Giles frowned. “Okay, is it bigger than a hangiri?”
“No,” Harmony said, folding over one of her fingers. “Four left.”
“So, it’s smaller than a hangiri,” Giles deduced.
Harmony giggled. “No! Only three.”
“Harmony-san,” said Giles, “I may perhaps be clutching at straws here, but is it… a hangiri?”
“Yes! Oh my ancestors!” Harmony squealed. “Somebody’s Shogun is a Twenty Questions genius.”
Buffy awoke. She was snuggled up against a warm body. An arm held her in a gentle embrace. She felt calm, and secure, and loved. “Angel-kun,” she sighed.
The arm jerked and the grasp slackened. “What? Bloody hell. Think again, Slayer.”
Buffy came fully awake and sat up. “Chopstick-san!”
“Well, yeah,” Chopstick said.
Buffy pulled away from his arm and stood up. “What do you think you were playing at, holding me while I slept like that?”
“Bloody cold in here, innit? No heating in this abandoned netsuke factory. Wasn’t gonna let the girl I love shiver all night.” Chopstick pulled tobacco and papers from his sagemono and began to roll a cigarette.
“The girl you love?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “You’ve convinced yourself that you love me just ‘cause some nut-job doctor said that only your true love could fix your back? Can I say, totally deluded?”
Chopstick frowned and paused with the cigarette incomplete. “Not how it is. He just made me realize a few things. Seriously, Buffy-chan, wasn’t bloody hard falling in love with you. Fancied you from when I first saw you. Pissed Dru off no end the way I used to go on about how gorgeous you are. And now I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy-chan.”
“Don’t call me Buffy-chan,” Buffy snapped. Her tone softened. “You haven’t seen the worst of me, Chopstick-san.”
“Haven’t seen the best either,” Chopstick pointed out. “Doesn’t matter. I love you. You’re all I think about. Dream about. You’re in my gut, my throat. I’m drowning in you.” He returned to rolling his cigarette.
Buffy’s eye-roll would have been awarded a straight string of 5.8s had there been a panel of judges to hand. “A couple of days ago you were trying to kill me.”
“Was trying to beat you in a fight, yeah,” Chopstick conceded, “but I didn’t want to kill you. Not since the first time we fought.” He raised the cigarette halfway to his lips. “And especially not since I met your mum. There’s a saying that you shouldn’t get serious about a girl until you’ve met her mum and seen what she’s gonna be like later. Well, your mum’s a right tasty piece.” He gestured with the cigarette to where his henchman lay asleep. “Got Dalton right smitten, she has. Won’t be any hardship being with you when you’re that age. And I won’t bugger off to the gaijin lands.”
“Forget it, Chopstick-san,” Buffy told him. “We’re allies right now. That’s all.” She glared at him as he put the cigarette in his mouth and took out his tinder-box. “And I could never date someone who smokes.”
Chopstick crumpled the cigarette between his fingers and put the tinder-box back into his robes. “As you wish.”
The cell door rattled and Giles stirred. He yawned, stretched, and sat up on the thin straw mattress. The sound of sandals tramping along the corridor reached his ears. He glanced at Harmony, who was sitting on the other mattress rubbing her eyes, and he frowned. He stood up, with some difficulty as he was still afflicted with stiffness, and made his way to the door.
“Hello out there,” he called. “Ah, there is a slight problem. You have put Harmony in here with me and we need to attend to certain bodily functions. It would not be decent and proper to do so whilst we are sharing a cell.”
Drusilla appeared at the grille. “I suppose that we can do something about that,” she said. “You need to be all fresh and nice for when we torture you.”
“Torture me?” Giles gulped. “Why would you want to torture me?”
Drusilla smiled. “Mainly for fun,” she said. “Although we do want you to tell us a few things as well.”
“Oh dear.” Giles retreated from the door and sat down on the mattress.
A minute passed and then a key turned in the lock and the door swung open. A guard loomed in the doorway. “Resistance would be futile, useless, pointless, ineffective, hopeless, ineffectual, and generally a total waste of time,” he declared.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Giles said. “After all it was I who employed you in the first place. I’d hate to think that I had selected someone incompetent. And congratulations on your attention to your thesaurus. I like to see a guard keeping up with his studies. Jolly good show, carry on.”
The guard beamed. “Thank you, oh Giles-sama,” he said. “I hope to pass the advanced guards certificate shortly.”
Drusilla scowled. “That should be ‘Giles-san’,” she corrected him. She poked her head around the corner of the cell door. “Come out, Harmony-san, and we shall put you in the women’s cell until it is time for Angel to pass judgment upon you for your betrayal.”
“Judgment?” Now it was Harmony’s turn to gulp. She stood up and went to the door. “I didn’t betray anyone. I just tried to rescue my lawful Shogun.”
“Angel is the Shogun,” Drusilla snapped. She seized Harmony by the hair and dragged the young geisha out into the corridor. She halted in mid-stride and twisted Harmony round to face her. “You aren’t a virgin, by any chance, are you?”
Harmony whimpered in pain. “No,” she said, almost sobbing. “I’m not.”
“A pity,” Drusilla said. “Oh well, we’ll probably execute you anyway.” She gestured to a guard, who opened the door of the women’s cell, and she dragged Harmony the rest of the way along the corridor and thrust her inside. The door was slammed shut and Drusilla returned to Giles’ cell.
“You could…” Drusilla began, but her voice died away in mid speech. Her eyebrows shot upwards. “Where is the Taikomochi?”
“Ah,” said Giles, lowering his eyes. “That’s rather distressing, actually. You didn’t feed us last night, and we really, ah, had no alternative.”
“You ate him?” Drusilla’s eyebrows climbed still higher. She stared into the cell. “Then where are the bones?” Her eyebrows returned to base camp. “Naughty Giles-san. He has escaped, has he not?” A smile came to her lips. “There is more to you than I had thought, former Shogun. I shall take personal charge of torturing you.”
“Oh, there’s no need to go to all that bother,” Giles said. “I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”
“It will be no trouble,” Drusilla assured him. “I shall enjoy it.” She made a quick search of the cell, in case Xander should have somehow managed to hide under the mattresses or the small wooden bench that were the only furniture, and looked up at the ceiling in case he was clinging there like a human fly. Once satisfied that Xander was indeed gone Drusilla turned to Giles once more. “You are a brave man, Giles-san, to maintain such equanimity in the face of forthcoming torture.”
“I don’t really have a lot of choice about it,” Giles pointed out.
“True.” Drusilla smiled again. “Did you know that I was a nun before Angel recruited me to join the ninja clan?”
“No, I wasn’t aware of that,” Giles replied. A crease appeared between his eyebrows as he wondered why she had brought up this apparent non sequitur. “Rather an extreme change of career for you, was it not?”
“Oh, not really,” Drusilla said. “I was studying in a Chinese nunnery under Ng Mui. The originator of Wing Chun. I became rather good at it.” She lunged forward without warning and butted Giles viciously in the solar plexus. He crumpled to the floor and writhed there, retching, and gasping for breath. “Nun butt the brave,” Drusilla sniggered, and left the cell.
“The geisha must have released the Taikomochi before we caught her,” Drusilla said to the guards. She locked the door of Giles’ cell and pocketed the keys. “Search the area in case he is hiding here. I shall return to Shogun Angel and organize a search of the castle.”
“If we find him do we bring him to you or just return him to his cell?” asked the conscientious guard.
“Taikomochi are never funny,” Drusilla said. “Just kill him.”
A fire of wood shavings and pieces of broken netsuke burned on the factory floor. Xander held the wok over the flames and filled it with noodles. “It’s a relief to be out of that cell, free at last,” he remarked. He stirred the noodles. “Keep on wokking in the free world,” he sang as he stirred. “Keep on wokking in the free world.”
Buffy breathed in deeply. “Mmm, that smells good.”
“Thanks,” said Xander, “but we might have a problem. No bowls, and only one set of chopsticks.”
“No problem. I’ve enough chopsticks for everyone,” Chopstick told them. “Never know when I might need them.” He pulled sets of chopsticks from under his robes and handed them round.
Buffy looked at them dubiously before succumbing to the delicious smell and deciding to assume that the chopsticks had not already been used to impale critics of the ninja’s haiku. “We’re still gonna need bowls,” she said.
“Well, the baby-cart comes with cup-holders,” Chopstick said. “Dunno if cups are included.”
A search of the cart and the factory produced bowls for everyone and the party knelt down to breakfast. “So, what’s the plan for the day, Buff-chan?” Xander asked as they ate.
“We try and recruit Wesley and Ampata,” Buffy said. “If they join us then I guess we go storm the castle. If they won’t, well, I guess we go look for someone else.”
“We storm the castle? Just like that?” Xander shook his head. “I don’t know, Buff-chan. Tactics isn’t my thing, but hey, I did a gig at the barracks and heard a few things. Some of it stuck. We should use, like, deception and flank attacks and things.”
“It’s a sodding castle, mate,” Chopstick pointed out. “Doesn’t have flanks. And Angel always protects his perimeter. Would be bloody hard to sneak in past Drusilla. Sharp as a bloody needle, she is. Might as well just bash straight through the front gate.”
“We could build a wooden horse,” Buffy suggested, “and get taken into the castle that way.”
“Dru would just set fire to it,” Chopstick said.
“Pour cold water on my dreams, why don’t you?” Buffy pouted.
“Better than having to pour cold water on us to put the bloody fire out,” said Chopstick.
“Hey, I snuck out past Drusilla,” Xander pointed out. “If I could get out, we can get in.” He had not gone into the details of his escape the preceding night. Now he related the full story.
“Be a bit difficult to tag onto the end of a patrol when there are seven of us,” Chopstick pointed out. “They’d have to be thick as a brick not to notice.”
“We could be a patrol,” suggested Buffy. “Take out one of Angel’s patrols, wear their banners, and just walk up to the gates.”
“A cunning plan indeed,” Dalton praised. “Just as one would expect from the daughter of the intelligent and witty Joyce Summers.”
“Not a bad idea,” Chopstick conceded. He finished the last of his noodles and threw his chopsticks into the fire. “Let’s go get Wesley.”
Angel’s eyebrows descended and his nostrils flared. “So Xander escaped? Last night? And nobody noticed?”
“The Taikomochi is no threat to us,” Drusilla said.
“Maybe not, but it’s bad for my image if someone escapes from my cells,” Angel said. “First Buffy and that gaijin girl get away, now Xander pulls a jail break. I’m not happy.”
“We could go and torture Giles,” Drusilla suggested. “That should make you feel better. Or you could execute Harmony.”
“Good thinking, Dru-chan,” Angel said. He flexed his fingers and then frowned again as he felt a twinge of pain from his split knuckle. He raised it to his mouth and sucked on it. “No, I think I’ll leave the execution for a little while. Maybe do it once we capture Ampata. She can watch.”
“Ooh, yes, that will be fun.” Drusilla clapped her hands together. “And if we catch Xander we can make him watch as well.”
“Yeah.” Angel stuck out his jaw. “Oh, shimata! I can’t torture Giles right away. I have to see the tax collectors this morning. We’re gonna work out how much I can raise the taxes without causing the peasants to revolt.”
“The peasants are always revolting,” Drusilla said. “We’ll just kill them.”
“They can’t pay taxes when they’re dead,” Angel pointed out. “You can start torturing Giles without me. I’ll catch you later. Find out if he knows anything about how to get the sword out of the stone.”
“Of course,” Drusilla said. “Shall I send out Olaf again to bring in Ampata?”
“Yeah, you do that.” Angel thought for a moment. “And Wesley. If he won’t obey my commands then his time in Sunnydale is over. I hear he’s supplying sub-standard weapons and keeping the best for himself. I don’t like that. I want those flintlock pistols.”
“Olaf will need more men,” Drusilla said.
“So it seems.” Angel grinned wolfishly. “Send thirty. And there are to be no more failures. Olaf either brings them in or his head rolls.”
Buffy banged on the door of The Bonze for the fifth time and then shook her head. “Nobody home,” she decided. She bit her lip. “I hope they’re okay. Maybe Angel sent someone after Ampata on account of her helping me get out of the castle. Or maybe the Spanish Inquisition caught up with her again.”
“We’ll have to rescue them, then,” said Chopstick.
“Again you’re being all big with the helpful,” Buffy said. “I don’t get it.”
“If this bird is a friend of yours then she’s a friend of mine,” Chopstick told her. “And I like Wesley. He’s a good bloke. Anyway, got to rescue everybody, haven’t we?”
“Starting with Willow,” Oz said.
“I guess,” said Buffy. She turned away from the door. Before she could take more than a couple of steps Wesley and Ampata came into view. “Hey, Ampata-san,” Buffy greeted the girl. “We were worried about you.”
Ampata was wearing gaijin-style men’s breeches, a white shirt, and a long frock coat. A rapier hung at her waist. “Hello, Buffy,” she said. “We have been shopping.”
Xander took one look at her and his eyes widened. “Ay, caramba!” he exclaimed. “That is one beautiful girl.”
“You should see her naked,” Buffy told him. “I mean, really.” She went red. “Or, actually, not.”
Ampata shrugged. “Everybody else has.”
Wesley glared at Xander. “Only those who have paid for the privilege. Hello, Buffy-san. And Chopstick-san.” His forehead creased. “Ah, how is it that you are together?”
“We’ve teamed up to fight Angel,” Buffy explained.
“Ah, yes,” Wesley said. “Angel appears to be rather anxious to retrieve Ampata. I had thought that she would be safe here, as my establishment is usually regarded as English territory, but it seems that Angel is not prepared to respect my neutrality. I had to threaten to shoot some of his men last night and I fear that fighting may become necessary.”
“I do not wish you to be hurt on my behalf, Wesley,” Ampata said.
“I will never abandon you,” Wesley assured her. “I will fight to protect you to the last drop of my blood.” Ampata’s smile was radiant.
“Good,” said Buffy. “We kinda came here to recruit you. We have to overthrow Angel.”
“I would love to join you,” Wesley told her, “but I can’t leave Ampata.”
“I shall fight at your side,” Ampata declared.
Wesley looked as if he was about to object but Buffy didn’t give him the chance. “I want both of you anyway,” she said. “We met this monk guy. He says that there has to be seven of us if we’re to beat Angel. We’re up to five already and you two would make seven.”
“I can’t fault your arithmetic,” Wesley said. “Ampata, it is up to you.”
“I shall fight,” Ampata repeated.
“Cool,” Buffy said. “Now we are seven.”
“Magnificent,” said Chopstick. “Long as we all can fight, that is. Don’t think Xander’s gonna win any championships, for a start.” He looked at Ampata’s rapier. “Can you use that skinny sword, luv?”
“The pointy end goes in the other person,” Ampata replied. “How hard can it be?”
Chopstick looked up at the sky. “Bloody hell. There’s a bit more to it than that, pet.”
“I assure you, I would not have given Ampata the sword if I had not known that she was competent to use it,” Wesley told him. “It is a rapier of Toledo steel, a match to the one I carry, and it is quite the equal of your katanas.”
Ampata grinned. “I am no match for Buffy, and your weapons are strange to me, but I had to fight to escape from Peru and I can handle a rapier. You need not worry about me.”
“Well, I’m glad to have you with us,” Buffy said. “And you, Wesley.”
“Uh-oh,” said Oz. “It looks like she’s gonna have to show us how she can fight sooner than we expected.”
Olaf appeared at the mouth of the alleyway, his huge hammer resting on his shoulder, and he snarled as he saw Wesley and Ampata. Behind him came spearmen, ninjas, and warrior monks. Rank upon rank of them.
“Ho, puny Englishman,” Olaf boomed out. “Your doom is upon you, for this time I have thirty men. Surrender the girl, and your flintlock pistols, or die.” His gaze swung towards Buffy. “You too, Slayer. Surrender or perish.”