When the group topped the stairs Willow looked around. She didn't see much besides a few people, and ruins on both sides of the road.
"Hey, just how long is this road, anyway?" Willow asked looking off into the distance.
"The Mi'ihen Highroad is four miles long, and it's two miles to the nearest Inn." Giles said and walked on.
"Well, that's nice." Willow sarcastically said to his back.
Walking along the road, Xander was tossing his ball into the air and catching it. Faith was keeping a keen eye out for fiends, with Anya's help. Giles was in front, not saying a word, and Willow was walking with Tara.
"This is nice no fiends, ya?" Xander said catching his ball, and not seeing the fiend that sunk up, and bonked him on his head. “Ouch!”
Willow looked up when Xander hollered, and saw a red floating ball with eyes.
Anya shook her head and cast a Blizzard spell knocking it out of the air and on to the ground beside Giles. Giles looked down at the Bomb, and swung his samurai sword down cutting the fiend open, killing it.
"Xander! You know not to say something like that, when things are calm!" Anya said to Xander, who was still rubbing his head.
"Geez, I'm sorry."
Willow and Tara stopped at some old ruins on the left side of the road and studied them. An old man wearing a green robe walked over and stood beside Willow.
"Do you know what these ruins are from?" The old man asks looking at over to the two young women.
"An old city?" Willow shrugged her shoulders.
"Correct. A city most ancient! A terrible testament to Sin's power. I tremble every time I see them. Compared to Sin, humans are mere mudpuppies!"
"But I believe humans are the only ones that can truly defeat Sin."
The old man smiled to Tara. "A good reply. I am relieved to hear you say that, M'Lady Summoner. Where are my manners? I am Maechen, a scholar. At your service, M'Lady. I am on a journey, studying the history of our world, Spira, seeking its stories and secrets... My travels have taken me to many places, and I am troubled by what I have seen. Fragile smiles on people's faces crumbling at the mere mention of Sin. They are counting on you, M’Lady. Give them a reason to rejoice once more."
Tara nods "I will."
The girls caught up with the group who had stopped a little ways up. As the group tops a slight incline Willow looked over her shoulder, at the road behind them, and sighed. She looked over and saw Tara's shoulders shaking.
"What're you laughing?" Willow swatted at her.
Tara held her arm in mock hurt. "I was just thinking. You shouldn't mind walking, but here you are... sighing, and for all of Spira looking tired!"
"Hey, now. I'm a Blitzball player… I don't walk…I swim. Now if it was a lake or the ocean I would be ahead of all of you... well, except for Xander, cause you know...he's a Blitz player to. But I can say Giles would most likely be lagging back."
Tara giggled then looked hurt. "What if I couldn't swim? Would you leave me behind?"
"No! No, I wouldn't. I would carry you on my back, and nothing and no one would stop me...or they'd meet the business end of my sword." Willow said and pretended to fight off an enemy. <I wouldn't ever leave you>
Tara shyly ducked her head, and grinned at Willow.
"Hey, heads up." Xander called back to them pointing out three Chocobo riders wearing the Crusaders uniform.
"Lady Summoner, I presume?" A dark haired woman said speaking to Tara.
"Yes, I am Tara."
"I am Drusilla, captain of the Djose Chocobo Knights."
"I'm Darla. And that is William." She said pointing to a brown haired man. "We've been charged to guard the Highroad."
"Yes, there have been reports of a large fiend appearing in this area, with a taste for chocobos. Do take care, Summoner Tara, if you are to rent any chocobos." Drusilla said turning her Chocobo.
Tara bows. "Thank you. We will be careful."
"Good. We should get back to our rounds. Farewell."
"Our prayers are with you." Darla says and follows Drusilla with William behind her.
Willow watched the riders leave, as the thinks. "A large fiend... Let's go get him!"
"Why?" Giles asked turning to face Willow.
"It's the right thing to do."
"It's the right thing to do?" Giles says laughing
"What'd I say now?"
"Ira said that a lot, too. And every time he said it, it meant trouble for Mythe and me." Giles says and walks off still chuckling.
When the group reached the next area of the Highroad, fiends surrounded them. Three Bombs, two fiends with a gray body and brown paws, and a curved horn on each shoulder. And three brownish gray hard-shelled fiends with huge paws. Willow looked at the gray fiends then to the shelled ones, as she grabbed her sword.
Name: Dual Horn
Giles ran at the Raldo fiends, his samurai sword cutting through the hard shell like it was butter. Xander threw his ball at one of the Bombs, as Anya cast Blizzard spells on the other two. Faith and Willow had taken a Dual Horn apiece. Willow swung her sword around slicing the large fiend's shoulder open; it rose up on its hind legs and swiped at her. Willow ducked under the fiends paw, and rose up cutting it off at the second joint. The fiend roared and hit the ground; Willow took the opportunity and thrust her sword in the fiend’s heart killing it. Faith had waited for the right moment when the Dual Horn rose up, and shoved her spear in its neck, and ripped its throat out. Willow didn't see a third Dual Horn charging at her before it was too late. The fiend hit Willow in her side; she felt her ribs break on impact, making her fly to the side of the road. Anya was casting Blizzard spells on the Bombs, and Water spell on the newly arrived Mi'ihen Fangs, a dog like fiend. Willow stood up holding her ribs, and watched Faith and Giles kill the Dual Horn, looking to Anya her eyes went wide. Anya's eyes turned red, as her body glowed bright, changing from red, to blue, to yellow, and finally white, as she screamed. Still holding her throbbing side Willow ran over to her, and caught her before she fell. Tara helped Willow to sit Anya on the ground and looked her over. The glowing stopped, and her eyes returned to their normal color, and Anya smile to Tara then to Willow as she stood.
"Okay, what was that?" Willow asked
"Are you okay?" Tara asked examining Anya for wounds.
"I'm fine, it was just my magic. I've upgraded to intermediate."
"Whoa! Um...it won't do that when you go Adept will it?" Willow asked worriedly.
"My body should only glow, but it won't be painful."
"Anya can you walk? If you can't I'm sure Xander won't mind carrying you to the Inn, will you?” Tara looked over to Xander. “ It's only about a mile away now." Tara said causing Xander to look like a Chocobo had just laid a golden egg.
Anya smirked. “Oh I would love to be carried!” Xander almost fainted for the second time in a day. “But I could use the walk.” She said and Xander sighed in relief.
“Willow let me heal you. I know you got hurt, because I saw it.” Tara said and cast a healing spell over Willow.
When the group moved into the next to last area of the Highroad Xander started looking around for fiends, making sure they wouldn't bonk him on his head again. But he wasn't ready for the attack that he got.
"Will you stop that!" Anya gently hit Xander on the back of his head, making him jump and scream like a girl. Anya grins at Xander who is giving her a 'death glare'.
A little girl runs in front of the group and over to her mother.
"My Lady Summoner!" The woman says surprised
"You're a Summoner?" The little girl asks looking up at Tara.
Tara kneels down and smiles "Yes, my name is Tara."
Well it's nice to meet you, Calli."
"Lady Tara, are you going to bring us the Calm?"
Tara nods and stands "Yes, very soon."
"Yay!" Calli jumps into the air
"We're looking forward to another Calm, My Lady Summoner." The woman says taking her daughters hand.
"I'll do my best."
"And the best of luck to your guardians as well." She says and leads Calli toward Luca.
Willow looks over to Tara "What's the Calm?"
"The Calm is a time of peace. It comes after a summoner defeats Sin, and lasts until Sin reappears." Anya said to Willow walking over.
"Sin dies and is reborn." Tara says sadly as she looks to the ground.
"Now, I get it! I thought it was weird. Tara's mother defeated Sin ten years ago, right? But Sin's still here! Didn't make much sense till now. Wait... If it just comes back..." Willow trailed off.
"Please, don't say it isn't worth it... Because it is." Tara says looking up at Willow.
Even for a little while...people can sleep in their beds without being afraid. That kind of time is worth anything. Don't say it isn't worth it. Your words that day, Tara, I remember them well.
The group saw carriage slowly moving along the road in front of them, when the got to the last half-mile of the two mile walk. When the group catches up to the carriage Riley and Oz run off into a side alcove to rest.
"Hey, we saw the game, you guys were great!" Oz said to Xander.
"Congratulations, Xander." Riley shakes Xander's hand.
"Hey, you two! Stop loafing around!" Darla says riding up on her chocobo beside Drusilla.
"Uh... Well...you see...The lady summoner and her guardians..." Oz stammered
"This mission requires our full attention. We do not have time to waste! Is that understood?" Drusilla looks down from atop her chocobo.
"Yes, ma'am! My apologies, ma'am!" Riley said saluting
"Then, carry on with the mission." Drusilla says turning around and leaving.
"See? Keep your head down, say "sir" a lot, and you'll do fine." Riley told Oz
Oz looked to the ground "Right...sir."
"Hey, Tara. Even though Yevon rejected us...we still believe in you. Never forget that, cause it won't ever change." Riley said and bowed.
Tara bowed before speaking, "Thank you, Sir Riley, Sir Oz. But...you know... It's not too late for you to go back to Besaid..."
"Riley, sir! I think we should be going now." Oz says before running off, and Riley right behind him.
Sighing Tara lowers her head, Willow seeing this takes her hand and smiles when Tara looks up. "Come on, don't worry about them, they know what they want to do with their lives." Willow says squeezing Tara's hand.
"You're right, it's just... They would have been great Summoners, or even guardians." Tara says as she and Willow walk ahead of the group.
"We'll defeat Sin any way we can! And if using machina is the way, then that's how we'll defeat Sin!" Willow heard a guard saying to a woman in green and blue robes.
"But the teachings of Yevon says" The woman said and was interrupted.
"Enough! I don't want to hear it!" The guard says and walks off.
"I-I only meant to..." The woman says sadly and trails off.
"Are you all right?" Tara asks.
"Lady Summoner...?" The woman asks turning around.
"Yes, I am Tara."
"Oh my! It is an honor, my lady. My name is Shelinda. I am a disciple of Yevon."
“Was that about the Crusaders' operation?" Xander asks watching the guard.
"Oh, you mean the one Riley and Oz are participating in?" Willow asks looking over to Xander who nods his head.
"I heard that they were going to use the forbidden machina! I had to try and stop them." Shelinda said to Tara.
"What? Why?" Willow asks confused
Anya walks over to Willow "The use of machina is strictly forbidden by the priesthood of Yevon."
"That's bad, ya?" Xander nods.
"Humph! Let them use all the machina they want. They still won't be able to defeat Sin." Giles says looking at the disciple.
"But, the teachings of Yevon must be upheld!" Shelinda says looking at Giles.
"Yeah! That's right!" Xander shouts agreeing with Shelinda.
"But...you don't understand, the Crusaders won't even listen to me. All because I'm just a lowly acolyte."
"Don't say that. Well, I haven't been a Summoner for very long myself, you see. Still, I can't put myself down every time I fail. People are depending on me. They're depending on both of us!" Tara said causing Shelinda to smile.
"Yes, you're right, My Lady. Absolutely right! Thank you so much, Lady Tara! Now I feel I have the courage to finish my training." Shelinda says happily and walks off.
The group moves on with Willow and Tara still leading.
"Do you think that I really did help Shelinda? I mean I'm not very good at giving advise, so I don't know if I helped her or not."
"Tara, I don't know the girl, but I can safely say that you did in fact help her. I don't think she would have gone through with her training if it weren’t for you. So yes, you did help."
Willow looks over to Tara "For what?"
"Just being here." Tara says and slightly leans against Willow.
"I'm glad I am here."
Giles moves in front of the group looking over to the Inn. "We will rest here."
"But, this is an Al Bhed Shop!" Xander says not liking the idea.
"And is that a problem?" Giles says coolly looking over to Xander.
Xander shakes his fist "They don't believe in Yevon, and in Luca... They kidnapped Tara!"
"And just where were her guardians?" Giles asks and Xander looks up at the sky whistling an innocent tune.
"Sir Giles is just concerned about your health." Tara says turning to Xander.
"I'm not tired at all!"
"Well I am." Giles said as he walked over the Inn.
The group gets rooms Xander and Giles sharing one, Anya and Tara in another, and Faith and Willow in the third. Willow tries to rest, but her mind is going a mile a minute not letting her get to sleep. She gets out of bed and leaves the room.
"Can't sleep!" Willow grumbles to herself walking out the Inn door. "Whoa! Check it out!" Willow says aloud looking at the sunset. <This is different than the sunset in Kilika. This one is quite, almost gentle like. But maybe it was because Sin had just attacked.> Willow thinks then sees Tara sitting on the small hill in front of the Inn, by herself. <Yes! Now maybe I can get some alone time with Tara.> As she approaches she can hear Tara talking to herself.
"Hey, whatcha up to?" Willow asks causing Tara to hide something in the pocket of her dress.
"The sunset is beautiful."
"Sure is." Willow says looking at Tara and not the setting sun.
"I wish I could live in a place like this. Peaceful... Living with a smile on my face every day." Tara says watching the sun.
"Once you beat Sin, you can, right?"
"But a new Sin will be born anyway." Tara sadly says looking to the ground.
"Well, then all you have to do is beat is again."
"I wish I could."
"Hey, you can! Trust me on this, you are the best Summoner anywhere on Spira!" Willow says making Tara blush. "Tara...why does... Why does Sin always come back?"
"Sin is our punishment for our vanity. And it will not go away until we've atoned."
"Okay, just how do we do that? I mean, what was it we did that was so bad in the first place? Wait, was it using lots of machina or something? Oh... Wait, was that really such a bad thing?"
"It's funny...I never questioned it, even when I was young, it was just something we were taught. But now that you ask me if it is that bad or not...I don't know. There are so many things I don't know."
"Hey! We're the same! Ohh, such thinking is very unbecoming of a Summoner! Sound like Snyder?" Willow said making Tara giggle.
"You know that is not very nice!"
Willow winks at Tara "He can't punish me if he doesn't hear it." Tara giggles again. "You know, during a game you have to think of nothing but Blitz."
"You can't think, "That's a cute girl in the fifth seat from the right." And you can't be thinking about where you're going to go on that date, because the minute you do, that's when you lose! Well... Um... You see, uh, Tara, what I mean is, you really shouldn't worry, you know? After we beat Sin, that's when you can start worrying about the future."
"Yeah. I guess."
"But, Tara, how are you supposed to beat something big like that?" Willow asks motioning with her hands.
"I have to get the Final Summoning. It's the only way to defeat Sin. The only way. With it, we can call the Final Aeon. That's the goal of the pilgrimage. The Fayth of the Final Summoning lies waiting in the far north, to greet Summoners that complete their pilgrimage. At the world's edge...in Zanarkand."
"What Tara means is, the pilgrimage ends in the ruins of a city destroyed a thousand years ago." Giles say walking up to them.
"Are you sure it's ruins? I mean it can't be a huge city... can it?"
"Zanarkand is ruins is what I've heard." Tara says turning to Willow.
"You'll see it for yourself soon enough. Tara, come back inside." Giles says before walking back to the Inn.
"Will you go with us...with me...to Zanarkand?"
"Yeah, I'll go. I'll go to Zanarkand to see it with my own eyes."
I knew it couldn't be my Zanarkand. But I had to make sure.
The next morning, Xander was banging on the door, yelling for her and Faith to get up. "Xander! If you don't shut up, I'm gonna shove your Blitzball up your ass!" Faith screamed causing Willow to get dressed in a hurry and leave the room.
<Xander, why did you have to piss her off this early in the morning?> Willow thought and bumped into a dark headed woman.
"Bentuh sa." The woman said. (Pardon me.)
"Huh? Sorry?" Willow looked at her confused.
"Ah, forgive me, young lady. I meant to say, "pardon me," but it came out in Al Bhed."
"Oh, you're an Al Bhed?"
"I am Jenny, the owner of this establishment. Heci du saad oui." (Nice to meet you.)
Willow looks at Jenny even more confused than before.
"It means, "nice to meet you." Jenny says laughing.
"Well, helly doo sad wee to you, too." Willow says butchering the language.
"You know, if you are interested...Al Bhed primers can be found all over Spira. Finding them and learning our language might be fun. Here, let me give you one in commemoration of our meeting. Although you might want to be careful where you speak our language." Jenny says handing a small book to Willow.
"Yeah, I've heard the Al Bhed aren't liked much." Willow says causing Jenny to look at her puzzled. "Oh! I'm sorry!"
Jenny shakes her head "Ed ec y chesa." (It is a shame.)
Willow was about to walk out the Inn door, when a woman screamed for someone to help. Giles stepped in and looked at Willow.
"That's our cue, let's go."
"Oh. Thank you for your help. Please, take this." Jenny says handing Willow two Mega-Potions.
Willow runs out the door with Faith behind her only to see a giant dark bluish green fiend. Its back had shell like armor; its arms were five foot long with huge brown hands and claws. A forked tongue shot out of its mouth licking the Chocobo in its right hand. The chocobo pecked the hand causing the fiend to let go, and the chocobo ran off. Willow ran at it with her sword held high she jumped over a large hand as it grabbed for her, and sliced the left arm. Anya stood back and cast a Fira spell; Xander used his 'Dark Buster' attack making a dark cloud surround the fiends face. With the cloud blocking the fiends vision Faith got close enough to make a small wound on its stomach. Giles, even with his piercing blade couldn't harm it. The fiend took a wild swing and hit Willow knocking her over the ledge of a fifty-foot drop.
"No! Willow!" Tara screamed as she glowed bright white. The wind picked up blowing Tara's hair back over her shoulders. "Ifrit! Come to me!" She shouted. The ground beneath Tara's feet glowed red, and a circle of flames surrounded her. The ground broke apart shooting upward and taking Tara with it as Ifrit broke through. Ifrit caught Tara in his huge hand and sat her on his shoulder; when he landed Ifrit gently place Tara on the ground.
“Use your overdrive Hellfire!” She told him. Ifrit threw a huge fireball at the fiend surrounding it in flames, he then jumped over and tore the ground under the fiends feet and threw it and the fiend into the air. A fireball shot out of his mouth, hitting it with his hand the fireball grew bigger until it reached the fiend. A massive explosion occurred, blowing the fiend to pieces. "Thank you Ifrit, you may go now." Ifrit nodded his head and vanished as Tara ran towards the ledge.
"No! Tara, you don't want to look!" Anya screamed "Faith hold her back!" Faith grabbed Tara when she ran by, and held her.
"I'm sorry, but that's a long way down, you either don't want to look, or you won't be able to see anything." Faith quietly spoke.
"No...she can't...be." Tara quietly whispered and Anya ran over pulling her and Faith into a hug.
"Xander go look." Giles calmly spoke.
"Why me? I don't wanna see her broken body laying down there."
"Xander!" Anya shouted as Tara started crying harder. "You moron! Tara can hear you!"
"Aw dammit! I'm sorry Tara...I didn't mean to...ya know?" Xander said and walked over to the ledge and slowly looked down. What he saw made him laugh.
"Xander this is no time to be laughing!" Faith shouted at him.
"Hey! Xander! A little help!" Everyone heard Willow shout out.
Reaching down and taking Willow's out-stretched hand Xander laughed harder. "We thought you had went to play Blitzball on the Farplane!"
"Not yet I haven't!" Willow said reaching the top.
Still crying, Tara broke away from Anya and Faith, and rushed over to her. "I-I t-t-thought I h-had l-lost you!" Tara stuttered out hugging Willow, and putting her head on Willow's shoulder.
Willow wrapped her arms around Tara and pulled her closer. "Shh, it's okay. I'm here, and I won't leave you, okay?"
"Okay." Tara said sniffling but not letting go.
Jenny walks over to the group and smiles. "Thank you, that Chocobo Eater has been giving us problems as of late. As a token of our gratitude, you may ride the Chocobos free of charge. Just ask the attendant when you are ready to leave."
"Tara? You okay?" Willow asks quietly rubbing Tara's back.
"Yes, I'm fine...but don't leave me, please." Tara whispers too low for anyone but Willow to hear.
"I won't. I'm not going anywhere." Willow whispers back.
"Tara?" Faith asked picking up her spear. "We really should get going."
Tara straightens up, and gives Willow a small smile. "Okay, you're right, let's go."
The group walks over to the Chocobo pen where and young woman is waiting.
Thank you so much for saving the Chocobos! Jenny said you could ride them for free, so here you are. Sorry but you'll have to ride double."
Willow watched Anya climb up on one of the Chocobos, then looked at hers. She did exactly like Anya, and still almost fell off. Xander and Giles were already theirs, watching her wobble from side to side.
"Hey Tara, you wanna show me how to ride this bird?"
"Sure" Tara said and climbed up to sit behind Willow. Taking the rope Tara gently nudged the Chocobo into a fast walk. Faith sighed and climbed up behind Anya, Giles was already following Willow and Tara.
"How do you like riding a Chocobo?" Tara asked as they crossed over a bridge overlooking the Mi'ihen Old-road.
"It's fun, we didn't do this in Zanarkand!"
"There were no Chocobos around then, or if there were no one ever saw one."
"Oh, well what else did you do for fun?"
"I had a friend who took me fishing alot."
"Fishing? In the ocean, or in a stream?"
"Usually it was in a stream, but sometimes we fished in the ocean."
They rounded the last corner of the Mi'ihen Highroad, to fine the Crusaders blocking the path. Cordelia was speaking to one of the guards, with Angel standing behind her.
"How many time do I have to tell you? I am a Summoner!" Cordelia snapped.
"I'm sorry Lady Summoner, but there are no exceptions!" The guard said calmly
"You dare impede a summoner's pilgrimage?"
"Like I said, no exceptions!"
"This is useless!" Cordelia growled out and turned to see Tara and her guardians. "Oh, it's you. Well you can see, not even us Summoners may pass. Just wait, they'll call on us in the end. Till then I think I'll take a nap. Oh, Angel?"
The group watched at Cordelia and Angel walked back toward the Inn, passing Riley and Oz who was escorting in a carriage. Running over to the guard Oz saluted.
"Oz and Riley reporting for duty, sir!"
Riley saluted "This is the last of them."
"Good to have you with us. Go on through." The guard said saluting
Willow and Tara look into the carriage as it past them, a Sinspawn was in the cage trying to get out.
Oz turned around "Hey, teach me how to play Blitz sometime!"
"Just wait here, we'll have Sin beaten in no time at all!" Riley said to them.
Willow walked over to one of the guards "You're Summoner Tara, right? I'm sorry I can't let you pass."
Tara walks over to Giles and speaks to him while Willow stayed with the guard.
"Can you tell me about the operation?"
"Sure. We're going to lure Sin into a trap with the Sinspawn we've brought in from all over Spira."
"Will that work?"
"Yes, because you see the Sinspawn always draw Sin back."
Ah, I see. Thanks." Willow heads back to the group, and sees Glory walking off the Highroad. Tara and Glory pray.
"We meet again, Lady Tara."
"You look troubled, is there anything I can do to help?"
"Well..." Tara looks over her shoulder at the guards blocking the path.
"Oh, I see. Not to worry, it will be done."
The guard ran up to Glory "Lady Maester Glory. Let me show you to the command center."
"Hold, I have a request." Glory says holding her right hand up.
"Yes, Your Grace?"
"I wish to have Summoner Tara and her guardians let through to the command center."
"But, Lady Maester Glory, ma'am."
"Do not worry, I will take full responsibility."
"Very well. Lady Tara and her guardians may pass."
"You may pass." Glory speaks to Tara.
Tara bows to Glory "Thank you. Your Grace."
Glory nods and follows one of the guards.
Tara stands and moves toward the gate with Anya and Faith beside her.
"And just who does she think she is?" Willow asked glaring at the spot Glory was standing in.
"She is a Maester. So, I'm thinkin' you'd better get used to it, ya?" Xander said and walked toward the Mushroom Rock Area.