Hello! I'm so happy to see that people are actually liking this. I was so worried that no one would. Oh, before I forget, would you guys let me know if any of the characters act OOC? I really hope they aren't, and I'm going to try my best to keep them in character. I'm also not really into writing fight scenes, so don't expect too much from me in that department.
Thanks to those who have commented so far!
bludiamond321: That makes me so happy! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I really hope you like this chapter just as much.
nathalieharris10: I am definitely planning to continue this, so don't worry.
Guest: I'm glad you like Rin. I was worried that I was making him a little too Mary Sue.
I do not own Hunter x Hunter: it belongs to Yoshihiro Togashi.
Edited 4/13/18: Just some minor grammatical corrections and making the chapter flow better overall. I also added on to a couple of scenes as well. I don't have a beta, so I apologize for any remaining mistakes. Let me know if anyone spots anything in the chapter that I should fix.
Edited 5/29/20: Fixed grammar and syntax. I'm going to be honest, I'm actually really proud of the changes that I made to this chapter.
Rin froze like a statue, his mind slowly being consumed with a panic that clawed desperately at his chest. No. No way. Why is Hisoka here?
Gold eyes slowly cracked open to regard Rin's crouched figure as lips pulled up at the edges. Hisoka's voice filled the room, a deep, chilling sound that seemed to drip down Rin's spine. "Hmm~ It seems there was another nen user hidden among us."
Rin opened his mouth to ask why he was here or what was going on, but it snapped shut when the man spoke. This is bad. The last thing I needed to do was gain this psycho's attention. His head whipped around, trying to find an exit so he could get away, but the room was bare; the metal, grey walls were completely void of anything that could help him in any way.
The panic was starting to get even worse when he saw movement from the corner of his eyes, and it was only his quick reflexes that saved him from having the object thrown hit his head. He winced at the stinging pain in his hand and glanced down at what he had caught; it was a metal bracelet with a strange stylized sun engraved on the side. Rin stared at it blankly.
"It appears we are stuck with each other," Hisoka drawled. A single, sharpened nail pointed at a sign on the wall next to him.
Rin took a small step closer, nervously glancing to make sure the other man didn't make a move, and squinted at it.
Keep your partner alive.
Both contestants must reach the bottom alive or neither passes.
The bracelets will keep track of your heart rates so keep them on at all times.
You have got to be kidding me, Rin thought as he stared at the words. The only bright side was the fact that Hisoka couldn't kill him now. However, the fact that it didn't say anything against injuring one another made him concerned.
He risked a glance at Hisoka and twitched when their eyes met. Hisoka was still leaning against the wall, seemingly without a care in the world. His body was relaxed—or as relaxed as Rin had ever seen in the short time he had known the man—with his arms crossed in front of his chest. However, it was his eyes that made Rin's heart start pounding in his chest like it was about to burst out at any second. They were burning pools of molten gold, practically brimming with bloodlust. The rule against killing only seemed to excite Hisoka more, which did not fare well for Rin.
But he knew that unless they cooperated they wouldn't get anywhere, so with a sigh Rin snapped the bracelet on his wrist and heard it latch with a quiet click that seemed ominous in the otherwise silent room.
There was a loud beep, and a hidden door slowly opened in the wall.
"Why don't you go first?" Hisoka offered, gesturing to the opening with a manicured hand. The look was still burning in his eyes, so it made the move more threatening than it had any right to be.
Rin frantically shook his head—just the thought of him exposing his back to this psycho almost made his heart stop right then and there. Although, he had a feeling that if something like that happened, the man would find a way to bring him back just so he could kill Rin himself.
Hisoka's lips pulled down into a pout, but the way his eyes crinkled at the edges gave him away. "What? Don't you trust me?" he asked, voice slightly higher pitched in a teasing tone.
"No," Rin blurted out before he could stop himself. His hands flew up to his mouth, and he prayed he hadn't just signed his death wish, trial or not. He honestly had no idea what would anger the man, at this point. For all Rin knew, he could just breath too loudly and set the other off.
The pout disappeared as a smirk replaced it. "Hmm~ So you can speak. I was beginning to wonder." He turned without another word and walked out the door. Well, more like swaggered. No one should have the right to look that graceful and threatening at the same time.
Rin looked between the now empty room and the doorway with writhing shadows beckoning him to follow. What have I signed myself up for?
Walking, that was what he had apparently signed himself up for. They had been walking in a fairly slow pace ever since leaving the comfort of the room, and so far they hadn't encountered anything that could serve as a challenge.
Rin stuck with his plan of hanging back and was staring intently at Hisoka. The entire time Hisoka walked as if he was just taking a casual stroll, all loose-limbed and carefree. He never once looked at Rin, despite the fact that he was leaving his back wide open. It's obvious he doesn't think I'm a threat at all, and I can't say I blame him. There's no way I could ever win against him. It still made him frown, though.
He jumped when Hisoka suddenly spoke up.
"I'll leave you behind if you don't catch up." The man looked over his shoulder and let out a small flare of bloodlust that made Rin stumble. "Oh, and I would stop glaring at me like that. You're making me excited." His eyes burned with the same heat as before, and there was a brief flash of pink as he licked his lips.
Rin's eyes widened, and he sped up until he was walking almost right next to the other man, a litany of curses spewing in his mind as he did. Part of him wanted to say them out loud just to see what Hisoka's reaction would be, but the sane part immediately shoved that thought down and locked it inside a chest. Logically, Rin knew he was overreacting, but the sudden closeness made his hands clench and unclench by his side and forced Rin to keep Hisoka in the corner of his eye.
This is not good for my nerves, he thought, arms shaking with the tension running through his body.
Rin's eyebrows furrowed at the thought. Wait, that's not me shaking. He glanced down and noticed that the few pebbles littering the cement floor were bouncing up and down with quiet little clicks, and now that he was focusing on it, he could hear a slight rumble coming from behind them, as well.
Rin slowly turned to look back down the hallway and felt a weight drop in his stomach at the sight greeting him.
A boulder, one easily the size of the entire hallway, was rolling toward them with increasing speed.
From beside him, Hisoka had also turned and was staring at the rock with a raised eyebrow as it got closer and closer.
"This looks like fun," he said, voice light in a way that didn't fit with their situation in the least.
Rin stared at Hisoka, who simply returned the look with a wide smirk, with wide eyes, before they both turned in tandem and started running once the boulder was almost upon them.
However, it soon became apparent that Rin had a disadvantage because of how much shorter his legs were compared to Hisoka's, and the only reason he managed as well as he did was because Hisoka looked like he was entirely too bored with trying to stay alive.
Rin grit his teeth in frustration and felt heat rush through him at the thought of the insufferable man, causing his nen to flicker to life. He let it flow through his body, focusing mostly on his legs, and could feel a breeze move his hair. It made running easier, something that he had often used when racing against his father before, until he eventually started to pull ahead of Hisoka.
Hisoka, of course, noticed and just sped up as well until they were running side by side.
"Hmm~ Interesting," he said, the words almost covered up by the sound of the rolling death ball behind them.
Rin didn't need to see the smirk to know it was there.
Okay, he needed to stay calm. This was a test; they weren't trying to go out of their way to kill the contestants—probably—so there had to be a way to get away from the boulder. Nen wasn't commonly known outside of the Hunter Association, so they wouldn't realistically expect someone to be able to destroy it—again, probably, because Rin was really beginning to question other people's sanity—which meant that the possibility of there being an escape route was sounding even more plausible. Now all Rin had to do was find it.
He scanned over the rapidly passing stone walls around them, looking for anything, a switch, a lever, something. It was then that his eyes caught on a tile with the same engraved sun as their bracelets.
Well, here goes nothing. He reached into his bag and grabbed the first thing his hand came into contact with and threw it as hard as he could. It hit the tile with a loud clang, and for just a moment, Rin thought it hadn't worked when a loud click sounded and another hidden doorway opened up ahead of them.
He jumped for it, Hisoka right alongside him, right as the boulder rolled past, and Rin swore that he felt it brush against his leg.
Rin stood there until his lungs didn't feel like they were trying to come up his throat and then poked his head back out in the hallway. The dented can of soda that Tonpa had given him lay in a fizzing puddle on the ground. At least it ended up being good for something.
Thank god it had worked, though. Being crushed to death sounded horrible and not something Rin even wanted to think about. It did make him wonder how many of those tiles were hidden along the hallway, however.
The familiar sound of heels clacking against the ground started up again where, when Rin looked over, Hisoka was already walking down the new hallway with not a single glance back to see if Rin was even following. Guess they were going this way now.
Hopefully this one wouldn't have another boulder. It'd be absolutely ridiculous to have the same obstacle twice in a row. They were trying to test the contestants ingenuity and ability to think rationally while in danger. Having something they already knew how to beat wouldn't make any sense, so there probably wasn't going to be another boulder, right?
He wasn't counting on it.
Rin's eye twitched.
It was a curse. There was no other reason for why the hell he was literally falling for every single trap.
As if just to spite him, he heard the same clicking sound that would soon haunt his nightmares as his foot landed on yet another switch. A panel opened up in the walls on either side of them, revealing holes that suddenly had arrows shooting out, and it was only a tug on the back of his shirt that kept him from becoming a human pin cushion.
The hand let go before he got his balance back, and he just barely caught himself before he fell. He redirected his glare to Hisoka when the man chuckled, though all it did was make the smirk grow even more.
"It's not funny," Rin mumbled under his breath. Who cared about upsetting the man at this point? It had easily been a few hours already, and Hisoka hadn't done anything besides look intimidating, so Rin didn't feel like wasting the energy by treading on eggshells anymore.
"Oh~ What was that? I didn't quite hear you," Hisoka asked, leaning until he was looming over Rin with a grin that could probably make even corpses cry.
On second thought…"Nevermind."
"Is that so? Then how about you tell me about your nen instead~"
The change in topic threw Rin for a moment. Neither one of them had tried starting a conversation up until then, so the fact that Hisoka was trying to start one now was unsettling. Plus, the subject he decided to go with certainly didn't make it any better, either.
"There's not much to tell," he said quickly and sped up his pace a little so he could overtake the man, trying to put some type of physical space between them like he wanted to with this conversation.
Hisoka either didn't notice the attempt or ignored it. Rin had his bet on the latter.
"I disagree. I want to hear all about it," he drawled in a voice that reminded Rin of honey. Sweet until you got closer and were trapped.
Rin was saved from answering—thank god—when he saw a metal door come into view and used the opportunity to run forward and through the door. He came to a screeching halt in the doorway when all he saw was pitch blackness, but a rough push from behind forced him to step fully into the room, and he just barely managed to catch himself before he fell, again. It was quickly becoming a routine that he already hated.
Rin aimed a scowl at Hisoka, who—surprise, surprise—smirked back.
"You were in the way," Hisoka said simply.
As soon as Hisoka stepped fully into the room as well, the door closed on its own, and candles that were lining the walls lit up with green fire to reveal a man sitting on the floor across from them. If creepy and unnerving was what the stranger was going for, then he definitely succeeded. The green of the fire cast him in deep shadows and made it look like he was about to keel over at any second, regardless of what they did or did not do.
The silence was broken as the man slowly got up and said, "I've been waiting for you, Hisoka."
The man tilted his head up, enough so that Rin could see the scars littered all along one cheek and over the man's nose. Some were criss-crossing others, and they almost seemed to move in the flickering candle light.
The man's voice rang out clearly in the room, bouncing off the enclosing walls and giving it more strength. "I'm not an examiner this year. I'm here for revenge," he said, slowly brandishing a curved sword at his side. "Since last year's exam, all I've focused on was killing you. Today, I'll get payback for my scars!" The more he talked, the louder his voice became until it was almost deafening.
Rin sucked in a sharp breath as the man's words registered. So this was the man Hisoka almost killed.
Hisoka chuckled, shifting his feet so he was leaning most of his weight on one leg and rested a hand on his hip. "Those scars show that you were an incompetent examiner. You're blaming me for your own inadequacies."
"Keep yapping! Prepare to die," the man yelled, and Rin could tell that he was losing what little composure he had from the beginning of the confrontation. I really hope he can back up his confidence.
It was only when the man pulled out a second sword that Hisoka finally raised an eyebrow.
"Dual wielding?" he questioned, but that fact that his posture didn't change gave Rin the feeling that he was only humoring the man.
Hisoka blinked when the man suddenly threw them up in the air and pulled out another set from a sheath otherwise hidden behind his back.
A smirk grew on the man's face as he shouted, "Infinite quad wielding. Take this!" and threw the weapons at Hisoka.
Rin jumped to the side in order to avoid the projectiles, but the man wasn't aiming at him, didn't even really seem to notice that there was another person in the room at all, in fact.
The blades curved in the air with a kind of grace, the steel glinting like stars in the light of the fire. The man was obviously familiar with them, as he, too, held the grace of a person who poured sweat and blood into practicing. All for the purpose of revenge.
The sight of someone so desperate for vengeance was as beautiful as it was sad.
Should I interfere?
As much as Rin disagreed with a person seeking revenge, even if it was well founded, he also didn't want to see the man needlessly killed. And Hisoka would kill him, that much was certain. He could already feel Hisoka's nen rising before the first blades had even reached him, still filled to the brim with barely contained bloodlust that was just waiting to be let out. However, Hisoka was already moving before he could even complete the thought. He slammed a hand on the ground and twisted mid air to avoid the blades, and he kept dodging the weapons even after the man charged at him.
At some point, Hisoka managed to get cut on the shoulder and side, both tainting the otherwise white fabric with red.
The small win seemed to encourage the man, and he jumped forward again with renewed vigor. "It's not over yet!" he yelled.
Hisoka was not deterred, though, and kept swaying and jumping and bending into seemingly impossible positions to dodge the blades.
The longer Rin watched, the more his mind could only focus on the fact that it looked like Hisoka was dancing, and as much as Rin didn't want to be, he was mesmerized by the fight. There was just something so beautiful about how the red haired man moved to his own tempo, like nothing could ever hope to stop him. Even his nen was swaying as if pushed by some unseen breeze, and it filled the room with its heavy weight.
Rin felt like he was drowning in it.
He was dragged out of his thoughts by the supposed-examiner shouting, "Up, down, left, right, front, and back. You have nowhere to run! You'll be cut from every angle by my endless stream of blades. Dodging my infinite attack wave is impossible! I'll have you writhe in pain until you die, Hisoka!"
Hisoka merely scoffed at the man and stood in place as two of the blades came barreling toward him, and Rin felt his heart stop when the man didn't make any move to dodge them.
"Hisoka!" he yelled, taking a jerky step forward as if he could actually do anything to help, but before he could reach the man, his feet ground to a halt as all he could do was stare at the scene in front of him, though he honestly wasn't sure why he was so surprised at this point.
Hisoka was still standing, completely unharmed except for a few nicks here and there, and in his hands were the two blades the man had thrown at him.
"It would indeed be difficult to dodge your attacks," Hisoka purred, raising the blades so he could lick across the sharpened edge. He stalked toward the man like a hunter on the prowl, languid, quiet steps. "Thus, I should simply stop the blades."
The man stood frozen and did nothing, even when Hisoka was right in front of him.
Hisoka twirled the knives with ease. "Oh, it was easier than anticipated, but I appreciate your futile efforts." He smirked, lips pulling up to show teeth. His voice had slowly grown lower the longer he talked, and it almost seemed to make the surrounding shadows grow an even deeper black than they already were.
He's a monster, Rin thought as he watched with wide eyes as the man was effortlessly beheaded. The body dropped to the ground with a dull thump that echoed in the room. When Hisoka turned to face him, he tried to get his limbs to move, but they wouldn't listen. Golden eyes pinned Rin to the spot, as if daring him to try and escape, and Rin couldn't do anything but obey. Hisoka took those same slow, steady steps until he was standing chest to chest with Rin, where finally he stopped and leered down at Rin with his bloodlust curled around them both in a mocking imitation of a blanket.
He's going to kill me, he realized. His heart was beating inside his chest like it was about to burst out at any moment, and the pounding increased until the steady thump, thump, thump was all that he could hear. When one of Hisoka's arms started to lift from its place at his side, Rin flinched, eyes closing so that the last thing he ever saw wasn't this man with splashes of red on white.
But the blow never came.
Hesitantly, he slowly cracked open his eyes to peer up at the man—killer, his mind whispered—but he was just staring down at Rin, expression torn between what looked like amusement and frustration.
Rin stared back at him, too afraid that if he looked away the other would follow through with his decision—eye contact is a sign of strength, a voice, one that sounded like his father, said. However, after what felt like an eternity, Hisoka dropped both swords to the ground with a loud clang.
"I wouldn't be able to pass if I killed you," Hisoka answered, clearly reading the unspoken question in Rin's eyes. The way his lips pulled down at the corners and how his eyes were still slits clearly said he wasn't happy about that fact. "Though, I wonder what will happen after the phase is over," he added, expression wiped away as the familiar smirk replaced it, then walked over to the staircase and started climbing up.
Rin raised a shaking hand to his chest and tried to calm his racing heart by taking deep breaths. This man is going to be the death of me, either by killing me himself or giving me a heart attack.
He gave himself until he had his breathing under control before he ran to catch up to the other man, but instead of walking beside him, Rin took his original spot a few feet behind Hisoka.
"Hisoka, applicant #44, is the first to pass the Third Phase. Total time, six hours and seventeen minutes," an electronic voice called down from the ceiling. "Rin, applicant #259, is the second to pass the Third Phase. Total time, six hours and eighteen minutes."
Oh, thank god, it was finally done.
Rin let out a sigh and stepped fully into the room so the door could close behind him and looked over at where Hisoka had already settled against the wall not far from where they had entered.
His lips pulled into a frown. If Rin wasn't already determined to stay away from Hisoka, then after everything that just happened, he definitely was now.
Rin took in the otherwise barren room and picked a spot that was on the complete opposite side from where Hisoka was and sat down. He shuffled around slightly until he got somewhat comfortable—or as comfortable as he could on cement—and settled so that he could try and rest before more people came.
And now, we wait.
Rin was pulled from his sleep when he heard shuffling somewhere to his right, just a quiet noise of cloth rubbing against something rough. He wanted to groan and throw hands over his ears, too tired to deal with socializing right now, and go right back to sleep. Instead, he forced open heavy eyes and blearily looked around for the source of the noise, and when they landed on pink and white and red, he bolted into a sitting position because why was Hisoka sitting next to him. In fact, why was he sitting only a few inches away, shuffling a deck of cards between two slim hands, and looking way too cheerful for a person covered in splatters of blood. His eyes darted to the spot Rin last remembered seeing Hisoka, then back to the person in question, chest squeezing painfully as his heart went from being nice and relaxed to acting like he just ran a marathon.
"Ah, you're finally awake," Hisoka said, talking as if he hadn't creepily crept closer while Rin was sleeping.
"What are y-"
Hisoka cut him off, leaning slightly away from the wall so he could bring his face closer to Rin's. His eyes were bright with mischief and what appeared to be boredom. "Let's play a game~"
Rin leaned back and slowly narrowed his eyes. "Why?" he asked.
"It's not like we don't have plenty of time to kill." At the word kill, Hisoka's smirk widened, and he made a point of shifting the deck of cards in his hands with a loud swish.
He eyed the hands that were toying with the deadly weapons, ones that were way too close for comfort. The man himself could almost be considered a weapon all on his own, and Rin would feel much better once they were far apart. Preferably on different continents. But, against his better judgement, Rin asked, "What type of game?"
"Hmm~ How about poker?"
The fact that he seemed so excited about the idea only succeeded in making Rin want to say no even more.
"What's the catch?" Because knowing him, there would be one.
Hisoka held up both hands innocently—it would have worked better if Rin hadn't just seen him kill another man just a few hours ago—and said, "No catch. We don't even have to make any bets."
Rin contemplated his options. If he said no, there was the possibility that the man would get angry and kill him. However, if he said yes…there was still the possibility of the man killing him just because he could, but the chances didn't seem as strong as the other. There was no one else in the room yet, and any chances of falling back to sleep had vanished with Hisoka moving closer, because Rin had a feeling that even if he tried moving away again the other man would simply follow.
He sighed and eventually said, "Fine."
If Hisoka noticed the strain in his voice, he ignored it as he started to deal out the cards. As Rin watched the cards get passed out, he decided that a game shouldn't feel that foreboding.
He's cheating, Rin thought, eye twitching slightly as he lost for the twentieth time. I don't know how, but he must be cheating. After his tenth loss, he started to pay closer attention to the man's hands, but he still couldn't figure out how Hisoka kept winning and it was driving him insane. Rin ran his hands through his hair. I haven't won even once, and he just keeps looking at me with that stupid smirk. However, no amount of glowering got him any closer to victory, despite his best efforts.
"Another round?" Hisoka asked, smug amusement painted across his face like a mask.
Rin huffed and looked away with scowl. "You're just going to win again, but fine."
Hisoka had just started passing out the cards again when a door screeched open to Rin's left.
"Gittarackur, applicant #301, is the third to pass. Total time, twelve hours and two minutes."
Gittarackur walked in and slowly turned to examine the room before facing them with a creepy clatter—it was how Rin imagained a skeleton would sound if one ever tried to walk. "I figured you would already have crossed the finish line," he said, voice sounding as dead as he looked, and once he noticed that there was, in fact, another person in the room, his head creaked so he could peer over at Rin. "And it would appear you aren't alone."
"All right!" Another voice interrupted any response Hisoka may have had.
The electronic voice called down again, "Hanco, applicant #294, is the fourth to pass."
"I'm the first to finish!" The ninja from before threw his hands in the air. That is, until he noticed them. "Huh?" He slowly blinked in confusion before a dawning realization seemed to hit him. "No! I don't believe this! I came in fourth!" he yelled, dropping his hands as he fell to his knees.
Rin raised a brow. Is he okay, he wondered, before shrugging and deciding it wasn't any of his business. He had already reached his quota for crazy people that day.
"Do you want to join?" Hisoka asked as he looked at Gittarackur from the corner of his eyes.
Gittarackur leaned against the wall close to them and said, "Why bother asking? You would kill me if I said yes."
"Hmm~" Hisoka chuckled.
Rin's eyes widened as he stared at the two men in shock. "Eh?!"
You mean there was a higher chance of him killing me by saying yes?!
The exclamation drew Gittarackur's attention back to him, unfortunately, and the man proceeded to stare blankly at him. Rin could feel his eyes scrutinizing him; it was like ants were suddenly crawling all over his body.
"Oh? He can use nen?" he asked. It was obvious that Gittarackur directed the question towards Hisoka, despite Rin sitting right there.
Rin felt his eye twitch—a habit that was slowly forming the longer he stayed in Hisoka's presence—but he continued to be ignored, and honestly, he was starting to wish they had just ignored him entirely from the start.
"It would seem so." Hisoka's voice held a hint of excitement and a smirk curled his lips into an imitation of a proud smile. If anything, it seemed to grow even larger when he noticed Rin's annoyance. "His nen ability, in particular, intrigues me."
"U-Um, aren't we going to continue?" Rin asked quickly, before the conversation could continue any further. His voice shook only slightly, but he knew the two men had caught it.
Not good. That would explain why Hisoka hadn't tried to kill him yet, but Rin didn't want to see what happened when he got bored or decided that he'd rather get a firsthand experience of his nen.
Just the thought itself made his heart thump like a rabbit being stalked by a fox in the underbrush, and going off the grin on Hisoka's face, he knew it, too.
Where are they?
More and more people had joined them in their solitude, but Rin had yet to see Gon and the others.
Are they okay? Did they get hurt? They're not dead are they?!
Each new thought made Rin panic more and more, and he brought up both hands to ruffle his already messy hair. It was a nervous habit he had had ever since childhood, one he had never been able to quit. It was something that his father had found hilarious, as it always left his hair looking like he had just been through a hurricane.
Rin pointedly ignored how Hisoka was staring at him blankly during all this and kept doing periodic checks around the room to make sure he hadn't accidentally missed them. They had long since stopped playing as they became increasingly aware of Rin's growing distraction, and he was about five seconds away from getting up in order to start pacing to try and relieve some of the building anxiety when in stepped the very people he was worried about.
"Kurapika, applicant #404, is the twenty first to pass. Killua, applicant #99, is the twenty second to pass. Gon, applicant #405, is the twenty third to pass. Total time, seventy-one hours and fifty-nine minutes," the examiner rattled off. "Thirty seconds remain," he paused briefly, then continued when two more people stepped in, "Leorio, applicant #403, is the twenty fourth to pass. Tonpa, applicant #16, is the twenty fifth to pass. Total time, seventy-one hours and fifty-nine minutes. The Third Phase of the exam is over. Twenty-six applicants have passed. One has died."
Rin jumped up from his spot, almost falling over in the process because his legs had fallen asleep, and ran over to them. "Are you guys okay?" he asked, eyes roving over their dusty figures in a desperate search for injuries.
"Ah, Rin!" Gon beamed up at him once Rin had gotten closer.
"We're fine," Kurapika hurriedly assured, a calm smile overtaking his face at Rin's concern. "Just a little bruised."
"Thank god." Rin sighed as his shoulders slumped, all the tension finally leaving.
Leorio laughed, grin bright despite the filth covering the rest of his face. "It's nice to see that you passed, too."
Killua perked up at that and finally spoke for the first time since Rin had come over. "What was your trial, Rin?"
And, there was the tension again. He did his best to avert his eyes without seeming overly suspicious. "I was, um, partnered with someone. We had to keep each other alive in order to pass."
"That sounds similar to ours. Though we had to complete tasks with a majority vote," Kurapika informed.
Rin latched onto that piece of information with all the grace of a dying man. "Oh, that sounds interesting. What kinds of things did you need to decide on? Was it difficult to get a majority vote on certain things?" He knew he was rambling, but it was the only thing he could think of.
But of course, Gon didn't seem to notice Rin's attempt at changing the subject, plowing right on through, and asked, "Who were you with?"
Rin shuffled his feet, making sure to avoid all eye contact, and mumbled out an answer.
"Huh? What did you say?" Leorio asked, raising a hand to his ear as if doing that would allow him to hear better.
"I was with…" Rin paused. "Hisoka."
The group was silent for only a few, precious seconds before they exploded.
Leorio grabbed his shoulders in a tight grip. "What?!" His voice was unnecessarily loud in the enclosed space.
Honestly, Rin was just happy that he wasn't shaking him like before.
"How the heck are you still alive?" Killua demanded, staring at him like he was trying to dissect Rin with just his eyes.
"It's not like he could kill me or anything. The whole point of the trial was to keep each other alive," Rin reminded them.
"I'm just glad you're okay, Rin," Gon said with a smile.
Rin returned it. "Thanks."
Seriously, how could one person be so adorable?
Kurapika frowned, body practically radiating concern. "It would probably be best if you avoided him, Rin. You don't want him to get interested in you, nothing good will become of it."
Rin laughed nervously, before quietly saying, "That may already be too late."
When they demanded that he explain, he told them what had happened since they had separated, though he veered around the part about mentioning his nen.
Killua's eye was twitching by the end of it. "You idiot!" he yelled and somehow managed to punch Rin's head despite the height difference.
Rin pouted. "What was I supposed to do? The whole goal was to survive the phase, so we needed to interact. And by the time we finished, we still had a lot of time left and it was just the two of us. I didn't think it would be a big deal, and it's not like he tried anything, though I do think he cheated," he grumbled.
"We understand that, but I'm concerned about what he plans to do next," Kurapika explained, ever the calm one.
Gon put a finger to his lips in what Rin was quickly beginning to recognize as his thinking pose. "In the Numere Wetlands, he told me to become a fine hunter, so I don't think he'll do anything right now, at least not until the exam is over."
"Hopefully, you're right," Kurapika said quietly.
They all looked at each other in silence.
The examiner for the Third Phase turned out to be a short man with a purple mohawk. He had them all gather outside near a cliff and was staring at them with a grin.
"Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on having escaped Trick Tower. Only the Fourth Phase and Final Phase remain," he said, then pointed to an island sitting in the distance behind him. "The Fourth Phase will take place over there on Zevil Island," he explained. "Let us proceed." He snapped his fingers and a box was rolled out to him. "I will need you to draw lots."
Quiet mumbling washed over the group, until one person eventually asked, "For what?"
The examiner grinned. "To determine who will hunt and who will be hunted. In here are twenty-five numbered cards. In other words, your ID numbers are on the cards. Now, I need you each to draw a card in the order by which you exited the tower. Will the first person come forward?" he asked and gestured to the box.
Rin waited until Hisoka had stepped forward and took a card before he went. He stared at the box for a second, then reached his hand in, grabbing the first card he touched.
Once everyone had gone, the examiner asked, "Everyone's taken a card?" When no one objected, he continued. "Then, remove the seal from your card."
The sound of tearing was loud, even outside. Rin carefully pulled the seal off his card and saw that it had an 89 on it. He looked around at everyone's ID tags until he found the right number. It belonged to a tall man with shoulder length black hair. I think his name was Shishito, if I remember correctly.
"The card indicates your target," he said, causing everyone to automatically cover up their tag. "This box has recorded which card each of you drew. This means that you're free to dispose of the cards if you wish. The objective is to steal your target's ID tag. Naturally, you're free to use any method you choose to steal the ID tags, including killing your target and taking the tag off the corpse." The examiner raised one of his hands and continued, "Listen carefully! Your target's ID tag is worth three points. Your own tag is also worth three points. All other ID tags are worth one point. You need six points to advance to the Final Phase. So while on Zevil Island, you must gather enough ID tags to total six points. That is the condition for clearing the Hunter Exam's Fourth Phase."
There was complete silence after he finished explaining everything. Everyone was looking wearily at each other, trying to figure out who was their target and who was their enemy. It was reminiscent of how they acted at the very start of the exam.
The examiner showed them where a boat was docked, and they all got on board. The tension that had been increasing and decreasing all day was at an all time high now, filling the air like static even though the phase hadn't even started yet.
I feel bad for the announcer, Rin thought as he watched from his spot next to Gon as she eventually stopped talking because absolutely no one was listening.
It wasn't long before Killua walked over and plopped down on the other side of Gon. "What number did you draw?" he asked, sounding uncharacteristically sullen.
Gon turned to him, the serious expression unusual on his face. "How about you?"
"Secret," Killua stated bluntly.
Rin glanced between the two of them. Did they get in a fight? However, his concern proved unwarranted when both turned back around and started laughing.
"Don't worry, you two aren't my target." Killua grinned.
Gon smiled happily. "And my target isn't either of you."
Killua leaned his chin on his fist and looked over in a surprisingly timid manner. "Show each other our numbers at the same time?" he offered.
Killua counted down and then they all held out their cards. Killua had number 199 and Gon had…44…
"Seriously?" Killua asked. "You have really bad luck."
Gon blushed. "You think so?"
"Ah! I'm sure it'll be fine," Rin was quick to say, waving his hands in the air before he paused for a second. "Probably…" he ended weakly.
Gon smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Thanks, Rin." He peered down at Killua's card again and asked, "Who's #199?"
"You don't know, either?" Killua huffed and glared down at his card as if it had personally done something to him.
Gon shook his head, looking apologetic. "Uh-uhn."
"I didn't bother to memorize everyone's numbers, and after the initial explanation, I started checking tags, but everyone had already removed them." Killua scowled. "That's so lame…" He stopped when he saw Gon shaking.
Killua glanced briefly at him, but all Rin could do was shrug.
"What?" Gon looked at him, not seeming to understand why they looked concerned.
Killua smirked as if he suddenly realized something. "Are you happy? Or scared?"
Gon looked down at his hands for a moment, before he eventually said, "Both, I guess. In a straight up fight, I wouldn't stand a chance. But if I only need to steal his ID tag, then I have a real shot."
"Yeah," Killua agreed.
"Right now, I might actually have a chance. That scares me a little…but I think it's worth it."
Rin smiled. "I may not have known you for very long, Gon, but I think if anyone can do it, it would be you."
"I hope so too," Gon admitted, rubbing the back of his head.
Killua suddenly looked like he remembered something, and he turned to give Rin a scrutinizing look. "While we're on the topic. Rin, do you know who you got?"
"Hmm? Ah, yeah. I managed to find him before he took off his tag."
"That's good. Well, let's do our best, then," Killua said as he got up to stretch. "Make sure you stay alive, Gon, Rin."
"Uh-huh! You too." Gon gave him a thumbs up, while Rin just nodded.
Killua ambled off, leaving just Gon and Rin sitting on the deck of the boat against the railing. Rin leaned his head back and listened to the sound of the waves crashing against the boat and Gon chattering a mile a minute.
I hope everything goes well.
The only sounds that could be heard was the slight rustling of the trees and the faint call of animals in the distance. As soon as he set foot on the island, Rin tried to get as far away from the boat as possible in search of shelter. He'd be a sitting duck if he stayed out in the open, so finding someplace to bunker down was his first priority before he could even begin to think about going after his target. A quick use of zetsu got rid of the chance of being followed in case any of the other applicants had managed to catch up already, at least by the ones who couldn't use nen. Besides, he'd have much bigger problems than being followed if one of the other nen users was going after him.
Still, hopefully the others will be able to get their targets without any major trouble, especially Gon. Rin frowned harder the longer he thought about it. Ugh, this is not what I need to worry about right now!
A crunch of leaves nearby had Rin ducking behind a tree for cover. He carefully peered around in order to catch a glimpse of the person and saw a man with bushy eyebrows, a large crooked nose, and gray hair making his way through the shoulder-high grass. He was carrying a long sword at his side, one hand resting on the hilt, while the other pushed back the foliage. The man was fairly close, but he didn't seem to notice Rin whatsoever and kept walking. He must not be used to wandering through untamed forests because he was making quite the racket. If he didn't start trying to be quieter, then he was going to be found rather easily and it would be his own fault.
Rin glanced around to see if there were any more surprises before he began moving again. I should leave the area since he probably just alerted everyone within earshot, he decided, and his stomach chose that moment to growl. Rin placed a hand on it and willed it to be silent. Time to find some food. Thankfully, Rin had grown up near the woods, and it was where he always played as a child. His father had even encouraged it by buying him his first books on plants, which sparked his thirst for knowledge on the subject, and ever since, Rin tried to learn all that he could, something that he was definitely grateful for now since it let him know exactly where to find wild asparagus and clover that was native to the area.
Up until that point, Rin hadn't really seen anything that could serve as an easy shelter, so he went with what he had to work with. The trees in the area were all rather large and had plenty of nice, thick branches near the top for easy climbing. The hardest part was actually getting to them since there were no good handholds at the bottom of the trunks, but he had plenty of experience with that. After looking around, Rin chose a sturdy looking one that had a ton of leaves to offer cover and climbed up while carefully holding onto his precious bundle until he found a decent size branch that could support his weight. He settled against the rough bark to happily munch on his prize.
"Maybe I should go look for the others," he wondered aloud, but then shook his head. "No, they can take care of themselves. I would just make it harder for them."
The sun was already setting, so he shifted to find a more comfortable spot and drifted off to sleep.
It's already been three days, Rin realized as he gazed up at the calm sky, completely relaxed against the tree trunk. He was comfortable and didn't want to move, but he knew he needed to hunt down his target before the week ended, so he slapped both hands on his cheeks in order to wake himself up.
Okay! Let's do this!
Rin paused for a moment and then snorted.
I'm starting to sound like Gon.
Rin had a plan to find his target: wander around until he found him. There wasn't much else he could do on an island this big. Though, I guess I could use that, but I would rather not have to resort to it unless absolutely necessary, especially since there are other nen users nearby. Plus, it would leave me vulnerable.
Anyway, enough thinking.
He jumped from the tree, landing quietly on his feet with a quick use of nen and tilted his head to listen. The forest was silent besides the slight birdsong around him, nothing seemingly out of place. He felt his nen flare briefly before settling back down.
Time to go hunting.
Rin made his way through the unbroken grass on light feet, veering off from the obvious path that the man with the sword had taken and keeping his body slightly hunched down so he would be hidden. The smart thing for someone to do would be to make their way to the center of the island and then fan out to get a feel of their surroundings. The more a person knows the area, the easier it is to defend or launch an attack. Hopefully, by doing the same, Rin would be able to find some trace of his target to follow. He knew nothing about the man except for his appearance, so Rin had no idea how he might think or react in this type of situation. A surprise attack would be his best chance to get the tag.
But there was one thing Rin knew. Most people would want to stay near a water supply, and Rin just so happened to find a stream when he was scavenging for food. He made sure to stay in the treeline, all while keeping the water within earshot so he wouldn't stray too far away from it. Grey eyes stayed trained on the ground for the most part, but they flitted around occasionally as he slowly made his way inland.
A distracted hunter was as good as dead, as his father would say.
A broken branch caught his eye just up ahead, so he crouched low to the ground, fingers brushing away rotting leaves to see the faint boot tracks in the dirt. Head tilting, he took in the relative size and figured it could match his target, given his height and appearance. He hummed, slowly rose back up, and peered in the direction the footprints were leading.
The entire time, he'd had zetsu activated, and he could already feel sweat beading on his brow from how taxing it was to keep it up for so long, but there was no way he was going without it if he had any choice. He would just have to try and finish this as quickly as possible and sped up his pace.
It wasn't until a few more steps that he realized how silent the forest had suddenly gotten. He slowed down to almost a crawl, the hair along his arms rising as his eyes tried to figure out what—or more likely, who—was nearby, because whatever it was, it was definitely something Rin would want to avoid.
And Rin needed to learn to stop jinxing himself because just as he walked past some trees, he spotted someone he absolutely wanted to avoid at all costs: Hisoka.
The man was walking slowly through the forest, completely silent in a way that made Rin's hackles raise and his nen flutter uncomfortably under his skin. The longer he watched, the more uneasy Rin felt, because something wasn't right.
Hisoka was bent at the waist so that his arms were dangling out in front of him, making them sway slightly with every step the man took, and that wasn't even mentioning Hisoka's nen. It was lashing through the air around him like a caged beast, overflowing with bloodlust, though it seemed different from what Rin had felt before.
Hisoka suddenly paused, his foot freezing in midair, and his nen almost seemed to spasm.
It was enough to make Rin realize the danger he was in, and just as he was turning to run, Hisoka's eyes met his for a brief moment before Rin was once again swallowed by the greenery.
His heart was pounding as his legs moved as quickly as they could, not caring how much noise he was making at that point, as long as it got him far away from that man. Besides, if Hisoka wanted to attack him, being quiet wouldn't honestly make that much of a difference, Rin knew.
As he was rounding yet another tree, breathing hard against the instincts still screaming that he was in danger, he collided with something and was flung roughly to the ground. Rin quickly changed that to someone when the thing he hit let out a low yelp. He got to his feet as quickly as he could, staying crouched low to the ground, and met the brown eyes of the very person he had been hunting. Neither of them moved for a long moment when the man suddenly shot up right as Rin lunged forward. He threw a clumsy punch, aiming for Rin's head, that Rin knocked aside and used as an opening to hit him on the cheek. The man went down, knocking his head against a rock on the way down, and lay still.
Rin stood there, the only sound he could hear was his own panting breaths.
He wasn't moving.
Rin staggered a step closer.
He wasn't moving.
Rin dropped to his knees as his legs gave out, not even feeling the pain as twigs stabbed through his pants, eyes never leaving the man's face. A shaking hand slowly raised until Rin rested fingers against the man's throat. It felt like forever before he felt the steady beating of a pulse and was finally able to let out the breath he'd been holding.
He sank down to sit on his heels and just stayed there. He took a deep breath, held it, then slowly let it out. Panicking could come later, after the trial, right now he needed to remain focused. He kept his breaths steady as he ran his hands over the man's pockets until he eventually found the #89 tag. On the bright side, it could have been worse; he could have hidden it, or Rin could have not found him at all.
Okay, now all he had to do was keep both the tags until the end. It, hopefully, wouldn't be too hard. Rin began to slowly make his way back in the direction of the ship, keeping a careful ear out for anyone nearby. He figured that if he needed to go there anyway, he might as well get a head start. Thankfully, he didn't have any more run-ins with people while making his way through the forest, so he was able to make it there in one piece and without more heart attacks.
Since he already had enough points to pass, there wasn't much else for him to do besides stay hidden, so he found a tree that gave him a clear sightline to the boat while still remaining far enough away and avoided all contact with people as the time slowly ticked by. It would be just his luck for someone to surprise him and steal the tags.
If he rationed carefully, he would have enough food and water to last him until the trial was over without him having to gather more. The last thing he wanted to do was go back to the ground.
There were a couple times when other examinees wandered under his tree. They snuck through the tall grass, their heads tilting this way and that, most likely looking for easy prey, though why they thought the people who were strong enough to get their tags would be good targets, he didn't know. None of them ever noticed him; people had a tendency to never look up.
"Will the applicants please return to the starting point at once?" A female voice, probably the boat attendant, resounded through the forest. "You will be given one hour of extra time. If you do not return during this time, you will fail the exam. Furthermore, you are not allowed to exchange tags after reaching the starting point. Anyone caught swapping tags will be disqualified." There was a click as the sound turned off, and the forest was once again filled with nature.
Rin felt himself relax, because that meant he could finally go down without having to worry about being attacked. After jumping down, he raised his arms in the air to stretch, groaning as his muscles burned pleasantly, and walked out into the clearing. A few people were already there, including Killua, all of whom probably had the same idea as him.
"The others aren't here yet?" Rin asked when he was close.
Killua shook his head. "Doesn't seem like it," he said.
Their conversation was interrupted when the board leading to the ship was lowered down and the attendant stepped off. She glanced around at those already gathered and said, "Then we will now check the tags of everyone here."
Rin raised his tags when she got to him, listening as she called out each applicant who passed. He purposely kept his eyes averted when she said Hisoka's number. Whatever had possessed the man earlier seemed to have passed, but Rin would rather play it safe.
"So six applicants have passed?" She started to lower the clipboard but paused when there was a rustling from a nearby bush. "Oh?" the attendant called out in surprise as Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio came stumbling out of the woods, all three looking worse for wear.
"Gon," Killua called with a grin. He raised a hand to get their attention.
Rin let out a sigh. Why do they always make such close calls, he thought, though he was just glad that they had made it at all.
"Ah, three more arrive at the last second, and now for the last few members…" She waited as they showed her their tags. "These ten applicants have passed the Fourth Phase of the exam!"
Rin and Killua made their way over to them.
"I thought you guys weren't going to make it," Killua complained, punching Gon lightly on the arm.
"Haha, we almost didn't." Gon laughed cheerfully.
It wasn't until they had gotten closer that Rin noticed the black and blue bruise painting Gon's face, and he hurriedly stepped closer so he could reach out and turn the boy's head so he could see the damage better.
"You're hurt!" Turning it more toward the light only made the bruises look worse, making him wince at how much pain the boy must be in. "Did Hisoka do this to you?"
Gon shook his head. "No, it was Bourbon. We got caught in his trap," he explained.
"Wasn't he the snake charmer? That's even worse!" Rin exclaimed. "Did any of them bite you?" He turned Gon's face in different directions, trying to examine all of him at once in order to look for any more possible injuries.
Leorio laughed and smacked Rin's back heartedly. "You're like a mother hen!"
Kurapika sighed, everything about him just screaming that he was done with them. "You're not helping, Leorio," he said slowly, then turned to face Rin with a smile. "We're fine. He had the antidote with him."
Rin let out a small noise of doubt. Even with an antidote he knew that the venom could have devastating consequences. He had studied up on dangerous creatures as well, since if a person was going to go traversing in a forest it was more than likely that they would encounter said animals.
"Don't worry so much," Killua ordered with a slight scowl and his hands on his hips.
Gon nodded and smiled widely, even though Rin knew the movement had to pull painfully on the bruise. "It's nice that you're worried about us, but Killua's right. Everything turned out just fine." When Rin just continued to frown, Gon darted forward and wrapped his arms around his waist. "Is this better?" he asked, peering up with impossibly large, brown eyes.
Rin felt a small blush wash across his face at the sight of the all too adorable boy. What little self restraint he had shattered at that exact moment, so he bent down and hugged him back tightly. Unfortunately, the wonderful hug could not last forever.
The attendant raised a hand to her mouth and yelled, "Alright! Time for everyone to board the airship. It'll take you guys to the Final Phase."
Killua smirked, glancing over at them with barely concealed excitement. "You guys ready?"
Leorio raised a fist. "Of course!"
The end of the exam was near, and Rin could feel excitement bubble up inside him as they all took a step forward. Still…why do I also feel so anxious all of a sudden.
I hope you enjoyed the second chapter. I know I skipped around a lot, so just let me know if you guys were confused. I don't know when the third chapter will be done, since I haven't even started on it yet. Feel free to leave a comment on your way out!