This is a rewrite of a one-shot short story that I posted a few years back, with extended scenes and a much better writing talent. I rewrote it specifically so I could enter it in the fan fiction contest at a con I want to attend, but also so I could see how much better my writing style has gotten. I think it's improved a lot, don't you?
Disclaimer:I don't own Hunter X Hunter, Kurapika or anything else related to the series. I just like to write stuff. Deal with it.
There was one thing, at least, that could be said for this place: It stank of death.
The Hunter wrinkled his nose, dropping his normal façade just the slightest in the privacy of the empty field. The disgusting odors of fire, blood and rot hovered over the barren, charred earth like a rancid fog. The underlying sent of decay was a tad bit stale, indicating that some time had passed between the massacre in question and his present time.
According to the information he had gathered from the surrounding villages, this area had once been a small tribal settlement, and the gray stone walls that had guarded it were still mostly standing. However, every building had been burned to the ground, staining the dirt black with dark ash. Soot and dried blood covered everything in sight, except for the graves.
The burial places seemed to be the only things that had been touched since this massacre had occurred. Dozens of mounds stretched over the hill, each defined by a wooden cross and decorated with a flower. He noted these as he moved between them silently. The flowers must have come from at least a mile away, since they had obviously been laid fresh and everything short of that mark had been burned to the ground. The only question was, who would have so much dedication as to…?
A sudden change in the grim monotone caught his eye. Not too far from him, at the very end of the line of graves, there was a tall tree, that had managed to remain standing despite having been charred down to little more than a twig. Curled at its base, there seemed to be something…blue.
As he drew closer, he soon saw that the blue 'thing' was actually a small child, no older than eleven, wrapped in a frayed, filthy blue robe. The poor thing was covered from head to toe in dust, ash and dried blood, so much so that it was hard for even the experienced Hunter to tell if the child was male or female. His hair was several inches longer than shoulder length and had been turned light grey because of the soot, though the blonde roots showed from underneath. His soiled, wounded hands were clutching a tattered brown bag and a strange weapon made of two swords attached with a short length of chain. Streaks of gleaming saltwater had cut shallow paths through the thick layers of grime on his face.
The first thing that the Hunter did as he came to the child's side was press two fingers against the side of his throat. He discovered a shallow pulse and, upon closer examination, a series of ragged breaths, but other than that the boy did not look well. His skin was cold and clammy, but his face raged with fever, and he shook with each breath.
The Hunter wasted no time, lifting the small form into his arms. The figure shifted slightly and, for a moment, a sleepy head turned up to look at him with half-open brown eyes.
The man gave him a soft smile. "You're going to be all right."
Small hands curled into the cloth of his jacked as the head dropped back again, into aching unconsciousness. The Hunter sighed, making his way out of the broken iron gates and straight to the closest available inn.
( - ) ( - ) ( - )
It was well past sunset and the innkeeper was just beginning to lock up for the night when a light ring, indicating a new customer, echoed through the building.
The innkeeper was an older man who liked his rest, so the unexpected interruption prompted a bit of sour mumbling under his breath. "Crazy…who'd be out at this time…?" The bell rang again, more instantly. "I'm coming, I'm coming!"
As he stepped up to his place behind the counter, he found himself facing a familiar back. A light groan escaped his lips. "Not you again," he grit his teeth, wiling himself to be patient. "The bar's closed, and I don't care how much you'll give me, I'm not going to…Jesus!"
The Hunter had turned to him, revealing the soiled, blue, breathing bundle in his arms. A determined, cold look radiated from the Hunter's dark eyes. "I need a room."
"Uh…Yes, sir," the Innkeeper scrambled for the key, trying to keep his mind on the right track and off of the strange child. "Here it is. Will you be paying with cash or…"
"This," the Hunter shifted his load into a one-armed grip just long enough to slide a small card across the counter at him. "Put it on this."
It took the Innkeeper a moment to realize that the card bore a striking mark made of two intersecting Xs…the symbol of the Hunter Organization. The card was the man's Hunter License. Even the night before, when he'd rung up over two hundred dollars in dinner and grog, the man had paid in cash. He seemed like the kind of man who didn't want to leave a trail. To use it now…It must have been something important.
Sudden footsteps pulled him out of his thoughts. The Hunter had left the card with him, taken the key and was now bearing his burden to the room. The Innkeeper took the card carefully, well aware that it was a precious treasure, and found himself asking before he could stop himself. "Sir…That kid. Is he…Kuruta?"
The Hunter paused, but did not turn back. "Yes."
"Jesus," the Innkeeper swore again. "I've never seen one that young. Mostly, it's the adults who come down this way…trading for the things they can't grow themselves."
The Hunter frowned lightly and looked down at the child in his arms. The little blonde was still asleep, curled tightly into the warmth of the man's chest.
"We saw some smoke coming from the Lukso area a couple of weeks ago…" the Innkeeper babbled on, unable to stop himself. "But the Kuruta…They're private folks. Fighters, too. Usually best to leave 'em to their own devices…"
Still, the Hunter said nothing. The Innkeeper, beginning to become perturbed, stared at the man's back as though he had been hypnotized by it. "Did something bad happen, sir?"
"Yes," the Hunter said shortly, and disappeared into his room.
( - ) ( - ) ( - )
Fire blazed around him, hot and fierce, tinted red by the same blood that covered his body. Screams and cries echoed through the air, accompanied by the sickening sounds of swords slicing through flesh, necks being broken, and unseeing eyes being dug out of their sockets.
He fought his way through the flames desperately, stumbling through the rubble as the cheers and screams grew closer and closer. His slippered foot caught on something in the ground, sending him crashing to the ground. He turned and looked up at the scarred image of a twelve-legged spider as a deep, evil laugh filled the air…
The little blonde boy burst awake with a cry of both pain and fear, throwing the heavy covers of the bed off as he struggled to get away from his nightmares. Almost instantly, a pair of big, strong hands grabbed him by the wrist and shoulder, forcing him back to the bed firmly, but not quite hard enough to hurt.
"Calm down," a deep, unfamiliar voice hissed. The boy kicked and struggled hard, trying desperately to wrench away from his attacker. "It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. You're going to be fine."
The boy took in a stuttered sob but let his body go limp. He lay there, alternating between frustrated sobs and gasping for breath as the stranger pulled the blankets back over him, tucking them under his chin.
"That's better." The man whispered, brushing his bangs back from his forehead and applying a cold rag. He lifted the boy's head gently with one hand, guiding a small dish to his lips with the other. "Here. Drink. It's water."
The child suddenly realized just how thirsty he was and gulped down the offering thankfully. The man lowered his head back onto the pillow gently. "There you go. Just take it easy."
The boy looked up at him and blinked. His vision was hazy from his exhaustion and blurred by the tears, so that he could barely make out the tall figure beside him. "Who…Who are you?"
"A Hunter." The man smiled softly, checking the cold compress again. "…Can you tell me who you are?"
"…Kurapika." The child mumbled, already snuggling back into the soft mattress as darkness tugged at his eyelids. "My name is…Kurapika…"
( - ) ( - ) ( - )
The next day was the first time Kurapika had eaten something solid in over a week, and it showed. All manners were forgotten in the desperation to get something with substance into his deprived body. The Hunter didn't say anything about his rudeness, simply sat by his bedside and waited patiently until the eleven-year-old had finished.
Washing it all down with a glass of water, Kurapika felt strangely content as he settled back against the headboard with a small sigh. At a young age, there is very little a full stomach can't find a cure for, even if it was only for a short time.
The Hunter smiled very softly as he put away the dishes, then cleared his throat. "Kurapika." He said, with the air of one trying to softly break some kind of terrible news. "I don't mean to trouble you, but I need to ask…Do you remember what happened to you before you were here?"
Something sharp tightened around the child's heart and images flashing before his eyes. Blood…fire…twelve-legged spiders everywhere, carved into the walls, into corpses…dead crimson eyes, staring up at the knife as it came down…
He shuddered, closing his eyes to will away the heat that had gathered behind them, but nodded. "Y-Yes…"
The Hunter's voice was gentle. "That village…Did you live there?"
"…Can you tell me what happened?"
Kurapika closed his eyes, feeling small pricks of painful tears beginning to swell up behind him at the thought. He forced himself to be calm, trying desperately to keep his voice even as he spoke hesitantly.
"I…I wasn't there," he muttered, looking down at the bed. "I went into the woods…I was looking for some of the flowers that Mama liked. I couldn't find any, an' I got lost. I though somebody was gonna come find me, but…" he sniveled and wiped his eyes, "nobody came."
The Hunter nodded in understanding and wiped the tears away with a corner of the bed sheet. "What happened?"
"I…I don't know!" the little boy blubbered a bit, new tears quickly replacing the old ones. "When I came back, there was fire everywhere, and smoke, and…and they were there!"
"I don't know." Kurapika shook his head. "I don't know…They were strangers, but not a lot of them. They had a…a flag. With a spider on it. It had twelve…twelve legs…"
The Hunter nodded in understanding, taking a deep breath through his nose.
The little boy continued, feeling the desperate need to conclude his tale. "I…I got scared. I ran away and hid out in the woods where they didn't come looking for me…And when they left, everyone…everyone was…"
"Dead." The Hunter whispered solemnly, and patted the child's head to indicate that enough was enough. Kurapika sniffed and hiccupped a bit, rubbing his eyes in an attempt to hide his tears.
The Hunter leaned back in his chair, turning his head to look out the window, ushering in a long moment of silence. The only sounds in the room were the wind rushing through the open window and the bustling of the inn commons down the stairs. Then the Hunter spoke again.
"A twelve-legged spider…That group is infamous." He clicked his tongue slightly. "They have a lot of different names…the Genei Ryodan…the Phantom Troupe…Most call them the Spiders. They're a gang of bandits, robbers and murderers who go after whatever they want and kill anyone who gets in their way…"
"I'll kill them."
The Hunter looked back. The little boy was furiously rubbing tears away from his eyes…now red in all manner of description, as the irises burned a blazing scarlet…and expression between rage and sorrow twisting his face. "I'll kill them." he was sobbing. "I'll kill them, I'll kill them all…"
The Hunter didn't react, turning his head back to look out the window again. "The Spiders as a group are a Class A bounty." He said softly. "Highly dangerous, and very few have ever been able to take even one of them…"
"I don't care!" Kurapika snapped, looking up with blazing crimson eyes. "I'll get them, every last one! I'll destroy them, I swear, I'll get them, and I'll get them all back…I'll get them back…"
The Hunter was quiet another long moment, then stood, shaking his head softly. He put a hand on Kurapika's shoulder an ruffled the boy's hair. "Get some sleep. You're still too ill to be out of bed."
The little boy sniffed but did as he was told, pulling the covers up to his chin in despondency. The Hunter closed the curtains, dropping the room into almost total darkness, making his way out the door and back to the rest of the inn.
"Class A bounties are impossible…and illegal…for a normal person to go after." he said, pausing in the door to look back at the already half-asleep child. "To go after them…you'd have to be a Hunter."
( - ) ( - ) ( - )
Kurapika awoke the next morning to bright, merry sunlight filtering in through the curtains. He sat up with a yawn and looked around for his mysterious benefactor, but found himself very much alone. In fact, most of the things that had been in the room were now gone- the Hunter's brown jacket and scarf, his hat, his shoes, his equipment. All that was left was Kurapika's own bag full of the few traditional clothes and other artifacts he'd managed to salvage from the wreckage, sitting next to the wooden table with his weapon, and a plate of meat and eggs that he could only assume was breakfast.
The boy pulled himself out of bed and padded barefoot down the hall and stairs, aiming for the inn's open entrance and dining area. His hair was tossed and tussled, and he knew he must look rather silly dressed in only the thin white clothes that had been the final layer of his robes, but at the moment he really didn't care. He turned his head back and forth has he hurried into the common room, searching without avail for any sign of the Hunter.
The innkeeper looked up from his desk as he came down the stairs. "Well well. It's nice to see you up and about, young man. You had us all quite concerned."
Kurapika blinked at him, then came to the counter so he could look up at the older figure. "That man…The man who brought me here," he said softly, bracing his hands on the edge of the wood. "Where is he?"
"That man?" The innkeeper smiled a bit. "He left late yesterday afternoon. Paid all your expenses for the next couple of weeks and left. Asked me to make sure you got off all right."
Gone? Kurapika was dumbfounded. The Hunter was gone? But he hadn't even told him…had he even asked?
"Did he…Do you know his name?" The boy asked, looking up at the man again.
"As a matter of fact, I do." The innkeeper smiled again. "That Hunter passes by this way at least once every year or so. As much of a nuisance as he is with the grog, he always pays well and he's upstanding enough to take his personal business outside when the need arises."
"But what was…"
"His name?" A cheerful smile worked its way over the innkeeper's lips. "His name is Ging. Ging Freecs."
( - ) ( - ) ( - )
Kurapika couldn't believe that he hadn't made the connection before now. Hadn't he been Gon's companion now for almost a month, fighting alongside the brave young boy, maneuvering their way through the Hunter Exam, supporting each other all the way up to the end of the final round. There was even a part of Kurapika that hoped, even after the past four years of near isolation, that Gon might actually be one of his first real friends since his tribe's destruction. And yet, even though Gon had been speaking of his father for the entire stretch of the Exam, it had never crossed Kurapika's mind that the young boy's great Hunter and the enigmatic hero of his own childhood were one and the same.
And yet that name, and the mysterious file in the Hunter database, confirmed it. He had been…and was now…traveling with the son of the man who had inspired his journey in the first place.
After taking about an hour to contemplate the poetic irony of it all, he'd finally decided that sitting around like an idiot wasn't going to do anything, for his memories or his conscience, which was why he was currently waiting on the airship's main deck and trying to work out what, exact, it was that he wanted to say.
He was so deep in his own thoughts that a sudden but familiar voice from behind startled him enough that he jumped.
"Hey, Kurapika!" The boy grinned as though he hadn't a care in the world, not even taking into account the sudden shock that he'd given his friend. "What's up?"
Kurapika sighed, and leaned against the railing, trying to think of where to begin. "Gon…"
"What?" The twelve year old grinned again, leaning back on his heels. "Did'ja wanna talk about something?"
For the first time in all his years of trained eloquence, Kurapika found himself at a loss for words. He did want to talk about something - that's why he come here in the first place, wasn't it? To talk about it? - but for some reason, the words would not come.
If he thought about it, really, what was there to say?
'I feel like I owe you a debt because of something your missing father did for me.'
'Even though you've been talking about it for the past three weeks, I just realized…'
'Your father saved my life?'
Even thinking about it, they all sounded too stupid to becoming from someone who was supposed to be as educated as he was. Without thinking about it, he sighed again, prompting a concerned look from his young companion.
"Hm?" The blonde shook himself out of his reverie. "I…I'm sorry, Gon. I guess I lost my train of thought."
At that moment, a light tone rang through the ship, followed by the captain's voice over the intercom: "Attention passengers, we will be arriving at our destination soon. Please prepare yourselves for arrival."
Another wide smile spread across the boy's face, and he took a moment to leap up onto the bars and look down over the country they were about to land in. He twisted back to his companion, balancing on the bottom rail on the balls of his feet. "We better go get everything, right, Kurapika?"
"Yes…" the Kuruta shook his head and smiled back. "Of course. You go on ahead…"
The boy scampered off back towards the cabins. Kurapika it took a moment, but finally the words came to him. "Gon?"
The boy slid to a stop, turning on his heels. "Yeah?"
"If you ever need anything…" The blonde lowered his eyes just a bit, for a split moment feeling like he'd been reduced to the child he'd been four years previously. "You can always call me."
Gon paused, and Kurapika wondered if his sharp senses had picked out that there was more to the words than just face value. Whatever realization he might have had, it was gone in the next instant, and his grin was back in place just like always. "Thanks! And don't you ever hesitate to call me, promise?"
As Gon scampered off to his cabin, Kurapika lingered for a moment longer. He braced one hand on the railing and turned his brown eyes to the sky, contemplating the workings of fate and everything that was involved with it.
And then he went to prepare himself for the next league of his journey.