“You okay, mate?” Chopstick stared into Dalton’s eyes. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Dalton frowned. “None, Chopstick-sama.”
“Oh. Right. Forgot that part,” said Chopstick. “Anyway, don’t think you’ve got a concussion.”
“We won,” said Buffy. “Yay us. We wanted to thin out Angel’s forces, right? I guess we’ve done that. Attack the castle now?”
“Once we’ve got our breath back, yeah,” Chopstick agreed. He jerked his head in the direction of Wesley and Ampata. “And once those two have finished snogging.”
Buffy looked in the direction that he had indicated. “I kinda get the feeling that we could have a long wait.”
The gaijin couple were wrapped in each other’s arms, lips pressed together, engaged in a passionate kiss. There have, it is universally agreed, been five great kisses since 1642 BC. Well, this one… made it through the group stages but lost on penalties in the first of the knock-out matches. But it was still pretty damn good.
“You failed me.” Angel sat upon his throne and glared at Olaf. “I gave you thirty men and still you failed.”
Olaf knelt on the floor but his back was straight rather than being bent forward in supplication. “Thirty against seven is little more than four to one,” he pointed out. “There were warriors among them worth far more than four ordinary ronin. Your men were as straws in the wind before Chopstick and Buffy.”
“Chopstick is a cripple,” Angel snapped. “Okay, the baby-cart thing was a surprise to you first time, but this time you should have been prepared.”
“A cripple no longer,” Olaf said. “He is cured. He walks and fights as he did before. A true Samurai.”
“He is no Samurai,” Angel sneered. “Just a wannabe.” His eyebrows went on a quick training course in speleology and then descended low. “Cured? That fast? I don’t get it. I figured he’d be out of things for months.”
“I had a dream,” Drusilla revealed. “The tengu showed me Chopstick and the Slayer. She was all over him. It is she who has cured him, Angel-kun.”
Angel rolled his eyes. “And now he’s tagging along after her like a puppy, huh? Typical.” He swung his gaze back to Olaf. “Chopstick and Buffy are only two, Olaf-san. What warriors are there among the others? You should have crushed them like insects.”
“The two gaijin, with their strange swords, are also formidable. So is the tiny man who I do not know,” Olaf defended himself. “Dalton may not be mighty but he had a harquebus. Even the Taikomochi fought well.”
“The Taikomochi fought well?” Angel snorted. “Xander is a miserable specimen even for a Taikomochi. You led my forces to defeat and I accept no excuses. You are dishonored, Olaf-san, and it is your duty to commit seppuku.”
“Dishonored?” Olaf’s eyebrows rose to gain a height advantage over Angel’s. “You were dishonored and refused to commit seppuku. Why should I?”
“You dare defy me?” Angel came to his feet with his hand on the hilt of his Ôdachi.
“I dare, yes.” Olaf stood up and raised his hammer. “I have seen no great deeds from you, Angel-san. I entered your service only because Drusilla said that Chopstick was dead and she promised us great riches if we put you upon the throne. Had I known that the mighty Chopstick lived I might have stayed loyal to him.”
“I am greater than Chopstick ever was,” Angel declared.
“So you say.” Olaf looked down upon the usurper and his lip curled. “You are no worthy Shogun. I think that I shall restore Giles to the throne and make my peace with Buffy and Chopstick. Giles is just and fair and would reward me well. Perhaps with gold, perhaps merry sport with some lesser geisha such as Amber, or perhaps with an appointment to an official position.” A grin began to spread across his face. “Why did I not think of this before? I could be the Lord High Executioner.”
“Over my dead body,” Angel growled.
“Exactly,” said Olaf. “I do not fear you. Did I not survive a bullet to the head? It was foretold that only a witch can slay me.”
Angel’s eyes flicked to glance at Drusilla. Olaf’s eyes widened in realization and he turned towards her with his hammer held chest high. Drusilla did not rise to her feet. She struck from her kneeling position, rolling under the arc of the hammer, and shot out one foot in a stamping kick to the side of Olaf’s knee. Her other leg swung behind Olaf’s feet and she swept Olaf’s legs out from under him. Olaf fell backwards and crashed to the floor.
Drusilla twirled her legs and spun around on the floor. She slipped her fan from her sleeve, flicked it open, and slashed the razor edge across Olaf’s throat as he struggled to rise. She continued the spin and used her momentum to propel herself to her feet. “That witch would be me,” she said. Olaf had managed to get to his hands and knees but blood was gushing from his throat. His limbs gave way, he fell on his face, and he lay still.
Drusilla twirled the fan, splattering droplets of blood that splashed into the puddle that was forming around Olaf, and then flicked it closed. She frowned down at the body. “It’s rather a pity,” she said. “Olaf was very strong. I think that he was probably our best fighter.”
Angel ran his fingers through his hair. “He wasn’t good enough,” he said. “Oh, shimata! Maybe I should have given him another chance. He wouldn’t have rebelled if I hadn’t told him to commit seppuku.”
“Too late now,” said Drusilla.
“Yeah. Okay, so who’s our next best warrior?”
Drusilla’s lips twitched. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t think that any of them are really outstanding. All the best ones are dead. Do you think that Chopstick and Buffy will attack the castle?”
“Of course they will,” said Angel. “They can’t win, not against the numbers that we have, but they might not leave us with enough guards to keep the peasants properly oppressed. I think we need to call in some outside assistance. What mercenary ronin are in town?”
“I’ll find out,” Drusilla said. “Good idea, Angel-kun.”
“If things get tight I can always pull out the Fireblade,” Angel went on. “Hey, that reminds me. Those apprentice guys who told me that tale about Acathla leading to a city. I guess they must have been the ones who built that war wagon for Chopstick. That wasn’t nice.”
“They were naughty boys,” Drusilla agreed. “Shall we punish them?”
“I want to ask them a few more questions, anyway,” Angel said. “I’ll organize a patrol to bring them in.” He kicked Olaf’s corpse. “They can dump this body on the way out.”
“Friends, Japanese, countrymen,” Buffy addressed a crowd of peasants and tradesmen. “Lend us your ears. We are going to storm Sunnydale High Castle and overthrow Angel, who has deposed our beloved Shogun Giles, and restore fair and just government.”
“And institute some form of democratic representation,” Chopstick put in. “Power to the People!”
A ripple of applause came from the townsfolk. “Wasabi, wasabi, wasabi,” the peasants mumbled. Rice flails and lanterns were brandished.
“Who will stand with us against the tyrant?” Buffy asked.
A deafening silence was the response.
“Come on, mates, we’ll do most of the fighting,” Chopstick promised.
“We could just do with a few blokes to hold scaling ladders, give the baby-cart a good shove to batter down the gate, that sorta thing,” Chopstick said. “Give us a bit of a hand, is all.”
“Oh, come on,” Buffy said. “Don’t you want to be free?”
A lone voice called out from the back of the crowd. “They’ll bleeding massacre us. We won’t go.”
Chopstick stood up on the baby-cart and tried another approach. “You’d do it for Toshiro Mifune!”
The crowd took off their hats, held them to their chests, and chanted “Toshiro Mifune!”
“So, are you with us?” Buffy and Chopstick called out together.
“You constructed a weapon that my enemy is using against me,” Angel growled. “That’s treason.”
Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew prostrated themselves before their Shogun. “Mercy,” they begged. “Forgive us, oh mightiest of Shoguns.”
“Nice deferring, but it’s not gonna be enough to save you this time,” Angel told them.
“We didn’t mean any harm,” Jonathan quavered. “He told us it was for a costume party.”
“The king of cups expects a picnic,” Drusilla chanted, “but it is not his birthday.”
Warren raised his head and frowned. “A party for the Shogun’s accession,” he explained, and then he caught Angel’s glower and he prostrated himself once more. “Show mercy, supreme Angel-sama. Have pity upon us.”
Angel sneered at the three apprentices. “I shall have you sentenced to slavery in the indigo works,” he announced. “There you shall labor, staining samurai robes deep blue, for the next three years.”
“No, please, great Shogun, have mercy,” Warren pleaded. “I don’t want to dye.”
The plaintive notes of a shakuhachi flute could be heard above the bustle of the townsfolk going about their business. It was quiet at first, a long way away, but grew louder as the flautist approached the seven heroes.
“Oh, great,” said Buffy. “Not. I bet it’s that Whistler guy.”
“Yep,” Oz confirmed. “I recognize the way he’s a little flat on the third note of the second bar.”
It was indeed the mystic monk Whistler. “Hey, Slayer,” he greeted Buffy and her party. “I see you’re up to seven, huh? Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said. “Now, why do I have the feeling that you aren’t just here to count us?”
“You got me.” Whistler waved the flute. “I got some good news and some bad news.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Okay, let’s hear it. And I don’t care which way round.”
“Sure thing,” Whistler said. “First, the bad news. Angel’s learned how to open Acathla.”
“Well I’ll be buggered,” Chopstick cursed. “Probably with tentacles, if we don’t stop the git right quick.”
“And now the good news,” Whistler went on. “He has been told about the demon realm and he’s holding back from pulling out the sword for now. He thinks it might be a trick, so don’t get too complacent, but at least we have a breathing space.” He raised the flute to his lips and played a short sequence of notes.
“How do you know all this?” Buffy asked. “Do you have a spy in the castle?”
“Hey, I’m a mystic monk,” Whistler said. “It’s my job to know all that shit. The good kami keep me informed. They get everywhere.” He pointed the flute at Buffy. “I keep my ears to the ground as well, kid. Here’s some more bad news that I picked up by listening to people talk in a sushi bar. Angel’s recruiting. The longer you delay your attack the stronger he’ll get.”
“I trust that you will remember your promise that I can build a Christian church,” Canon Quentin Travers said. “And please, if it is at all possible, take the girl Ampata alive. I promised to look after her and I have every intention of doing so.”
Angel stared at the device with which the Canon had presented him. He rubbed his hands together and beamed with glee. “You can build a cathedral for this,” he told Travers. “Wonderful. Chopstick’s baby-cart doesn’t stand a chance against it.”
“Thank you, Shogun Angel, you are most kind,” Travers said. “This is Gunner’s Mate Nigel. Tell the Shogun about your weapon, Nigel, if you please.”
“Aye aye, sir,” said the English sailor. “’Tis a Falcon, milord, mounted on a light wheeled carriage. It takes a two pound iron ball. Too light for ship to ship combat, maybe, but it’ll go through a cart like a hot knife through butter.”
“Wonderful,” Angel enthused again. “At last I have a cannon.”