Austenite state - soft or hard
Sorry about the delay in responding! Been away...
Steel, in the austenitic state before quenching, is just about as soft as it can get. Not only is the temperature nice and high, so you have the drop in strength due to elevated temperture, but you also have a structure that's devoid of stuff to interfere with dislocation motion. No big carbides, now piles of dislocations due to cold work, nothing of that ilk. So yeah, it's dead soft.