Much to Sarutobi’s chargin, being confined to a hospital bed after the loss of a limb didn’t stop his duties from stealing most of his time. Especially because the village had been attacked and he had been unconscious for the crucial first day after the invasion.
The doctors had been very against the idea of letting a patient that had almost died, suffered physical trauma and with a long process of surgeries and physical therapy ahead being visited by a literal mob of people asking for orders. So Hiruzen had ordered them to shut up, give him a soldier pill, keep one of them in the room in case he had a heart attack or something and let him do his job.
They had vetoed him leaving the bed though, which was why the Sandaime Hokage had to listen to reports, read lists and more reports, ask what measures had already been taken while he was under, approve new measures, order mission schedules and re-schedules and delegate what really didn’t need his attention no matter how much everyone else said about it, while laying down between hospital sheets.
At least he didn’t have to talk to diplomats that had awakened in the aftermath of a warzone and had been reasonably spooked by it. Homura and Koharu had agreed with him that meeting the leader of the village to be reassured that everything was alright would be counter-intuitive if said Kage was a cripple with a haggard appearance.
He sighed as he stamped his approval on yet another top-priority mission order. He had pretended to not notice the way his subordinates had winced at seeing his stump as the medic changed the bandage, but it didn’t change the facts.
The village needed to look strong, now more than ever. Their allies had betrayed them and if they showed any sign of weakness, the other villages would take advantage of it.
A shinobi without a leg wasn’t able to fight, and a Kage unable to fight wasn’t able to protect the village. Hiruzen knew that his days as a shinobi were over.
The problem, obviously, was finding someone that could succeed him as soon as possible.
The door to the hospital room opened and Jiraiya stumbled in, the perfect image of exhaustion. The fact alone that he hadn't come through the window told Sarutobi all about his current state.
“Are you here to claim my hat?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood.
The half-joke fell flat. “No,” was all that Jiraiya said as he closed the door.
"How come that I am the one in the hospital bed, and yet you look in worse shape than I do?"
Jiraiya gave a sad excuse of a cheerful grin. "Sealing two resurrected kage is not an easy task. Neither is ensuring they're stored away safely."
"Stored?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Jiraiya slumped into the chair at his bedside with a sigh. "So they didn't tell you?"
"Nobody told me anything aside from the fight being over and Orochimaru escaping," Hiruzen explained. "Given that the village was still there, I had assumed that you managed to stop them."
Jiraiya gave him a long, tired look before glancing at the medic standing by in the room. Sarutobi sighed and turned towards the medic. "Leave us."
The medic-nin seemed willing to protest, but after looking at him in the eyes he relented and left without a word.
“It could’ve been worse,” Jiraiya started as the door was closed shut. “I mean, I did have to pretty much improvise, make-up new seals on the battlefield while fighting against two Kage, it’s not like—”
“The seals were able to stop them. It required a lot of work but they’re unable to move,” Jiraiya explained with a sigh. “But it didn’t dispel Orochimaru’s kinjutsu.”
Sarutobi slowly digested this and decided he didn’t like it at all. “So, when you said ‘stored’, you meant…”
“As long as nobody touches the seals improperly, it should be fine,” Jiraiya said, slumping back against his chair.
He almost asked where his student had put the two Kage that had been resurrected as mindless drones by his other student, but Sarutobi bit his tongue. This wasn’t his office, and walls had ears.
“Anything else out of the ordinary?” he asked, browsing through a stack of papers and trying to not think how things could go wrong if anyone got their hands on the not-so-deceased Senju prodigies.
“No—Wait, yes,” Jiraiya quickly backpedaled. “Yamanaka Inoichi told me that Harissen-san’s student were attacked during the invasion.”
Sarutobi didn’t look up, but he stopped shuffling pages he had finished double-checking ten minutes ago. “Oh?”
“Yes, it’s kinda odd. Apparently some unknown shinobi showed up as their sensei was out butchering invaders.”
“I see,” he hummed, stroking his beard. He had a strong suspicion of who those ‘unknown’ shinobi may have been, since he was absolutely certain that the enemy had not managed to get anywhere close to the mountain. Just fantastic. “Were Harissen-san’s students captured, or—”
“Actually, the shinobi that attacked them are all dead,” Jiraiya clarified. “According to Inoichi they were a bit shaken by the experience but are otherwise fine.”
Hiruzen paused at that. He didn’t know the details, but three teenagers untrained for combat shouldn’t be able to face a shinobi team and emerge victorious under normal circumstances. “It seems that we’ve underestimated these foreigners, after all.”
“Well, their sensei can summon dragons and transform into one,” Jiraiya hummed in thought. It was one of these revelations that caused him another batch of headaches as not only that he transformed inside the city but his appearance was eerily similar to a Bijuu that many people of the village thought that the Kyuubi was accidentally released and rampaged once again, causing panic to the public. The destruction he caused were more than enough to be evidences for the release of a Bijuu inside the village walls.
Although Sarutobi was thankful that the dragon he summoned didn't fight the giant snake inside the village or else, it could be another set of problems. But he had to admit that the help this foreigner provided during the defense was a great asset as it reduce the casualties and damage their side.
Earlier, hearing and reading the news of how Minato's twin had repelled the main force of the invading shinobi all by himself gave Sarutobi a choke while drinking his medicine. He had to talk with Harissen later about this power of his though, whether it is the same as Bijuu, uncontrollable and unpredictable, or not.
“Oh, and Inoichi told me that Minato’s brother captured an unusual prisoner when he was escorted back to his lodgings.”
“What you mean ‘I don’t know what a daedra is’, Inoichi?” Conrad asked slowly. He had been keeping an eye on the apprentices, who were supposed to pack their things so they could move to a different location, but that statement caught his whole attention. Because he had seen and done many absurd things in his life, but he had never heard of something so utterly ridiculous before.
“I told you, Harissen-san. I never heard that word before."
"You saw him,” he deadpanned. “I show him you."
"Oh. To be honest, he looked like an oni to me. Or some other kind of yokai."
"Legendary creatures that appear in stories and old myths," Inoichi quickly explained, and Conrad couldn’t help but think that the daedra had told him the truth. Or at least a half-truth, because he wouldn’t trust the word of a random daedra as far as he could throw said daedra's carcass. A millennia of lack of contact with them would make them sound like old stories to scare children for sure.
He had no idea why they would change their names so much, though.
“Want I see him,” he finally spoke, observing Ta’Sava putting the meager alchemical supplies in a stuffed box. At least he didn’t make anything explode this time.
Inoichi paused, hesitating. “I’m sorry, but while we appreciate your assistance in capturing him, I believe it’s better that interrogating him remains a shinobi matter.”
That caught the Nord's attention once more. "What you thinking?" he seethed, turning towards the blond Shinobi. "You know not what you dealing!"
On an academical level, Conrad knew that it wasn't just Inoichi's call, but he couldn't help but feel contempt for the shinobi's collective paranoia.
"Tell me about this... daedra, then," Inoichi asked patiently. "How did it even get here?"
"Sven summoned him," he answered, pointing towards his student.
"Master, I said I was sorry!" the young Imperial answered from the corner where he had been confined. He was now speaking in Tamrielic.
"Go back to packing, Sven. Speak in Akaviri and no magic," Conrad ordered, emphasizing the last words. While what Sven had done was an amazing feat for someone of his age, he still deserved to be punished somehow. The apprentice sighed and went back to putting books in one of the strange chests that Inoichi had sworn were made of pressed paper.
"So, he's a summon?" Inoichi asked, sounding intrigued.
"That I said. Or I use wrong word?"
"But why did he attack you?"
"Because he... what's word when you not sworn someone's service?" Conrad asked.
"Loose?" Inoichi offered.
"If you say so," Conrad shrugged. "Is your language, not mine."
"But what does it mean? Did Sven summon him without a contract?"
"Contract?" he repeated, hating the fact that he probably sounded like an uncouth moron.
"It's when two groups agree to something," the other man said without batting an eye.
"Oh. No. Making pacts with daedra is always bad idea, but summoning a loose one is bad also."
"I said I was sorry!" Sven repeated once again.
"Then why didn't he dispel himself when you captured it?" the Yamanaka asked, clearly confused.
"Because he cannot,” Conrad scoffed. “Not how it works."
"Actually... I'm pretty sure that's how it works."
"Who met daedra before here?" Conrad asked with a gruff.
"You, I guess, but—"
"Then trust me when I say that not how works,” he insisted. “Good thing, too."
"Why? Would it be that bad if he went back where he came from?"
"I not sure yet... if Akavir really wasn't influenced by daedra for—” Conrad stopped with a sigh. This was getting old. “What's the word for ten one-hundreds?"
"If Akavir was not influenced by daedra for one thousand years, who knows what happen if they find a way here."
"But Conrad-sensei—" Beta spoke up as she finished her chores.
"Don't call me that," he grumbled. He didn’t want to be called with the same title of people that trained children for war.
"Sorry, Master Conrad,” she said, in an odd mix of Akaviri and Cyrodilic. “But... the Dragonfires protect all of Nirn, right? They should protect this place too, yes?"
"The Dragonfires protect us, but you can find daedric cults in every,” Conrad faltered, wondering what the word for ‘province’ was. “In all Tamriel, Beta."
"Forgive me if I ask, but why do you keep using that word?" Inoichi asked.
"No, Akavir. It's a bit... archaic—”
“What does that mean?”
“Old. Very old. And with that I mean centuries before the Warring Clans era."
"The war what?"
"... right. I guess that we'll also have to teach you all a bit of history, too."
“Just give us some books later. We can read. Mostly.”
“Very well," Inoichi nodded, writing something on one of those paper-chests. "So, what are the… ‘Dragonfires’? And how that has anything to do with the daedra you captured?”
Conrad pinched his nose, wondering how much context was needed to explain that to someone that didn't know about the daedra and Oblivion.
What followed was the most irritating explanation Conrad ever had to give, combined with a long walk through back alleys and continuous detours to keep their group, specifically him, away from the crowd. Everytime he had to explain a simple concept, he would have to go off tangent just to clarify. Adding to that the fact that he couldn’t translate some words correctly, he was sure that he was butchering any grimoire of cosmology regarding Nirn he had ever read.
What really irritated him, though, was the reactions to his explanation. Inoichi was listening and asking questions, sure, but Conrad couldn’t shake the sensation that he wasn’t been taken completely seriously. It was one thing to explain the various daedra and the chaos and bloodshed they sowed when they were summoned by moronic spellcasters. Or the cults around the powerful and cruel entities, that much Inoichi could grasp. Akavir had those too, it seemed. But the suspension of disbelief seemed to shut down when Conrad got around to explaining about the Princes.
“You’re talking about gods,” Inoichi said, the utter disbelief in his voice making Conrad want to punch him.
“No,” Conrad gritted his teeth, disliking the comparison. “Not gods, not really. Gods are… nicer. And more quiet. Princes are… different.”
“So you have demons and gods, neither of which anyone on this continent has heard of before now.”
“Yes.” Conrad nodded. That was pretty much it. Calling daedra ‘demons’ was not completely correct but he wasn’t going to complain if saying so was going to get the point across.
Inoichi threw his hands up in the air. “How am I supposed to believe this?! It’s one thing to capture a weird red-skinned thing you call a daemon, but now you’re telling me about actual godlike beings higher up the food chain?”
“Yes,” Conrad repeated, frustrated. What was so difficult to understand about it?
“Look, I don’t want to offend you by criticizing your religion or your beliefs,” the Yamanaka started, carefully measuring his words. “But I can’t take that as a valid reason to consider that prisoner a threat as big as you claim.”
Now, Conrad had become a teacher by a cruel twist of fate. Even if he hadn’t planned to, he had become well-versed in explaining about Mundus and Oblivion and the various Divines and Daedric Princes therein, but he was used to explaining it to students who knew he was right. It slowly dawned on Conrad that Inoichi wasn’t taking him seriously, like if he was telling fables or other make-believe stories. That made him mad.
"Listen, daedra, atronachs, and scamps are dangerous,” he started, ignoring the man’s confused expression at the unknown words. Served him right, now he knew what it felt like. “They useful when summoned for specific purpose, tied to the summoner, controlled. But Daedra only see mortals as less... beneath them. With the Princes? Is worse."
At this Inoichi seemed to pause in place. While he didn’t look convinced, a reluctant caution was clear in his eyes all the same. Good. He was listening.
"They are older than the world. Very powerful. Very dangerous,” Conrad continued, as the magelings stopped in their tracks, doing their best to not drop the little luggage they had to take care of. Conrad was ready to bet that the guards that had been shadowing them from the rooftops had stopped, too. “They treat men like toys, like puppets. They interfere and force things to go their way."
“Wait, stop,” Inoichi said, raising an arm. “Say I believe you. Say these… ‘Princes’ are real, that where they come from is real. How do they interfere? Why? What are their motives?”
Conrad grimaced. Some things just couldn’t be sugar-coated. How to explain their motives? Their reasons? Especially with his limited grasp on the Akaviri language.
Mehrunes Dagon, who had orchestrated the Oblivion Crisis. Boethiah, master of murder and treachery. Clavicus Vile, who loved playing cruel tricks to those mad enough to ask for his help. Vaermina, who domained over nightmares. Molag Bal, the King of Rape. Namira, the patron of cannibalism. Sanguine, who would probably show up to offer a pint or two to everyone if Conrad got really, really really drunk. Sheogorath, the only Prince Conrad had not been crazy enough to double-cross out of spite. Hermaeus Mora...
And all the others, of course. Even the most “benevolent” ones, like Meridia and Azura, extended their influence on the world for the same reason after all.
“Because they can,” the Nord finally said. As Inoichi’s eyes widened slightly, Conrad kept walking without looking back.
Ino sighed loudly and, much to her disappointment, her teammates didn’t seem to care. They had just finished a long, long morning of D-rank missions all over the village, a fate shared by every genin and possibly some unlucky chunin after the invasion was over.
Since Asuma-sensei was out of Konoha right now and Shikamaru was too lazy to actually train without their teacher, the three of them had decided to crash at the Yamanaka clan compound. Although, technically, it wasn’t a proper compound. It was closer to a couple of normal roads where most of the Yamanaka clansmen lived, alongside a lot of simple villagers and shopkeepers. The Yamanaka didn’t even own the place, but when she was younger Ino was a little jealous that the Nara had those big clan grounds with a whole forest to keep their deers in as well, so she had started to call the area around her home like that and it had stuck.
This of course meant that Ino, Shikamaru and Chouji were just sitting on a bench besides Ino’s home.
"I'm bored," Ino admitted, hoping that it would have more effect than sighing.
"Here, my mom packed me some extra snacks," Chouji replied, immediately offering her something wrapped in a linen cloth. Shikamaru obviously didn't even look up.
"How is eating a way to stop boredom?" she asked.
"If you eat your food slowly, enjoying every single flavor and its texture, the world will stop being boring,” he explained in what she supposed was an attempt for a sagely tone. “Trust me—is that your dad?"
Ino turned and noticed that, indeed, her father was coming home earlier. Along with four strangers, all carrying a few boxes each.
“Who are those people?” she asked aloud. “Shikamaru, did you ever see a team like them?”
Shikamaru whispered something that suspiciously sounded like “troublesome”, but he did indeed look up. “No. I don’t see any headband either,” he said. Ino blinked, and realized that it was indeed the case. Then Shikamaru spoke again in an unusually confused tone. “Is that guy dressed like a cat?”
“I think so, but why would—Is that a tail?!” Ino almost shrieked as she spotted said appendage swishing and swirling behind one of the unknown genin. Or whatever they were.
It was official, boredom was over. Ino got up, dusted herself off and walked towards the odd group plus parent.
“Hello, Dad,” she greeted, stopping a short distance from them. “Who are these people?
“Ino?” his father asked, looking surprised at seeing her. “Shouldn’t you be with your team?”
“My team is over there,” she said, gesturing at the bench. Chouji waved. “We finished our D-ranks.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, looking like he wasn’t seeing at all. Actually, he sounded very… off, for some reason.
“Are you alright?” she asked, ignoring the curious glances from the others. “You look pale.”
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you. I just have… a lot of going on right now,” Inoichi sighed.
“Is this yours?” the man leading the strangers asked her father, pointing at her. There was an accent in his voice, a very strange one, but Ino couldn’t recognize it.
“Oh, right,” her dad said, as if he had just remembered that they were there. “Harissen-san, this is my daughter Ino. Ino, this is Harissen-san and his students. They’re going to stay with us for a while.”
"What? Seriously?" she asked, giving another glance at the odd bunch.
"Of course, we have room to spare," her father said, all but ushering the four strangers in the house.
Ino just stared at the doorway for a bit, wondering why her father was in such a hurry. Gesturing at her teammates to follow her, she walked inside just in time to hear some argument about shoes inside of the house between the two adults. The other genin, if they even were genin, were looking around the house in awe, much to Ino’s confusion. Sure it was a nice house but it wasn’t luxurious or fancily decorated.
After her father had finished explaining that boots were supposed to be taken off before entering someone’s house, he opened a door to a spare room that Ino was sure had been used to keep supplies for the flower shop until that morning. The not-smelly ones, obviously. “Here, this is where you will sleep.”
"Dad, what's going on?" she asked as the strangers started putting their things down.
"I know it's a bit sudden, but it's an emergency. It will only be for a few days, though."
"But do we even know them? Why would you invite four strangers in our house?"
"Oh they're not strangers, I've seen them a lot in the last months," Inoichi explained as he gave worried look to the newcomers. “Please, tell your mother I'll explain when I get back."
"You didn't even tell Mom?!" she asked. This was not normal. "Wait, where are you going now?"
"It was a last-second decision, and I need to talk to Shikaku about a few things."
"I'm sorry, Ino," he sighed, putting both of his hands on her shoulders. "I know you have questions, but it's all a bit hectic right now. I'll try to be home and explain as soon as I can. Sounds good?"
"Alright," she said. "But you better have a good explanation for Mom."
"Of course," her father said with a small smile. "Oh, and one more thing: please do not bother Harissen-san too much."
And with that, he left the house leaving her even more confused. Not bothering a guest? She would've asked some questions, it wasn't that bothersome. Right?
She joined Shikamaru and Chouji in the living room and kept an eye on the strangers moving around the house. They stared, of course. What else could they do? They had never seen people this strange before. Their clothes were odd and they seemed to be speaking gibberish. Or in code. Why would they speak in code?
Oh right and one of them was a cat. Overall, it would've been odd if they had not stared. Even if the cat-boy seemed a bit unnerved by them.
"That's odd," Shikamaru murmured before taking a sip of juice he had helped himself to.
"Of course it's odd," Chouji agreed, eating some chips. "It's a cat. But... human-like."
“Chouji, ‘it’ is a ‘he',” Ino clarified. She was almost certain that the cat-boy wasn't a pet. Must have been some odd bloodline limit, she hoped it was worth it.
"No, not that. I mean sure, they're all a bit odd. But their sensei is the oddest among them," the young Nara continued.
"How is that guy weirder than a cat-boy?" she asked. To be honest, had her father showed up with only him, she would have suspected that he had taken pity on a hobo or something.
"It's just... did your father ever show you any pictures of when they were young?" he asked.
"I wish he didn't. I can't believe he used to wear a mullet," Ino snorted. Seriously, what had her dad been thinking?
"I know it sounds weird, but I could swear that I saw that guy over there in a few of—"
"Hey, you three!" Harissen-san called, peeking from the improvised guest room. "You genin?"
"Huh? I mean, yes we are, sir," Chouji answered. Ino frowned; the guy couldn't tell? Maybe he wasn't a shinobi then.
"Do you know Naruto?" the man asked, walking closer.
"Naruto?" Ino asked, confused as much as her teammates. Why would this person ask about Naruto?
"Has same eyes and hair I do. Loud. Orange. Short," Harissen-san clarified, using his hand to emphasize the last part. "You know where he is?"
"We know Naruto, yes," Ino replied, talking slowly because if the man spoke like that he probably wasn't too bright. "But why do you want to know where he is?"
"I am his uncle," the man said matter-of-factly. Shikamaru immediately started choking on his juice, but thankfully Chouji promptly jumped to his help.
"But... Naruto doesn't have any family," Ino couldn't help but say, ignoring Shikamaru's coughs.
"He does now," he grumbled, crossing his arms. "Ask Inoichi if you not believe me."
A moment of silence followed that. Ino couldn't believe it. Actually, she didn't believe it. Naruto was an orphan and lived alone... that was why he acted like he did, right?
"Well?" the man asked.
"Well what?" she asked back.
"Do you know where Naruto is?"
"He and his team were assigned D-rank missions around the village, like us," Ino explained, noticing how confused the man was by her explanation for some reason. "So they could be anywhere."
"I see," Harissen-san pondered on this for a bit. "I look for him then."
“Are we allowed to?” the cat-boy called as the man walked by the exit and started putting his boots on.
“Allowed to what?” she asked.
“Go outside?” the cat asked.
“Why wouldn’t you be allowed to go outside?” Chouji asked. Ino and Shikamaru shared a glance. This wasn't normal, at all. She wanted to ask questions but she remembered her father's words and bit her tongue. Then the probably mentally-impaired stranger started rummaging through a closet and throwing clothes on the floor.
“Hey, you can’t do that!” Ino called him out.
“I will put it back,” the strange man replied, not even bothering to apologise.
“Th-That’s not the point!” She sputtered. “You have to ask before taking clothes!”
Harrisen-san swivelled around to stare flatly at her. “May I have clothes?” And then, pointedly not waiting for her answer, went back to rummaging through the closet.
Ino went red in the face from sheer indignation, her voice failing her at the audacity of this man. Only Naruto’s uncle could possibly be this rude. And since when did Naruto have an uncle? Hadn’t Naruto been an orphan since he was born? Why would a relative show up now? In her house, of all places!
Her unspoken questions ceased as Harrisen-san pulled something out of the closet and put then on. Ino blinked. The man was now sporting her grandfather’s old raincoat and the big, obvious straw hat that her father used sometimes for gardening.
“Those look terrible on you,” she blurted out.
“I do not care about how look, girl,” the rude man snorted.
Ino’s eye twitched. “Ino. I-no. Not girl, Ino.”
“Sorry, Ino then,” Harrisen-san dismissively said, already walking out the door.
“Sen-sorry, Master, where are you going?” one of the other strange people called out. It was the girl this time. She looked worried. Ino supposed she had been here during the invasion and was still rattled up. She still was as well.
“I go walk around some,” Harrisen-san called out, pausing at the door, with the wide, ugly straw hat shadowing his face. “Sven, no magic.”
“I said sorry!”
“Magic?” Ino asked flatly. “Don’t you mean jutsu?”
But instead of answering, Harissen-san just slammed the door shut.
Very well then. If her father had asked her to not bother Harissen-san, she wouldn't. Especially since he was gone.
No one had said anything about the man's genin, though.
Despite his gods awful ‘disguise’, nobody noticed Conrad as he walked around the city.
It was odd, walking around Konoha’s streets on his own for the first time. The first time without having to run frantically not having to kill someone, at least. In his voyage to reach it, he had passed only through some small villages. If this place was similar to other larger settlements, then Akaviri cities were larger, cleaner and more chaotic than he was used to.
There were also exotic things, from the decorations to their strange technology to the ways the buildings were built. He supposed that when half of the population seemed to be able to jump from a building to another in a single bound, architecture had to take it in account.
Every now and then he passed by some places that had been hit by the battle, and the population seemed to work as much as they could to fix the damages as soon as possible.
It reminded him of a anthill, cleaning up as soon as the battle with their rivals was over.
He didn’t have time to sight-seeing though; he had to find Naruto. He dodged into an alley to cut around a partially collapsed building. As expected, he felt someone landing behind him.
“If you really wanted to go out, you could at least try to be subtle about it, Harissen-san,” the man with an owl mask said in an admonishing tone. Conrad guessed that he had been walking around Konoha mostly on his own, then.
“Why? Nobody cares,” he said. It was true, and he could see how this frustrated the masked guard a bit. The clothes he had borrowed would’ve been easy to spot in the middle of a crowd, just like a hooded robe. But just like a hooded robe, most people didn’t seem to notice until the person with said hood didn’t do anything out of ordinary.
Apparently, some things were universal.
Ignoring a protest about safety and protocols and other words he didn’t understand, he concentrated on his nephew and summoned magika to his hand to cast a clairvoyance spell. The man grabbed his hand and shook his head as if he were scolding a child.
“Don’t use that jutsu, Harissen-san. The village is already tense even without seeing your blue lights again.”
Conrad inwardly grumbled about how his spell wasn’t neither dangerous or scary, especially the weaker, basic version he had intended to use. He looked at the crowded street out of the alley. “How is the city, after attack?”
“We’re rebuilding,” the Owl-man said curtly. Conrad suspected he didn’t want to share details with an outsider.
“I am sorry for your men. They died to protect my students,” he said, sincerely. As much as he had quickly came to dislike shinobi, the masked guards had shed blood and lost some of their own to protect his apprentices.
The Shinobi with an owl mask seemed taken back by this. “Thank you,” he replied after a few seconds. “I’m glad that the invaders didn’t harm your students.”
“Thank you. Speaking of which… it is odd?” Conrad asked. Time to test a little theory of his.
“What do you mean?”
“The city was attacked, but from what I remember, there was no battle close to the mountain. Yet four invaders attack where my students and I lived for a month.”
He noticed as the Owl-man went more still than usual at hearing his words. He would have gladly paid his own weight in gold to see the man’s face, but he could tell he was being very careful now.
“Almost like they know where to find us,” Conrad continued, deciding prod a bit more forcefully. “Good thing we moved to Inoichi’s house. He is a little important in the city, is he not?”
“Yamanaka-sama is a clan head, that is true. It would be unwise to attack his residence,” the masked man replied in a forcefully neutral tone. Conrad wondered if the Owl-man trying to tell him that they were supposed to be safe there without admitting anything.
The man was probably too loyal to speak against his superiors, or sworn to secrecy or something similar, given how much paranoia seemed to be considered a virtue among shinobi. The Nord couldn’t help but think that he had suspected right -- those invaders weren’t invaders, they were from Konoha.
But who? If the old Kage wanted him dead or thrown in a cell, he would have ordered it a long time ago. Not that it would’ve worked, obviously. A separate faction, maybe? A secret cabal? Why attack his students? Were they trying to attack him through them? And why was Owl apparently not allowed to speak on it?
Conrad bit back a curse. Politics. He had managed to get himself involved in some mess even so far away from home.
“I guess you right, I should thank him for having us in his house,” he replied, wondering what was the word for ‘hospitality’ and deciding that he would deal with it when he knew more. Then he tried to cast the spell like if the last chat had not happened at all. “Now, where is the boy—”
Owl grabbed his hand again, his voice clearly exasperated this time. “Please, don’t. Let me find him, and I’ll take you to him.”
“Lead the way,” Conrad said cheerfully. Finally some cooperation.
Once again he found himself walking around Konoha’s busy streets, looking up every once in a while to look for Owl. Nobody seemed to notice the masked guard moving above them, they were probably used to seeing people running over their heads.
He had no idea how Owl-man was tracking down Naruto, but as long as the Shinobi was doing his job, Conrad didn’t really care. Every once in a while the masked guard would appear on a rooftop and point in a direction before leaping away in a single bound.
Soon, Conrad found himself standing in the front of a strange, short building. It looked like a store without a front wall. Instead, a half-curtain with big red runes concealed the inside. He glanced at the masked shinobi sitting on the roof and walked towards the shop’s wide entrance.
He was invested by the smell of food being cooked and a sight that reminded him of a inn counter. He idly wondered if they had booze while a familiar voice assaulted his eardrums as soon as he moved past the small curtain.
"Old man! Another bowl, please!" Naruto was sitting on a tall stool, alongside his two friends and their sensei, who seemed to be the only one that had noticed him.
"There you are," Conrad greeted, taking off his hat. "I had to ask an owl to find you."
"Huh? Uncle!" Naruto exclaimed as he turned towards him. The other kids greeted him, or at least the girl with pink hair did. The other one and Kakawhateverhisnamewas just gave him a glance. The old man behind the counter, instead, looked like he was about to faint at any moment's notice.
"Hello, Naruto," he said, sitting besides the kid and putting the hat on the counter. "How are you?"
"Tired," Naruto grumbled. "We spent the whole morning doing D-ranks. It was awful."
"Why? Are... D-ranks that bad?" he asked, trying to pronounce the unfamiliar term and doing a bad job at it.
"Yes they are," all three children agreed immediately.
"We had to help with the clean-up duty, Harrisen-san," their sensei explained. "Picking up the rubble, helping people moving their belongings, that sort of stuff."
"We did that, Kakashi-sensei,” the girl protested. “You disappeared the whole morning!”
"You have your D-ranks, I have mine," the man said with the tone that every teacher used to speak with their students. "Speaking of which, Teuchi-san, could I have four large bowls to take away, please?"
Hearing his name, the food stall's owner seemed to snap out of his reverie and stopped looking at Conrad like he was a ghost, opting to serve his customers instead.
"What is that stuff?" the Nord asked as the cook put some odd, white worm-looking things in a pot behind the counter.
"It's ramen!" Naruto helpfully answered, before looking at him in confusion. "You don't know ramen?"
"We do not have in Skyrim," he explained. Or in the rest of Tamriel, as far as he knew.
"No ramen..." Naruto muttered, his eyes going glassy for a moment, like he had just been told the most terrible news he could ever hear. Then, he turned to the cook with a determined expression. "Old man! A pork ramen bowl for my uncle!"
“Your uncle?” the man called Teuchi asked, stopping right in the middle of putting some ingredients together. Conrad inwardly sighed. This was going to happen every time he was introduced to someone here, wasn’t it?
“Yup!” the boy nodded, happy as a clam.
The stall owner glanced at Conrad for a few seconds before giving him a friendly smile. "Pleasure to meet you, Na—I'm sorry, Harissen-san was it?"
The Nord gave him a nod and the man went back to his cooking. So, yet another person that had known his brother. Naruto didn't seem to notice though, mesmerized as he was in his odd broth.
As the cook worked on yet another order, Kakashi leaned a bit on the counter with a lazy attitude. "So, Harissen-san... how are you enjoying the sights and scenery so far?"
The genin gave an odd look at their sensei, while Conrad recalled the buildings damaged from the battle. "Difficult," he answered, looking at the cyclops directly in the eye.
"Ah, well, maybe it wasn't the best timing," Kakashi mused. "Is Konoha much different from what you're used to?"
“Warm,” he started. But to be fair, pretty much every country was warmer than Skyrim. “There are strange things. Less monsters… and only humans.”
“Only humans? What do you mean by that?”
“You know, only people like me, you, them,” Conrad tried to explain, gesturing at everyone. Sadly, Inoichi had not taught him the word used for different races.
“You mean like your student? The cat one?” Naruto asked.
“Cat student?” Kakashi asked, arching his only visible eyebrow. “Like a summon?”
“No, Kakashi-sensei,” Naruto answered before Conrad could. “It’s like a guy, see? But with a cat face and ears and a tail and everything else—”
“Are you saying that where you are from there’s… not humans?” the shinobi asked, clearly finding the concept odd.
“Yes, many types,” Conrad nodded, turning to Naruto. “And the word for Ta’Sava’s kind is ‘Khajiit’.”
"Ka-ji-to?" Naruto tried to repeat.
"No, it's 'Khajiit',” he repeated.
"Kah-iit?" the boy tried again. Conrad couldn’t help but be amused to not being the only one butchering a word’s pronunciation.
"Khajiit,” he repeated again. “Kah-Jheet."
"Kah—” Naruto started again, only to stop when a steaming bowl was placed in front of him. All his attention was stolen from the food. “Oh! Thank you, old man!”
Conrad observed as his nephew picked the two small sticks that all Akaviri seemed to think were the best eating instrument ever and, after what looked like a quick prayer, tried to eat a soup with them. Much to his surprise, the sticks were used to fish the long snake-things from the soup. Then, much to his shock, Naruto started slurping them with a very, very loud noise.
“What are you doing?” he asked, wondering who had taught the boy table manners.
“Wat’chu mean?” the boy asked, his words muffled by the food in his mouth.
“Naruto, don’t talk while you eat,” the pink-haired girl admonished him.
“Sorry, Sakura-chan,” Naruto muttered as he bit through another mouthful. “What do you mean, uncle?”
“That noise,” Conrad said, wondering how eating with a full mouth was bad manners but making sounds with the food apparently wasn’t.
“But that’s normal, I have—Oh, right. You don’t have ramen where you are from.”
“Slurping the noodles is good manners, Harissen-san,” Kakashi offered as an explanation. “It’s to show that you’re enjoying the food.”
Conrad pondered about this for all one second before deciding that it was yet another example of Akavir being just plain weird.
“Here you go, Kakashi,” the cook called, offering an odd bag to the shinobi. “Enjoy your food!”
Kakashi thanked the older man, paid not only for the food he had bought but also for the genin and Conrad’s as well. He would’ve protested, but quickly realized that he had no money with him, especially not the kind that the Akaviri seemed to prefer. Seriously, who used paper as money anyway?
“See you tomorrow for practice,” Kakashi said to the children before turning to Conrad. “I hope we’ll be able to talk soon, Harissen-san.”
Conrad watched as the man left, apparently without a care in the world. He didn't like him. There was something off in the way he acted, but the Nord wasn't able to figure it out yet. He couldn't help but wonder if he was involved in whatever Shinobi politics were undergoing around the city.
That wasn't all, though. Conrad still didn't know many details about how shinobi worked and did things, they were a secretive and strange folk like that. But either Kakashi or someone else above him had decided to send Naruto and the other two kids he didn't particularly care for to risk their lives in a battle.
"Harissen-san? Sorry if I ask, but you said that you're from a very far away land?" the girl asked before he could make up his mind if he wanted to torch this place down or not.
"Yes, I am."
"What kind of shinobi live there? Are they different from us?"
"Are they strong?" the other boy asked, almost eagerly.
"There are no shinobi in Tamriel," he answered as patiently as he could.
The two children gaped at him as he had suddenly grown a pair of wings.
"No shinobi?" the pink haired one muttered.
"Odd, right?" Naruto said after a quick slurp of his food.
"But he used jutsu, we saw him," the other boy protested.
"That was magic, boy," he clarified. The two children looked at him for a moment, before glancing at Naruto.
"It's true," Naruto said with a shrug. "Hey, why don't you tell us about the place you come from?"
And so Conrad started explaining about Tamriel and Skyrim, butchering the subject in question once again thanks to his limited knowledge of Akaviri language. It was frustrating as expected, mostly because he had just gone through something similar with Inoichi. These kids knew nothing of the continent so he had to explain a few things from the ground up.
As if that wasn't enough they didn't seem convinced when he told them about the creatures and monsters that infested the land: they were probably too used to the idea of giant creatures to believe him.
The cook offered him a short break from all the questioning in the form of a steaming bowl of this "ramen" soup, but he failed miserably when he tried to eat it the way they did. In the end he settled on drinking all the broth and chewing the things inside later, much to his nephew's horror.
"That's not how you eat ramen!" he cried.
"And yet it works," Conrad shrugged, trying to savor the taste. Strong, but a bit too salty for his liking.
Naruto shuddered before going back to his own meal. There was an awkward silence before the pink haired one popped another question.
“What is your home like, Harrissen-san?”
“I told you about Skyrim,” Conrad replied. Sure, it had been a broken and brief explanation, but had they even listened? Or was his homeland so boring?
“No, I meant your home-home. Where you live,” the girl explained.
“I have a house in Whiterun, but I do not stay there a lot of time.”
“Why not?” Naruto piped up. “Don’t you have a family there or something?” His eyes went wide all of sudden and he began to nearly vibrate in his seat with excitement.
“Hey, Sasuke, we have to go,” the girl said a bit too loudly before Conrad could answer. “We’ll be late to give our reports, remember?”
“What are you—Oh, right, the reports,” the boy said, changing his tune at the last moment. “I guess we’ll leave.”
“Wait, if you have to give a report, I have to come too,” Naruto said, sounding disappointed about having to leave.
“We’ll take care of it! You hang out with your uncle!” the girl called, waving him back into his chair. And just like that, they were gone. Even the cook had suddenly found something important to do. The Nord felt a pang of gratefulness for being left alone with his nephew to talk about such a personal thing.
Naruto looked at the still-swaying curtain for a little before returning his attention to Conrad, grinning in expectation. “So, do I have an aunt too?! Or…” Naruto gasped, a look of utter delight on his face. “Cousins?”
“No,” Conrad said, wincing when he saw the hope die in his nephew’s eyes. “I never married, or had children.” Or at least he thought so. Sure, he had a bit of a reputation, but he had always been careful.
“Oh,” Naruto said softly, staring at his half-empty bowl. He looked up suddenly with a wavering smile. “At least I have you!”
Conrad blinked in surprise at the child, before giving a smile mirroring his nephew’s. “I guess you are right, boy.”
- Interstice between the Mortal Plain and the Abyssmal Seas
This is the arcane Library of the Asheklon. And I am its keeper or… shall we say its guardian.
I have no name but you can call me Isyrlus or One-Eyed Librarian, a name given to me by one of the mortal beings that passed here. By the way, do you have any good tales to tell?