A week has passed more quickly than Naxio or Moushira could have imagined. Naxio had blamed the clear lack of vision of the sky beyond that of the small holes which were dotted in the ceiling of the seemingly endless cavern. A few more things had also become more clear as they traverse.
The most important thing was that it would seem that during the night times, the power and corrupting pull of the Yang energy seem to be strongest. Mostly due to the fact that the mind is more open to attack during the time that one would be usually unconscious. They had a few close calls with some Yang corrupted recruits however fortunately they had been too distracted fighting each other to pay the duo any mind. There was also some Beast-type daemon in the cavern as well, nothing quite as dangerous as they were expecting but still an extra layer of difficulty added to their survival and passing of this test. They have actually found a nicely secluded area that they've been using as a sort of home point to try and explore around to get a better understanding of the cavern they are trapped in. Sadly however it feels as if the caverns are cursed in some way. Every turn seems to lead to another turn but then that next turn almost looks identical to the last.
“Ahhh, this place is really annoying. If they wanted to just fail us, then they should have just done that instead of jerking us around like this!” Moushira complains for what feels like the 3rd time today.
Naxio gives her a small smile but he does understand her frustration. It had already been a week and some days since they’ve been here and he thought that maybe the cavern was a complex labyrinth that needed to be solved. But for this past week, it did appear that something was different here. Each turn felt too similar to the next. After going straight for a long time, you were suddenly back at the beginning again. It almost felt like a…
“Wait… what if it's a hex..?” Naxio said in a thoughtful tone.
Moushira shoots him a both confused and unsure look.
“Uh, a hex? Are you sure Naxio? I mean I get that it's taking a long time to find a way out but hunters can’t create hexs, you do know that right? The only thing that can make a hex of this size would be-”
“A Daemon king, right.” Naxio said simply as he looked up at her with a concerned look on his face.
Moushira quickly raises a hand to her temple as she now is thinking over what Naxio’s is insinuating.
“Wait wait, Naxio you think that the Daemon King Ashvel placed a hex on this place? I mean okay, sure maybe he did it when he was still alive but at this point it's been over 200 years, there is no way the hex would be holding?” Moushira said.
“Hmm that is true..”
A Daemon hex was something that hasn’t been too heavily detailed about in Daemon Hunter logs. However the details that were noted were enough to place an icy pit in anyones stomach. Hexs are magic formations created over an area that acts as an entrapment. It causes illusions within an area, making a seemingly normal forest appear endless and overlooming. When one would hit the wall of the hex, they would then be transported right back inside of the hex, seeming to continue the walk when in actuality, everything has been looped. The magic is old and powerful, so powerful that only a Daemon King or at least high ranking daemons could cast and maintain such a feat. Once left for a while without the magic being refueled the hex will slowly break. At least that is what is assumed from the Daemon hunter logs anyway.
“But it would make sense though. Every time we walk forward, we eventually hit a wall and then boom, we go back where we started without even knowing. Leaving signs or marks is useless since the hex will reset as soon as we hit a wall.”
Which is what made a hex curse so terrifying for a hunter to be caught in. Unless you knew you were inside of a hex, it would be almost impossible to get out. Moushira lets out a groan as she rubs her head roughly.
“... Okay so let’s say that’s true. It's been too long again. The hex should have dropped by now. The other thing that could keep a hex supplied is steady Ying energy at its core!”
“Hmm, that's true.. Maybe the story wasn't true? Maybe they never did destroy Ashvel’s body after all and just keep it here?”
“Hmm that would make sense. It would also explain why all the Ying energy is trapped here. No energy can freely pass by a hex from what I understand.”
A lapse of silence befell the two of them as they thought over that information.
“... But one thing that isn’t sitting with me. Would the instructors really send recruits here? I mean honestly, the amount of Ying energy is enough to drive anyone mad. It eats away at the mind like a staved man. It's been a headache every day to keep my mind from wavering.” She said with a small grimace.
“And to add a hex on top of that? Seems a bit over the top and also extremely unwise! Are they trying to get us to fail?”
“... Maybe they are? Or maybe they are just showing us what truly it's like to be a Daemon hunter.”
Moushira looks over to Naxio with a look of shock.
“I mean, honestly I don’t think they would just throw us in here just to die. I mean, remember what Lead Hunter Iakovos said? That they did give us those flares?” Naxio said as he grabbed his flare from his pack.
“Naxio I don’t think that a flare is really gonna do much in this situation! I mean what if you get corrupted? You’re not going to even think of firing it!” Moushira said, throwing her hands up in frustration.
“But Moushira, these are Daemon Hunter flares…” Naxio said as he turned his over to show her.
Moushira’s head snapped back to Naxio in surprise as they both closely examined the “flares” that they were given. Daemon Hunter flares are a vital and deeply secreted tool used in every hunt. At the sign of overwhelming danger the user uses it to signal for help as one would with a flare. However, the flare itself is a bit special in the sense that a signal is placed not only in the general area but also sends a direct signal back to the Daemon Hunter city. It enables anyone who receives the signal to directly teleport to the location where the signal was placed. An extremely valuable and one of the crowning tools created for the Hunters.
However the one vital drawback from the tool that was found was that this tool also works in reverse.
Who holds the flare may also teleport directly to the city if needed to get out of a sticky situation which has proven to be useful however this also this magic doesn’t omit anything from passing through. This is what happened many years back during the rise of the 8th Daemon King, Mammon. He learned of this tool and used it to launch a direct attack on Xeyver. It was almost the end of the hunter core after that brutal strike. This is why Mammon earned the title of the “Daemon Executioner” and was one of the most hated Daemon Kings even over that of King Ashvel.
“So then you are right? This is just a show of what it will be like in real life.” Moushira said in a slightly unsure tone.
Naxio’s expression clouded over as he digested that thought. While the idea that the instructors didn’t just leave them without an out is nice. Still, the risk was high, what if you couldn’t trigger the flare?
“...There must be something else here then…” Naxio mumbled as he thought.
“Hmm, what’s wrong?” Moushira asks as she leans back against the cave walls.
“... Well even with the flare, it is still debatable that they would be able to save a recruit if they are in serious danger… I mean unless they are here with us-” Naxio said before suddenly stopping at the end of his sentence.
Both of them looked at each other as the idea toiled in their minds.
“..That would make sense. I mean having a few here would make it easier to keep track of everything. I mean, I doubt they would want to have any wasted potential killed in here. Daemon Hunters aren’t that common so resources can be just thrown away.” Moushira said with a shocked look on her face as she further realized the plausibility of this train of thought.
“Maybe that is what also happened in the Dawn of the Hunter. I mean Yulen found us pretty easily I would think, especially since we were in a cave.” Naxio responded
“Hmm, then that means they are tracking with a clarity spell? So then that means they are most likely at wherever the exit is. Watching and tracking everyone.”
Naxio nodded. If their train of thought was correct then that means every second has been tracked and analyzed from the start. Every moment to try and struggle is being monitored and graded for its performance. Moushira lets out a loud sigh as she rough runs her hands through her hair.
“Ugh, my head already hurts, and now I have to worry about being watched to see if my performance is up to par??! Ahhh this is so annoying!”
Naxio throws her a weak smile.
“Well I mean so far I think we are doing well! If our thought process is correct then all we have to do is find our way through the hex? Then we should be transported out from there?” Naxio said with a hopeful tone.
“Hmm I guess..” Moushira said with a sigh.
Then her head turns a bit and a frown forms to her face.
“Although, I kind of hope that the sleeping beauty over there wakes up soon. Carrying him around will slow us down by alot.”
Naxio also followed her gaze as they both took in the Oodan clan boy who even after a week hadn't regained consciousness. Naxio has tried again and again to wake him to no avail.
“Hmm, yeah, maybe I should try again? His consciousness is there, but just far away. Maybe it had something to do with how he got corrupted in the first place?”
“Yeah, I guess. Try again and maybe-” Moushira suddenly cuts off as her whole body tense up like a coil.
Her eyes narrow as she appears intently staring out of the small tunnel that they were in. Naxio doesn’t speak but could tell whatever she was sense had something to do with the wires she has place outside of the area they are in.
“Daemon or person?” Naxio asks a bit tensely.
“Daemon, 100%. It's big enough to brush against both the floors and wall at the same time. It's moving quickly, I think it's chasing something. I don’t seem to feel legs so maybe it's another snake?” Moushira said with a clench in her jaw as she thought back to the monstrous snake they encountered before.
A dark pit filled Naxio's stomach as he too thought back to that dire situation. If there was something like that in these caves Naxio is sure they would be goners.
“So what do you think? Should we leave? We don’t know if whatever it is chasing is another beast or a recruit.”
“..I’m not sure. I need to recall my wires and it's moving this way quickly. So whatever it's chasing is also quite fast as well.”
Just as Moushira finished that, they both could hear the upcoming rumbling. It would appear the time for planning was over. Both Moushira and Naxio nodded to each other and darted out of their hiding spot to place a trap for whatever was coming. The area they were in wasn’t as large as the clearing before with the lake but it was spacious enough for a fight without issue. Moushira quickly recalled her wires as just as they appeared from down the tunnel so did whatever was moving their way. However what appeared first wasn’t a Daemon, but a person.
A familiar one at that.