. With Lara out of the way the creature was much less dangerous. His spells might be almost useless against its huge magic resistant bulk but at least it was unlikely to be able to do anything to him. Even without apparition or the other staples of wizard transportation Harry was confident he could steer clear of those huge armour-clad fists.
And the mace was no-longer a concern. "Evanesco." he said with a wave towards the huge lumpen weapon. He stood upright to meet the creature even now thundering across the room in its run-up to the pit Harry had opened.
"Harry," shouted Lara from on-high. "Don't you dare."
"I'll catch up," he said in a fruitless attempt to convince her to get to relative safety. As he spoke the troll creature threw itself bodily across the gap and landed with enough force to shake the entire room.
Lara didn't dignify Harry with a response and instead unslung her bow again and started firing ineffectual arrows towards the brute, most struck it in the head though they did little more than enrage it further.
Fortunately for Harry the rage didn't actually make it any more dangerous. It roared again and tried to smash Harry with both of its fists together as it brought them down upon him. His shield, still present from so much earlier, easily deflected the force though Harry could feel the weight and power that the creature had put behind the blow.
And so, for that moment, it looked like they might be evenly matched. Two immovable objects arrayed against each-other. Harry, though, still had any number of tricks up his sleeve.
He twirled his wand slowly, always careful to keep half his mind on the shield which was taking a savage beating from the now constantly bellowing beast. It held strong but the magic the infused the armour also meant keeping the shield going was nowhere near as easy as it should have been.
Finally he grunted with effort and pushed outwards with the shield in a powerful shockwave that drove the attacking titan back a step. Breathing room thus created he finished his spell and struck out with his wand as a thin stream of blinding fire issued from it.
The fiery rope wrapped around the huge figure and it howled in pain as the burning tendril cut deep. The smell of burned flesh crept into the air, the heavy armour plates that had proved so resistant to so much of Harry's more normal magics simply weren't up to the challenge of turning away the heat of his fire whip.
But then the creature grabbed the flames in its huge gauntleted hands and then it heaved.
The fire snuffed out.
The great beast fell to its knees as it was released and Harry backed away, unsure what to try next.
"Harry, I found a ladder!" came Lara's voice behind him. "Hurry, before it recovers."
He glanced back and she had indeed managed to find a ladder long enough for him to reach the exit he'd thrown Lara towards. It took him only a moment to decide that in this case discretion was very much the better part of valour. He turned and hightailed it to the ladder as quickly as he good.
Fortunately the battle had taken its toll on the creature and though it lifted itself back to its feet after bare seconds upon the ground it did not immediately rush towards Harry. Instead it peered at him with the same kind of animal wariness he'd seen from wounded dragons.
Harry felt a small amount of indecision as he looked back one last time as he climbed the ladder. It did not sit well with him to leave it after all the effort he'd gone to but the real truth was there wasn't all that much in the way of visible damage done to it. Had he obviously had it on its last legs then he would have pressed his advantage. As it was he had already tried a great many of his spells and none had proven effective. All it would take was a lapse of concentration as it had beat upon his protective charms and he could have been the one limping away.
No, it was best to avoid that confrontation until it was absolutely necessary. One thing he'd learned on his travels was one never intentionally sought out a fight in a survival situation. Even in victory he might leave himself too weakened to deal with some other more pressing problem.
Such as the one that awaited him at the top of the ladder.
As soon as his hand reached the top it was grabbed by Lara who, with strength that frankly astounded Harry, pulled him up almost bodily. Then she hugged him. Then she punched him. Then she hugged him again.
At last she stepped back again and glared at him. "Don't. You. Dare do that again," she said and punctuated each word with a prod at his chest.
Harry forwent a response when a large troop of the Samurai warriors burst into the room below, giving their hulking leader backup at last. Some were armed with bows and Harry immediately pushed Lara into the safety of the tunnel. Before he joined her a spell reduced to the scaffolding and ladder upon which they'd been standing to broken splinters. He turned back and made his way after Lara, he ignored the screams of rage from the warriors below.
"Look," he said once they'd both moved a safe distance down the hall. "It was the only thing I could think of to keep you safe."
"It's not about keeping me safe," Lara hissed, her eyes alight. "We're in this together and that means each of us is only safe if we're both safe. You're not my bodyguard, Harry."
Harry let out a breath of frustration but thought on what she said. In a way, he supposed, she was right. It was about trust, really. If this was going to work, and if Lara was going to be anything other than a burden, he had to trust her to not get herself killed. If he wasted his time and effort protecting her he'd just be hobbling himself.
He thought back to his adventures at Hogwarts and beyond. Trust was probably the biggest reason why Hermione, Ron and he had been such an effective team. They each simply trusted each other to hold up their end, it was unspoken.
But they had magic. Lara was just a muggle who'd only recently graduated from university.
A muggle who'd quite possibly killed more men during their time on the island than Harry had.
He nodded firmly. "I understand. Now, let's get going. I doubt it will take them long to find a way up here."
After a short walk the corridor opened out to a narrow cliff path. Then the radio crackled into life again.
#Cshh# "H, hello? Is anyone there?"
Lara gasped and clutched at the little device. "Sam!"
A/N: Apologies about the long delay on this and my other stories. I don't have much excuse but the fact that having a proper job rather eats into the time I usually spend writing. I'm still kinda trying to find a way around it. It might get better; it might not. But I'll not give up.
Thanks for all the reviews and interest, for such a niche fic I'm constantly surprised by the reception it gets. Also, it's now a little over a year old. My, how time flies.