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TOTGDK EP 15: Tempering Steel (1)

The abrupt ending of the 1st trial wasn't only a disturbance to the Lead Hunters, it also was causing issues for the recruits as well. The number of recruits left after the end was cut by at least a third, mostly due to the abrupt ending. Obviously, those who were still attempting to finish the exam to suddenly be told they have failed when there was clearly still time caused a fuss. But what was more interesting was those who did pass. There were more than enough whispers and rumors going around about what could have happened to cause this sudden change.

Naxio couldn't help the feeling of guilt as he walked the wall and here the hushed whisper around him.

"Hey, don't do that."

Moushira nudged him at the side, seeing the dark look clouding his face. He turns to her with a sheepish look.

"Sorry, it just... I can't help but feel guilty." He says with a frown.

Moushira lets out an unladylike scoff and waves her hand in dismiss.

"Don't let this bother you, if anything it was the night hunters and lead hunter fault. How would we have known that the inner chamber was off-limits." She said to him in a lowered voice.

It didn't make Naxio any bit relieved though. Especially after he and his group were all questioned immediately afterward in detail. Fortunately, there really wasn't anything to tell them. Naxio didn't know how he got into the inner chamber, and nothing from what any of them said seemed to point to any other conclusion.

"....I know but..."

The pair suddenly stop as they entered the dining area. It was mid-day, classes had just ended for a break so the dining area was much more packed than usual. What causes them to pause however is seeing a familiar figure seated alone at one of the many tables.

"It's Kaldov..." Naxio said in an almost sad voice.

Moushira however has an oddly determined look on her face. She then suddenly turns to him.

"Let's go!" She declares before walking directly over.

"Wai-wait Moushira!" Naxio tried desperately to stop her but it was already clear she was determined on her destination.

So the pair walked towards Kaldov who much like when they first join him in the dining area is looking over some books in front of him. Moushira appears completely focused on him while Naxio can't help but feel the stares around them. It felt similar to when they first joined him months ago but something was different in the gazes.

They felt colder.

Soon the pair arrived at Kaldov's table. He doesn't look up at first, but when he does, there is almost a shocked expression that passes over his face. But just as quickly as it was there, it's gone in the next second.

"Are you avoiding us?" Moushira asks bluntly, looking annoyed.

Naxio throws her an uncomfortable look before turning away. He already knows what Kaldov is going to say. Kaldov looks to both of them, a small frown on his face. He then turns away, a bit of a gloomy look on his usually stoic face.

"...My father found out about what happened in the first trial."

Naxio closes his eyes as he knew this was going to happen eventually. He shuffles a bit uncomfortably next to Moushira who looks at Kaldov a bit shocked and concerned.

"Oh, a-are you in trouble?"

"...Not exactly.... but he was...voiced his concerns about the people I'm choosing to be around hindering my studies..." Kaldov says bluntly.

Moushira stiffens as she looks at Kaldov. A deep frown pulled to her face as she read between the lines of what he was saying. She couldn't hide hints of pain in her face as she could practically feel a door closing between the pair and Kaldov. Naxio behind her looks like he wanted to run away completely from this whole situation.

"..O-oh well then-"

"So I've been studying more since then. Sorry about that, didn't mean to avoid you guys." Kaldov says simply looking back at them.

It was silent for a few moments while Nacio and Moushira just stared at Kaldov. Both of their expressions are vivid looks of confusion, not quite at the moment, following what he was saying. Moushira was the first however to catch on to what Kaldov was saying and a small smile came to her face.

"...You've.. you've been studying?" Moushira said with a small laugh.

Kaldov even had the nerve to nod as if it were the most obvious thing. At that point, Moushira did let out a small laugh. Kaldov was still a rather interesting puzzle to her. It was obvious that he knew what his father was trying to tell him to do. But Kaldov, either chose to tactically work around his words or just plainly didn't care.

"Are you guys going to sit?" He said with a tilt of his head.

Both Moushira and Naxio slowly sat down, relief filling their bones at knowing that they haven't lost a friend. Moushira does glance around again, now feeling the many eyes on their table.

"...Does-does other people know about it? Is everyone still staring at us like this?" She said, give a few tables glares which many the occupance turn away.

True to his nature, Kaldov just shrugs, completely unbothered by the eyes of their peers watching them. He even stares some of them down without even a flinch before answering.

"Hmm, it's possible. It's one of the many rumors swirling around anyway." Kaldov said nonchalantly.

"Oh, right. Have you seen Thakan? We've been looking for him as well." Moushira asks while taking a bite of her food.

Kaldov pauses for a second before answering.

"I have... but I think he back with his clansmen now.." Kaldov says with a slight frown on his face.

Kaldov suddenly raises his head a bit and then nods in a direction.

"There, over there in the corner table."

Moushira and Naxio follow to where he motioned and seated among a group of unknown recruits were Thakan. But something about it didn't sit well with either of them.

"...Does he seem ... off to you?"

Naxio could help but nod at Moushira's observation. Granted their interaction with Thakan was... limited given that the boy didn't speak much. But they remember how he was with them, quiet but a watchful guardian. Looking at him now, however, it was like a completely different person. Thakan was on the very end of the table, not speaking which was normal for him. However, the look on his face and his overall demeanor spelled a different story. He was almost scrunched up, to appear as small as possible. A deep frown on his face, his eyes not leaving the table before him. The rest of the group at the table was talking among themselves, completely ignoring Thakan.

"Why are they ignoring him?" Naxio asks in confusion.

It was rather odd to see Thakan sitting so stiffly at the table. Moushira was frowning and her eyes were scanning the group.

"...Naxio, you mentioned when you first met Thakan, back when he was Ying corrupted that is. His axe was bloodied and he was injured right?" She said in a low tone.

Naxio looks back to her a bit shocked that she remembers since he himself had almost completely forgotten the first meeting. Granted there was a lot happening at the time although.

"Um, yeah I think so... he never really talked about what happened to him. I just assumed it was like me and he couldn't remember?" Naxio said, taking another bite of his food.

He flinches a bit at the bland taste. He hasn't had a chance to cook for himself as of late considering that things haven't died down as of yet from the first trial.

"...Maybe when we get a chance, we should get him to eat with us. He doesn't seem very comfortable over there anyway..." Moushira said casually but her eyes never left the other table.

Naxio wanted to agree with her however he was more conscious of the group that Thakan was with. From their cloth coloring, they were all indeed of the Oodan clan. And if there is one thing he knows from sure from reading about them, the Oodan clan isn't known for being friendly. They are known for their short temper, berserker-like fighting style, and battle-hungry personalities.

"Ah.. yeah maybe.." Naxio responds, not too eagerly.

"Oh! You can even cook Naxio! We never got to have our home-cooked meal day!" Moushira said eagarly.

Kaldov also nodded along, even though his overall facial expression didn't change even in the slightest. Naxio let out a small laugh, not used to anyone feeling eager to have him cook for them. He's never actually done it so now he could help but feel like second-guessing himself.

"-Excuse me?"

A voice sounded next to their table, one that was familiar to Naxio in particular. The trio turned to see who had ventured over to their table and was pleasantly surprised.

"Li-Ren!" Naxio said with a soft smile on his face.

Li-Ren nodded back to him with a small smile of her own. It had been a while since Naxio had last seen her. Her hair was slightly longer and her overall expression seemed tired.

"It's been a while..." Naxio said a bit shyly.

"It has indeed.." She replies in turn.

Her gaze seem to look him over, what she was looking for in particular Naxio wasn't sure of. But after a quick overlook, her expression did soften a bit. Perhaps she was relieved, Naxio thought to himself. But as soon as the thought crossed his mind, he shook it away.

"Did you need to speak with me Li-Ren?"

She looked almost shocked at his question, stumbling a bit before answering.

"Ah, well if you have time that is.." She answered a bit awkwardly.

Naxio nods to her before letting Moushira and Kaldov know he would be back. He and Li-Ren then walked out of the dining area, they stopped in a generally secluded section of the halls. Now that he was out in the halls, he felt slightly lighter in comparison. The weighted gaze of his peers must have been weighing on his mind more than he realized. He then turns to Li-Ren who appears a bit off-balance in a way.

"..Are you okay Li-Ren?" He asks her a bit worried.

The last time she appear even worried, she was trying to warn him about the upcoming exam. Perhaps she was trying to let him in on some more knowledge?

"Oh um... it's nothing... I just..." Li-Ren starts to speak before trailing off in silence.

Naxio now was more visibly concerned as this was the first time he ever witness his usually calm and cool cousin acting so nervous. Li-Ren suddenly takes a deep breath and then lets it out with a sigh.

"...I'm sorry. I guess I'm more tired than I thought... The first trial took a lot out of me than I realized.."

"Ah, yes... I understand that.." Naxio nods.

He still fills the fatigue of the trial even though it's been at least a week and a half since it ended. Also, the nightmares of reliving seeing the Vuqun's death haven't left him either.

"....Su-Len failed.."

Naxio's head snaps up at Li-Ren announcement, his eyes wide in shock. He wasn't expecting to hear her say that.

"W-What? How? What happened?!" Naxio questioned.

Su-Len may not have been as strong as Li-Ren but that didn't mean she was powerful. How could she have failed?

"...She was one of the recruits who were still testing when the first trial was ended suddenly." Li-Ren said with a sigh.

A cold stone felt like it dropped into Naxio's stomach. The guilt came quickly after as Li-Ren words swirled in his head.

"And the Lead Hunters aren't saying anything on the matter.." She said with some frustration.

Li-Ren unfortunately wasn't paying attention closely enough to Naxio at the moment. If she had, she would have immediately noticed the stiffens in his pose and the paling expression on his face. Both of which he hid to the best of his abilities as soon as she did look at him. It's wasn't a flawless transition but she must have been more tired than she let on since she didn't really make much comment on it.

"But you're sure you are alright?" She asks more for her own peace of mind than his own he realized quite quickly.

He nods to her quickly, not trusting his voice to give away what he is already barely keeping under wraps. The soft yet tired smile on her face widens a bit more which in turn causes the hungry ache of guilt to also widen in Naxio's heart.

"I'm happy then that you are okay. I won't bother you further." That was all she said before nodding to him and then leaving.

Naxio stayed rooted in place for a while, just watching her as she walked away. Her words didn't leave him even as she disappeared around the corner. He could help to imagine the devastating look on Su-Len's face after she was suddenly told she failed even though it was apparent that there was still more time! His mind quickly ran to not only her but the many other recruits who also received a similar sentence. Not even given a full explanation for why the sudden change. He knew that if were him, he would feel nothing short of an agonizing disappointment.

So he stood there frozen, thinking... agonizing over the hurt he surely was the cause of.


His head turns slowly, Moushira and Kaldov were standing just behind him. Moushira had a concerned look on her face as she appeared to want to reach out to him. Kaldov on the other hand was looking at him with a measured look. As if assessing what could be wrong with him. Naxio just gives them a smile, it was forced but neither felt like wanted to press him about it.

"Ah sorry about that. I just go through talking with Li-Ren." He said.

Moushira purses her lips in thought as she tried to navigate a way to seemingly ask whatever question was on her mind.

"..Did she ...say something?" Moushira asks.

Naxio shakes his head.

"No, nothing really....It just... one of our cousins didn't pass the exam..." He said a bit vaguely.

Neither Kaldov nor Moushira pretended like they didn't understand what had happened. Most of the recruits were still quiet on end about the abrupt ending of the 1st trial. And given how things were in the lunchroom, it didn't take a genius to gather what Naxio was feeling about now. Naxio could see the looks on their face and only lets out a small weak laugh. Moushira is the first to try and speak up if anything to break the self-deprecation Naxio was already on.


"If you are going to try and say it's not my fault, please don't..." He said in a rather gloomy tone.

He looks to the ground for a second before looking back at them.

"It's kind of a running thing about me any! Being the cursed child of the Mizune clan after all!" He says with a wooden smile and fake joking tone.

"Naxio, it really isn't your fault though!" Moushira tries to protest.

"Isn't it though? He said looking back at her with an almost unfeeling look.

She opens her mouth to counter but he just shakes his head.

"Moushira, if it wasn't for me, a third of this year's group of hunters would still be here. Maybe not all of them would have passed but not all of them would have failed either!" Naxio said with a small huff, anger built for himself, the situation, etc.

"Yeah sure maybe, but you can't honestly take all the blame for that Naxio!" Moushira protested again, this time glaring at him with a frown. "I don't care who everyone says you are or whatever! It's not like this is life or death, they can always take the exams again!"

"...And what if there's a major Daemon attack? It's happened more over the last years than it has in over 10 years. This could have been the only chance to become a hunter!" Naxio responds darkly.

Moushira is struck silent at that. He is correct that the Daemon attacks have been becoming more and more frequent every year. Because of this, the Daemon Core has been so severe on only choosing the best-qualified hunters. It was the fact that he is trying to connect these two completely unrelated instances to somehow blame himself that was grinding on her nerves.

"Seriously Naxio? I don't think-" Moushira says, now getting rather frustrated.

Kaldov suddenly steps forwards cutting Moushira off. Naxio is still caught up in his guilt doesn't even look at Kaldov. Kaldov however gives him a quick look over before speaking.

"....I never imagine you would be one to give up so readily." Kaldov said with arms crossed over his chest.

Naxio glares at Kaldov before responding.

"What are you talking about?"

Kaldov gives him a look before answering, it was almost a mocking one but his face is still too neutral to say whether it was or not.

"Before the first trial, you made that big announcement about showing your clan how you were going to change and show them your worth. And yet here you are acting as if you are giving up already." Kaldov said in an almost disappointed tone.

Naxio's mouth was left open in shock at that rather blunt statement from Kaldov. But after his words sunk in, Naxio frowns in annoyance and glares at him. He didn't appreciate Kaldov tone or the way he was looking at him like he was almost expecting this from Naxio.

"I'm not giving up!" Naxio yells out.

Kaldov just stares back at him for a moment before a smug almost taunting smile comes to his face.

"...Good. Then stop worrying about things you don't have any control over." Kaldov says simply.

Naxio wanted to say something back but given how plainly the other boy just dismissed all his worries, he didn't know what to say. He could help the slightly bristled feeling as he still glares a bit at Kaldov who doesn't look even the least bit bothered. Moushira who was just watching the two interact quickly chooses to interrupt.

"Guys, we have to get back to class so..." Moushira trails off expectingly.

Kaldov doesn't need more prompting than that as he walks off. Moushira follows but not before nudging Naxio with a small smile.

"Don't worry so much Naxio... Kaldov is right that you shouldn't worry about things you have no control over."

Naxio looks back at her before looking down in thought. He hated to say that Kaldov's words affected him but they did, he couldn't help the sense of relief as he thought about what the other boy had said.

"...Okay.." He finally says as he looks back at her.

She just smiles a bit bigger and then proceeds to draw him into a conversation about other things. Naxio knew she was just trying to distract him from any further dark thoughts and he appreciated it. Off they went to class, and everything felt like it was slowly going back to normal..

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