Extending the Boundaries
I am not going to go into the details. Suffice it to say, that it was a busy year-an injury kept me from even being able to type for a good portion of it, and then another move meant no internet and complications... anyway, I don't blame anyone who has stopped reading this, but for those of you who were waiting, I apologize for the lengthy absence, and I hope you enjoy this chapter. I will be gone for the next 3 months or so, but I should be back in January. Living the dream, but it's a lot more work than I ever thought it would be! ((Please Forgive Me!))
Chapter 8 – Enemies of Konoha
It was a small temple, with a well kept yard at the base of the cliff, the entrance facing the town to the west. There were several neatly trimmed trees out front and the tiles of the roof were a dark blue, nearly black.
An older man with a fuzz of dark, graying hair growing haphazardly from his scalp came out to meet them before they'd even finished the long walk from the road to the temple. He was dressed in black robes with a dark blue sash, wore a small sack over one shoulder, and held a walking stick in his other hand. He didn't smile when they reached each other.
"Hiromi-san?" Harry asked, "We were sent by Konoha to—"
"I know," the old man interrupted, his expression remaining severe, "I was the one who requested you to come. I will only be away for a week or so, but somebody needs to keep an eye on things while I'm away and no one in town will do it."
Harry nodded. "I understand," he said, "Is there anything in particular you need us to look after while you're away, or just the everyday upkeep?"
The man looked at him hard for several seconds before his frown deepened and he answered, "I don't care what you do every day, as long as you keep the grave robbers away."
Harry blinked in surprise.
"Anything else?" The man asked with an irritated tone. When Harry didn't answer right away, he stepped between the two shinobi and continued down the path towards the town without a pause or a backwards glance.
Harry turned to watch him go, and then shot a bewildered look at his student—who was mirroring his expression back at him.
"Harii-sensei… did he say grave robbers?" Lee asked uneasily.
The Jounin nodded and turned to lead the way up to the temple with a sense of apprehension. He stepped up on the raised porch around the main building, and heard the clatter of Lee's feet as he stepped up behind him. They walked around the side of the building until the expanse behind the temple was visible.
Harry's feet ground to a halt, and he could only stand and stare. The expansive graveyard stretched out before him was huge—quite possibly larger than the one in Konoha—and it was blanketed in plain, black stones, spaced apart evenly across the ground.
"This mission… may be a little more interesting than I originally thought," the man muttered. Glancing at Lee he took in the boy's worried expression and smirked, adding, "But, still, they're only grave robbers. Certainly nothing a Genin can't handle, Lee-kun. Let's put our things inside."
"Harry Potter," the name was spat like a curse, with a slightly hissing quality to it.
"Hatake," Harry corrected with an automatic spike of irritation. He wasn't visibly bound, but he couldn't move, and he could feel a sort of pressure squeezing in around him.
His surroundings were dark, but not featureless—a black, moonless sky made it nearly impossible to make out anything past the shadowed ground immediately in front of him, but he could see the walls of the temple out of the corner of his eye. He couldn't see the other speaker, but he recognized the voice.
"Either name is equally deplorable," the voice stated hatefully—Harry struggled to escape the invisible pressure binding him, and flinched when something cold touched the back of his neck.
"Do you know that I knew your father?" The voice asked, tone lowered in a cold whisper.
Harry shivered with apprehension, unnerved at the feeling of cold fingers caressing the back of his head, but he couldn't move away from them. "You mean James Potter," he said.
The hand tightened painfully on the back of his neck, squeezing around the sides and making the teen gag. "James Potter was a deplorable man, to be sure, but Sakumo Hatake was just as bad—worse—and without a drop of wizarding blood in him." The voice laughed once, harshly, "He was hardly even human."
Harry's mind raced with confusion, but he couldn't voice the questions darting through his head, because the fingers were constricting and pressing in around the front, into his esophagus.
"You know, most would consider you a half-breed because of that, if they knew," the voice said harshly, "Those people—your father's blood—they're not even humans by the old laws. Oh, they look human, but there's something different, isn't there? A baser species, really, and always searching for conflict." The hand withdrew.
"Shut up!" Harry snapped as soon as he could draw breath, his own voice scratchy and weak, "What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway? And how do you know Hatake Sakumo?"
"That creature was a thorn in my side more than once," the voice said coldly, "But you shall learn of that history soon enough. Do you know why you are here, boy?"
Harry felt another flush of irritation at being referred to as a child, but he pushed it down. "Because I'm asleep," he retorted with annoyance.
Usually, his nights were filled with shadowy, indistinct dreams, with whispering voices and pain. He was certain that he was dreaming, which was unusual in and of itself, but it felt real, even more real than most of his nightmares.
"Naturally, it is easier to bend you to my will as you sleep," the voice said coolly, "But soon that will no longer be necessary. Let's begin."
The shadowed world around him dissolved to blackness as pain crashed down around the teen. Usually, this was the part of the dream where he woke up, but this time the pain continued, and built, until Harry couldn't even think of whether he was dreaming or awake or anything else other than the all-consuming pain and the bone-crushing pressure threatening to turn him into paste.
"Sensei," Lee said anxiously, kneeling at his teacher's side as the man slept. Sweat was pouring down the man's face, and his expression was tightened, almost as though he was in pain, and the Genin wasn't quite sure what to do. He'd never even seen his teacher sleep while they were on missions before, and now the sun was high and he couldn't get the man to wake up.
"Harii-sensei!" He repeated anxiously, shaking the man insistently. "Sensei, wake up!"
At last, the man's bright green eyes snapped open, with a sharp intake of breath—he was shivering, trembling, Lee realized—and the boy drew back, eyes wide. It took a few seconds for the man's breathing to slow, his eyes to focus, and the trembling in his limbs to stop. He reached up, wiping the back of his hand across his slick forehead and sat tiredly.
Lee was afraid to make a sound, and he could only watch, until his teacher slowly turned in his direction. He thought the man's eyes looked almost dead, and the dark shadows that were always around them seemed even deeper than usual.
"Are you alright, sensei…?" The Genin asked uncertainly.
Harry stared at him for a moment longer before seeming to shake the last of the sleep from his head and nodding. He pushed aside his covers and stood, answering with a distracted, "What time is it?"
Lee got to his feet as well, hovering worriedly behind his teacher as the man moved about, folding up his bedding. "It is late in the morning, sensei. I made breakfast for us while you were asleep, but you would not wake up when I called for you."
Setting the folded bedding aside, the man turned to smile at him—Lee blinked. He still wasn't entirely used to seeing the man without his mask, and had nearly had a heart-attack when he'd casually removed it as they prepared for bed last night. He'd just assumed the man never removed it, he supposed, although that had obviously been a silly theory. Lee knew firsthand how uncomfortable it was to sleep with a mask on, and had been grateful to follow his teacher's example of removing it at night.
"I'm sorry for worrying you, Lee-kun," the Jounin said, "I guess I was more tired than I thought. You said you made breakfast?"
Reluctantly, Lee nodded, and led the way to the small kitchen. His teacher obviously didn't want to talk about what had happened, and he couldn't very well press him for details, even though he felt a little hurt that his teacher didn't trust him.
With a sigh, the Genin put the thought out of his head. After all, his teacher had probably just been very tired, like he said. He looked tired, and Lee was worrying for no reason. His teacher didn't need him to worry about him.
Still, he couldn't quite help the unease that gnawed inside of him, as he watched him slowly picking at the food on his plate.
Abruptly, Harry looked up, their eyes meeting again.
"Once we get back to the village, I'm going to head back to Hogwarts," he stated, "I might be gone a few days, so you'll need to keep up your training in the meantime."
Lee blinked in surprise, and frowned slightly. "You're not going to take me with you, sensei?"
The man smiled slightly, and Lee was taken aback again by his teacher's handsome, unmasked face. The boy flushed a little self-consciously and dropped his eyes to the table instead.
"You would be bored," the Jounin explained, "I have to check in on some old friends for information, and might need to do a little research myself."
Lee nodded his understanding, still a little hurt that his teacher wanted to go and leave him behind. "I understand, Harii-sensei," he mumbled.
"You might as well get a start on rounds, Lee-kun," Harry said a moment later as he stood, leaving behind a barely touched breakfast, "I'll join you in a few minutes."
From the branches of the trees, Harry watched as his student exchanged blows with one of the men they'd caught prowling around the graveyard. Despite the fact that he had already dealt with the other three, the Jounin held himself back from going after the last one.
The group had been more skilled than he'd expected, but hadn't been a match for him, especially after he'd knocked one out with a curse before they'd even realized they were there, the remaining two had kept him busy for a few minutes, while Lee grappled with the other, but Harry's skill had been greater.
Lee was on the defensive, and the man was pressing the advantage his larger size and longer reach gave him, bearing down at the boy ruthlessly with a staff, while simultaneously keeping the Genin at a distance and too far to make any connections of his own. Lee was fast, and he was strong, using a kunai to block most of the swings and his own forearm if he couldn't quite get it up in time, but the man was stronger, and at least as fast, and the boy was slowly wearing down.
They were on their fourth day at the temple, and it was the first time they'd had any trouble, so Harry was determined to let Lee handle himself as long as he could, but he found himself light on the balls of his feet, ready to jump in the instant it looked like his student's life was in danger.
The man swung his staff around in a brutal, overhead strike that knocked Lee's kunai from his hands and knocked the boy off his feet, the errant kunai drawing a line of blood on the boy's arm as it went flying.
Lee stared up at the man with wide eyes as he approached, and scrambled backwards, one hand reaching for another kunai.
Harry could almost see where his student's mind was stuck—back where he'd been completely overwhelmed by the sword-wielding man who had nearly killed him. His muscles tensed and he was ready to jump from the tree when, abruptly, his student's voice rang out down below.
"Protritum!" The boy shouted—his fingers hadn't found a kunai, but he was holding his wand, and the advancing man was too close to dodge, even if he hadn't been stalled by the confused expression on his face.
The spell hit him squarely in the chest, and the man flew back into a tree—splintering the trunk with the force of his impact.
He slumped down, his body shaking and blood running down his neck from the back of his head, but he shakily returned to his feet. Lee was already in front of him and delivered a final, devastating uppercut to the underside of the man's chin. This time, he didn't get back up and Harry relaxed, slipping out of the tree.
The Genin was shaking a little, where he stood over the collapsed body—a combination of adrenalin and exhaustion, Harry guessed—and he approached carefully.
"Let's get him with the others," Harry ordered, his voice making his student turn to look at him in surprise. Harry smiled grimly, his eyes flexing a little, "You did well, Lee-kun."
The boy's entire face—masked, though it was—lit up with the announcement, and he hastened to pull out some wire to bind their captive with. "Thank you, sensei!"
Harry nodded and watched as he worked, but the smile had faded from his face. These men had been stronger than your usual grave robbers, and he suspected he knew why, although a more thorough search of their bodies would be necessary to confirm his suspicions.
This wasn't a normal graveyard. The graves were unmarked and the bodies were buried deep, and despite the fact that there were only decomposing corpses, people like this came after them.
It had to be a graveyard for shinobi—for the enemies of Konoha killed on or around her own soil.
Lee knew he was only a Genin and didn't need to be worrying about his teacher, but the bags under his eyes had been getting darker, and Lee was pretty sure that he hadn't slept at all since the first night. He was always sent to bed first, and the man's bedding would still be folded in the morning.
Of course, since it was his teacher, the Jounin was still one of the most amazing people Lee had ever seen fight, so the boy supposed however much sleep he was getting, it was enough. Still, sometimes he caught him just staring vacantly out at the graveyard, and he'd appear startled when he called out to him.
Harry hadn't slept at all for almost five days, and he was anxiously waiting for Harumi to return, because he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep it up. But the thought of falling back into his nightmares in this place terrified the young Jounin. If it hadn't been for Lee, he wasn't sure he would have woken up, and he wasn't convinced that he would be able to wake up the next time, even with Lee's help.
Exhaustion was getting to him, though. He couldn't sit down or he was sure he'd fall asleep. Even standing up, he caught himself falling asleep on his feet, and waking up an instant later, falling, with the eerie feeling that he'd just been looking into a pair of evil, red eyes.
Worse still, sometimes, he thought he could hear the whispering from his dreams, even while he was awake.
Harry was tempted to write to the Hokage and request a relief, but it was a C-Ranked mission, and the cost of sending another team out here would probably cut out their profits altogether. He could last another day or two.
"Lee," Harry started abruptly.
Lee, who had been watching his teacher with a frown and had been certain the man didn't realize he was there, jumped with surprise and shifted guiltily, moving closer to the Jounin. "Yes, sensei?"
"I need you to run into the village and get some more supplies," the teen ordered, "Also, ask around and see if anyone's heard news of Hiromi-san's return."
The boy frowned seriously and nodded. "I'll be back soon, Harii-sensei," he promised.
Harry watched him leave absently and turned his attention back to the graveyard.
He simply stood there, staring, for several minutes, before slowly stepping off of the temple's back porch and moving to walk among the field of graves, simple black stones laid into the earth.
He walked slowly, and with no real destination inside. He supposed he simply needed to move—exhaustion was dragging heavily on his mind.
Harry blinked slowly, and it took several minutes for him to realize his feet had come to a stop. Clouds had moved in, covering the sun, and the sky had darkened several shades.
The voice whispering in his ear was a familiar one and he didn't question it for an instant. He was hearing things again, but it was nothing new.
The teen let his eyes close tiredly, trying to block it out, but when his eyes opened again it was even darker than before.
His lips twitched towards a frown and he looked up. There was no sun in the sky. It wasn't black, like at night, but more of a shadowy gray, like being closed in a room with light filtering in from somewhere else.
When he looked down again, he found himself standing in front of an open grave.
Harry took a step backwards in surprise.
"Constrictum Serpens," a voice behind him hissed, and before the Jounin could react, a rush of lengthy snakes were leaping out at him, fangs wide open and torsos seeming to extend indefinitely.
He jerked back, but the snakes grabbed hold of him, fangs sinking into flesh and coils wrapping around him tightly and jerking him forward and off of his feet. Fire blazed through his blood everywhere their venom seeped into him, and he hardly even felt the collision with the cold dirt inside the deep grave.
He struggled, managing to rip free from several of the serpents and turn to see the shadowed figure standing over the fresh grave—all he could make out was the wide smile and red eyes, gleaming in the dim light.
Lee unloaded the things he'd bought in the kitchen before venturing out back in search for his teacher. His pace slowed and he frowned when he didn't see the man on the back porch, as usual, and he scanned the surrounding field critically, wondering if something had happened while he was gone—another group of grave robbers or something.
The boy's eyes widened when he saw a body slumped over on the ground towards the back of the field. Immediately he took off running, biting back his words before he could shout out his teacher's name. If they were under an attack, he didn't want to draw attention to himself.
As he drew close, it became obvious that the slumped body was his teacher, and there was a complete lack of blood, or any other signs of an attack. Once he was sure there was no one alone, Lee couldn't help himself anymore.
"Harii-sensei!" He cried, practically tackling the Jounin in his haste to get him turned over.
The man's face was pale, and the shadows around his eyes were as dark as ever. He was sweaty, his breathing uneven, and his heart was racing.
"Sensei!" The Genin cried again, desperately, as he shook the man.
It looked as though he was sleeping, but the unusual heartbeat made him nervous. He pressed a hand just over the man's eyes, feeling for a fever, but while his skin was heated, it didn't feel hot enough to explain him passing out. When he drew his hand back, he noticed he'd smeared some blood between the man's eyebrows, and looking at his own hand, he noticed a small amount of blood smeared on his thumb—but he wasn't hurt.
Eyes widening further, the Genin reached out to shakily push his teacher's hitai-ate out of the way.
More slick blood smeared across the man's forehead as he drew the cloth away, and Lee carefully wiped it clean with his forearm, pressing gently to keep from aggravating a head injury. But there were no bumps—there was only a single, jagged cut in the middle of his forehead, which was sluggishly weeping blood.
He hadn't really noticed it before, but he did remember seeing a scar in that same place the few times he'd seen his teacher without his hitai-ate and mask. Still, an old scar wouldn't be bleeding like this.
Anxiously, Lee looked back towards the temple. He couldn't very well leave it when it was their job to protect it, but his teacher needed help.
Setting the man back on the ground the Genin stood, pacing anxiously as he tried to decide what he should do. He couldn't give up the mission, but he needed to do something for his teacher.
Glancing at the temple again, he decided the very least he could do was move his teacher inside, and see if there was a doctor in the village who could help. Maybe he was just sick—maybe he'd eaten something rotten.
Nodding to himself, Lee bent down, wrapping his arms under the man's so he could drag him across to the temple without worrying about hitting his head.
He was a little surprised that the man wasn't heavier, but by the time he was heaving him up onto the small raised porch at the temple, he could only be grateful, because the man was difficult enough to move without any additional bulk.
Finally, he had his teacher inside, and laid back on his bedding, with a wet cloth across his forehead, hovering over him anxiously.
They needed a doctor.
"Do not worry, sensei," he said gravely, "I will take care of you this time."
Nodding to himself, the boy ran off back to the town.
Eventually, the anxious Genin had managed to drag an unenthusiastic village doctor out to the temple. The old man had dragged his feet the entire way, and even as he examined the Jounin, he grumbled, scratching at his rounded belly and his balding head and generally delaying doing anything useful.
Lee sat beside him, face drawn in a serious frown, waiting nervously for some sort of diagnosis.
"Hmm…" the man said at last, gently laying the shinobi's arm back by his side after taking his pulse. He looked across at Lee for a long, somber moment. "You said he's been like this how long?"
Lee shook his head, "I do not know exactly. At least four hours now, but it could be closer to five."
"Hmm…" the old man said again, frowning down at the Jounin.
Lee shifted uncomfortably when the man didn't continue. At last, he spoke, "Isha-san, what is wrong with him?"
"Hmm…" the doctor mused again. He took a deep, slow breath, still looking at the man, "I believe your sensei is just a heavy sleeper. He probably hasn't been sleeping properly for a while."
Lee would be the first to admit that that was probably true, but he'd never known the man to be a heavy sleeper before. In fact, on their first C-Ranked mission, the man had stressed on him the importance of being able to wake up easily and quickly. He was doubtful.
"What about the bleeding?" Lee pressed.
The man breathed again, long and slow, "Hmm… Probably, he simply reopened the wound. Tissues sometimes become more fragile when the body is neglected." He looked at the boy with a wide frown, "You shinobi are too harsh with your bodies."
Lee was doubtful. The scar he'd seen before had been an old one, and it should have been tougher than the rest of his skin.
"Is there not something we can do?" He asked desperately.
"Hmm…" the doctor ruminated over the young Jounin again before shaking his head. He stood slowly, using a cane to help him, and Lee jumped to his feet, offering his own arm in support. The large man took it, nearly pulling the boy down on top of him as he climbed to his feet.
"Let him rest for now," he ordered. "He'll probably wake up on his own in a day or two."
Lee nodded dejectedly. "Hai, Isha-san… thank you for your help."
Harry did not wake up the next day, and Lee sat by his side anxiously, hardly even willing to leave long enough to get something to eat or ensure the traps around the graveyard were still undisturbed. He slept all the following night, as well.
Lee had startled awake, once, when he'd heard his teacher groan, but the man's face had only tightened for a few moments, before it went slack again and he slept on.
The Genin was growing more convinced each day that his teacher was not simply sleeping off exhaustion, but there was something seriously wrong with him.
His final night at the temple, Lee had fallen asleep during his vigil at his teacher's side, and the nightmare he'd woken up from had kept him awake the rest of the night.
He couldn't remember the details entirely, just the darkness and the cold, and something that was definitely not his teacher coming out of the man's body and shedding it like an old snake skin.
Lee had made up his mind to leave that morning. With his teacher, it would probably take the entire day for him to get back to the village, anyway, and he wasn't convinced that the village doctor had known exactly what he was doing when he examined the Jounin.
Surely, the life of his teacher was worth more than whatever they were being paid for this mission, anyway, and at any rate, the traps were intact. Hopefully, they would keep would be robbers away until Hiromi returned.
The quickest way to get to the village was to cut through the graveyard, and since Lee had spent the last week guarding it, he wasn't at all bothered by the unmarked graves. He was much more concerned about cutting out the time it would take to get through the village—especially if the villagers wanted to ask him about why he was carrying his teacher.
Lee lashed the larger man across his back and removed his weights, leaving them behind as he bent beneath the Jounin's weight, a determined frown on his face. If he could just make it back to Konoha, then everything would be alright.