It’s Oni Natural, And, A Faer Assumption

 

“The oni are a vicious race of invisible demons,” said Robert, “not tufty people pretending to be Edward G. Robinson.”

“He’s right,” said Haizea. “The oni are all but undetectable, while you’re…pretty obvious.”

Hibiya was making a loud snorting noise and bashing his own nose in frustration as she spoke.

“I’m tellin’ you all, I’m an oni!” he said. “Whadda you know about oni, anyway?”

“They attack people on the surface,” said Haizea.

“I ain’t attacked nobody I couldn’t see,” said Hibiya. “Besides, where is this ‘surface’, anyway?”

“It’s up above us,” said Martin. “But since Mars is hollow, and we’re walking on the underside of the top of it, it’s actually below us from where we’re looking.”

“Oh!” said Hibiya, jumping. “You’re from down there! Whoarhhh!”

He did a backflip of surprise.

“Do you need to lie down?” asked Robert.

“I’ll lie down when I’m full’a holes!” said Hibiya.[1] “I thought nothin’ could live down there. Too much… uhh… what’s the word?”

“…sunlight?” offered Space Dan. “Fresh air?”

“Ughh, fresh air!” shuddered Hibiya. “And what’s a ‘sun’?”

“It’s a big really bright thing,” said Space Dan. “It’s also hot.”

“Why?” asked Hibiya.

“Uh…heat goblins are stuck in there,” said Space Dan.

“Maybe Hibiya is just one kind of oni,” said Aleya.

“I’m the best kind of oni, toots,” said Hibiya, pulling on his braces in lieu of lapels.

“For your own safety, you should probably refrain from calling Aleya or Haizea ‘toots’,” suggested Robert.

“Ehh, whatever,” said the oni. “Do you guys still wanna fight?”

He put up his fists and jabbed the air amicably.

“Actually,” said Martin, “we’re looking for a sword that’s on fire.”

“A sword?” asked the oni. “Those things weak people use because they’re not brave enough to use their fists?”

Safety Ninja grimaced under his cowl, unimpressed.

“Swords and fire don’t tend to mix well,” said Aleya.

“I’ll keep an eye out for your flamey blade,” said Hibiya, “but you should oughtta learn to punch things instead. It’ll make you stronger in the long run.”

“Keeping an eye out was my problem,” said Aleya, scratching the scar under her eyepatch.

Hibiya shook his fists at the empty space around them.

“There’s nobody to fight out here,” he said. “I’m going back to town.”

He turned around and started clomping off between the rocks.

“Hey!” said Haizea. “You’re taking us with you.”

“Well, where else’re you gonna go?” asked Hibiya, looking over his shoulder. “Unless you’re all gonna fight one another.”

“No, that was last planet,” said Robert.

Space Team One, led by Haizea, followed Hibiya along a small path. It wound between rocks five times as tall as a man, and along the edges of the twisting cavern walls. Small patches of flat fungi grew all over the walls, and it appeared that these were what was lighting the cavern.

“Look, Robert!” said Martin. “Those mushrooms are bioluminescent!”

“That’s a big word,” said Hibiya.

“He reads encyclopedias,” said Robert.

“Just like home,” said Space Dan, gazing around at the glowing flora. “Oh, the camping trips! We used to collect wild blushrooms, then take them home to be crushed so SPOOPU could use them for starship fuel.”

“You have these on your world?” asked Haizea.

“Oh, sure,” said Space Dan, “there’s lots of fungal growth on Uranus.”

As the cavern widened out again, a small city came into view. Many times the size of Pequod’s Albatross, crusty stone buildings reached up towards the ceiling,[2] many covered in gargoyles – although given the appearance of the oni, these may have just been statues of the city’s founders. Oni, in varying degrees of monstrousness, walked around dressed in a variety of 1920s fashions; their round staring eyes and tusks peeking out from beneath stylish hats.

Haizea stared up at everything and shook her head.

Damn,” she said, “this was underneath us the whole time?”

“Yeah, all new groundscrapers,” said Hibiya. “Awp, duck!”

At Hibiya’s urging, Space Team One and Haizea hid behind a series of garbage cans filled with discarded and slightly scuffed fedora hats. A large, tough-looking group of oni ran around the corner and screeched to a halt, pulled out tommy-guns, and fired a long series of laser-blasts at the cans. The bolts miraculously missed Hibiya, Space Team One or Haizea, although the alleyway was now filled with the acrid smell of burning headwear.

This done, they ran off again, whooping and hollering.

“Buncha rat fink crooks in this town,” said Hibiya. “All gangs, runnin’ round, shootin’ perfectly good garbage cans, and sometimes people. That’s why I was out by the river. Nobody here wants to fight normal anymore.”

“Can’t you call the police?” asked Robert.

“Maybe if I shouted,” said Hibiya. “But the police aren’t around anymore. The station caught fire.”

“They didn’t call the Fire Department?” asked Aleya.

“The fire what?”

“They put out fires,” said Space Dan.

“…that is a really good idea,” said Hibiya.

He kicked over a garbage can.

“That’s it, then!” he said. “We’re startin’ a Fire Department, so we can put out the Police Station if it catches fire again!”

“Why would anybody set fire to the Police Station if there’s no police in it and it’s already burned down?” asked Robert.

“That’s a good point,” said Space Dan. “We’d better start a police force, too.”

“Alright, but we’ll have to put out the newspaper again too,” said Hibiya.

“Why?” asked Aleya.

“The police and the city newspaper were always one department.”

“Isn’t that an obvious conflict of interest?” asked Robert.

“Of course not!” said Hibiya. “The cops always did good stuff, I read about it all the time!”

“What?!” asked Haizea. “We’re here to find the Fire Saber, not start public works.”

With great sadness, Safety Ninja mentally shelved his suggestion of re-arranging the maintenance guidelines for the city’s sewage system.

“Well, if the city’s full of gangs, then it’ll be hard to find the sword,” said Space Dan. “But if all the gangs are in jail, everybody outside of jail will be nice, so they’ll be really helpful, and they won’t be worrying about their garbage cans getting shot!”

He patted a smouldering can fondly.

“Space Dan is right,” said Robert, for the first time. “Cleaning up this town will make finding the sword much easier. With Hibiya as our liaison-”

“Ya what?!” shouted Hibiya, bunching his fists.

“Our guy who knows stuff,” said Aleya.

“Keep talkin’, Bob,” said Hibiya.

“I’m not a Bob,” said Robert.

“You are now,” said Hibiya.

Robert shook his head.

“No, no,” said Martin, “bob is this.”

He grabbed Robert’s head and pushed it up and down, to its owner’s disapproval.

“Anyway,” said Robert, straightening his glasses, “we’ll stop the gangs, find the sword, and get back to Pequod’s Albatross before Tannoy Clong and his unholy army of extras from an 80s apocalyptic B-movie come to destroy it.”

Aleya cracked her knuckles.

“Sounds like a plan, Bob,” she grinned.

“But…moving into a building’s not that easy,” said Haizea. “You can’t just go inside and say it’s yours.”

“Yeah, that would be trespassing and squatting,” said Aleya dismissively, “but the police are all gone, so they can’t arrest us, and there’s no newspaper, so nobody will know about it.”

“As a Gollyist, I feel that stealing buildings is wrong,”[3] said Space Dan. “But letting people die because of evil lizard-men is also wrong, and since the police don’t want the building anymore, it’s the lesser of two evils.”

“That’s settled, then!” said Martin. “From this day forward, we…are police-men!”

Donning a stern yet reassuring expression, he picked up and straightened the garbage can that Hibiya had kicked over.

 

Ogtol and Birdy wandered the desert aimlessly, like the stars of a medium-budgeted arthouse film.

“Birdy, we’re lost!” wailed Ogtol. “Following the Players One, Two, Three and their companions was a terrible idea!”

Birdy stared at him.

“Yes, I suppose we could have bought some of those bug things to ride,” said Ogtol, “but I don’t know what they’re called, which might have given us away.”

He kicked some sand idly, while he and Birdy stopped and looked around.

“Yes, I know we already revealed our true identities,” tutted Ogtol, “but our mastery of disguise was so great, that quite possibly none of the townsfolk noticed.”

Birdy wished that Ogtol would stop inferring what he meant, because he wasn’t saying anything.

Far off, in the distance, a peal of voices broke out.

You’re lost, you’re lost, you’re stupid and you’re lost,” they sang.

“WHO’S STUPID AND LOST?!” bellowed Ogtol, drawing his swords[4] and running in the direction of the voices.

Birdy shook his head and followed Ogtol, for want of anything else to do.

The voices were coming from large stones, which sang louder and louder as Ogtol approached them. He tried to recite the Stanza of Deadly Confrontation.

When in the battle swords are crossed with blood-” he began, but the stones interrupted him.

Your poetry is silly and your swords are full of rust,” they sang.[5]

“I’ll show you what my swords are full of!” shouted Ogtol. “Your doom!”

He began to batter the stones with his swords, the harsh clanging noises making a cacophony amidst the singing. The Singing Stones began an insulting round, using Ogtol’s strikes as the beat.

Ogtol grimaced in frustration as he bashed the stones with increasing futility, and remembered with annoyance the events that had brought him here…

 

Roughly Three Months Earlier

 

“They’re here!” shouted Ogtol.

Still on Earth’s moon, the Faeries had eventually agreed to fix the MurderZone, using the extra parts that came with it. Birdy threw down the large plastic bags before the other Faeries with pride.

“Well done, Birdy!” said Truffulus, greedily eyeing the bags, despite large warnings on each that they were not to be placed in one’s mouth.

“Indeed,” said Astatheriax shortly. “Let us open the bags, and rifle through their contents.”

Each Faerie took a bag, then tore it open with abandon, and also their hands.

“Sort them into piles of the same type of piece,” instructed Astatheriax.

“No, no,” said Katri, “sort them into piles of the same colour!”

“But all the pieces are black,” said Ogtol.

“Behold!” said Truffulus. “I have found a small-…wait, where did it go?”

He stood up.

“Everybody, don’t move!” he said. “Just look very carefully near where you’re standing!”

“No, let’s get a vacuum cleaner and put some pantyhose over it,” said Katri.

Ogtol baulked at the suggested lewdness of this vacuum cleaner, especially on such a venerated site as their battleground with the Players.

“Me Gansumor find piece!” said Gansumor.

“Well, that’s a positive step for you, Gansumor, well done,” said Astatheriax.

“She means the piece that Truffulus lost,” said Katri.

“Intriguing!” said Astatheraix. “What peace all of us must have lost!”

Katri buried her face in her hands.

“No, Gansumor!” Truffulus cried. “You’re going to step on it!”

Gansumor was hopping around on the spot, clutching at one of her wide tentacly legs.

“ARRRRRGH!” she cried.

“Gansumor, sit down somewhere,” ordered Astatheriax.

Gansumor sat down on top of one of Ogtol’s pieces, much to his consternation.

“Just sit on the washing machine!” he snapped.

Gansumor slowly got up and lumbered over to the crushed remnants of the washing machine. She regarded it for a moment, then flopped down into it, forcing out a pair of SPOOPU-issue longjohns that were caught under pressure beneath the filter.

“Actually, I think that piece is mine,” said Kumodan, pulling out the one stuck in Gansumor’s foot.

“No, it’s mine!” snapped Katri reflexively.

“Oh, go and notice a blue parenthesis, both of you,” said Astatheriax. “We have to stop fighting over the pieces. They’re not a Mango-Flavoured Smooshie, for the Gradgergac’s sake.”

There was a general consensus, by way of shameful mutterings.

“Let’s take the pieces inside,” said Astatheriax, “and see what we can repair.”

It took roughly a week to get the MurderZone moving again, although a good three days of that was spent converting the ship to run on mineral water instead of fuel. This was done on the basis that Katri saw Aleya siphoning the MurderZone’s fuel by sucking it out, and since mineral water was so vile and disgusting a substance, they would be much less likely to encounter a repeat of the incident.

Less encouraging, however, was the presence of a tram-sized white growth on the bridge of the MurderZone.

“I mean, what is it?!” asked Ogtol for the tenth time that day, poking at the bizarre creature.

The Milkbeast gurgled pleasantly in response, having been lovingly taught the joys of ‘tickle time’ by Martin back on Earth.

“I believe the Players called it the… um, the…”

Astatheriax scratched his head at the base of his antennae.

He snapped his fingers.

“The Stenchpuddle!” he cried. “That’s right.”

“We have to get rid of it,” said Kumodan, wrinkling his lobster-nose at it. “It’s growing little bridges all over the… well, the bridge.”

He peered closely at one of said bridges, only to suddenly yelp in surprise and wheel himself away.

“What?” asked Astatheriax.

“It fired something at me!” said Kumodan, rubbing his eye.[6]

“Leave Stenchpudder alone!” shouted Gansumor, scooping up as much of the Milkbeast as she could and hugging it back and forth.

“Gansumor is right,” said Astatheriax. “Let’s leave the Stenchpuddle be. It isn’t hurting anyone.”

“It…literally just did so,” said Ogtol.

“Look, we can just fly the ship through the Dishwasher Nebula when we get back home to the Prime Dimension,” said Truffulus, “and we’ve plenty of time to discuss it until then.”

Ogtol glanced about, then leaned around Astatheriax.

“Katri, where have you been?” he asked.

“…around,” said Katri shiftily.

“Katri’s previous whereabouts aren’t important,” said Astatheriax. “We must discuss what to do about the Player One and the Player Two and their companions.”

“Yes,” said Kumodan. “We’ll need to split up to challenge them at equidistant periods, in increasing order of power.”

“Then, naturally, I must see them last,” said Astatheriax. “Did anybody catch where they were headed first?”

The Faeries all muttered noncommittally and shifted around on the spot, except for Gansumor, who was throwing the half of the Milkbeast she could lift into the air and catching it again.

DAMMIT!” cried Astatheriax, slamming his hands on his chair.[7]

He would need to eat five cakes to get over this. But first, the mission.

“There are eight other planets in this solar system,” he said, “apart from this small grey planet and its giant watery moon. Two of us will go to each.”

“Yes!” said Ogtol. “All sixteen of us!”

The others stared at him.

“Uh…yes, how will two of us go to each planet?” asked Truffulus.

“Don’t question the mighty Astatheriax’s orders!” barked Ogtol, sword-gripping fingers quivering.

“We could break ourselves into an infinite number of pieces and rearrange them-” began Kumodan.

“WE ARE NOT USING SET-THEORIC GEOMETRY TO SOLVE ALL OUR PROBLEMS!” bellowed Astatheriax.

Kumodan clicked his pincers in meek shame.

“Should we ask Jason?” suggested Truffulus.

Everyone groaned.

“We are not asking him anything!” said Katri. “We don’t need him, and we’re leaving him in his room until we buy a new spaceship!”

Everyone frowned in agreement.

“Regardless of how seven of us will group into pairs to visit eight planets, we need to hurry,” said Truffulus. “The objects of great power must be found!”

“So, we let the Players get them, then steal them,” said Katri.

“A sound strategy,” said Astatheriax, “but these Players are wily. They may slip through our fingers, pincers, or tentacles.”

“Then we must strike them now, while the time is right!” said Ogtol.

“Where?” asked Katri.

“In their hearts!” said Ogtol, stabbing enthusiastically.

“…no, where physically?” asked Katri.

“Through…through their torsos?” clarified Ogtol, uncertainly.

“No, we don’t know where they are, Ogtol,” said Astatheriax.

“Oh,” said Ogtol, sadly.

Astatherix thought for a moment.

“Hmm. Alright!” he announced. “We shall each follow our senses to the objects of great power, and keep an eye out for the Players along the way. We shall divide up and head to the eight worlds, according to…”

He looked around at the other Faeries, trying to think of a way to split them up accurately.

“…according to a roster that I will write later,” he finished. “For now…”

He waved his finger around the other Faeries vaguely.

“Ahhhh….you, Ogtol,” he said.

“Yes?” said Ogtol. “What do I do?”

“You must go to the red planet of this solar system,” said Astatheriax, “to stop the Player One, Player Two and their companions.”

“Thankyou, Astatheriax,” said Ogtol.

“And take…”

Astatheriax looked around the room.

Sssssomeone with you,” he finished.

“Birdy!” said Ogtol, excitedly. “Uh, I mean…Birdy. Maybe.”

“Very well,” said Astatheriax. “And you, Kumodan, will go to the gas planet with the giant red spot.”

“Am Gansumor red?” loudly whispered Gansumor in Truffulus’ ear.

“No, he wasn’t referr- never mind,” tutted Truffulus.

“So you are sending the red Faerie to the planet with the red spot?” said Kumodan, wheeling his chair at Astatheriax confrontationally.

“That’s not true,” said Astatheriax. “Well, not necessarily. Birdy is blue and he’s going to the entirely red planet.”

“Hmm…maybe I should go to the red planet instead,” said Kumodan. “Birdy will find it harder to disguise himself, while I will have natural camoflauge. He should go to the big blue planet.”

“No! You’ll have natural camoflauge in the red spot!” said Ogtol hurriedly.

“What would Kumodan be doing in the giant red storm on the gas giant?” asked Katri.

“These things happen,” said Ogtol. “And when he’s there, he’ll be all but invisible.”

“Oh, just take Birdy and go,” said Astatheriax. “I tire of this! I’m going to my room to practice…fighting!”

Kumodan raised his eyebrows at Astatheriax.

“Uh…are you alright with going to the gas giant planet, Kumodan?” asked Astatheriax.

Kumodan said nothing.

“Well, I’ll just mix-ah! Mix up…my…battling styles!” said Astatheriax. “War. Goodbye, everyone!”

He paced quickly out of the room, treading on part of the Milkbeast in his haste.

 

Ogtol was jolted out of his reverie by Birdy shaking him.

“Hm? Oh!” he said. “Uhm…”

He slowly lowered his swords from the Singing Stone that he’d been striking.

“…thankyou, Birdy,” he said.

Birdy pointed one of his long, talonlike fingers at the horizon. Ogtol turned to look, and squinting his eyes up, he could see it. Something, far off in the desert, was glinting in the sun.

“Birdy,” said Ogtol, “let’s see what that is!”

He pulled out his Maximum Blast Binocu-Goggles With Night Vision Action and held them up to his eyes, making sure that the Night Vision Action was turned off (as it would blind him during the day).

“It looks like… railway tracks,” he said, adjusting some dials and knobs for Ultimate Mission Tactics. “But which way should we follow them?”

He looked up and down the tracks through the Maximum Blast Binocu-Goggles.

“That end appears to go underground somewhere,” he said, pointing awkwardly, as he could not see his hand through the Maximum Blast Binocu-Goggles. “The other…”

He wobbled his head around uncertainly, trying to find the other end of the tracks quickly, but getting lost in the visually identical expanse of desert sand.

“The other…”

He lowered the Binocu-Goggles in frustration, and pointed in the correct general direction.

“The other end goes out into the desert, and out of sight.”

They both stood and thought for a minute. Ogtol took his akubra hat off to top of his helmet, and fanned himself with it before slipping it back on.

Birdy pointed in the direction of the underground tunnel, and his eyes seemed to flash in the sun.

“…yes,” said Ogtol. “Let’s go that way, Birdy.”

The two Faeries began to trek across the dust, through the Valley of the Singing Rocks.

“Besides,” added Ogtol, “one of the objects of great power lies there.”

His eyes narrowed.

“I can feel it.”

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[1] By this, he meant that he would be shot, rather than that he would be attacked by an incompetent sign-maker from Pequod’s Albatross.

[2] Which was, technically speaking, down towards the centre of the planet.

[3] The evil Gosh was said to have once stolen a building, which Golly condemned him for, but certain Gollyist theologians insisted that the story had been misinterpreted, and that Gosh had actually stolen an ear of corn.

[4] Accidentally slicing part of his poncho’s shoulder off in the process.

[5] Though Haizea had claimed that the Singing Stones only sing when something extremely impressive is happening, she wasn’t aware of the only other time that the Singing Stones of Mars sing: to mock people when they think it’s funny.

[6] The Milkbeast had, in fact, been firing a 21-cannon salute to celebrate the building of its 100th suspension bridge, as well as its 21st cannon.

[7] It had been repaired by spare parts after EVIL CAR had torn it to shreds, though due to scarcity of upholstery it now sported a leopardskin pattern.