Silk And Sandals
by M. Scott Eiland

(Early October, 1998)

Ethan Rayne examined the collection of costumes carefully, discarding some immediately as unsuitable while smiling wickedly and selecting others for the "definite" pile. The empowerment ritual he was using would only enchant one hundred costumes, and he would have to be picky as to what selections he made, though he rejected some of the costumes with extreme reluctance, only doing so on grounds of practicality, not from lack of amusement that the accompanying transformations would have provided.

After two hours, ninety-nine costumes were in the winners pile, while hundreds more had been definitively rejected. Between the two piles-- two costumes that had not yet found a home in either. Ethan studied the first costume carefully--it was a set of combat fatigues, apparently genuine, though no identifying information remained on them. A toy rifle rested on top of the uniform. Ethan frowned . Not bad, but this costume is very contemporary--the wearer might not be terribly disoriented. A heavily armed man with military training and his wits about him might well prove. . .inconvenient for me He turned to the second costume, and after a few seconds he was chuckling.

The second costume consisted of a well-worn white robe made of silk, a pair of sandals, and a wood and plastic imitation of a katana--it was the attire of a samurai warrior Ethan grinned. Whoever wears this is going to gain the mindset of some primitive idiot with contempt for his lessers and an over-inflated desire to react to affronts with fatal violence. And if he gets out of hand. . .well, he's not going to be too well equipped to deal with a bullet between the eyes He turned to the statue of Janus behind him and grinned, then picked up the samurai costume and placed it on top of the first heap. He concentrated for a few moments, then called out, "Great Janus, grant these garments of dream your dark blessing! Let semblance become reality, and let Chaos reign on the night the damned rest!"

The pile glowed briefly before fading back to darkness, and Ethan laughed in dark joy. The die has been cast. Ripper and his charges are in for a memorable night He yawned--the spell had been very demanding on his life force, as would the activating ritual that would realize his wicked plan. He walked over to the cot in the corner of the room and slumped to the mattress--within seconds he was sound asleep.

As Ethan's breathing grew heavier, the eyes of the statue of Janus burst into flame, and a low, ominous laughter echoed through the room as the light of the flaming eyes illuminated the pile of enchanted costumes.


October 30th, 1998: Ethan's Costume Shop

Xander pretended not to hear Buffy and Willow talking about how Buffy's costume would make Angel drool and wandered off in the shop, looking for a suitable accessory for the Army uniform he had obtained from the surplus store. Some kind of gun would do it--cheap is good He was looking in the prop bin and becoming increasingly frustrated when he heard a voice behind him: "You look like a man who has something in particular in mind."

Xander turned and saw the shop owner favoring him with a smile that screamed "I have a deal for you!" Xander felt vaguely uneasy. Creepy looking guy, but he seems friendly enough He nodded and replied, "Yeah. I've got an Army costume at home, and I need a toy weapon to complete the package. Do you have anything good to recommend?"

The shop owner frowned. "I'm all out of guns--those always go fast. I've got a nice facsimile combat knife here that I could let go for five dollars." He pointed at the nasty looking plastic knife, and Xander frowned--five bucks was a bit more than he wanted to spend for one prop. The shop owner saw Xander's expression and his smile widened as he commented, "You know, sir, gun toting soldiers will be a dime a dozen out there. Mind you, I don't sell many of those costumes myself, but I know that Party Time and several of the other shops in town are having specials this year. Could I suggest to you a costume that will make you stand out more in the crowd?"

Xander was surprised at the attention the proprietor was paying to a customer who obviously wasn't going to spend much, and he nodded. The shop owner led Xander to an almost empty rack and lifted a white robe from it, handing it to Xander and inviting: "Try that on."

Xander did so, and the lightweight garment slipped over his shoulders as if it had been made for him. "Nice fit--but what's the costume it's part of?"

The shop owner smiled again and reached onto a nearby shelf, pulling out a unadorned pair of sandals and a toy sword in a scabbard. Xander blinked, and recognized the weapon: "That's a katana, so I'd be--a samurai?" The shop owner nodded, noticing that Xander looked doubtful as he commented, "It's a nice costume, but I fell asleep trying to watch 'Shogun'--I'm not sure this is for me."

The shop owner looked at Xander intensely, and Xander felt a chill as he listened to the man speak: "The samurai was the greatest breed of warrior to ever walk this earth, young man. They trained for years to be lethal with their hands, with a bow, and with all weapons--but most of all with their katanas--the finest blades ever made. They served proudly as the right hand of their masters, and would fight to the death to serve their interests. A samurai was admired--and feared."

Xander looked at the robe, the sandals, and the katana for a few moments, and came to a decision: "OK, you talked me into it--but I don't exactly have a big budget here. . ."

"I've had this costume for quite a while--it's getting a bit worn, as you can see. I'd like to see it find a good home." The shop owner paused for a moment, then added, "I'll let you have the whole collection for three dollars--how about it?"

Xander blinked in surprise. "Sold." He handed the shop owner a five dollar bill, and received the change as he folded the robe neatly and bundled the sandals and katana together before putting them in the plastic bag the shop owner handed to him. "Thanks. I appreciate a good bargain--I'll tell other people about this place."

The shop owner grinned. "This job is its own reward." He watched as Xander walked over to Buffy and Willow to show off the costume and grinned evilly as he whispered, "Among other things."



Willow felt a surge of panic, and the sudden realization that her impulse to breathe heavily in reaction to the emotion was accomplishing nothing made things worse. Omigosh! Something weird is going on--the kids turned into the monsters that their costumes represented, and I'm a real ghost She looked around herself, and saw complete chaos. I have to find Buffy and Xander

Willow ran, and was relieved to find that doing so was as easy as it had been when she was corporeal--with the additional advantage of not getting winded. After about twenty seconds, she spotted Xander standing in the middle of the street, staring at the little monsters that had been his group of young trick or treaters. She opened her mouth to call out to him--but a sudden realization caused her to stop in her tracks and stare.

Xander stood quietly, his eyes carefully tracking the small monsters wreaking havoc around him, but not moving against them. His hair, which had been hanging loose and rather unkempt, seemed slightly longer and was tied in a knot at the back of his head. His katana was out and in his hands, and the dim illumination from the streetlights glinted from the blade, emitting an eerie blue radiance-- the blade was real, and very dangerous in appearance.

Oh no. Can I reach him in this state? Willow worried, then realized that at worst, Xander might attack her but would not be able to harm her in her current condition. She moved forward cautiously, and called out, "Xander?"

Xander blinked, and paused for a moment before frowning and replying, "I'm sorry miss, are you addressing me? I believe you have mistaken me for someone else--my name is not 'Xander'." He hesitated, frowned again, and added, "At least I don't believe it is-- this place is strange to me, and my thoughts are disordered." He inclined his head at some of the nearby monsters and asked, "Do you know what these creatures are--do they pose a threat to innocents?"

Willow was taken aback by the quiet question and the aura of composure that Xander was wearing like armor. She took a moment to look into his eyes and draw upon that calmness before replying, "I believe that some evil magic has come to this place. Those monsters are children who were dressed up for Halloween--that is a holiday where--"

Xander interrupted: "I am familiar with the concept, miss. Please go on."

Willow blinked, surprised. Why would a samurai from centuries ago know about Halloween? She dismissed the puzzling question and continued, "I've seen adults changed as well, based on the costumes they were wearing--I was dressed as a ghost--a spirit of a dead person." She saw the mild skepticism on Xander's face, and demonstrated her condition by passing her hand into the asphalt of the street.

Xander's eyes widened. "Remarkable." He looked at Willow with a puzzled expression and asked, "I see that there is great danger here, but I do not understand what summoned me to this place--is it part of the evil magic?"

Willow felt a pang of sadness for Xander--or, more accurately, for the being whose personality was animating her best friend. She beckoned for Xander to follow her, and led him to a nearby pickup truck with a large sideview mirror. Xander looked into the mirror, and his face went white with shock. Willow felt an impulse to hug him, but realized with sadness that she could not. Xander closed his eyes, then opened them again and commented quietly, "I understand now. You addressed me as Xander because Xander was wearing this robe, and he changed when the evil magic arrived--I am an intruder in your friend's body. I ask forgiveness."

"You haven't done anything wrong, Xan-" Willow broke off in mid- sentence and frowned in frustration before continuing, "Look, whatever magic brought you here, you didn't cause it, and I can use all of the help I can get to try to stop whatever caused this." She hesitated, then added, "You're obviously not Xander--is there a name I can call you?"

The man frowned, and seemed to be lost in thought for a moment. Willow was about to prod him for an answer when he straightened and replied, "For some reason, my own name escapes me--but I do know that in one time and place I was known as 'Two Sandals.' Please do me the honor of addressing me by that name."

Willow looked at the man's feet and suppressed a smile. "It would be my honor, Two Sandals. My name is Willow." She looked nervously around her and added, "I'd love to talk further, Two Sandals, but I need to find my friends so that we can come up with a plan to stop this madness. We should hurry."

Two Sandals nodded, and followed Willow with his katana held loosely in his right hand and his eyes scanning for attackers.


Angel ran, cursing under his breath. I can't believe this is happening.

He had shown up at Buffy's house, finding Buffy panicked, Xander calm and dangerous-looking, and Cordelia--thank the Powers--more or less normal and ready to explain what was going on. Unfortunately, knowing what was going on wasn't much help--Willow was off to get Giles, who could presumably figure out what was going on. Also on the unfortunate side of things was the incursion by a newly transformed vampire, and the fact that Barbie. . .er, Buffy had seen Angel with his game face on; predictably, she had run screaming into the night, and Angel and the others had followed her with growing concern.

"She is clearly nearby--she could not have gotten far wearing that bulky clothing and impractical shoes." Angel turned at the comment from Xander--or Two Sandals, as he had introduced himself to Angel when the vampire arrived in Buffy's living room. The samurai frowned and added, "She is not capable of defending herself against these creatures, but her distress should assist us in locating her--"

As if on cue, a bloodcurdling shriek echoed through the alley, and Two Sandals moved in a blur, dashing towards the sound. For all of his supernatural strength and speed, Angel was hard pressed to keep up, and Cordelia was left cursing in their wake.

Angel turned the corner and saw Buffy struggling in the arms of a young man in a pirate costume. I've seen that boy at Buffy's school--he's one of the football players Two Sandals was three steps ahead of Angel, and the vampire could see the samurai raising his katana for the kill. "Two Sandals, no!" Angel shouted, knowing it was futile.

The football player turned pirate turned at the shout and dropped Buffy, raising his cutlass. Two Sandals sprinted over to his foe, raised his blade, and brought it down with terrifying speed, causing the weapon to hiss as it cut through the air. The pirate's cutlass was cleaved by the stroke, causing the villain to stare at his broken weapon with a stunned expression. That expression went away when Two Sandals delivered a perfect right cross, sending the pirate stumbling back into the alley wall, then into an unconscious heap.

Angel reached Two Sandals and stared at the state of his opponent. Two Sandals turned to the vampire and smiled softly. "I believe that a seaborne raider is not a normal inhabitant of this city--I decided that bloodshed was not the appropriate approach here." He glanced at the unconscious pirate and grimaced slightly before adding, "At least not too much bloodshed."

Angel smiled, and was about to reply when he heard a horrified gasp, and he turned to see Buffy edging away from him. He frowned in concern and was about to call out to reassure Buffy when Two Sandals stepped in front of him. "Miss, you have nothing to fear from either of us, but we must leave this place."

"But. . .he's a monster!" Buffy cried out, pointing at Angel. "I saw his face--it was horrible."

Two Sandals turned to Angel and studied him for a moment before replying, "Yes. . .he is a creature of darkness--I too have seen that, and sensed it." Angel frowned and was about to interrupt when Two Sandals turned back to Buffy and continued, "But I have also sensed that his center is good--he has chosen to fight to protect the innocent and helpless, which is the cause I have devoted my life to. I know not the reason one of the dark undead would become a champion of the light, but I spent years learning how to sense evil and deception in others, and the absence of such--and I swear to you by my blade and my honor that he is not your enemy."

Buffy blinked, and Angel saw an awed expression appear on his girlfriend's face as she got to her feet and bowed her head slightly to Two Sandals and whispered, "Thank you, noble warrior. I will accept your reassurances that in spite of his horrible appearance, he does not mean to do me harm."

Cordelia ran up to the group, panting and looking at the others. Xander looked serene, Buffy was looking at Xander with almost worshipful eyes. . .and Angel looked a bit pissed off. She turned to Angel and asked, "What did I miss?"

Angel sighed, and realized that he was being foolish--Buffy wasn't Buffy, and the man that not-Buffy was visibly falling for wasn't really Xander anyway. He shook his head and replied, "Nothing important--but we have to find the others. Things are getting dangerous, and someone's really going to get hurt if we don't hurry up and stop this."

Cordelia nodded curtly and went over to talk to Buffy. Angel gritted his teeth for a moment before walking over to Two Sandals, who was watching for signs of new attackers. "You seemed to be remembering more about your life, Two Sandals, " he commented, looking at the samurai as he stood silent and vigilant. "Do you know yet where you came from?"

Two Sandals shook his head. "I know what I was. I was a warrior, trained from a young age to defeat a great foe. I had no master except for my cause, which was righteous and pure. After many years, I faced my foe and was on the verge of defeating him when by trickery he escaped. I found him again, only to discover that he had improved his position and power a thousandfold. I fled, and searched for a way to deprive him of this advantage. For years I fought, and struggled, and bled. I defended those my enemy's malice threatened, and foiled his plans to destroy me. At last, I reached the end of my quest, and utterly defeated my foe. Having succeeded, I returned to my homeland to rest, and heal." He shook his head again and shouted, "I know all of this to be true, yet I know not where my homeland is! I know not the name of my dead enemy! I know not my own name!" Two Sandals bowed his head, then turned to Angel and apologized, "I am sorry to impose on you with my anguish. We must resolve this situation before I can deal with my own problems."

"I understand, Two Sandals--I too am far from my own place of origin, and miss it greatly at times." Angel reassured the samurai, and felt momentarily sad for him. I'm going to miss him when he goes, but he'll be happier when he's back home He looked over at Buffy and Cordelia and called out, "OK, let's head over to the library. We're going to be better off if we can--"

"Get inside before someone nasty finds you? Sorry Peaches--that just isn't going to happen."

Angel's heart fell, and he turned to the opposite end of the alley, and his worst fears were realized when he saw Spike, two of his lackeys, and half a dozen of the transformed children blocking the way. Spike chuckled and commented, "Looks like you're in a bit of a fix, Nancy Boy."

Angel glanced back at the visibly terrified women, then at the grim samurai, and concluded that Spike had a point.


Giles glared at Ethan. "Willow, get out of here." Willow hesitated, and Giles snapped, "NOW, Willow!"

Willow fled, and Giles shook his head in disgust. "I should have known it was you--this whole thing just stinks of Ethan Rayne."

Ethan smiled. "Yes, it is rather clever, isn't it? The old saying 'Be careful what you wish for' brought to life, all for the glory of Chaos." He chuckled at the visible outrage on Giles's face. "Do you really expect me to believe you're as outraged as all that, Ripper? We both know what you really are."

"What I was, Ethan. What I am is the man who will beat you to death if you do not stop this, here and now." Giles stepped forward, and there was death on his face.

Ethan's eyes widened, and he reached into his coat, pulling out a dagger, but Giles was on him in an instant and kicked the weapon away. He followed up with a hard left to Ethan's gut, knocking the wind out of the sorcerer and leaving him helpless to avoid the right cross that dropped him to the ground, bleeding. Giles stood over Ethan and began kicking him in the ribs with an utterly merciless expression on his face, listening for the sound of bones breaking. After three ribs had broken, Giles looked down at his opponent and intoned, "Tell me, and it will stop."

Ethan smiled at him again through bloodstained lips and spat, "Go to Hell, Ripper."

Giles shrugged and began kicking again. He had counted eight broken ribs when he heard low mumbling coming from Ethan. He paused and asked, "I'm sorry--was there something you wanted to say?"

Ethan began mumbling, and Giles leaned in to hear the faint words: "The statue--break the statue of Janus."

Giles turned immediately to the statue, seized it, and threw it to the ground with all of his strength. The white stone shattered and the green eyes vanished--but something new was left in its place. The new object was a dragon's head, carved in what appeared to be black jade. It was an exquisite piece of art, and Giles hesitated for a moment, transfixed by its beauty. Out of the corner of his eye, Giles could see Ethan staring at the dragon head in shock--he was obviously as stunned by this development as Giles was.

Giles shook his head to clear it and reached for the statue--as beautiful as it was, it was clearly connected with the whole crisis and needed to be destroyed. His hand were nearly on the statue when the eyes of the dragon flared into flame, and an invisible force tossed Giles back into a wall, stunning him. A deep, thunderous voice came from the head of the dragon: "NO, RUPERT GILES, YOU WILL NOT DESTROY ME. YOU HAVE SAVED YOUR TOWN FOR THE MOMENT BY DESTROYING JANUS, BUT YOU CANNOT STOP WHAT IS TO COME!"

Giles heard the words, but was still too shaken up to absorb them. He was struggling to his feet when an arc of flame came from the mouth of the dragon and engulfed Ethan Rayne. Ethan's eyes went wide, and Rupert Giles shuddered at the screams coming from the man he had almost beaten to death.


Spike chuckled again and glanced at Buffy and Cordelia, then at Xander. "Not much of an army you've got there, Peaches--two scared girls and that boy you used as bait a few weeks back. How about you run off and leave them to me? Dru would be mad at me if I didn't give you a fair shot to get out of Dodge."

Angel was about to retort when he heard Two Sandals murmuring. Knowing that the samurai was aware of his ability to hear faint noises, he listened carefully and heard, "Which ones are the real monsters?"

"The blonde vampire with the big mouth, and the two vampires next to him--the rest are children." Angel spoke normally, and Angel heard a faint chuckle, then saw a blur of motion go past him.

"Big mouth? I'll show you a big mouth you bloody wank--" Spike paused in mid-syllable, seeing the boy in the robe charging at his minions at what seemed to be an unreasonably fast clip. He felt the two vampires next to him stepping forward, and he almost followed, but an inner sense of caution caused him to step back. It's just one boy--let the minions take it

Spike watched as the boy reached the minion vampires, and in the next moment something happened that he would be replaying in his head for years. The boy's hand went to his sword belt, and an instant later the sounds of a blade hissing through the air and biting through flesh and bone mingled and echoed through the alley. Spike blinked involuntarily, and by the time he could see again the boy was holding his blade in attack position and his minions were standing frozen in place. He was about to shout at them to attack when he saw their heads tumble off their shoulders and their bodies burst into ashes. He looked down at the ashes, then up at the grim expression on the young man's face, and muttered, "Oh, bugger."

Two Sandals stepped forward, and was raising his blade to finish Spike when he was swarmed by six tiny monsters, slowing him as he put away his blade and struggled to free himself from them. Spike turned and fled. Damn it, Dru! Couldn't you have warned me that Droopy Boy was going to turn into the second coming of Duncan MacLeod? He disappeared into the night, cursing.

Angel had reached the crowd surrounding Two Sandals, and was helping to peel the little monsters away from the samurai when a brief flash of light illuminated the alley. When it faded, the monsters had been replaced by crying children, who ran over to the alley wall in fear and continued to cry. Angel turned back to Buffy and Cordelia, and the look he saw in Buffy's eyes most definitely did not belong to an eighteenth century noblewoman. He sighed in relief and called out, "Are you two all right?"

Buffy turned to Cordelia--who nodded--and replied, "I'm OK now--but the next time I start raving about how neat it would be to be one of the idle rich, shoot me." She walked forward, and looked over to where the silent robed figure was standing, eyes closed. Concerned, she called out, "Xander?" The figure turned to Buffy and shook his head, and Buffy tried again: "Two Sandals?"

The man shook his head again and replied, "That is not my name either." He stepped forward, and looked carefully at Buffy for a long moment before commenting, "I am pleased that you are yourself again--I can see why Angel cares for you so much, and why your friends are so devoted to you." He looked back at Angel, nodded once, and stated simply: "I know who I am now, and what I must do. The lives of many depend on it." Without a further word, he turned and sprinted down the alley.

Buffy and Angel turned to follow, and were keeping up with the sprinting figure until he took one last step. . .and leaped high into the air, clearing the two buildings straight ahead of him and leaving the astonished Slayer and vampire far behind him.

Buffy and Angel stopped, and turned to stare at each other. "How in the hell did he do that?" Angel's voice was an octave higher than usual from sheer disbelief.

"I don't know, but we need to find Giles and Willow now." snapped Buffy as she turned around, heading back to a visibly annoyed Cordelia. "I'm grateful to Two Sandals for helping to save our butts, but I'll be damned if we're going to lose Xander as part of the bargain."

They regrouped and left Cordelia to take the children back to their waiting parents at Sunnydale High. They had just left Cordelia when Willow came running up, panting from having had to run ten blocks. Buffy gave her a quick hug and asked, "Are you all right?"

"Not dead any more--big improvement." Willow panted, then added, "Giles is at the costume shop--I think he knows the guy who runs the shop. I've never seen him look so angry, Buffy."

The sound of a loud explosion echoed from down the street, and Buffy realized that it was coming from the costume shop. "Looks like all roads lead to Ethan's--let's go."


Giles stared in fascination as the mystic flames consumed Ethan Rayne, reducing his body to a shroud of crimson flames which gradually coalesced into a new form--a dragon with a head like the statue, and the body of a serpent: the classic Oriental Dragon. Giles felt an impulse to run, but he forced the fear down and called out, "What are you, and why have you caused these events to take place?"

The dragon looked into Giles' eyes, and the Watcher felt a chill as the creature spoke: "I am beyond your comprehension, Rupert Giles. For countless years, I was one of the great powers of this Earth, after the demons were banished and man began to spread across its surface. I bided my time, and my power grew, until one day I was prepared to take my place as the rightful ruler of this planet. My first attempt was a failure, but I survived to try again, and succeeded in conquering a small nation. Unfortunately, I overlooked one potential enemy, who came back after many years to seek my destruction. He had me at his mercy, and was about to extinguish me when I resorted to one last desperate trick, which seemed to work--my enemy vanished. Much to my dismay, in the next instant he reappeared, and struck me a deathblow. I departed into oblivion, but I had made plans against just such a disaster."

Giles inclined his head at the statue, and the creature laughed. "Yes, Rupert Giles. I had carved the statue and enchanted it for that important task. When I perished, the statue drew in a portion of my life force and disguised itself as the visage of a relatively forgotten god, then teleported to a land far from my foe's dwelling place. Centuries passed, and the statue fell into the hands of your friend Ethan Rayne--the time was ripe, and Ethan Rayne was a perfect tool for my purpose. His chaos spell was the perfect opportunity to set the events in motion that would allow me to return. I influenced him subtly to obtain the samurai robes and sandals, then imbued them with the magic needed to summon the essence of my great enemy. When the spell was cast, the essence of my enemy was summoned here, into the body of the mortal who wore the samurai costume, and he will seek me out, to fight to the death. The winner will be restored fully to life--and when I stand over the corpse of my foe, I will be ready to rule this world at long last, as it should have been long ago."

Giles paled, realizing the threat that they all faced. He glared at the dragon, knowing that he had no hope of defeating it in combat but still determined to gather all of the knowledge he could to help Buffy and the others deal with this monstrosity. "Who are you--and who is your enemy?"

"His name is Aku--and my name is Jack!"

Giles heard the familiar--yet unfamiliar--voice and turned to the front door of the shop in horror. He saw Xander standing there, with the cold expression of a master warrior on his face, and a naked katana in his hands. The samurai locked eyes with Giles and ordered, "Leave this place, Rupert Giles. Seek out your friends, for they will have need of you."

Giles nodded and slipped past Jack, running down the street. Jack nodded, and turned back to Aku--only to see a bolt of crimson fire rocketing at him. He dove for cover, as the storefront erupted into flames and the roof was blown off of the building. Jack sighed inwardly. Some things never change He rolled into a crouch, and charged at his foe at a dead run, shouting, "AKU!!"


Buffy, Angel and Willow ran along the deserted street, seeing the glow of flames ahead of them and dreading what they might find. They tensed when they saw a man running at them, and relaxed when they saw it was Giles. Buffy ran up to him and demanded, "What's going on, Giles? Who is that guy in the costume shop, and what's he been doing?"

"He's someone I knew a long time ago--and he's dead. Unfortunately, he's unleashed something quite dreadful in the process, and I fear we will not be able to deal with it." The look of appalled horror on Giles' face as he replied to Buffy caused the others to shiver as he continued, "The creature who was manipulating Ethan has staged a ritual duel--if it triumphs, it will be able to fully manifest as it was before its demise--and I have every reason to believe that it will be far more powerful than any creature we have faced before."

"Giles--the creature's opponent--it's Xander, isn't it? The entity possessing him, rather." Angel spoke quietly, his expression grave. Giles nodded, and Angel smiled slightly and added, "Giles, that warrior is formidable--I wouldn't count him out just yet."

Giles nodded wearily, and the others felt a chill as he elaborated, "I gathered as much--but there's a complication. By the terms of the ritual the creature described to me, the victor will be restored fully as they were in life. If the samurai--Jack--prevails, we may lose Xander forever. If the creature--Aku--prevails, we will lose Xander and the world will be in peril."

Willow's eyes filled with tears, and Buffy squeezed her shoulder before turning to Giles and saying quietly, "I'm not going to let that happen, Giles. We're going there, and I'm going to stop this from happening if I have to walk straight into Hell to do it." She started walking down the street towards the ominous glow, calling out, "Let's go--Xander needs us."

Hoping for the best, but fearing the worst, the others followed her.


Jack leapt forward, rolled, and slashed at Aku, using the blade in his left hand to confuse the shapeshifter. Aku dodged back at the last second, and the enchanted blade only nicked him. Aku howled in pain, and he looked back at his foe in time to see a quick smile. "Do not gloat yet, samurai. I possess many powers, some of which you have never seen, nor could hope to survive should I unleash them." Jack laughed out loud, and Aku scowled as he sprouted wings from his back and darted out of Jack's reach. "What is so amusing? Do you find my awesome power a matter for mockery?"

Jack grinned, and leapt suddenly at Aku, startling the shapeshifter and almost causing him to wait too long to dodge the deadly blade. Jack landed thirty feet away in a pile of debris from the store and called out, "Do you have any idea how tedious that boasting got to become over the years? 'I am all powerful! I will crush you mercilessly! You are doomed to failure!' Children were mocking you in their games before matters came to a close, Aku. The sad fact is-- you're an unbearable bore."

Aku stared, perplexed at Jack's words, and it was a few moments before realization dawned in the flaming eyes. The shapeshifter stared and whispered, "The spell worked--you were cast into the future, and I still ruled there!" Jack nodded, and Aku was silent for a moment before blurting out, "What was it like there? You must tell me!"

Jack paused, then nodded and replied, "You ruled with absolute power for centuries before I arrived, Aku. You took an entire world and twisted it to your will, corrupting what you could and enslaving the rest. When I arrived, your power was inconceivably greater than it had been when I faced you last." Jack paused dramatically, circling Aku as he hovered above the flaming wreckage of the shop. After a few seconds he added, "And I arrived and took it away from you--every bit of it. I made it never happen. And the best part of it is, I never could have gained the skill to defeat you if you hadn't exiled me to that hell. Would it not be appropriate for me to thank you, Aku?"

Aku snarled in rage and tossed another firebolt, which Jack sidestepped. Aku growled, then laughed and called out, "It would seem that we have an audience, samurai. The friends of the boy whose body you are occupying. They would certainly like to help you. . .but there's a bit of a problem."

Jack looked over while carefully keeping an eye on Aku and noticed that a barrier of white flame had sprung up around the wreckage of the shop, blocking the progress of Buffy and her friends. He turned back and bellowed, "What foul sorcery is this, Aku?"

"Impressive, isn't it?" Aku seemed to be in a better mood, and very pleased with himself as he circled above Jack and elaborated. "The white flames mark the boundaries of our battle, and actually fill the entire area of the arena, though they only appear when outsiders are in their immediate vicinity. They will burn to fetid ashes anyone who enters them except for one of us." Aku chuckled at the livid expression on Jack's face and concluded, "Your friends can look, Jack, but not touch. I'll give them a proper reception after I've ground your bones to powder."

"You're not going to take him, monster! I'll find a way through these flames and I'll rip you into tiny pieces with my bare hands if I have to!" Buffy's voice rang out, and Jack noticed that Aku was actually regarding the angry Slayer with some respect; unfortunately, he also noticed that Buffy had burned herself trying to get to the combatants, and was visibly swaying on her feet. He locked eyes with Angel through the flames and willed him to hear his silent plea. Get her away from here--don't let her die for nothing He saw the vampire nod, and saw him drag the anguished Slayer away while Giles and Willow watched the fight continue.

Aku watched the byplay with interest and laughed, "Your host has loyal friends, samurai. It's a shame he's so undeserving of the affection. Face facts--I've managed to saddle you with an inferior host. The boy has no combat skills to speak of, is ordinary in terms of intellect, and lacks the aura of a leader. My host, on the other hand, is a powerful sorcerer, who I manipulated into conducting all of the rituals needed to bring this duel to pass, and kindly donated his body to me to use as a host. You are outmatched, Jack--it would be the honorable thing to do to admit it and concede defeat."

Aku waited for his foe to erupt in rage at his taunting, and was astonished to see him smile and sheathe his blade. The shapeshifter frowned, then began tossing firebolts randomly at Jack, snarling in frustration as the samurai nimbly avoided the force of the bolts, though the nimbus of several of them ignited the edges of the robe, causing Jack to let it fall to the ground and draw his blade again. Aku glared at the unscathed samurai standing silently, wearing nothing but a loincloth and wielding his gleaming katana, and screamed, "What do you laugh at, fool? DO YOU NOT KNOW WHEN YOU ARE BEATEN?"

"No, Aku, I don't. That is what you never understood about me, and why I was able to beat you in spite of everything." Aku felt a shiver as Jack's dark eyes met his, and listened as the samurai continued, "Aku, as skilled as I became--as much power as I was able to gather to myself--it all wouldn't have been enough to overcome you. I won because I--never--gave--up: not for an instant. I spent every night of my life from the day you banished me going to sleep with the knowledge that I would not stop until I had defeated you. And the amazing thing is, of all of the young men your tool could have chosen to wear the robes and summon my essence back, he chose this young man--who has the most indomitable spirit of anyone he could have chosen in this cursed place." Jack watched as Aku's eyes widened in horror, and he added the coup de grace: "You really should have learned to hire better help, Aku--it's always been your downfall." With that, he leapt at Aku with a battle cry, and the final battle was joined.

Buffy had lapsed into semi-consciousness from her injuries, and the others watched as Jack and Aku darted around the battle zone almost too quickly for them to follow, jets of fire and the hiss of the great blade marking their progress. Several times, Aku seemed ready to flee the battlefield, but always returned--leaving would negate the ritual and forfeit the battle. Occasionally, cries of pain could be heard as the attack of one opponent or another struck home. Gradually, the combatants slowed down, and began circling each other on the ground. Aku began to glow with the corona of an impending firebolt, and this one looked as if it would be a huge one. Jack looked ready to dodge, and started to move just as Aku's eyes brightened--

--only to widen in horror as Jack ducked down under the flames and thrust the great katana into Aku's heart, causing the shapeshifter to gasp in pain and stare down at the killing blow. Jack smiled and shook his head, commenting, "It only took me five years to learn to anticipate that move, Aku--a shame that you didn't know I had." He smiled coldly and concluded, "Give my regards to oblivion, monster."

Aku screamed and exploded. The force of the blast tossed Jack twenty feet and painfully burned him. I really wish I had figured out a way to avoid that this time He staggered for a moment, and when his vision cleared, Xander's friends were standing next to him, looking relieved, yet worried. He sighed sadly and smiled painfully as he commented, "Enjoyable, if a bit painful." He looked at Buffy with concern. "Buffy is injured--you should take her to the local hospital."

"Buffy is a Slayer--her burns will heal naturally if she rests for a few days." Giles' reply caused Jack to relax in relief, and he looked on as Giles continued, "Aku told me that if you won the battle, you would remain and Xander would be gone forever."

"Aku was correct--if I chose to stay, I could do so." Jack saw anger bloom in the eyes of Willow and the now-awake Buffy, but was relieved to see that Angel and Giles had perceived his meaning and were watching him with sad eyes. He coughed self-consciously and continued, "I have completed my life's purpose again by destroying Aku forever, and I have already lived a long life, with an honorable legacy. I will not tarnish it by robbing such a worthy young man of his own chance at life. When I am gone, please thank him for me-- without his own courage and indomitable spirit I could not have prevailed on this night."

"Of course," Angel was the first to find his voice, and he locked arms with the samurai. "It was an honor to fight at your side, Jack."

"As it was for me to fight at yours, Angel." Jack turned and bowed solemnly to Giles--who returned the bow--then turned to Willow. "Thank you for your assistance in adjusting to this situation, Willow. I hope that 'Two Sandals' did not cause you too much consternation."

Willow hesitated for a moment, then stepped forward and gave Jack an uninhibited hug. Jack smiled and commented, "You seem to be corporeal again, Willow--I prefer you this way." Willow stepped back and nodded, tears in her eyes. Jack smiled and turned to Buffy, speaking as he turned: "Buffy, I--"

Jack was startled when Buffy stepped up to him and kissed him firmly on the mouth, and he did not resist or cooperate with the kiss, instead waiting until Buffy stepped away and looked at him, her eyes glittering. Jack looked uncomfortably at Angel, then back at Buffy as he flushed and began again: "Buffy--"

"Warrior's farewell, Jack. Angel understands." Buffy's tone was level, though her voice was still weak. Jack looked over at Angel-- who nodded--and he stepped away from the group before turning to face them and bowing once more as he called out to them:

"Farewell, my friends."

There was a bright flash of light, and when they could see again they saw Xander standing there, wearing the T-shirt and shorts he had worn under the robe. The burns were gone, but Xander was deathly pale, and Angel quickly stepped forward to steady him. Willow moved forward for another hug, but this time it was her best friend she embraced as she buried her face in his shoulder, shaking with sobs of relief. Buffy smiled at Xander, then quietly sat down and muttered about having to come up with a doozy of a cover story for her mother as to why she'd have to miss the next few days of school. Giles walked up to Xander and asked quietly, "Xander, how much of it do you remember?"

Xander looked back at the Watcher, and Giles shivered at the timeless look in the teenager's eyes as he whispered: "All of it, Giles. I remember everything."



"OK, I need a break."

Giles, who had just spoken, lowered his sword, and Xander did likewise as he mopped the sweat from his brow. The Watcher shook his head and commented, "Xander, your skill with melee weapons is quite notable--I've been training with these weapons for twenty years and more, and you're at or near my level of ability with all of them, as near as I can tell. Remarkable."

"Quite a parting gift from Jack, huh Xander?" Buffy commented, looking up from the Watcher's diary in front of her. She noticed the calm manner in which Xander nodded in reply to her comment and felt a moment of sadness. Jack was a great guy, but I liked the old Xander, too--I don't want to give him up

"I think I found it, Giles." Willow called out from Giles' office, and she carried out an ancient volume, which she deposited on the table next to Buffy--the title read "International Legends from the Middle Ages." Willow pointed to a passage, and Buffy glanced and read out loud:

"It is said that in this time the great sorcerer Aku--who wielded the powers of fire and shapeshifting--moved to conquer the provinces of Japan, with an eye towards conquering the entire world. After a brief period of success, he was opposed by a great samurai dedicated to his destruction. An epic battle ensued, and the samurai triumphed, forever ridding the world of the threat of Aku. The samurai retired to his home village, and welcomed many children and grandchildren into the world before leaving this world with great honor."

The friends smiled, and Willow commented sadly, "They didn't even give his name--maybe they didn't know it."

Buffy smiled and looked over at her best friends as she replied, "That's all right--we know it, and we'll remember it." She sighed, then added, "Now we get to write our own stories--maybe by the time we're done we'll give Jack some competition in the history books." She turned to Giles and commented, "Let's get back to work."


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