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TOTGDK EP 16: Tempering Steel (End)

Classes have resumed as normal for many of the recruits. The rumors however didn't stop completely but they did lessen as the weeks drew onward. Now everyone was anxiously waiting for the next trial.

"The anticipation is driving me crazy." Moushira said with a small sigh.

The trio was once again in their usual spot in the garden area of the compound. It was a peaceful day thus far, they had a break in between classes. There weren't many people in this location today, which wasn't surprising since a lot of the recruits were gone after the trial but also many have taken to using the break periods for training. Moushira places a hand on her shoulder and tries to massage away a tightened muscle.

"All this none stop training during breaks has been making my body really tense."

Kaldov and Naxio could only nod in agreement with her. This has been the first day in weeks since they decided to relax instead of training. Naxio couldn't help but feel thankful as he feels much stronger than when he first came. Before he could barely hold a simple barrier spell but now, it's as easier than breathing for him. Considering all he had been through, he realized that the sink or swim method does have its perks sometimes.

"Ohhh! That smells so good!" Moushirsa said as she watch Naxio pull out some wooden containers.

The smell of the food was quite amorous, it wavered from the containers in the air. Kaldov even looks over in mild interest. Today was finally the day that they decided to do their homemade cooking day. Naxio could only sigh as he remembered the struggle it was to gain access to the cooking area of the compound.

It was at least the 2nd or 3rd week that they had been back and tensions were still pretty high. Naxio could practically feel himself still pacing around like crazy. Li-Ren's words were still echoing in his head which didn't help in the least bit. Even with talking and Kaldov and Moushira, his mind just kept returning to what she said about Su-Len, and the guilt would just come rushing back as usual. It was at this moment that Naxio finally decided to take the plunge and ask the cooking attendants if he could use the facilities. For Naxio, cooking was a stress reliever, it made his mind focus on something else. Whenever he was truly stressed, cooking always helped. But he wasn't expecting to get such a hassle for asking.


The head chef glares down at the boy before him, a nervous little thing that he truly didn't get why he was even talking to. Naxio looks to the ground a bit defeated at the clear and harsh rejection. This wasn't the first time he had come to only be rejected, he has been coming here for the past week. Every day however is the same answer.


"I said no." The head chef said again, now glaring at the young boy before him.

Naxio frowns a bit and looks to the floor dejected. The head chef is a large man who stands easily over Naxio. A bulking form of muscles with dark colored hair that melts into slivers. His dark-colored eyes are hardened and coldly looking down on him.

"Oh? It's you again? Trying your luck once again young recruit?"

Both Naxio and the head chef turn to the voice sounded. Since it wasn't lunchtime, the kitchen was mostly vacant but there walking up to them was someone that Naxio had seen a few times he had come by before. It was a young woman, her long dark brown hair was pulled into a high ponytail. Her eyes were a soft brown and looking at Naxio with a gentle look. She smiles even as she walks over to them, even given the stern look the head chef threw her.

"....Bai Zhen... What are you doing here?" The head chef asks in an unfriendly tone.

She doesn't appear bothered by his tones, in fact, her smile widens even still.

"Ah, I was just checking the stock for later on tonight. Why don't you let the boy cook here, Garthan? It's not like it's against the rules." She says casually.

Garthan's eyes narrowed slightly and he suddenly started the extrude his Yang energy. The pressure weighed down on Naxio like a heavy load, he could barely keep himself steady. He struggled to look up between the two, however, Bai Zhen doesn't seem bothered at all by the pressure. For a few seconds, there is a silent argument between the two but for Naxio under this pressure, it felt like hours had passed by. However just as it started it suddenly stopped, and along with it, the pressure disappears immediately.

"..Fine..." Garthan said in a grunt before walking off.

The kitchen was silent for a moment before Bai Zhen turns to Naxio, not even disturbed by what just occurred.

"Ah, don't worry about him." She said nonchalantly as she waves a hand. "He's just grumpy is all. So what are you going to make?"

Naxio couldn't help but feel a bit off-balance from her rather overly friendly attitude especially given how tense it was just a few seconds ago. Also given the fact that no one really ever showed interest in his hobby even back home, this was a new feeling for him.

"Oh um.. fried beef and noodles." Naxio said a bit shyly.

Bai Zhen gave him an awestruck look.

"Ah, that sounds good! Maybe you can share some with me when you are done? Though we are assigned to cook here, the food isn't all that flashy." She said with a sheepish chuckle.

Naxio didn't agree with her out loud, not wanting to offend her. But it was true that the food here was all rather general and nothing was too over the top. The food here was okay but if one was used to certain types of foods or spices, it can make you miss home somewhat. Naxio does however agree to let her other request of tasting the food once done. After she showed him the way and gave him some left-off foods to work with, Naxio immediately got to work.

After about 20 minutes, he finished.

"Wooooaaahh!" Bai Zhen said with widened eyes.

She was inspecting the dish Naxio made with the wonder of a child who just got a new toy. Naxio felt nervous as this was the first time someone else was eating the food he prepared.

"Ah um... let me know if you want something changed!" Naxio said quickly as Bai Zhen took a bite to eat.

It was quiet for a few seconds, Bai Zhen had her eyes closed as she ate. Naxio was still nervously hovering at her side, waiting in anticipation for her verdict. Suddenly her eyes snapped open and she looks to Naxio with an almost crazed look.

"Are you a master?!" She said.


Naxio leans back as she pushes her face closer, her eyes bludging out almost comedically.

"Or maybe you are a genius?" She mumbled to herself.

"Eh? What do you mean?" Naxio asks now a bit confused about her reaction.

She suddenly grasps his hands in her.

"..Marry into my family."


Naxio looks back at her now extremely confused and now slightly concerned. Did his food make her go crazy or something? Was it really that bad? All these crazy thoughts and theories were running rapidly in his head.

"I have a younger family member. She may be a bit rough around the edges but she can be easy to deal with after you learn something an-"

She would have kept going if not for being suddenly interrupted by Garthan's return and him bodily pulling her away from Naxio. Naxio was now utterly lost in what was going on even as Bai Zhen looks over at Garthan.

"Hey, hire this kid! Garthan, are you listening to me-" She started again talking with Garthan like the man wasn't openly glaring at her.

"...What are you talking about?" He asks with a sigh.

"Look, eat some of what he made! It's so good!!" She praised as she motioned to the plate till on the stone counter of the kitchen.

Garthan gives her a look before turning to Naxio who looks down immediately before his gare finally falls upon the plate.

"Ah. I don't think.." Naxio wanted to say something but both two adults ignored him.

Garthan took a bite of the food he made. Another lapse of silence before suddenly Garthan head turns to Naxio. An unspoken look in his eyes made Naxio shift uncomfortably.

"....Work here."


The memory of this meeting was something that Naxio wasn't expecting. From then on he was allowed to use the kitchen and whatever leftover ingredients were left. Garthan and Bai Zhen sometimes would watch as Naxio cooked and ask some questions. Naxio lets out a small sigh as he shakes away the very strange memory. Moushira, at the time, had already opened the containers and was practically drooling over the food inside.

"Oh...this looks so good!"

Even Kaldov who is usually void of any expression also has an eager look on his face. His gaze looked over the dish and a small smile comes to his face.

"..You made beef and noodles.." He said.

Naxio glares at him as he explains.

"It wasn't really for you. I just didn't have much else to go off of since Moushira didn't have really any preferences."

Kaldov however simply ignore Naxio and proceeded to start eating. Naxio didn't eat yet as he was trying secretly to watch both of his friends for their reaction, well Moushira's more so than Kaldvo's anyway.

"Hmm!!!! Ah, it really good!!" Moushira said with a happy smile on her face and an almost sparkle in her eyes.

"Hmm, it's good." Kaldov nods, a small smile on his face.

"Make curry next time." Kaldov suddenly says as he turns to Naxio with a serious look on his face

Moushira couldn't help the laugh that bubbled out as she watches Naxio glare at Kaldov. Kaldov on the other hand doesn't appear disturbed at all or even bother by the heated look Naxio was throwing him. He was returning the look with an expecting look of his own.

"Are you ordering me?" Naxio said unhappily with a frown.

"It's so you know what to make next time." Kaldov said simply, going back to eating without care.


"Ah, relax Naxio. He said the food was good! He's probably just eager to eat some again! I know I am!" Moushira said with a wide smile.

Naxio looks back at her with an unhappy pout but nods either way. Moushira's expression though suddenly become clouded.

"..But I wish Thakan was here..." She mumbles a bit.

Naxio looks at her a bit sadden by her expression. They had been trying to speak with Thakan but each time, the boy would coldly brush them off or is with his clansmen. Moushira almost got into a rather heated argument with one already over trying to speak with the silent boy.

"..Don't worry, we'll talk with him again. Although..." Naxio trails off a bit his gaze turns a bit mischievous.

"I'm surprised with how concerned you are given how you were when we first met him." Naxio said teasingly.

Moushira looks at him suddenly with a small blush on her face.

"Hey, it's just that he looks so miserable! I mean, whatever going on with his clansmen must not be good? He was happier with us!" Moushira explains with a pout.

Naxio did agree with her that there was surely something odd about the dynamic between Thakan and his other clansmen. He appears to be treated more like a wall than a person. No one talked to him and he just silently followed behind without protest. When he was with them, they would always speak to him even with the limited responses he gave. He appears more relaxed and at peace with them.

"..I know Moushira. We'll get to talk with him eventually again. It's just... difficult right now is all."

"Yeah, and the next trial is just around the corner. I just wish they would announce it already than dragging on the time. "

That was another thing that Naixio could scarcely believe himself that he's been training for so long now. Ever since that faithful day, he was announced to join the hunter core, it's been more or less a shock to him at every turn. There are still sometimes he thinks to himself that maybe he isn't cut for being a hunter. His mind suddenly flashes back to the mess with Vuqun back in the cavern of Ashvel.

He knows that Daemon's are their enemies but seeing that hatred displayed in such an .. ugly manner... changed something in him. He looked more into Vuqun when he arrived back in the library, she was truly something of terror back in the day for the hunter core. Countless upon countless hunters had fallen under her claws and maw. She was once even all the "Dark Terror" for her wings would blacken the skies where she went.

He should be happy that she is dead. He should be relieved that his choice didn't result in more death.

But it just wasn't the same.

He couldn't help remembering seeing her face as she spoke of Ashvel and what the hunter core had done. She suggested that the hunter core had forced Ashvel's hand. That the war was something was a tale of revenge.

He just wasn't sure who or what to believe...


His head snaps up at Moushira's voice. She was looking at him a bit concerned.

"You alright? You've been losing yourself in thought a lot since we got back... Are you... still feeling guilty?" She asks with a frown.

He was of course, but he smiles at her and shakes his head.

"No... just also thinking about the next trial I guess." Naxio says.

Moushira frown's a bit deeper as Naxio is sure she saw through his weak lie but she doesn't push further and also nods.

"Yeah, I just hope it's not like that last one." She said with a sigh.

The trio then spoke for a while and soon their break was over. The day continued on and from there, slowly but surely another week had passed. By this point, a lot of the recruits were restless. Some were even bold enough to ask some of the lead hunters when the next trial was coming. And of course, they received no answer. Summer soon gave away to the cool autumn breeze. The change in temperature was notable on the compound given how high up they were. The air was already getting brisker by each morning.

It was one cold morning when the compound was awakened to the familiar sounds of war drums. The drums though they were anticipated for some long still caused a shake through the whole compound. Quickly the recruits filed out into the courtyard as they did before with the first trail however this time they were greeted by a different lead hunter.

This one was a woman, she was tall with long dark blue hair which fell to her waist. Her were bright green, shining in the morning light. She was standing confidently before the group of recruits while holding an elegantly designed staff. Her robe colors were mixes of blue, white, and gold. She was of the Astinia clan, one known for their use of staves at weapons and their exceptional purifying skills.

"Good morning recruits... I'm sure you all have been eagerly awaiting this day." She speaks over them.

There was not a single word of response, everyone was peeled attention to her.

"No complaints? Iakovos must have been quite rough with you young ones?" She said in an almost joking tone.

Her attitude was kind, something that was a general contrast to the lead hunter that was before her. However, the recruits were a bit too harden and tense. Many of them look like they were already defeated before the exam has even begun. She smiles down at them with a soft look.

"..I know some of you all are feeling a bit hopeless or rejected but please keep doing your best. A hunter doesn't give up even faced with an impossible task. You all have proven yourself well, all you must do is hold fast to that commitment." She announced.

Her words do have a small calming effect of though present. Some who had tense looks on their face seemed to relax.

"Now to explain the next trial. This trial is the trial of the body. It will be a test of your strength and also a bit of teamwork assignment. You will be paired with one other person and will be brought to the Rowan forest."

There were a few whispers and murmurs at the words that the lead hunter spoke. Some were eager to know that they will have a partner while others were curious about the location. Naxio also thinks to himself as well. The Rowan forest lies to the southeast of the compound. It is said to be a sacred land because it was the final resting place of Rowan who was one of the greatest Daemon hunters of her time. It was also there she single-handedly defeated the 3rd Daemon King, Zarkal. It was a brutal battle which no one assumed she would be able to win, but against all odds she did. She was from the Astinia clan so the rumors behind why there was never Daemon activity was that when she died, she used all her Yang to purity the land, and her body acted as a vessel. The once barren lands that were once there became a lush forest that no Daemon would ever set foot in.

At least that is the tale anyway.

Naxio was surprised that they would be allowed in such ground given how particular the Astina clan had been in the past about their lands. The forest in question is in the northern region of the Astina lands.

"There you will be tasked to hunt Daemons that we personally have brought. Each Daemon is marked with special markers. Once killed, we will know and will add your points accordingly." She said as she then nods to a hunter nearby to her.

The hunter in question holds up a paper to the crowd of recruits. On it was four symbols, each with a different color. The first symbol looks like a simple circle, colored in black. The next one was a double circle this time in yellow. The next symbol looked like a circle with an x through it, this one was colored in orange. The last symbol was just a double x colored in blood red.

"The symbols before you will determine the points on the daemon in question. Black gives 1 point, yellow gives 5, oranges give 20 points, and lastly red will give you 50 points. Note that these colors are not simply a point arrangement. Those in orange and red are notably stronger than the others. Fight them at your own accords." She announces.

The courtyard is silent however it was clear that there was an ominous sense over the recruits now as they think about her words.

"Your goal is to make 500 points. This goal is shared between you and your partner. Note that the points will only be granted to the ones who land the killing blow. You can have you kill poached from you if you are not careful."

This announcement creates a murmur of whispers as everyone is now looking between each other.

"You will have 5 months to make this goal. If you have not, you will fail and be sent back. You will make your teams, the only contrast is the team must be between two different clans."

That caused a shock to the recruits who were more than ready to pair up among their clans.

"Make your team now. You will have 30 minutes before the exams starts."

There suddenly was a scramble for people to team up. Naxio and his group looked at each other.

"So should we just pair up together then?" Moushira said.

"Hmm, but we need one more.."

Moushira then looks around quickly before a smile comes to her face. She suddenly dashes off and then just as quickly returns back with the familiar form of Thakan who is looking very similar to a lost puppy.

"Ha! Finally got him!" Moushira said triumphantly.

It didn't take long to find him. After the announcement, Thakan was abandoned quickly, he stood out sharply given his size so she spotted him easily. He wasn't expecting her to just suddenly grab him and pull him over to them though. Thakan looks a bit uncomfortable as he turns his head away.

"It's good to see you again Thakan!" Naxio said politely.

The quiet boy looks back at him and nods a bit timidly. Naxio could help the small smile forming on his face. Given that they both were a bit on the shyer side, he felt kin to Thakan in some ways.

"Now we have enough!" Moushira said with a wide smile on her face.

Kaldov just shakes his head with an almost resigned smile.

"I'll pair up with Thakan." He says.

"Then I'll be with Naxio then!" Moushira says with a matter-of-fact nod.

Naxio lets out a small sigh as he just nods in agreement. Soon the recruits were quiet again as everyone was properly paired up. It was a wonder how she knew there was an exactly even amount, most likely the deciding factor in choosing to have them pair up instead of any other team size. As Lead Hunter looks back out over the crowd, she nods at seeing everyone paired up.

"Good good! Now there are a few other things we will give to you while you are there."

A few hunter came up to the recruits given them a bag. It kind of reminded Naxio of the bag given in the first exam but a bit bigger.

"Inside will be the similar tools given during the first trial. Just in case of any emergency. You have also been given a tracker charm. It will glow in the presence of a marked Daemon. It will also have your team's score on it. Use it to keep a track of your score."

The sound of drums sounded again and a familiar glow formed around the courtyard. It was a transportation spell again. However, before the recruits disappeared the lead hunter said one more thing.

"I wish you luck recruits! We will be watching and waiting for your return! Hunt well!"

And with that, the transportation spell finished, and in a blink, all the recruits were gone. The start of the second trial of the Hunter had begun.

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