The next morning Willow stood on the railing holding onto a rope to keep from falling in the water. From the boat she watched the Blitzball arena open and the sphere pool to come into view. The harbor was bustling with men, women, and children, all there to watch the tournament. When the S.S. Winno docked at the Luca harbor, Willow could hear the commentators speaking.
"Ah, over there! The ships carrying the players are arriving now, at dock two folks. All the way from Kilika it's the Kilika Beasts!" The first commentator said as the Beasts walked down the ramp and waved to the spectators. "High Summoner Ohalland used to play for them, a big name to live up to. Their hometown was recently attacked by Sin. Isn't that right, Jimma?"
"Yes, Bobba. They're going to be pulling out all the stops to try and bring back the cup this year!"
"Exciting isn't it, folks? Our next team off the ramp is... Well, well, well! If it isn't the Besaid Aurochs! They're a living, breathing, statistical impossibility!" Bobba said as the Aurochs walked down the ramp, Xander was rubbing his head in embarrassment. "I've never seen a team this bad! In twenty-three years they've never made it past the first round. Only a few die-hard fans are in the audience today."
"Best of luck to them, and a safe journey back to Besaid."
"Right, Jimma. Moving right along, our next team is... Here they are, folks! Our very own Luca Goers! They've got power! They've got speed! They've got teamwork! They're an all-around first-class team and they're back home in Luca."
"You can say that again, Jimma. Look at the crowd! Looks like all of Luca has turned out to cheer the Goers on! They know, I know, and you know. The Luca Goers are number one!"
On the dock Xander watched as Willow went from happy, to angry. "Hey, it's like this every year. Don't let it bother you." He said when Willow's face was a mask of fury.
"This is bullshit!" Willow jumped on a crate, and grabbed a megaphone. "Stop right there, Goers! You guys are smiling now, but not for long! "Cause this year, us Aurochs are taking the cup! Haha!"
Tara was giggling when Willow jumped down. Xander had a horrified look on his face, Anya was shaking her head, and Faith was smirking.
"What in Yevon's name were you doin' up there?"
"But Cap'n we stood out!" Datto said.
"Yeah, we were on the sphere!" Letty said.
At that moment two men and a woman hurriedly walked past the group.
Maester Snyder is here!" One of the men said.
"Already?" The woman asked.
"His boat is on the number three dock." The second man said, and started to run.
Willow looked over to Xander, then to Tara. "What's up now?"
"Maester Snyder has arrived, that's what!" Tara said excitedly.
"Maester Snyder is the leader of all the people of Spira. He's come all the way from Bevelle. The tournament is being held to honor his fifty years as Maester." Anya said.
"Fifty years? Shouldn't he be, uh, retired by now?"
"Hey!" Xander turned to her. "Mind your mouth now."
"Come on, let's all go see him!" Tara said then ran off with the others following.
Reaching dock three where a huge crowd had gathered Willow jumped up and down trying to see in the front. "Well, darn! Can't see a thing."
"Shhhh!" Xander shushed her, as a woman with blond hair walked down the ramp. She was wearing a dark blue robe, with a green sash over a red silk dress. Her hand were a bit longer than a human hand. The woman turned and prayed toward the Maester's ship.
"That's a Guado, right?" A man beside Willow asked.
"Who could it be?" The woman beside the man asked.
"Isn't that Lady Maester Glory?" A second man asked, then bowed in prayer as an old man walked down the ramp and stood next to the blond.
"People of Spira, I thank you for your generous welcome." He said then turned toward the blond. "Rise, Lady Maester Glory, and all of you as well. I present to you... the daughter of Maester Jyscal Guado, who departed for the Farplane a fortnight past. As some of you already know, she has been officially ordained a Maester of Yevon."
"Thank you Maester Snyder." Glory turned to the crowd. "I am Glory Guado. I am honored to receive the title of Maester. In life, my father Jyscal worked to foster friendship between man and Guado. I vow to carry on his legacy, and to fulfill my duties as a Maester to the best of my abilities." Glory finished and the crowd bowed.
Xander seeing Willow not bow he nudged her arm. "You too, bow your head!"
"Hmph!" Willow watched Glory as she stared at Tara, and a grin crossed Glory's face. Willow glared at her when she walked by. <Great! Why was she looking at Tara like that? I don't like her!>
"Really psyches you up, ya? All right last meeting before the game." Xander said and ran off to the locker rooms with the Aurochs following.
Willow watched them disappear and turned to Tara. <Wonder if I can get a kiss for luck?>
"Come on I'll walk you to the locker room." Tara said taking Willow's hand. Anya looked to Faith, and sighed shaking her head. "I can't wait to see you play! I just know you'll look good!" Tara said happily swinging their joined hands.
"So, you'll be cheering me and the Aurochs on?"
"Yes, silly! I will!" Tara said making Willow smile. They walked up and set of stairs and down another set to the right of the sphere pool. "Okay, it's the last door on the left." Tara pulled Willow into a quick hug before leaving with Anya and Faith.
"Wooo-whooo!" Willow shouted jumping into the air, after Tara, Anya and Faith disappeared up the stairs. "Yes! I got a hug! I got a hug!" She sang and did a happy dance up to the locker room door. Composing herself, she opened the door and stepped in. "Hey, where's Xander?" She asked not seeing him in the room.
Datto looked up. "At the match-up draws."
"We had to play the Goers in the first match last year." Letty said sitting down beside Datto.
Jassu closed his locker "The year before that, and the one before that, too!
"Well, we would have lost to anyone, anyway." Keepa said hanging his head.
Xander walked into the locker room with a smile on his face. "We're playin' the Al Bhed Psyches first. If we win, we're in the finals! That's right, we got seeded! Two wins and we're the champions!" Xander pumped his fist in the air.
Tara ran into the locker room. "There you are!" She said to Willow. "Someone said they saw Sir Giles in a café!"
"Gi-Giles?" Willow asked stunned.
"Yes, Sir Giles!" Tara nodded "Let's go find him!"
"Hey! Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! The game starts like real soon! Come back quick, ya?" Xander worriedly said.
Willow turned and nodded. "Not to worry. I'll be back."
"Xander, you're stiff, man." Willow said causing Xander to rub his face. "No, not your face." She walked over and put her hands on his shoulders. "Just relax, breath in, breath out...like this. Just breath, okay?"
Tara was giggling as she walked through the door, followed by Willow a minute later.
"Maybe now we can find Sir Ira."
"Sir Giles was also my mother's guardian. So, he might know where Sir Ira is. Let's go now." Tara takes Willow's hand and pulls her along.
It didn't even occur to me to think that the Giles, Tara was talking about... and the one that I knew from Zanarkand could be two different people. I don't know why, but I knew it was the same guy. I just knew it was the same Giles.
Before going up the stairs Willow saw two of the Al Bhed Psyches leaning against the wall. "Hey, Tara I'll meet you upstairs in a sec, okay?"
"Okay, but please hurry."
"I will." She watched Tara climb the stairs, and walked over to the two men. "Hey, Al Bhed Psyches, right? Some Al Bhed saved me the other day, and... This girl Buffy gave me food and...uh...you don't understand me do you? Uh, anyway...if you meet Buffy, tell her thanks, for me. Oh, and as for the first game? May the best team win!" Willow smiled and headed up the stairs.
The two Al Bhed watched her leave before speaking. "E Meto Summoner!" the first one said. (A Lady Summoner!)
"Fa sicd nabund." The second replied. (We must report.)
When Willow walked down the stairs she saw Tara, who was surrounded by people taking pictures, and asking questions. Tara was trying to push through, but couldn't get more than a foot at best.
"Please, let me through." Tara spoke to the people blocking her path. When they didn't move she gave a helpless look to Willow.
Willow looked at the large group then got an idea. "Hey! Isn't that Lady Glory?" She shouted looking towards the way she came from.
The group of people pushed Willow out of the way and ran off trying to reach Glory. "Let's go before they come back!" Willow took Tara's hand and ran, then looked back over her shoulder. "Dang, you're really famous." She said slowing down to a fast walk.
"I hope we don't get separated." Tara said as she walked a little in front of Willow.
Willow let her get a few foot ahead "Tara!" She shouted then putting her thumb and forefinger in her mouth whistled.
"What was that?" Tara asked causing Willow to giggle.
"In Zanarkand, we do this to cheer on Blitzball players." Willow said then whistled again. "Now, you give it a try. Put your fingers in your mouth like this." She says, putting her fingers in her mouth.
"Like this?" Tara asked putting her thumb and middle finger in her mouth.
"Uh-uh, not like that. Like this." Willow showed her again. "Then, you just blow."
Tara tries to whistle, but can't. "It's not working!"
"Practice." Willow smiles.
"Hey, just use that if we get separated. Then, I'll come running, okay? Well, guess we should just stick together, till you can do it.
Tara smiles and raises her hand palm facing out "Yes, ma'am!"
When they reach the marketplace, Willow looks around taking everything in. There are five little shops, a café, and a set of stairs leading up to a walkway. "Wow, this place is huge."
"Yes, Luca is the second largest city in Spira."
"I thought every town was little, you know, like Besaid and Kilika."
"Towns don't usually get bigger than that." Tara sadly says. "Because when a lot of people begin to gather..."
"Sin...? What about Luca? Is it safe here?"
"It's not any different, but the stadium is here. And the Crusaders fight to protect it with all their strength."
"They protect the stadium?"
"Blitzball's really the only entertainment that we have. Spira's a little short on fun these days."
"Whoa! Talk about pressure!" Willow said making Tara giggle.
"Oh! That's right, is Zanarkand like this, too?"
"Well, there are more buildings. All tall and cramped together."
"Oh. They must be so tall!" Tara looks up imagining them. "Don't you ever get dizzy?" She asks, this time making Willow giggle.
"Nah. I'm used to it."
Tara laughs "Let's go find Sir Giles!"
Willow follows Tara into a café, and looks around. "Giles isn't here." She says sighing, then looks to her right to see Faith talking to two other women.
"Say something, Faith. You haven't seen Harmony, or me for five years! Did you forget us?" A brown haired woman said.
"Leave her, Hallie. She is an outcast anyway." Harmony said.
Faith forgot her Dragon friends? We taught you so much, before your ceremony." Hallie said shoving Faith back a step. "We taught you to be strong."
"Maybe we taught her too much."
Willow walks over and stands next to Faith. "Take ‘em on!"
"Ha! She couldn't hit Sin, even if she tried." Harmony laughed and was knocked on her butt when Faith slugged her.
"Take it outside! The games starting!" The bartender shouted.
"Oh, no! The game!" Willow exclaims just as Hallie uppercuts Faith.
On the sphere screen Maester Snyder is speaking with the Blitzball captains standing behind him. "Today, on this glorious day, player from all over Spira have assembled here... to participate in this great contest of bravery, skill, and strength. All of these fine teams, equally renowned, deserve to win the cup today. Such is the nature of this contest. Let us, the spectators play our role accordingly. Let us sing to the glory of the winners, and applaud equally the valor of the defeated. Contestants, may Yevon be with you.
The maintenance crews opened the valves to fill the sphere pool, as the fans cheered. The Aurochs and the Psyches entered the pool and began the game. Willow turned to look at Tara, and didn't see her there anywhere in the café.
"Faith! Tara's gone!"
"Shit! We have to find her!" Faith said and ran out the door with Willow hot on her heels. Outside they saw Anya running toward them.
"Where in Spira have you two been!?"
"What's wrong?" Willow asked trying to squash the bad feeling she had. <Don't let it be Tara...>
"Tara's been kidnapped by the Al Bhed Psyches. In return for her safe return, they want the Aurochs to lose." Anya explained.
"What!" Willow shouted and grit her teeth. <Dammit!>
"If they're only Blitzball players, I doubt they'd do anything drastic. But we shouldn't take chances. Let's go get her." Faith said to Anya un-strapping her spear.
"Hey, I'm going too!" Willow un-sheathed her sword "This will be no problem! They're telling the Aurochs to throw the match, as if they needed to. I mean how good a team can they be?"
"Xander said the same thing. He'll take care of the game. We should go get Tara. The Al Bhed ship is on dock four, let's go!"
When they reached dock one, three machina robots blocked the path. Anya cast a Thunder spell, then dodged when one of the machina stabbed at her. Willow jumped over the middle one, and swung her sword around severing the machina's head. Faith thrust her spear into the thirds chest and twisted the spearhead, cutting the wiring. At dock two they could see the giant sphere screen broadcasting the game.
"The Aurochs are keeping the game tied with some excellent defense!" Bobba was saying.
Letty threw the ball to Xander who caught it, and was tackled hard by one of the Psyches.
"Ow! He'll feel that one in the morning, huh Jimma?"
"Yes, but the referee doesn't call the foul. Xander's taking a real beating out there!"
"Still in there!" Willow said as they passed dock three.
"He won't last. Xander's always like that." Anya said watching Xander float in the sphere pool.
They saw the Al Bhed boat leaving the dock "Let's go!" Faith said and began running faster. The three women jumped onto the ship, making it by a hair. Willow tucked her head in and rolled to a stop, Faith skidded to a stop right behind Anya who had like Willow rolled. The ship started shaking, and the deck opened, and a huge machina rose up. It had two five-foot tall spinning wheels on top, and the legs supporting it.
Faith ran and striking it with her spear, hardly causing any damage. The same happened when Willow hit it with her sword. Anya was casting Thunder spells, when the machina shot out a Blitzball toward her. Faith threw her spear knocking it to the deck, another ball shot out and Faith dodged; the ball hit the deck and bounced into the water. The machina started shooting out Blitzballs at a fast speed, Willow knocked Anya to the deck as the balls flew over them. Looking up Willow saw a crane on the side of the boat, the Blitzballs stopped, and Willow helped Anya to stand.
"Your welcome. Can you keep it busy? I have an idea."
"Yeah, don't worry."
Willow ran over to the crane while Anya cast more Thunder spells, and Faith attacked it with her spear again. Turning the crane on she moved the claw over the machina "Watch out!" she hollered to Faith. She dropped the claw and picked the machina up. The spinning wheels came off and the bottom half fell to the ship deck. Anya cast another Thunder spell causing it to shake then explode. An Al Bhed man was thrown back and into the cargo hold control panel. Willow sighed in relief when she saw Tara standing in the doorway.
Willow followed Anya and Faith over to Tara "You okay? They didn't hurt you did they?"
"No, I'm fine."
"I hope you hurt them." Faith said as she and Anya checked Tara over for wounds.
"Oh, maybe just a little." Tara told Faith with a grin. The noticed Willow looking around the ship "What is it?"
"Huh? Oh! There were these Al Bhed that saved my life when I first came to Spire. They took me on their ship, even gave me food. I was kinda hoping this was the same ship, but...it's not. I wonder if they're all gone."
"What happened?" Tara asked trying to shoo away Anya who was still checking her for wounds.
"Sin came up near us. I made it out okay, but I don't know what happened to the ship."
"Um...was there a woman called Joyce on the ship?" Tara asked looking at Willow.
"I don't know. They were all speaking Al Bhed, and I couldn't understand them."
Tara hung her head "Oh, I see."
"So, who's Joyce?"
"She's my aunt, but I have never met her."
"Wait. That means you're Al Bhed, too, Tara." Willow questioned.
"On my father's side, yes. Joyce is my father's sister. She became distant after my father married. But my father always told me to find her if I ever needed help."
"Oh, and you're worried that she was...on the ship?"
"Willow, please don't tell Xander about Tara's lineage. You see Xander he...he never had much love for the Al Bhed." Anya said.
"Xander! I gotta tell Xander!" Willow said with wide eyes.
"I told you not to tell Xander!"
Tara's eyes widened when it dawned on her what Willow was talking about "The game!"
"Oh!" Anya shot a small magical light into the air that sparkled for a few seconds before going out.
Meanwhile at the game...
"I don't believe it the score is tied at 2-2 the Aurochs have a great defense this year!" Bobba was saying.
Jassu threw the ball before being tackled. Datto caught the ball and swam toward the goal, and was surrounded by three Psyches. He threw the ball, Letty caught it and swam for the goal. Xander looked up and saw Anya's magical light sparkling and grinned. Letty threw it to Xander who motioned with his hand.
"The Aurochs are launching an all out offensive!" Jimma said.
With two Psyches after him, Xander threw the ball at the goal. The goalie wasn't quite ready, and missed the catch as the ball made it, just at the buzzer went of signaling the end of the game.
"Gooooaaaal!" Bobba shouted " The Aurochs win the match with a 3-2 score!"
"We won!" Willow jumps into the air.
"We did it! We're in the finals!" Tara jumps into the air along side Willow.
"Not the most...graceful win. If it was Hikari in there she'd still be standing." Anya said watching Xander float on his back.
Willow turned to Anya "Hey, aren't you being just a little unfair?"
"Look, I know I could never take Hikari's place. You're the one who told Xander that, right, Anya? And to tell you the truth, I don't want to. And I don't think Xander wants me to take her place either. And I don't know what she was to you, but you need to see, and get it through your thick head, we are NOT trying to replace her!" Willow said before storming off to the locker rooms, with Tara and Faith following, leaving a speechless Anya behind.
"You sure you're all right, cap'n?" Datto asks Xander, who is lying on a bench holding his ribs.
"The next match starts soon." Letty looked at the clock.
"Yeah, and we're playin' the Goers." Jassu says hanging his head.
Xander tries to throw a Blitzball, but drops it when a sharp pain shoot through his body.
"Miss me?" Willow asked walking through the door with Tara and Faith.
"Lady Tara!" Datto said.
"Are you okay?" Letty asks.
Tara sadly looks from the Aurochs to Xander "All this because of me. I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" She says and bows.
Xander halfway sat up "How can you let some Al Bhed kidnap you?"
"Hey Xander, let it go, alright?" Willow said and smiled at Tara.
"Just don't go near Al Bhed anymore, okay? They're trouble." Xander said and Tara nodded her head before walking out the door, with Faith behind her. He slowly gets up off the bench and looks at Willow. "The game starts real soon. No time for warm-ups. Ready?"
"Lemme at ‘em!"
"All right!" Xander said then turned to the team. I got something to tell you guys. After this game...I'm retiring. I promised myself this would be my last tournament. Win or lose, I'm quitting Blitzball. But you know... Since we're here, we might as well win!"
"Yeah!" The team shouted as one.
"A-am I on the bench?" Botta asked.
"Nope I'm warming the bench. Willow is taking my place. All right, let's win this one! Let's make those Goers goners!"
The team walked out of the locker room just as Anya was entering.
"I saw you floating there, on the sphere." She said looking at the floor.
"Hey, you weren't supposed to see that." Xander says before fainting.
Anya caught him before he could hit the floor "You really gave it your all, didn't you?" she says hugging him closer to her.
"All right, boys, what're we gonna do?" Willow asked turning to the team.
"For Cap'n Xander!" Botta said as they walked through the sphere pool door.