The Cavernous Life of Safety Ninja, Part Two
安全忍者何か書いて – Anzen ninja nanika kaite 

5th of May, afternoon
Four-and-a-half days until Tannoy Clong returns

I pulled my trenchcoat away from me, because the underground cavern was hot. I’m not sure why I even wore it in the first place, although at least it has a lot of pockets for keeping any important clues I may discover safe. I hesitate to place evidence in my ninja-pockets, as my Deep Sai instructors told me that these may only be used to store equipment related to ninja training, and also if you need to carry a lot of dog biscuits for a dog you’ve befriended.

I was walking through one of the nicer areas of the oni undercity, which could almost have passed for suburbia. As I passed a couple who were giggling and holding hands as they headbutted a lamppost together, a well-heeled oni in a vest and top hat carrying a newspaper stopped and called out to me.

“I say there, old sport!” he said. “That’s a fine coat you have on. May I fight you for it? You can have my hat if you win!”

I shook my head, and began to take out my notepad and pen to explain why not.

“Ah, no writing, there, chum,” said the oni. “If you want somebody who reads, the Writer’s just up there, on West Roe. Charming little cul-de-sac.”

I pointed inquisitively at his newspaper, wondering what he did with it if he couldn’t read.

“Oh, I like this for the pictures,” he said. “They’re absolutely the rage of the undercity!”

He held the paper in front of my face, revealing one of Space Dan’s drawings. It was of Hibiya and Martin straightening a garbage can, both with wide smiles on their shakily-drawn and carefully coloured-in faces.

I nodded politely to the oni, who kept walking, conversationally asking the couple if he might join them in headbutting the fence next to them, since it was such a nice day out.

I had wondered how I would know which house belonged to this increasingly mysterious ‘Writer’, but upon reaching West Roe, I found a two-storey dwelling with a large sign, stating “HELLO! THIS IS THE WRITER’S HOUSE! COME IN!” While there was potentially something suspicious about such an incredibly welcoming statement, the overt politeness was enough to reassure me. I approached the front porch, nervously casting my eyes about for anyone like Heyurr Stone, who might use his gun unsafely.

I knocked twice on the door, and found that it swung open. I looked inside. There were signs of a struggle – broken glass, fallen furniture – but given that the Writer was an oni, that may have been nothing out of the ordinary.

I stepped into the house, because I am Safety Ninja, not Anti-Trespassing Ninja. Were it not for my vow of silence, I would have called out ‘Hello!’, or possibly ‘Yoo-hoo!’ if I were feeling jaunty, but as it was, I simply settled for writing the former phrase on my notepad, and holding it up in front of me. I did, however, make sure to bold the words for emphasis.

The house was tastefully decorated, with oak tables covered in footprints and chintz chairs strewn across the rooms, including one that was strung up on a chandelier of hanging fungi. Whoever this Writer was, he had clearly done well for himself.

I went up the stairs and found a slightly-ajar door, which upon pushing open revealed a grand-looking study. Every inch of available shelf space was covered in bits of paper, save for a tiny desk in the middle, which had an ink-pot and a quill. A large, framed scroll hung proudly upon the wall directly behind the desk, with the words ‘Hmm yes writing’ in a calligraphic hand.

I went over to the most recent roll of paper, which was drying on the desk. It read:

hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing.
hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing.
hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing. hmm yes writing.

It went on for much longer than that, but as I am currently moonlighting as a private detective, I do not wish to get workplace-related repetitive strain injury.

‘Hmm yes writing’ appeared to be all that the Writer ever wrote, although there were a few sheets of paper that varied things up with phrases like ‘Hello, hello’ or ‘I am the Writer’. There were also two piles of watches, wallets and shoes – one small pile was unadorned, while the much larger one had things like ‘Property of Greenwich’ or ‘Property of Shibuya’ inscribed on every item.

I lifted one of the shoes from the written-on pile and turned it over in my hand. There was nothing remarkable, and so I went to lift up a leathery purple wallet that had been sitting underneath it.

But what a surprise I got – for when I laid my hand upon it, the wallet let forth a guttural squeal! The pile collapsed to reveal that it was in fact the forehead of a bright purple oni in small eyeglasses, who wore a ruff and fancy gloves.

“Get off, you rapscallion!” squawked the oni, flicking a sandshoe off one of his curly horns.

I quickly wrote:

Are you the Writer?
We need to discuss problems
With the oni gangs.

“Um…I’m the only one who can read and write here, thankyou!” bustled the Writer, “so go away! Get your own city to scam!”

I wrote, tersely:

Irresponsibly
Using your writing skills
For money? Wicked!

I made sure to glare at him sternly, just to make sure that he understood that I didn’t mean wicked in the sense of – to quote Martin’s explanation to me – ‘hype to the max, bro’.

“Oh, come now!” said the Writer. “The people in this city can’t read anyway, it doesn’t matter what I do! They want my writing for its talismanic powers regardless, I might as well save myself the repetitive strain injuries.”

I jotted a quick note asking him what powers his writing possessed.

“None,” said the Writer, “but everybody seems to think that if their name is written on something they own, they can’t lose it and it can’t be stolen. Who am I to argue, when they’re so intent on paying me for it?”

He explained that was why he had decided to hide beneath the pile of labelled objects, because most oni wouldn’t touch anything with someone else’s name on it.

I began to write a query about Mars, since she had sent me to the Writer for answers, but he spoke, in effect over me, before I had finished the sentence.

“I appreciate your dedication to being quiet on my behalf,” said the Writer, “but you may dispense with the notes as long as you keep it to a whisper.”

I shook my head, tapping where my mouth was under my cowl as explanation.

The Writer looked at me in confusion for a moment, then asked if I only spoke through writing, to which I nodded.

“Well, that’s just showing off,” he said, going over and peering cautiously through his windows.

I asked him if the name ‘Tannoy Clong’ meant anything to him.

“I don’t know,” said the Writer, who had been clearly on edge for the entire duration of our interaction. “I think I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never seen his name written down. That could be pronounced any number of ways. T’nnoi Cloong. Tahny Cleng. Tammois Clomb. Tenuis R…”

He was cut short by the sudden sound of gunshots outside! I quickly dived behind the desk, pulling the Writer down with me, ducking as shrivelled-up bits of paper floated through the air. Though I was fine – since I am writing this entry now, of course – the Writer clutched his chest as we landed. Panicking, I asked in very large letters if he’d been shot, and added four or five alternating question marks and exclamation points to stress my concern.

“No, I’m just really hungry,” he said. “I’ve been holed up in here for days, but I’m not going to let them get me!”

He reached into his desk and pulled out a scrap of paper, then threw it out the window in the direction the gunshots had come from.

I asked him what it was.

“Just a little something extra,” he said. “It should keep them out for a while.”

I flipped my notepad back to my previous question about Tannoy Clong, and underlined his name insistently.

“He’s doing very well out of all this,” said the Writer. “Smart, too. Nobody would have…”

There was the sound of breaking glass, and footsteps approaching.

I wrote:

Mars sent me to you.
(Mars the god, not the planet.)
Why did she do that?

“About Clong? Tannoy Clong clawed his way up the totem pole,” said the Writer.

I asked him if this was a metaphor, or if there was some kind of literal totem pole on Mars, because that kind of thing often turns out to be important.

The Writer shot this idea down with a scoffing tone, though he did go on to explain in more detail: Tannoy Clong’s previous captain Hurricane Sal found a very ancient scroll, which Tannoy Clong received when he mutinied against her. This part of his tale reminded me of my classmate Soji and his shenanigans with the Hidden Manual, though instead of being swiftly rebuked and instructed to clean out the guttering of the Secret Mountain, Hurricane Sal was swiftly shot and instructed to die in the desert.

This done, Clong had spent the next few months raiding Martian villages. This was not for any particular reason, he just thought it was fun. Eventually, he stumbled across an entrance to the hollow interior of Mars. I questioned how he got past the Scorpion-man without a passport, but the Writer told me it was a different entrance.

“Clong found the undercity and discovered the truth about the oni,” said the Writer. “How we reflect ourselves on the surface, like mirages.”

I pointed out that the copies of the oni on the surface have physical form but are invisible, while mirages are false images of reality that have no substance. The Writer called me a smartass.

Before I could ask how exactly that worked – something I have been curious about since our encounter on the Salt Flats – the footsteps, which had been traipsing all over the house throughout our conversation, grew conspicuously louder and louder.

“They’ve been wandering around slack-jawed, impressed at my decor,” said the Writer, cleaning his glasses on a patch of his fur. “But now, they’re coming for me.”

He stood up, and held his hands in the air, because he was not at all concerned.

“Hide,” he whispered, as the footsteps drew closer and closer. “They won’t kill me, I’m too important to them. Also, I told them I wrote down a list of all their names, so they’re worried that I’ll curse them from beyond the grave.”

I told the Writer that I could easily fight them off, but he rejected this. The whole city was a powder keg, and all it needed was a spark. I was writing a tanka about how it would also need some kind of blasting mechanism when the door opened, and I employed my ninja magic to leap out of the window, clinging precariously to the sill as I listened to what went on inside.

“Gravesend,” said the Writer. “How are you?”

“This is some dangerous stuff you’re throwing at my boys,” said the oni named Gravesend, who was holding up a scrunched-up piece of paper.

From the way he turned it around, I could see that it had the words ‘Go Away Please’ written on it as I peered stealthily over the windowsill. The other oni flinched as Gravesend held it up, then calmly placed it on the table.

“The Pie Bar Gang is displeased with your work, Writer,” said Gravesend. “It’s a very important day for us coming up, and when an associate doesn’t give us full support…”

The oni next to him scraped his claws over what sounded like a baseball bat.

“Ah…” flustered the Writer. “The thing about that is…”

There was a sudden crashing noise, as another group of oni entered the room, having smashed through the back door.

“Harrrrgh!” screamed the oni.

“Uh…hello!” said a familiar voice. “Um…sorry about your door?”

“You’re not an oni,” said the Writer contemptuously.

The voice sighed.

“He’s a Police Fire News Officer,” said the newcomer oni.

I hit my forehead with my palm as I realised what was going on, although very gently, to make sure that it made as little a noise as possible, and also to prevent potential brain damage.

“Gotanda,” growled Gravesend. “You’re not poaching our Writer.”

“Oh, but he’s under arrest,” said Gotanda.

“He is?” asked Space Dan. “On what charges?”

“You’re the cop,” said another newcomer oni, “you think of something.”

“Do it, pal,” hissed another familiar voice, “these guys don’t mess around. They’ll break your thumbs, so you won’t be able to fight for weeks and weeks!”

Space Dan whimpered, presumably thinking of a potential inability to play his bass guitar.[1]

“Uh….” he said. “Uhhhhhh….”

“Go on, Space,” said Gotanda, and I noted a hint of menace creeping into his voice.

“Uhhhhhhh?” said Space Dan.

There was nothing for it.

I burst into the room, unfortunately without my loaded gun, which I left on my mantlepiece. Still in ninja-speed, I leaped between the two oni who had initially entered the room, and scissor kicked one of them back out of the open window before either had a chance to react. His foot caught the desk as he flew out, upending it and sending paper everywhere. I snatched a pair of blank slips as they exploded into the air, as well as the Writer’s now airborne quill. Dancing easily around a punch thrown by the oni named Gravesend, I rapidly scribbled on both slips, then rapidly slammed one into the Writer’s chest and one into my own, hoping that I hadn’t mixed them up.

Wary of using up too much ninja magic again, I dropped out of ninja speed and returned to a more normal pace, the world ceasing its slow motion around me.

“Wow!” said Space Dan. “That was really impressive, Sa-…say…say I, I do!”

I subtly nodded, happy that Space Dan had not blown his and Hibiya’s cover. Hibiya himself looked deeply impressed at my ninja magic, although given the fact that oni tend to have bulging eyes regardless of the occasion, this may be pride getting the better of me.

Raising my arms, the oni gasped and cursed as I revealed my handiwork: two signs on the Writer and I, their elegant calligraphy declaring ‘Property of The Writer’ and ‘Property of Safety Ninja’ respectively.

“So there!” said the Writer, who was shaking. “You can’t take me, because that’s my name written on my chest right now!”

Gravesend’s eyes thinned.

“Damn,” he said. “That’s some clever work, tapey.”

The oni named Gotanda’s face remained impassive and sort of friendly, but he crushed the club he was holding in his hands.

After some frantic yet dignified scribbling, I handed the Writer my parting words, and gestured for him to read them.

“You should all leave now, because structural damage, and dust is present,” read the Writer, though I was disappointed that he did not read the lines in the correct meter.

However, I nodded sternly at both groups, then escorted the Writer out.

 

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[1] I myself would miss his playing, so I was also somewhat concerned.