With the information on the looming trial in their heads, the trio continues out their day. The remainder of the day passed by slowly but they had taken training to a new level.
For the days to come, they trained hard and learned as much as they could about upcoming trials. However unfortunately there wasn't much more to be found about these Paths of the Hunter. It was however very obvious that all the recruits knew what was coming. Tensions were coiling and growing ever steadily. It got to the point where even some of the recruits were resigning under the pressure.
It wasn't until three weeks had passed that finally everything was revealed. In the earliest cracks of dawn, a familiar and loud drum sounded. It didn't take long for the recruits to gather since this was something they had been anxiously waiting for.
They were herded into one of the meeting rooms. It was filled with countless whispers of the recruits who were both curious about what was happening and also nervously questioning what this new test was about. Naxio, Moushira, and Kaldov were fortunately seated close to each other and remained silent. However, Naxio couldn't help but feel a sinking feeling in his stomach. It wasn't until Lead Hunter Iakovos entered the room that finally everything died down to a hush. His steps were loud and could be felt through the room. His face was twisted into a stormy expression. Eyebrows pulled tight together, a deep frown on his face and his eyes seemed to glow with angry energy. He turned to the class once he had reached the head of the room. His intense eyes gleaming over each person, measuring and judging.
"Recruits!" He yells, his voice echoing through the room.
"As I'm sure you all figured by now, a new trial awaits you all. However, this is unlike any other test. This is when your true training to become a Hunter begins."
The room was deadly silent, everyone's eyes were peeled onto the Lead Hunter.
"The Paths of the Hunter are a set of 3 trials that test the very fundamentals of what it takes to become a Daemon Hunter. Your mind, body, and soul!"
He pauses for a sec and looks again through the crowd. For some reason or another, he appears almost disappointed after his sweep of the room.
"The first path, the Path of the Mind is a test of your mental fortitude. Those who are weak-willed cowards will be weeded out first, as I can see some already have."
The temperature in the room seemed to almost dip at the end of his sentence. He let out a huff of disgust as his eyes seemed to just dig into every person seated before him. As if the idea of even allowing them to take such a sacred test was turning his stomach.
"You will be dropped into the Ashvel Caverns, and will have 5 months to escape. Failure will mean your immediate expulsion."
The silence was so deafening that one could hear a pin drop. But after hearing the ending section of his statement, everyone erupted in anger.
"Y-you can't be serious?! Sending us into the hell hole!!"
"Yeah! The Ying corruption hasn't been purified! Even after the Daemon King Ashvel's death!"
The complaints built up and continued. Iakovos was quiet for a while, however, it was obvious from his expression and body language that he was slowly growing annoyed. It was until the room was practically echoing with all the different voices of the recruits that he finally spoke.
"ENOUGH." He bellowed out, his voice easily overtaking the room.
The room fell to a hush quickly and all the young eyes turned back to the front of the room. Iakovos's face was twisted with disgust and anger, clearly, his patients had run out.
".. I neither care or have any desire to hear your whining and complaining. If it was up to me, I would just fail all of you here and now and start on the new batch of recruits."
Silence answered him, no one breathed or even blinked in those few moments.
"The Ashvel caverns are indeed a maze-like terrain filled with Ying energy. You all will be dropped into the cavern and your task is to escape before the 5 months cut-off. Everyone will be equipped with a signal flair which can be used to contact one of the observers. In doing so you forfeit your daemon hunter entry and will be removed from the cavern. Any questions?"
Silence answered him, no one dared even raise a hand. He then nodded to the group and then walked away.
Everyone was silent, whether due to shock or the fearful weight that weighs on their future. Slowly the crowd began to disperse until only a few remained. Naxio looks back to his friends, a deep and worried frown on his face.
"What do you guys think? A-are you worried?"
Kaldov and Moushira looked at each other for a second before turning back to him.
"Nah, not in the slightest." Moushira says almost in a bored tone.
Kaldov seemed to mirror Moushira's nonchalant tone with a small shrug. Naxio couldn't help but smile at his friends. Their confidence was definitely infectious.
"I envy you both. I'm afraid that I will be knocked out not even an hour in, let alone a full month." Naxio says in a gloomy tone.
Moushira frowns and walks closer to the boy, placing both hands on his cheeks and forcing him to keep eye level.
"Ow! Moushira, what are you?!-" He yells as he tries in vain to get her to release his face.
"I'll only say this once Naxio so you better listen good!"
Naxio stops struggling at her serious tone and facial expression. He isn't used to such a stern look on her usually friendly face.
"You will do better than anyone! You have a strong spirit. I can see it! So stop worrying already, okay?"
He meekly nods which clearly isn't enough for her as she pitches his cheeks a bit harder.
"I can't hear you~"
She then released his face. Naxio immediately rubs his swore cheeks and gives her a glare to which she grins widely and mischievously.
"You're a menace."
"And you better remember that! I don't want to ever hear you talking bad about yourself again, understand? That's what we are for!" She jokes casually throwing a look at Kaldov.
Kaldov nods which given his rather stony expression make the situation all the more weird and funny at the same time. However, Moushira's little stunt did the trick of breaking Naxio's negative spiral. While he still doesn't have that great of an option of himself, he believes in Moushira. He can do this, he made a promise after all.
After a few more minutes of just chatting around, the meeting room is completely cleared. All the recruits' minds are strung tight combing through all the possibilities of the test to come. The only question that couldn't be answered is when will it start?
The next morning arrives all too soon but it was strange.
Naxio couldn't hear the normal sounds of morning drums or the whipping of the winds against the compound walls. The air around him was cold and had a smell the made his heart clenched tightly. It wasn't until he rolled over a bit in what he thought was his bed until he hit something sharp and sturdy. His eyes shot open, around him was nothing but damp darkness. What little bit of light was just peeking out from cracks in the ceiling. It didn't take a genius to guess where he had been transported. The air was thick with Ying energy, he could hear whispers, voices melding together in agonizing moans and sorrowful cries. He couldn't help but jump at some of the shadows as they appeared to reach out to touch him.
This was hell, this was the Ashvel caverns. The resting tomb of the fifth daemon King Ashvel, also known as the "Eternal Torment".