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Love's Curse

Chapter Text

The sun burnt into the ground, its rays blanketing the sea of sand below; and the sand itself grasped onto it desperately, soaking in its heat, becoming as hot as burning coals lighting up a raging fire; and a strong breeze swept through, stirring everything up. The gritty particles buzzed in the air like bees disturbed from their hive, attacking the nearest things they could see; and although the desert was scarce and empty, the sand continued to search, seeking retribution against the wind.

Iruka adjusted his mask as he trudged along, squinting as he scanned the desert through its thin film of dust, searching for anything unusual. He was on a mission with Kakashi; and they had been sent to Suna to investigate some disturbances near a tomb, as a lot of travelling merchants claimed there was a ghost haunting the area, stopping them from passing through the safest route to the Sand village. Whenever there was a sandstorm on the road, they heard voices of someone asking for help; and many had seen a woman wandering around on her own. More often than not, those who approached her, trying to offer her shelter from the storm, ended up lost or missing as they followed her; and those who had been found had all claimed that it was because she had suddenly disappeared without a trace. So with the odd sandstorms blocking the path and the woman luring people away, the safest travel route was becoming just as dangerous as the others.

The Kazekage looked into this pretty fast, and his Sand shinobi eventually traced the strange activity back to a tomb central to the perimeter; but they hadn't been able to get in and continue their investigation, as the door had been painted with a seal written in ancient script. Despite having a library of ancient Sand scripts, and researchers and shinobi who were fluent in ancient text and patterns, no one had been able to decipher it and enter the tomb; so Gaara had asked the Leaf for help, and handed the investigation over to them. So now, Iruka had a substitute taking his place at the academy, while he tried to solve the mystery of the disturbances and the tomb.

"I see something up ahead." Kakashi suddenly said, distracting him from his thoughts.

Iruka looked up and spotted a dark shadow in the distance where Kakashi was pointing; and he focused his senses towards the object, trying to determine if it was someone passing by, or if it was the tomb they were looking for. He couldn't sense any chakra signatures besides theirs; but he still approached cautiously, just in case they were walking into a trap and were about to get ambushed. But as they neared it and the shadow grew, making the object's shape clearer, he relaxed a little. It was a mound of sand shaped like a dome, about the size of a hut, with a small limestone entrance; very much like the structure that had been described in the mission briefing. They had made it.

Iruka approached more confidently when he confirmed this; and took in the view, which wasn't much. The area surrounding the tomb was bare, besides a flowering prickly pear cactus off to the side; and the tomb itself wasn't any more interesting - it simply looked like a mound of sand with a doorway. Iruka approached the entrance and studied the door, which looked a lot like any other, besides the markings painted across its body. At a first glance, it looked like a decorative pattern of some kind; but with a better look, he could tell that it was the mark of a seal.

"Interesting…" he said to himself as he studied the patterns.

Most seals were circular, and branched out almost like a star or the sun, depending on how complex they were; but the shape of this one looked almost rectangular, and the characters woven into it looked like hieroglyphics. The binding marks locking the seal in place seemed to be a blurred combination of characters rather than the usual patterned chains, like each individual segment had its own seal; and some chains seemed to link up, like they had been joined to strengthen the segment and add another layer of protection. Whoever crafted this had clearly been an expert.

"Kakashi, could you please tell me where the chakra is strongest in the seal; and if there are any particularly weak points?"

"Uh, sure."

Kakashi pulled his protector up, revealing his sharingan; and scanned the mark on the door, searching curiously for the chakra trail, wondering why Iruka needed to know that. Truth be told, he was also still a little surprised that he was on a mission with him. Upon hearing the nature of it, he had expected a tokubetsu jounin to be coming along, or even an ANBU specialist to help with the seals; not Iruka, who stayed in the village to teach. Kakashi didn't have anything against that, and was perfectly happy to be going on a mission with him; he was just surprised to find out that Iruka was a specialist, too, since he'd never said anything before.

"The traces of chakra are faint, and it seems generally even all around; but there seems to be a strong point in the centre of the seal." he said, pulling his protector down again.

"Really?!" Iruka asked excitedly. "I think I know how to open it!"

"You do?" Kakashi asked curiously.

He was impressed. Looking at the seal, he had no idea what was going on; and it was clear that a lot of other people hadn't known either; but Iruka seemed so adamant he'd solved the puzzle immediately, with just that small bit of information. He'd have to really know what he was doing to come to a conclusion so fast.

Iruka ignored Kakashi, and started fiddling with the seal, working at the centre where the chakra was strongest. He didn't care about the chains and bindings, or the characters making them up - in his head, that was just decoration. Those markings were like the teeth of a key and the slots they go into to unlatch a lock; but with Iruka's knowledge, he could bypass all that and just pick the lock instead - the clue was in the strong point. Since there was only one, it didn't actually mean that area of the seal was stronger - that was just where all the loose ends had come together to be tied; and all he had to was separate them, and the whole thing would fall apart. Probably.

Iruka worked away, separating the chakra eagerly; and as he went through the motions, each chain disappeared one by one, until there was just the rectangular shape left. And when he inserted one last bit of chakra in to counter and break the seal, it completely disappeared, and the door unlocked.

"Aha! I knew it!"

Iruka turned to Kakashi with a proud grin on his face; and Kakashi stared back in shock - he had been impressed before; but he was even more impressed seeing how fast he had removed the seal. Despite the troubles everyone else seemed to have had with it, Iruka had dealt with it like it was nothing, like he'd seen the seal a thousand times before.

"What did you just do?" he asked in awe.

"Ah, it's a bit hard to explain." Iruka laughed sheepishly, a light blush tinging his face. "But it was pretty easy to release once I knew where the chakra was."

He turned to the door again, and pushed it open, revealing a small entrance with an unlit torch propped up against the wall, and a stony staircase that descended into the darkness below. A cold breeze blew against him, swirling the sand by the foot of the doorway; and Iruka turned to Kakashi.

"Well, um, shall we go in?"

Kakashi nodded. It was time to figure out what was going on.