A/N: A year and a half later, this story finally updates~ So sorry about the wait, but here's a very long chapter to make up for it!
Also, please answer the question at the bottom; it'll help me a lot :D
"I believe that is the building," the Navigator said. Momo turned her gaze up to find a really, really tall building towering high above.
"It's so tall!" Gon commented. "They must have a really nice building."
"Hey guys!" The Navigator pointed forward, at a very different building. "It's here."
Momo blinked at the rather traditional-styled restaurant, complete with a banner along the top of the doorway. This is the Hunter Exam site?!
"Oi, oi, you can't possibly mean that Hunter applicants from around the world are supposed to gather here."
"I do. No one would expect the Hunter Exam, with its millions of candidates, to be located here, right?"
"That's true," Momo mused. "I certainly wouldn't have expected it."
"Welcome!" the chef called once they stepped in. Momo nearly drooled at the smell of fresh meat being cooked.
"Is the back room open?"
"What will you have?"
"The steak combo that opens your eyes to the light. For four."
The chef's eyes seemed to sharpen. "For four… How would you like them?"
"Grilled over a low flame, until cooked."
The chef closed his eyes and smiled. "Got it. Let yourself into the back room."
"I can't wait for the steak combo!" Gon smiled.
Kurapika sighed. "...That was just the password to get us inside, Gon."
"So we don't get to eat?"
"I know I can sure go for a snack right now," Momo remarked.
"Once every ten thousand… the number of applicants who make it this far. You've done extremely well for first timers." The Navigator smiled and turned to leave. "Well, good luck."
Gon held out his hand. "Thank you!"
The Navigator paused before taking his hand and shaking it. "I would be happy to serve as your Navigator next year as well," he said. The door closed with a resolute clack behind him. Then the room rumbled and started to sink.
"It appears this room is an elevator," Kurapika said. Momo deadpanned at him. No dip, Sherlock!
"That bastard," Leorio muttered under his breath. "He meant that he thought we were going to fail this year.
"Once every three years."
"The frequency with which a rookie passes the Exam."
Gon looked up. "It's that unusual?"
"Some cannot endure the exam's physical and mental strain. Also, it's not unusual for veterans to break the rookies, who consequently never retake the test."
"I guess candidates are willing to risk everything to become Hunters."
"You're a candidate too," Momo pointed out.
"It's only natural!" Leorio burst out. "Hunters make the most money in the world!"
"Wrong! Hunters are the noblest in the world!" Kurapika yelled.
"Guys…" Momo sighed.
"Gon, listen! Every year, over fifty Hunters make the list of the world's hundred richest people!"
Kurapika pulled him away. "Hunters are associated with hunting wild game and treasure, but they're all second rate. True Hunters work to protect people and the natural world!"
"The fame and money… that's why people want to become Hunters!"
"Profound knowledge, a healthy mind and body, and unyielding conviction… those are the qualities Hunters pride themselves on!"
"Guys!" Momo huffed. "Quit it!"
They turned on her. "What do you think? What kind of Hunter do you want to become?"
"Er- well, you don't have to overcomplicate things like that," she protested. "I just want to find some people and hopefully have a little fun along the way!"
They turned to Gon next. "Well, what about you?"
"Um… when you put it that way…"
The room jostled and a bell dinged.
"I think we've arrived."
"We'll continue this later."
Gon breathed a sigh of relief. Momo patted his back sympathetically.
The door slid open. Momo stepped through and froze. All the applicants in the room turned their gazes towards her- or rather, them.
"Strange atmosphere down here," Leorio muttered.
She forced a smile. Ah… This takes me back somehow… Of course, the atmosphere while she performed was much different from this, but they still had the same general feeling. All eyes on me. Looks like this really is the real deal.
"Excuse me!" Gon chirped. They all turned away. He frowned. "Everyone's really tense."
"I can't believe you just did that," she groaned.
She shook her head. This is what it means to be dense, right? He's definitely being super dense.
"Hello!" A short person… green bean?... thing held out a circular tag. "Please take a number. Be sure to wear it on your chest at all times, and be careful not to lose it."
The number 405 was printed on hers. She clipped it over her breast and checked her brother's. His read 404.
"Looks like we're right next to each other, huh?"
"We did enter together."
She let her eyes trail over the applicants. Most were grown men, ranging across the spectrum from younger to older. She even saw a graying man with a proud, refined posture. However, there were hardly any females among the group. She spotted one with a large yellow hat, but that was it. "Geez, the testosterone is overwhelming."
"It is to be expected, in an exam like this."
"Sure, but I would've liked to see some girl power, you know?"
"Yo! Haven't seen you around before!" A plump man in a blue outfit approached them. "You must be rookies."
"How can you tell?" she asked.
"Well, this is my thirty fifth attempt."
"You could say I'm an exam veteran!"
"...That isn't something to brag about," Leorio muttered.
"Indeed," Kurapika said.
"Points for persistence though," she whispered to them.
He offered his hand. "My name is Tonpa. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me."
"Thank you!" Gon shook his hand, then gazed at the applicants. "Are there any others who took the exam a bunch of times like you?"
"I have the most experience, but there are a few others. Number 255, Todo the wrestler. Number 103, Bourbon the snake charmer. He can hold a grudge, so it's best not to get on his bad side. Then there's number 191, Bodoro the kung fu master. He's getting old, but there still isn't a better martial artist around. There're the three brothers, Amori, Imori, and Umori. Finally, there's number 384, Gerreta the huntsman. He specializes in killing all sorts of creatures by blow dart and club. There's many more, but they've taken the test the most times."
"What about the one in the yellow hat?" Momo asked. "Who is she?"
"Oh, her? That's Ponzu. She's not a rookie, but she's still a novice, at least in comparison to a lot of the people here. From what I've seen, she uses chemicals as weapons. There's not a whole lot that sticks out about her, though."
An anguished scream ripped through the air. She gasped, clamped her hands over her mouth, and pressed closer to her brother. She clenched her eyes shut, willing the faint itch to stay away. She didn't want to attract any attention. She couldn't. The captain's warning echoed in her head.
I can't become a target.
She opened her eyes and glanced towards the screams. Bright red flower petals drifted in a dainty stream from a man's outstretched stumps-for-arms. A pink-haired man dressed like a clown gazed on with a nonchalant, almost taunting smile. "Oh, how peculiar. His arms seemed to have turned into flower petals. No smoke and mirrors here~ When you bump into someone, you really should apologize."
She shuddered and held back a retch. That man… there was something horribly wrong with him. For what reason, she couldn't quite place, but… it set her on edge. It set her really, really, really on edge.
How did he even turn arms into flower petals?
"That psychopath is back again," Tonpa muttered.
"Again?" Leorio frowned.
"Don't tell me he took the exam last year," she whimpered.
"He did. Number 44, Hisoka the magician. He was a virtual lock to pass the exam until he all but killed an examiner he didn't like."
Leorio blanched. "A-and they're still letting him retake the exam this year?!"
"Of course. Every year, the examiners and test content changes, and the examiners are the ones who choose the new content. The devil himself could pass if that were the examiners' determination. That's just how the exam works. At any rate, you should stay away from him."
"Oh, that's right! I have a little something to mark our acquaintance." He pulled out five cans of orange juice. "How about it?"
"Ooh, thanks!" She took the drinks and passed them out to the others.
He raised his can. "Best of luck to all of us! Cheers!"
She popped open her can and raised it to her lips.
Kurapika caught her gaze and gave a tiny shake of his head. Wait.
She hesitated. Her skin tingled. Malicious intent. She discreetly glanced around, and her eyes landed on Tonpa. Tonpa, who had a strange wrinkle under his eyes. Not from a smile, but almost like from a smirk.
...How very suspicious.
Gon spat out the juice he drank. "Tonpa-san, this juice must have expired. It tastes funny."
Leorio spat out his juice in a brilliant spray. "Seriously! That was close!"
Momo poured out the can onto the ground. Her outer expression was calm, but inside she was fighting to keep a glare off her face. He was trying to sabotage us, wasn't he? Probably would've fallen for it too, if it wasn't for Gon…
Said scumbag clapped his hands together and bowed. "I'm really sorry! I didn't realize the juice had gone bad!"
"You don't have to apologize," Gon reassured. "Is your stomach okay?"
"Y-yeah, I'm fine."
"I've sampled all kinds of wild plants and mountain grasses, so I can usually tell when something's bad."
Momo shook off the anger and whistled. "Woah, that's amazing! You're a real outdoor woods kid, aren't you?"
"I-it really is amazing," Tonpa stammered. "Sorry about that again… I'll see you later."
Suspicious… Hindsight was 20/20, and she could clearly see that now.
An alarm rang. The ground rumbled. The far wall began sliding up and away. Beyond the wall was a tall, lanky man with a thin curly mustache. And… no mouth. Huh.
"I apologize for the wait. The entry period for Hunter applicants has ended. The Hunter Exam will now begin."
Momo placed a hand over her heart and breathed, trying to calm her heart rate. She took her brother's hand and squeezed it. Don't be so tense, she tried to convey to him. Relax.
He flashed a quick smile at her. Speak for yourself.
"A final precaution," the man called. "If you are short on luck or ability, you could very well end up seriously injured or even dead. Those who accept the risks, please follow me. Otherwise, please exit via the elevator behind you."
Momo's grip tightened. I've waited- and trained- for this long. I can't wait any longer.
"Very well. All 405 applicants will participate in Phase 1."
"405?" she whispered to Kurapika. "But aren't there 406-"
"The guy who had his arms turned into flowers."
They began walking. The crowd was so large, she couldn't see the man, but she trusted the other applicants to keep them in sight.
"I hoped a few might withdraw, but I guess not," Leorio muttered. "I mean, we've all come this far."
Up front, the sound of footsteps grew louder. And faster. Soon it was like a snare, rapidly rolling over the ground.
Momo found herself pulled into a run. The masses of people still blocked her view, but she could only assume that the pace had increased.
"I neglected to introduce myself. My name is Satotz, the Phase One examiner. I shall lead you to Phase Two."
"What about Phase One?" someone yelled.
"It has already commenced. You must follow me to Phase Two. This is Phase One of the exam. I cannot tell you where or when you will arrive. You must simply follow me."
"So an endurance test?" Momo huffed. "That sucks."
"Not just physical endurance," Kurapika muttered. "There's also the mental stress of not knowing how far we'll have to run. He's testing our mental fortitude as well as our physical."
Her heart pounded- and not just from the physical exertion. A tingle raced down her spine, like spiders crawling down her back. She forced a smile on her face. "Hoo boy. Alright. We can do this. We can do this."
o o o
She couldn't do this. It had been four hours since the start of the exam. Her throat was tight- had been tight for nearly two hours. Her chest constricted painfully, and her breath rushed through her in short, desperate gulps. Her heart beat like a hummingbird's wings. Sweat clung to her neck and seeped into her hoodie. Her arms and legs felt like lead blocks dragging her down. Her legs, in particular, throbbed so much they were numb. A blazing fire raged in her body and scorched her veins.
And yet, the tunnel continued on, a neverending expanse of musky, aged concrete. Examinees were either clumped together or littered on the floor. Some were barely holding on. Some were sprawled on the ground. Some were still running, their faces set and their bodies upright.
Kurapika glanced over to her. "Are you alright?"
"Monsters, everyone," she wheezed. "How can they keep…?" Her steps faltered.
"Don't stop," he warned.
Her heart burned. "Gimme a moment."
"If you stop, it'll be harder to continue."
"I know," she groaned.
"Don't you want to be a Hunter?"
They reached a tall staircase, the steps sleek and stretched high. The staircase continued onward until it vanished, with no sight of the exit. The examiner pranced up it, his strides skipping great chunks of the staircase. A trail of examinees scrambled after him.
Momo slowed to a halt and craned her neck. "You've got to be kidding me."
Kurapika placed his foot on the first step. "Come on. He's picked up the pace. We have to go or we'll lose him."
Her heart clenched. Stinging heat bubbled in her throat. "You've got to be kidding me."
She lowered her head and gritted her teeth. Inhale. Exhale. "Give me a moment." Inhale. Exhale. "Go on without me. I'll catch up."
Kurapika didn't move. "Will you?"
She forced a smile. "I will. I just need a quick breather, that's all."
Kurapika hesitated. Cast a glance upward. Then met her gaze. "I'll stay as well."
She gasped. "What? Why?! Get going! You'll lose the examiner!"
"What about you?"
"I don't want to drag you down because of my own problems!"
Kurapika shot her a glare. "You're my sister. We trained for this exam together. You said we could do it. So what's stopping you? What are you waiting for?"
She glanced upward at the fading examiner. "I-"
Two boys blitzed past her, one in green and one in white. They bounded up the steps, grins on their faces. Gon. And an unfamiliar boy. Kids.
It reminded her of a time of scorching summer heat. It reminded her of a gathering at a secret base. It reminded her of kids who fought against tragedy, lost, and kept fighting anyway.
They were just kids when they faced the snake. But they didn't give up. Hibiya was twelve, and he still kept searching for Hiyori. If they didn't give up, then she wouldn't either. They didn't deserve anything less.
She shook herself and grinned. "Nothing's stopping me, and I'm not waiting anymore."
Kurapika smiled and started up the steps. She scampered after him, a new wind streaking through her veins and swelling in her body.
o o o
Leorio jogged up behind them, chest bare but tie still around his neck. With every stride, he grunted like a strangled pig.
Momo glanced away. She'd already thought this earlier, when he yelled at some examinee a few hours back, but what in the world? Did she even want to know?
"Leorio, are you okay?" Kurapika asked.
"Sure, just look at me!" Leorio steadily gained on them. "I realized that I can keep going if I don't worry about how stupid I look!" He roared a battle cry and charged ahead.
Her lips twitched. She shared a glance with her brother and pulled off her hoodie. Moments later, she was in just a white sleeveless undershirt, her hoodie tucked in Kurapika's bag.
They raced towards Leorio and matched his pace. "I have a question," Kurapika began.
"What, is this not hard enough for you? Talking's just a waste of energy."
"Are you really trying to become a Hunter for the money? We've only been together a few days, but I know you better than that. Sure, you have a nasty attitude, and you're not very bright…"
Leorio screeched in protest. Momo only shot Kurapika an exasperated look.
"But you're not a shallow person. I've seen many who live for money. You're nothing like them."
"You and your logic…" Leorio scoffed.
"Brother has a point. You don't act like a selfish person."
Leorio remained silent.
Kurapika glanced down, then fixed his eyes on the top. "Scarlet Eyes. The reason the Kurta were targeted. We're known for our unique scarlet eyes. When our emotions are heightened, our eyes turn scarlet, as though on fire. In that scarlet state, our eyes are considered one of the seven most beautiful colors in the world. Subsequently, they command high prices on the black market."
"That's why the Phantom Troupe attacked you?"
A spiked pit opened in her stomach. "They took all the eyes from their corpses," Momo muttered, and fought the urge to shudder.
"I can still hear their darkened eyes, crying out in anguish… I swear I will capture the Phantom Troupe. And I will reclaim the eyes of my clan."
"And becoming a Hunter?"
"If I become a Hunter with rich clients, I'll gain access to black market information."
"But you'll have to swallow your pride and become the kind of Hunter you despise!"
"And it's dangerous. You might die." She already knew his answer, though. They've had this argument before, when he first wanted to chase after the Phantom Troupe.
"The blow to my pride is nothing, measured against the suffering my clan endured. Even my life is of no consequence, compared to the hundreds of lives they've ended."
Momo bit her lip and gently nudged him. Not as a sign of support, but as a sign of comfort. They'd already argued about this countless times. It had driven a wedge between them, but that didn't mean she didn't love him or care for him.
"Sorry, but I've got no noble cause," Leorio said. "I'm just after money."
"Don't lie!" Kurapika snapped.
"I'm not lying!"
"You really believe you can buy everything with money?"
Leorio gritted his teeth. "You bet! For the right price, you can buy not only treasures, but dreams, hearts, and even people's lives!"
"What are you saying?" Momo hissed.
"Take that back, Leorio! If you're insulting the Kurta, I won't forgive you!"
"I'm telling the truth! If I had money, my friend wouldn't have died!"
Momo slowed. His friend died because he didn't have money? Then… oh. Her chest ached, and not just because of the endless running.
"An illness?" Kurapika guessed.
Leorio averted his eyes. "It was a treatable disease. But the treatment cost a fortune. I was naive! I thought I could become a doctor… Cure kids with the same disease and be able to tell them it was free of charge. Then I could have told his parents, too…" Tears hung in the corners of his eyes. "What a joke! Turns out to become a doctor, you need even more money! The world runs on money, so I want money!"
Momo smiled. "You really are a good person."
Leorio took a few moments to collect himself and glanced at her. "What about you? You said you wanted to help your brother and to find some people?"
Heat crawled down her back. She instinctively put on a smile. It's not fair for them to reveal so much about themselves and not receive the same from me. But… they definitely wouldn't believe me. What am I supposed to do?
"I don't really agree with Brother," she began. "About hunting the Phantom Troupe, I mean." She cast a glance at him.
His face was blank and composed, expression open and listening. He merely nodded for her to continue.
"We've already fought about this, many times," she continued. "But… he's still my brother, you know? And the rest of our clan is… you know. So we have to stick together, even if we don't necessarily agree with each other."
"And about the people you want to find?" Kurapika asked.
"You wouldn't believe me," she blurted.
Leorio stared at her. "What the hell? Why wouldn't we believe you?"
Kurapika narrowed his eyes.
She winced. "Just… trust me. Please"
Leorio glanced between them. "Fine. Okay then. Why do you even want to find these people?"
A true smile tugged at her lips. "They helped me through a difficult time in my life. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I probably wouldn't be me if it wasn't for them."
Kurapika frowned. "When did you meet these people?"
She pressed her lips together.
Kurapika huffed and looked away. "Who are they? What kind of people are they, to be so important?"
She smiled in thanks. "They're all really… eccentric, I guess. They're certainly a colorful cast of characters. I know Ma-" she cut herself off. "One of them was really shy and kind, while one of the others kept teasing everyone else. And Commander was so cool! She basically commanded everyone else and kept order."
"You sound like good friends," Leorio commented.
Kurapika raised an eyebrow. "Past tense? What happened?"
She pursed her lips. "There was an incident. It split us all up. The last memories I have of them are seeing them suffer. Seeing them hurt. I don't… I don't want that to be the last things about them that I remember. I don't even know if they're still… here, but I want to find them. I want to see them. And I want to bring us all back together."
They fell silent. Then, after a few paces, Kurapika nudged her gently.
Not as a sign of support. She knew he couldn't support something he didn't understand. But as a sign of comfort. Of reassurance. Of saying "I'm by your side."
A light shone from the end of the corridor. Not the dimmed, artificial light of the tunnel, but a brilliant, gleaming white light.
She beamed and quickened her pace. The exit. That was the exit. Holy crap, that was the exit!
They clambered over the last few steps. Momo doubled over and gasped for breath, the smile still on her face.
Leorio collapsed on the ground beside her. A few paces away, Gon and the unfamiliar boy sat nonchalantly on the grass.
She made her way over to them and waved. "Hey, Gon!" Her voice came out breathy and airy. "Who's your friend?"
The boy blinked. "Friend…?"
"This is Killua! Guess what? He's twelve like I am!"
"Seriously? You're both twelve?" Nostalgia filled her. Like Hibiya, huh… "Anyway, I'm Momo. Over there is my brother, Kurapika. Hey, Brother!"
Kurapika moved towards them and raised a hand in greeting. "Is this our destination?"
"Nope," Gon said, "it isn't."
"I see… The fog is fading."
A wide expanse of dark, bushy trees; short, frizzy grasses; and sleek ferns stretched to the horizon. Fog still clung to the plant life and clumped towards the ground.
"The Numere Wetlands. Also known as the Swindler's Swamp. We must cross these wetlands in order to reach Phase Two of the exam. This place is home to many bizarre animals, many of them cunning, insatiable creatures who deceive humans and prey on them. Be very careful. If you let them fool you, you're dead."
From the tunnel behind them, a metal sheet clanked and slowly lowered over the entrance. A trailing examinee cried out and stumbled towards them, but was locked out.
"These wetland creatures will use every trick in the book to fool their prey. An ecosystem in which creatures obtain food through deceit… Hence the name Swindler's Swamp. Stay very close to me so you won't be deceived."
Momo stretched out her limbs and groaned. Great. More running. After several hours of non-stop running, there's even more running. And she's going to be hunted every step of the way. It'll be like a horde of Kanos pestering her, only they were far more deadly and were actually out to kill her.
Leorio scoffed and straightened. "What a joke. How can they fool us when we're expecting it?"
"Don't let him fool you!" A battered man with torn clothes and dirt stains stumbled out from behind the building. "That examiner is an imposter!"
Momo swiveled between the man and the examiner. Wait, what?
"He isn't an examiner. I'm the real one!" He hauled out a humanoid animal with short purple hair on its head and a curly mustache. Just like the examiner, only its body was a patchy brown. "It's a Man-Faced Ape, one of the creatures in the Numere Wetlands. They love the taste of fresh human meat. However, their limbs are long and thin, so they're quite weak. That's why they disguise themselves as humans. They trick humans into following them into these Wetlands, where they can team up with other animals to kill and devour them. He intends to trap every single applicant!"
Momo frowned and inched towards her brother. "What do you think?" It was true that the examiner- Satotz- had long limbs. But he was able to stay ahead of them and keep his pace, even when examinees started dropping out of exhaustion. But wait, how did the supposed 'real examiner' even get so beat up?
The battered man suddenly seized up and collapsed backward. Three pink cards were buried in his body.
In Satotz hands were three cards, the same pink color as the ones in the man.
A shuffling noise, like paper through air. The pink-haired clown man- Hisoka, she would remember that name- chuckled as he shuffled his cards. "I see, I see… That settles it." His eyes settled on Satotz. "You're the real one."
Momo gaped. How did attacking someone decide who was the real examiner?
The supposedly unconscious Man-Faced Ape blinked. It startled, burst to its feet, and scampered away, screeching.
"Examiners are Hunters selected by the committee to perform this duty without pay. Any Hunter, bearing the title we seek, would have been able to block that attack."
Momo glanced back at the downed man, at the cards buried in his body. He was dead, that much was for sure. But how in the world were cards sharp enough to slice through flesh?
Satotz dropped the cards. "I shall take that as a compliment. However, should you attack me again, for any reason, I will report you for turning on an examiner and you will be immediately disqualified. Are we clear?"
A chorus of harsh cries, and a mass of birds descended on the dead man's body. Their beaks nipped and plucked at the skin and flesh.
She put a hand to her mouth. "Eugh… Gross."
Leorio frowned. "Nature can be really brutal to watch."
"So he was a Man-Faced Ape as well," Kurapika said.
She glanced at him. "You mean, you didn't know?"
Kurapika shrugged. "I was planning to wait and see, but it seems as if the problem has resolved itself."
Satotz proceeded towards the dead body. "He was attempting to confuse the applicants, to lure some of them away. You will be encountering such deception on a regular basis. I believe that a number of you were fooled into suspecting my identity?"
Leorio immediately turned away and laughed to himself. Oh boy, and he was the one most skeptical about the creatures' ability to trick them.
"If you lose sight of me in the Numere Wetlands fog, you will never reach the exam's Second Phase. Do bear that in mind."
Momo shuddered. No kidding. If she lost sight of him… She'd probably be killed. But she couldn't let that happen. She couldn't reunite the gang if she failed. And she definitely couldn't reunite the gang if she was dead. The only way out was forward, now.
Satotz strode back down to the front of the pack. "Then, let us be on our way."
A/N: Question of the day! What Nen type do you think Momo would be based on her personality?
Enhancer- Simple and determined. Core traits selfishness/self-centeredness, straightforwardness, and stubbornness (fundamental inability to see beyond their own perspective).
Emitter- Impatient, not detail-oriented, and short tempered. Core traits volatility and emotion (feels emotion more intensely).
Manipulator- Argumentative and logical. Core traits assertiveness (believes they are right) and control.
Transmuter- Fickle, prone to deceit, and whimsical. Core traits desire and existential uncertainty (never sure of who they are because they're always changing).
Conjurer- High-strung or overly serious, stoic, and nervous. Core trait goal-oriented (often analytical and reserved in pursuit of that goal).
(Not Specialist because I'm planning on doing the same thing with Kurapika to her)
I'm personally going between Emitter, Manipulator, and maybe Enhancer and Transmuter (definitely not Conjurer). This is mostly based off of malleusdeus Reddit user's personality analyses of nen types.