When the boat docked Tara was the first off, followed closely by the others. A middle-aged man and woman came running up to them.
"Hello, I am the summoner Tara. I have come from the Temple in Besaid."
"M'lady Summoner! The woman spoke in a relieved voice.
"If there are no other summoners here, please allow me to perform the sending."
"Thanks be to ye Lady Summoner." The man said.
"We feared our loved ones would become fiends! Thank you Lady Summoner." The woman said and took Tara's hand and led her off.
"We'll go and see what we can do to help in town." Xander said as he and the Aurochs ran off toward the town. Willow followed Anya and Faith to where Tara was preparing to perform the sending. Walking over to Anya, Willow took a slow look around. Several villagers were standing and waiting for Tara to begin, as she looked more closely at the water, Willow could see the dead villagers wrapped up in cloth, and shivered.
"Uh, what's a sending? Are we going somewhere?" Willow asked Anya.
"Damn! You truly ARE clueless. Are you sure that it's just your memories that's the problem? I think you've been hit on the head with a blitzball one too many times." Faith said glaring at Willow.
"Oh hush Faith." Turning to Willow she spoke again "The dead need guidance. Filled with grief over their own death, they refuse to face their fate. They yearn to live on, and resent those still living. They envy the living, you see. And given enough time that envy turns to anger, and even hate. Should these souls remain in Spira, they become fiends that prey on the living. Sad isn't it? The sending sends them to the Farplane where they may rest in peace. Anya explained to Willow.
"And the Summoners, they do this?" Willow said and turned to watch Tara.
Tara had begun to walk on the water holding her rod in her right hand and out to her side. She stops thirty feet from the dock and swings her rod around her body and over her head. Leaning back she brings the rod over her stomach and chest, and rises up and twirls her body. The souls of the dead slowly float out of the bodies, and under Tara's feet as she continues to twirl. The torch flames on the pier go from burning red to burning bright blue. The souls make the water under Tara's feet rise up into a pillar with her on top. The souls then descend into the air and disappear, the water slowly falls and Tara in gently sat back on the water.
"It must be tough being a summoner." Willow says as she watches Tara slowly walking out of the water and back on the dock.
"Tara chose her own path. She knew from the beginning what it meant to be a summoner. And now, all we can do as her guardians is to protect her along the way. Until the very end." Anya said and walked over to Tara.
"The end? What's the end?" The villager's turn and stare at Willow, Faith shakes her head.
"You moron! It means until she defeats Sin." Faith said as she too walked over to Tara.
"Oh... you don't have to be so bitchy about it you know." Willow said to no one but herself, as she watched Faith pull Tara into a hug.
"I hope I did okay."
"Don't worry, you did just fine." Anya says as she too pulls Tara into a hug. "But... no tears next time, okay?
I wished there would never be a next time. No more people getting killed by Sin. No more sendings for Tara. Everyone stood there watching her. It was strange, and somehow... horrifying. I never wanted to see it again.
That night as Willow slept in the small lodge that somehow escaped being destroyed by Sin, her dreams were like nightmares. The attack on Zanarkand, the Al Bhed ship, and the boat S.S. Liki, the destruction of Kilika Island, and finally the sending. As the sun rose the next morning Willow tiredly crawled out of bed, she spoke to the owner of the lodge when she came down the stairs. Stepping outside Datto one of the Aurochs runs up to her.
"Hey! You finally up? Cap'n Xander's waitin' on you over there." He said pointing toward a destroyed section of the dock. Willow ran over to find Xander and the Aurochs helping to rebuild the dock. Seeing her Xander called a stop to the work.
"Hey, there you are." He said to her then turned to the team. "Besaid Aurochs! Huddle! Time to go to the temple, where we pray for victory!" The team nodded their heads and ran off. "High Summoner Ohalland used to live in the Kilika Temple. He was a great blitzer, you know?"
"Hey Xander?" Willow said a little uncertain.
"Praying for victory's all good... but is it right?"
"What? Something wrong with enjoying the game?"
"No. But...what I mean is...is this really the time? What with Sin's attack and Tara doing the sending...and all."
Turning to Willow he saw the confusion and worry on her face. "Will, you have to realize that this is the only time! The players fight with all their strength: the fans cheer for their favorite team. And in doing this the pain, the suffering, it's all forgotten for a short time... and only the game matters. That's why blitz has been around for so long. Well that's what I think anyway." Xander explained.
"Okay, whatever you say."
"Well I say... Let's play, and win! Right?
"Okay the Temple is just beyond the jungle, the others are waiting for us at the path. So lets get going."
When Xander and Willow reached the jungle path they saw Anya looking closely at Tara, and Faith's ranting was scaring off the birds.
"Tara! You can't possibly be serious! I mean come on!" Faith was saying, or rather screaming.
<Well, if she does that too much the fiends will leave us alone.> Willow thought as she and Xander neared.
"What's up?" Xander asked Anya.
"Tara's saying that she wants you with us." Anya spoke directly to Willow who looked at her confused.
"I want to ask you to be my guardian." Tara shyly said to Willow.
Faith was gripping her spear so tight her knuckles were turning white. "She can't be your guardian, look at her! She's a blitzball player the fiends'll eat her alive." She told Tara then turned to Xander. "No offence meant."
Xander smiled. "None taken."
"Well, not a guardian then... I-I just want her near by." Tara said causing Faith to growl.
"What? What do you mean? Willow asked even more confused than before.
"W-well it's j-just that..." Tara stuttered out.
"Hey, we're going to the Temple anyway. Can't this wait till later?" Xander questioned trying to get everyone calm again.
"Yeah, how 'bout like never later?" Faith said and walked ahead of the group.
"I-I'm s-sorry, I shouldn't h-have."
"There's nothing to be sorry for... it's just that I don't know what's going on."
"My apologies." Tara said and looked at the ground.
"Hey, like I said there is absolutely nothing to apologize for." Willow said and got a small half smile from Tara.
The group walked along the jungle path running into a flower like fiend, which Faith learned a new attack called Seed Cannon from. As they continued on a Dinonix, a lizard fiend jumped from a tree, and sunk its teeth into Faith's shoulder. Willow thought she saw the flowers by the path wilt from the words coming out of Faith's mouth. Getting a good grip on the fiend Faith threw it to the ground, and stabbed it in the heart with her spear.
"Teach that fucker, now won't it?" Faith said as Tara healed her wound.
Back on the path they proceeded deeper into the jungle, with Faith muttering a few curses here and there. Ahead of them, they could see Riley and Oz running toward them. Oz looked like he lost a fight with a meat grinder, and Riley's shirt and pants were tore in various places showing that he too had wounds. Behind them stood a huge green and brown fiend, with four tentacles with claws. The top part opened up like a blooming flower, with sharp teeth, and something in the middle that looked like a pool of water. The fiend had stayed behind when Riley and Oz ran off, and began dozing.
Xander gave the two men a once over before speaking. "Hey you two alright?"
"Yeah, a little worse for wear, but we'll be fine." Riley spoke as Oz just nodded and flopped to the ground, looking a little on the green side.
"Please allow me to heal the both of you." Tara said and stepped forward.
"It would be an honor Lady Tara." Riley smiled.
"What happened? You look like a giant moth had your clothes for a snack, and him," Willow said pointing to Oz. "he looks like he was chewed up and spit out."
"We thought we could take on that," Riley pointed to the fiend. "But we were dead wrong. That thing is called Ochu, Lord of the wood. And he's very hard to kill, he can put you to sleep, and poison you. If you do decide to fight him please be very careful." Riley said as Tara finished healing Oz.
Turning to her guardians and Willow, Tara spoke "To make this jungle somewhat safer we have to get rid of that fiend"
"I agree, if we don't do something it'll just keep on attacking and killing people." Anya said holding her white Mog doll.
"Yeah, plus we have a Dragon with us." Xander said cocking his head toward Faith. "With her I'm sure we'll have no problem defeating it." Faith just nodded and gripped her spear tighter.
Everyone turned to Willow. "Well, with what I've been through, I'm up for it." Willow said and grabbed her sword.
With everyone in agreement the group walked toward the fiend. Lord Ochu being sensitive to sound woke up and charged the group, making them scatter. Faith cast Scan on it, "Anya! His weakness is Fire." She called out, and blocked one of the tentacles from hitting her in the chest. Xander threw his ball hitting the fiend in the mid-section. Anya readied a Fire spell, and let it fly just as Xander caught his ball. The fire caused the fiend to shriek and swing its tentacles around madly. Willow saw one of the tentacles about to hit her, and brought her sword down severing it. A green substance spurted out of the severed limb hitting the ground in front of Willow, burning the grass. <Whoa!> Willow thought. One of the tentacles hit Xander on the head, and he fell to the ground snoring away.
Anya seeing this got mad, "Hey! This is no time to be sleeping!" she cast a Water spell over Xander waking him up. Glaring at Anya, he hit the fiend again with his ball, Anya cast another Fire spell, and Faith sliced it open with her spear. The fiend wobbled from side to side, before taking a step toward Tara, seeing this Willow ran toward Tara and pushed her out of the way as the fiend fell. One of the claws buried itself into Willow's leg, ripping it open. Willow fell to the ground unconscious as the fiend disappeared.
"Willow!" Tara screamed and ran over to her. Willow's leg was bleeding heavily and the skin around the wound was turning green. "She's been poisoned, give me an Antidote." Faith was the one that handed Tara what she asked for. Taking the top off Tara poured the contents over the wound, the Antidote bubbled in the wound pushing the poison out of Willow's body. Tara sighed in relief when the green faded and the color came back to Willow's leg. Tara cast a healing spell over Willow, and waited. A few minutes passed before she opened her eyes, to find blue eyes looking back. <Now that's something to wake up to> Willow thought, and gave Tara a small smile. Smiling back Tara helped Willow to stand.
"What happened? Where's the fiend?" Willow asked when she didn't see it. "Don't tell me it ran off."
"No, it didn't we killed it. And you my friend, took a hit that Tara would have got if you hadn't pushed her out of the way." Xander said proudly.
"Come on, let's get to the Temple before dark." Faith spoke and gave Willow a nod.
Following the path to the Temple the group didn't encounter any more fiends, and gave a happy sigh when the steps came into view. The Aurochs were waiting at the bottom step, when seeing they saw Xander wave, they headed up the steps. Only two of the team stayed, one was doing squats, while the other was stretching.
"These steps have a history. Lord Ohalland used to train here at his peak." Xander said to Willow. The two Aurochs laughed.
"A race huh? Do ya think you can beat me?" Willow asked them and readied herself.
"Tara, do you mind?" Xander asked and stood beside Willow.
Tara stood on the fifth step and raised her hand in the air. "Ready?" Was all she said and bolted up the steps. Anya laughed, and Faith shook her head.
"Hey! Tara, that not fair!" Xander raced after her with Willow following. Before reaching the top two more of the Aurochs came running down.
"L-look out! Sinspawn!" Datto screamed as he ran past. Faith and Anya had already caught up and ran behind Willow and Xander.
Toping the steps the four saw Tara being held in one of three tentacles, toward another set of steps the group saw a gray shell rising out of the ground.
"Faith you take the shell and we'll take the tentacles and get Tara." Xander said and Faith nodded.
Running toward the Sinspawn Faith hit it dead center and jumped back as a green mist was released. Anya cast fire on one of the tentacles as Xander hit the other. Willow ran over to the one holding Tara and gave it a good swipe cutting it in half, dropping Tara into Willow's waiting arms. Willow sat Tara on the ground and hit the tentacle again. All three tentacles went underground, and the shell opened, a green Sinspawn emerged, with yellow and red markings on its body. The fiend cast a water spell on Faith, pissing her off. Anya was still casting Fire spells, Willow hit the fiend with her sword, Xander threw his ball into the air, and twirled it on the tip of his finger, the ball glowed white, and Xander hit the Sinspawn with it, a bright light surrounded the Sinspawn.
"Ha! Now you can't cast!" Xander screamed at the Sinspawn.
Tara stood and watched as Faith got hit in the midsection and flew back fifteen foot and skidded to a stop not getting up. Anya was hit on the side of her head, and fell to the ground unconscious. After the tentacles had been pulled back, Willow had left Tara and ran over to the body and cut off two of the tentacles before she too was knocked back.
"Stand back! I'll summon Valefor!" Tara shouted.
Willow and Xander scattered and watched as a bright circle of light circled Tara's feet and Valefor flew from the sky. Tara gently petted Valefor's head, and spoke to her, "Use your Sonic Wings attack." Valefor rose into the air and pulled her wings back and then brought them forward in one fast motion, sending a huge gust of wind at the Sinspawn, killing it. Tara dismissed Valefor as the Sinspawn disappeared.
Xander had ran over to Anya and pulled her out of the way, and Willow had ran to Faith, and cringed when she saw the wounds on Faith's body. Her stomach was cut open and bleeding, her right eye was swollen shut and beginning to turn black, and a cut starting beside her right eyebrow and ending at her chin. "Tara! Faith has been hurt!" She hollered making Tara run over and kneel down.
Willow stood and backed up not wanting to get in the way. "Now that's getting a workout!" Willow said to Xander still breathing hard from the battle.
"Yeah, sorry about that, had hoped to break ya in a little easier, ya know." Xander laughed and patted Willow on the back.
"Being a guardian's tiring!" Willow said as she watched Faith open her eyes, and stand "Tara, you okay? Did that thing hurt you?"
Tara looked to Willow as she stood. "I'm fine, just worried about everyone. How are you and Xander?" She asked as she healed the cut on Anya's head.
"Don't worry about me, I'm fine." Xander said checking his blitzball over for holes.
"I'm fine too, nothing a good nights sleep won't cure."
"Hey, Will. I have to say you got talent!" Xander said and twirled the blitzball on the tip of his finger. "You handled yourself pretty well."
"Really? You think so? Sweet!" Willow jumped into the air making Tara giggle. "So, what exactly are these "Sinspawn" anyway?"
"Fiends." Anya said and rubbed her head. "They fall from Sin's body, and are left behind in its wake."
"Yeah, but leave 'em alone, and Sin'll come back for 'em. You gotta be quick!" Xander said causing Willow to shiver at the thought of Sin returning.
That moment when Xander told me I had talent in battle... I think that was when I started seriously considering becoming Tara's guardian.
"Well we're almost to the Temple." Faith said and picked up her spear. "So, let's get going."
Faith walked up the stairs, followed by Tara and Anya, and Xander and Willow at the back. Willow was lost in thought, until Xander spoke.
"So, uh... are there fiends in Zanarkand, too?"
"Just a few. It's a big deal when one shows up though." She replied off hand then stopped. "Hey! Since when have you believed me about Zanarkand?"
Xander stopped on the top step and turned back to Willow. "Well I been thinking. Maybe the people Sin gets to don't die. Maybe Sin carries 'em through time, by like a thousand years. And then, one day, maybe they just pop back, see?"
"Amazing. Simply amazing." Anya spoke as she turned to Xander. "You make up one theory after another, refusing to face the simple truth. Sin didn't take Hikari anywhere! Sin killed her and left her crushed body on the Djose shore! Your sister won't just pop back." Anya turned to leave but stopped. "Oh and one more thing. No matter how much you want it, no one can take Hikari's place. No one can replace Sir Ira for that matter. And there is certainly no replacement for Lady Mythe, either! It's pointless to think about, and sad." Anya then turned and walked by Tara who had her head down.
Sitting down on the top step Xander stared out toward the jungle. "I... I could never be what Hikari was." He stands still not making eye contact with Willow, who was watching him. "Well, things happen, ya? Best not to think 'bout it." Willow watched as Xander climbed the last six steps.
Xander, Anya, and Xander's sister Hikari. Something had happened between them a long time ago. I was sure of it. And whatever it was, it was none of my business, that's for sure. Best not to go there.