Chapter 32:

Elvish Cartoons


"Uh-huh, I can definitely see that!" Renra answered literally, looking down at the ash.

"Afraid?" Valefar asked, a hint of ironic callousness ingrained.

"Yep!" The boy looked up to the vampire. "Well, I mean less so. But, definitely still a little bit."

Renra's fingers pressed against his neck. He counted the heartbeat that came to follow.

"Actually, never mind. I'm still pretty scared."

Valefar didn't respond. He instead lifted his right arm and let Renra loose.

"Let's go."

His words were lighter than usual. As if it was saiid with a smile.

"Coming right through!"

Renra rose swiftly and eagerly. With the vampire leading the way, the two went through a series of stone hallways. Though thankfully, lit up by torches this time.

Eventually, their journey took them to a strange structure twice their height and width.

Composed of three golden inner circles with strange symbols and colours. The duo assumed it to be a door from the way it looked. The question then was how to open it.

Valefar had prepared to touch it when a strange voice bellowed. The vampires' eyes bore into the ground, where the voice seemed to come from.

"Hey, hey, students! It's the one and only Azama Meyos!"

His voice was a baritone of ice that sent a chill down Renra’s spine.

"So, I see you lovely duo have stumbled across one of my Azamazing Doors of Amazing Aquestionaires!"

No reply was given save for Renra’s nervous cough.

"Now, now, no need to be so grumpy. All you have to do is solve a little quiz, and you'll be right on track to meeting your friends!"

Valefar took the news as he always did, absorbed in silence and with a face of apathy.

"Uhhhh." Renra stammered, hoping to break the silence. "Well, we're uh." He broke off in an awkward pause. "We're ready to take you on!"

Azama laughed. "Now, isn't it nice to see that someone appreciates all the hard work put in!" The gladdened voice came with an addendum. "Let's get onto the Azamazing Aquestionaires!"

Cries permeated the distant hallways.


"Question one! Why are androids and golems so common in Elvish cartoons?"

"Wait, what type of question is that?" Renra asked. "Uh, that's some pretty niche stuff..."

Valefar's eyes narrowed. "Do you know anything of these 'Elvish cartoons'?"

He did, but only to the extent of seeing it on wayward posters or internet clips. Besides the occasional video game, Renra largely cooked, trained and read. Prior to arriving at Althaiez Academy, anyway.

"Nope!" He therefore replied, completely honest.

"Very well." Valefar primed into a martial arts stance.

His fists did all the answering. The vampire struck the strange door. Then the sound of fist against stone reverbrated the hall. Then the vampire struck again.

Renra thought it was a hopeless endeavour. The door didn't so much as move from Valefar's attacks. It instead, barely visibly, budged by a millimetre upon each strike. Which, upon further consideration, may very well have been a figment of his hopeful imagination.

And so Renra stood, and to the best of his ability, thought very, very hard. So elvish cartoons. Uh, why do they put androids and golems in them again?

He couldn't quite see the logic in it.

"Wait, why would elves put golems in their cartoons?" Renra said. "I mean, is that like a thing?"

"They.” Thud. “Probably.” Thud. “Like them," Valefar replied between his punches.

Wait a minute... Renra thought. It's because they like it!

Logically, if people like something, they'll include it more! That's why people salt their food, not because of some strange mystic code, but because it gives the food depth!

"The elves include androids and golems because they like it!" yelled Renra, intending to answer the question.

"True!" Azama agreed. "But that's too easy." He chuckled. "You're going to have to explain why they like them!"

Renra was tempted to say that wasn't fair but thought better of the idea. Time was passing by quickly.

"Stay cool Renra!"

Golem take magic, yes. Sooo elf good magic, yes. So make golem come natural yes!

And, if it comes naturally, that means many of them. And if there are many, more people will like them!

But that didn't quite justify the inclusion of androids. Why would the elves rely on androids? Renra supposed androids were machine things, made of science and foreign to elves.


"Valefar, what are androids?"

The vampire stopped his attacks and stared at the door. "Thinking machines." He had to ponder for a second. "They live in artificial bodies."

Renra nodded in approval. After which, hearing the impending wails of despair, he said absolutely nothing. There wasn't any semblance of an answer he could give. Certainly, golems being commonplace was justified, but androids?

Man... The sounds of wails were getting louder, Renra noticed. For some reason, though, he was more concerned with getting the question wrong than being mauled by ghosts.

Renra's lips pulled downwards. How am I supposed to be a hero if I can't solve a quiz? His mind had abandoned any hopes of logic solving and instead thought If only we had more people around to help...

More people... Renra strangely considered More people.... WAIT A MINUTE!

Something clicked inside Renra's head. Remembering a detail from a textbook he read long ago, the whole situation became one big puzzle. And he had just the right piece to solve it with.

"Elves include androids and golems in their cartoons because they like them, but they like them because, well, their population is relatively small, and they need people to uh, work right?!"

While phrased rather poorly, given the possible outcome of imminent mauling by weird pale ghost spirits, Renra's point came across nonetheless.

Azama declared with a performer's edge, "Ding ding ding, you've answered correctly!"

"Well done, “ Valefar complimented.

"Now, we just have to wait ten seconds for dramatic effect and have you lot escape in the nick of time!"

"Wait, what?"

Whimpers and wails were tenfold their previous volume and accompanied by strange ringings upon walls and ground, maybe a good few seconds or so away.

Had he more knowledge, Renra would've figured Azama to be a devious fellow, a person who delighted in forming delicate scenarios and situations and thus implemented a ten-second delay for 'dramatic effect'.

Alas, Renra had no time to think about it.

All that came through was that it would take ten seconds for the door to open. And that Renra confided that ten seconds would be enough.

Ten seconds, however, was not.

Renra soon saw a massive block of those creatures manifest. Stacked upon each other like conjoined bodies. They clamoured straight from a left corner, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Large enough to fill the whole space. Hammering upon walls and the hearts of those nearby, one eldritch crawl at a time.


The vampire glared menacingly.

With a mutter of utter revulsion, Valefar made an order.

"Stand back."

Renra did just that. Because he was riddled with thoughts of his mortality, he even tumbled over while doing so. Rolling into a wall, the boy watched what should've been the cause of his unconsciousness.

And instead, he saw Valefar hold a scythe.

It was a red thing. The same colour as all his swords before. But it was longer. Sharing the same height as Valefar. One glance was enough to send shivers down Renra's body. He did not understand why.

Valefar threw the weapon in silence. It flew straight onwards and slashed through the middle of the giant blob. Renra knew it wasn't enough to stop the horde. That the remaining two halves would've ended it thus.

"Mania Perit."

The vampires' free hands slammed into each other. That was when the scythe folded into itself. His weapon formed an orb of blood, and that orb of blood soon became an explosion.

The sphere burst with such power that it sent miniscule droplets of blood all over. Spraying the immediate area in uneven pools of red. Though unable to render the blob of mass dead, it had served its purpose. Poking holes in the creatures' integrity, severing several legs or arms along the way, destabilised their momentum.

A moment later, the stone door opened.

Renra wrenched to get up. Fear made him weak. Turned his mind into muddy water and his body a limb noodle, befuddled by the usual clumsiness and ineptitude.

Once again, he struggled for some time. And once again, Valefar picked him up. Then charging forward through the stone door once and for all.

Upon entry, the door behind shut with a hefty crash. Both Renra and Valefar inhaled. Finding themselves in a strange new place, Valefar looked for any sign of comfort. He found a long wooden bench and seated himself on there, Renra then doing the same.

A burst of modest laughter went up from Renra. "Well, sorry you had to carry me again." He was met with a slowed series of breaths from Valefar.

It occurred to Renra that the vampire was exhausted, having depleted most of his energy and blood in several instances, stretching from the ghosts to the Black Knight, then to carrying him repeatedly.

Renra offered the vampire peace. He was probably tired and wanted a moment of quiet. With the situation under control, the boy found his wits again. Using it to inspect his surroundings, Renra came to realise that they were in some sort of sauna.

No, to be more accurate, it was a steam room. Hot vapour poured into every pore of Renra's skin and eyes. To the extent that nothing, save for what was an arm's length ahead, was visible.

Resulting from his heritage in a hot region, where such facilities were rare, Renra was distinctly unaccustomed to the place. There was an effort to enjoy it, but it was offset by the incompatibility in taste and soon dwindled. As Renra wiped off his forehead sweat, he saw something emerge from the steam.

"Renra?" said Ceylica.

He laughed merrily. "Yep, you got it!"

That which emerged was, in fact, Jaiga and Ceylica, tattered and wearier than usual, but in their fully corporal form, regardless.

In her usual plate and spear, Jaiga glanced down. "Are you hurt?" She said brusquely.

"I'm doing just fine!"

Renra waited for an answer from Valefar. The vampire remained without a word. He had said nothing all the time, and Renra only then understood that his body was still, very still. So much so that it invited the question of whether Valefar still breathed.

Renra moved slightly forward, shuffling across the seat. He rested his finger on the vampires' neck. There was a pulse at the very least, faint but present, even so.

"He's tired," Renra said as Jaiga came to check for herself.

"Has he any wounds?"

"No, but he did use that blood weapon of his several times, and I think he even cast a spell at the end."

"Most probably, that Idiosyncrasy of his proved to be quite taxing. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Power is not exempt from that." Jaiga figured. "Are you of able body to carry him?" The Paladin then asked, suggesting she would fulfil the role if necessary.

Renra's hands fumbled to pick Valefar up. "Yeah, I can definitely do that!"

"Good. Then I suggest we proceed swiftly and leave as soon as possible."

Jaiga's words were hurried, some caution evident in her voice.

"Stay close. If you get lost, don't move. Rest where you are and await us. Remember my words well. By no means are you to shout either, and if you hear but do not see us, respond with only silence."

Her words were oppressive. Intentional or not, the image of an untold horror was clear in Renra's mind. He ought to have remained silent. But, like a fly to the light, he was drawn in.


"I will spare you the knowledge," said Jaiga, mercy in her eyes. "You need not know."

The light proved to be a flame. Wreathed in its fiery gospel, Renra felt part of him waste away. Incinerated by the very truth he sought to understand.

Well, you can only be brave if you're scared!

Whatever courage left, however, was enough to bring Renra to a stand. Firm as ever, the boy nodded, grinning at the other two. Fear may have led his mind astray, but courage had put it back.

Noticing his determination, Jaiga smiled.

The paladin walked a few paces to a left turn and Renra followed just behind. Ceylica, who was designated with guarding the rear, tailed the two with loud steps. Engaged then to the speed of a modest jog, the trio traversed through the hallways. Never knowing what may lay ahead, but hoping that it was good all the same.

Steward McOy
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