"All hail Lady Maester Glory!" A guard shouted as Glory stepped in front of the Crusaders and Al Bhed.
"Brave Crusaders of Spira, protectors of all Spira. Believe in the path you have chosen, let faith be your strength! I, Glory Guado, a Maester of Yevon, will bear your witness to your deeds today."
"Ma'am!" The Crusaders said as one.
"Hey! What the hell is going on? Why's Lady Maester Glory backing the Crusaders, eh? They're using the Al Bhed's machina! They're violating the teachings!" Xander was shaking his fist in the air as he bounced from one foot to the other.
"Even going against the teachings they're willing to risk everything for the greater good. Xander, I think Lady Maester Glory sees that, too." Tara says turning to Xander.
"Anya?" Xander asked almost defeated.
" I don't know Xander... in a way it's good, but it's also going against the teachings. I don't know what to say."
"Why don't you ask her yourself." Giles nods toward Glory who is making her way over to them.
"Sir Giles, it is an honor to meet you. I would be most interested in hearing what you've been doing these past ten years."
"I've got nothing to say about it." Giles says and walks off.
"I...see. Sir Giles must be a great asset as a guardian."
"Your Grace!" Tara says and bows.
"Please, Lady Tara there's no need for formalities."
Xander walks over to Glory scratching the back of his head. "Excuse me... Lady Maester Glory? Why is your Ladyship...presently...present here...My Lady?
"Please, speak as you normally would." Glory waves her hand in the air.
Xander sighs. "Uh. Isn't this operation again the teachings of Yevon? Aren't you gonna stop them?"
"It's true... I should. However... Both the Crusaders and the Al Bhed truly wish peace for Spira. This Operation Mi'ihen was born from that wish they share. Although it may be sacrilege to Yevon, their intentions are pure. And I, Glory Guado-the person, not the maester of Yevon... As a denizen of Spira, I wish them well in their endeavor."
"But, My Lady, using machina... That's bad, isn't it?"
"Pretend you didn't see them." Glory says causing the group to gasp and Willow narrowed her eyes.
"Beg your pardon, but that's not something a Maester should say!" Xander said wide-eyed.
"Then, just pretend I didn't say it."
"You've got to be kidding me!" Xander said as Glory left.
From the first time I laid eyes on her, I never did like Glory... But you know, some of the things she said that day... They made a lot of sense to me.
William runs up to the group out of breath. "E-Excuse me, Lady Summoner Tara?
"The command center...Lady Maester Glory request your presence there, ma'am."
" Just take the road to the left to get to the command center. It's not far. We're still in the midst of preparations this way. Sorry."
As the group walked the path to the command center a Bomb floated out and attacked Faith, she used Lancet on it learning Self-Destruct from it, before Anya cast a Blizzara spell killing it. When Willow looked ahead she saw three fiends one red, one white, and something like a mad mushroom.
Name: Red Element
Name: White Element
Anya started casting Blizzara spells on the Red Element, as Xander hit the White Element with his ball, Giles slashed the Funguar down the middle, as it died it released a poison gas. Giles jumped back to avoid the gas, and turned in time to see a Thunder Flan behind him. With the Red Element gone Anya turned her attention to the Flan. Faith and Willow were helping Xander destroy the White Element, with thrusts of either a sword or, spear. Tara cast a healing spell on Faith when a Mi'ihen Fang ripped her arm open; Willow brought her sword down severing the spinal column. Reaching the small platform the group proceeds up.
"Why is it only you, sir? I want to fight, too!" Oz was saying
"Look orders are orders. And the orders say you guard the command center." Riley said watching Oz hang his head.
"I'm not a cadet anymore, sir! Let me go with you, and I'll prove it to them!"
"Guarding the command center is important too, you know."
"Yeah, but I came all the way from Besaid to fight Sin, sir! Not guard a command center that has enough guards as it is."
"I know, but it is an order. To your post, Crusader."
"But, sir!" Oz storms off
Riley looked up "So, they let you through, huh?"
Willow looked over to where Oz disappeared. "You know Oz deserves better..."
"Hey, at least there's no chance he'll get hurt." Xander said to Willow then turned to Riley. "Why are you guys fighting, anyway? Aren't the almighty Al Bhed machina enough?"
"They still need some time to get them ready. Our job is to keep Sin at bay till they're done. Xander... I might not get another chance to say this. It's about your sister."
Anya's eyes widen "Riley, no!"
"What?" Xander asks.
Riley looks to the ground. "I'm the one who convinced her...to enlist."
"What!" Xander yells
"I'm sorry, Xander. I didn't know what was going to happen."
"You bastard! My little sister! My only sister! You killed her!" Xander punches Riley in the face knocking him down, Willow and Faith grab Xander restraining him.
"Xander! That's enough, Xander. Please… it won't bring your sister back." Willow says as Xander falls to the ground on his knees.
"When we used to play Blitz together, Hikari would say to me... She'd say that... after we won the Cup, ya? That she'd marry and make me an uncle, and Anya an aunt. And then one day... she goes off and becomes a Crusader. Just like that." Xander says as Riley gets up.
Hikari also told me... That being with the ones you love is good... But keeping Sin far away from them is better."
"Anya, you knew?" Xander asks looking at her.
"Riley told me...before we left Besaid."
Riley laughs and rubs his jaw. "She hit me, too."
"All Crusaders in the vanguard are to assemble on the beach!" Drusilla called out as she rode past.
"Well that's my cue. I'd better go."
Riley, Don't you dare die out there."
"Why? You want to hit me some more?"
"Yeah, lots! Lots more!"
Riley turns to leave and finds Tara blocking his path. "Sir Riley, don't go! Please!"
"I'm sorry, but I have to Tara."
"Let him go, Tara. The man has chosen his path to walk... As you did when you decided to become a Summoner." Giles says.
Riley sadly looks at Tara. "I truly am sorry, Tara."
It would be a long time...before I ever really understood the reason why Tara let Riley pass that day.
The group rode the platform up, and before entering the command center; they saw cannon lined up near the ledge.
"Damn these!" Xander said kicking one of the cannons, and grabbed his foot in pain.
Willow watches Xander jump around holding his foot. "Man, he really hates them, huh?"
Anya turns to Willow giving her a sad look. "The sword Xander gave you...Hikari left it behind in Besaid, and fought with an Al Bhed machina weapon instead."
"That has got nothing to do with it! I just hate these sacrilegious contraptions!"
When the group enters the command center they watch as the Sinspawns are all loaded into one cage. The Sinspawn started fighting with each other, making the cage shake.
"Dammit don't they know it won't work anyway?" Xander said watching the cage for any sign of escape.
"Don't say that. It might be a hopeless campaign, and it might mean defying Yevon... But the Crusaders and the Al Bhed-they're doing their best to defeat Sin. They want to rid Spira of Sin forever. And that's just what we want, too, isn't it? Isn't it?" Tara said looking at Xander.
Xander looked up then to the ground. "Hmph! All right, all right! But I still think machina are bad news. They're forbidden for a reason!"
"Lady Summoner! There you are! The command center is that way. Maester Ethan is also there." Drusilla said walking up to them.
"Maester Ethan is here, too?"
"Yes, My Lady, please hurry."
The group moves on and runs into Oz who is standing beside a tent. "The operation will begin shortly. Please, check all your equipment."
"Hey, you okay?" Xander asks
"Of course not! I came here to fight Sin! And look at where they stick me!"
"If you want to prove yourself..." Giles says looking at Oz "First you must complete the tasks you are given."
"Just doing what they say? It just won't be enough."
"Yeah, but being on the front line... is that what you want?" Willow asks
"Yes, It's not fair!"
Willow looks at Oz "It's your decision. You came here to fight Sin...okay, and guarding the command center is important to..."
"I'll do something...even if it means bending the rules. I've got to show Riley what I can do."
Leaving Oz to his thinking the group walks into the command center, and meets a man with yellow robes.
"Glory was saying you were here, but I didn't know if we'd meet. It's good to see you, Giles! Ten years, isn't it? The man said to Giles and shook his hand.
"That's Ethan Rayne, one of the Four Maesters of Yevon. He also leads the warrior monks, and commands the Crusaders." Anya explained to Willow.
"Sir, all troops ready to move at your command!" Oz said saluting.
"So, Giles. Where have you been to these past ten years?
"We don't have time for this now, do we?" Giles asked trying to ignore Ethan.
Ethan laughs. "You know this plan won't work. But we'll let them dream a little longer."
"What?" Willow asks overhearing what Ethan said.
"Lord Ethan?" Glory asked
"Oh, yes. Proceed."
"That Ethan, a Maester?
"I heard that, Giles. Things have changed the last ten years. What were you doing, and where?
"I was fulfilling a promise I made to a friend. And I still am."
"Giles, tell me one thing... Have you seen Zanarkand?
Giles turns and walks away not speaking, and not looking back.
"Tara, you okay?" Willow asks walking over.
"I... really don't think we belong here. This place is making me feel...odd."
Willow takes Tara's hand and cocks her head to the side. "Do you want to leave? If you do then we go...I know Xander would jump for joy."
"No, I think we should stay." Tara smiles.
"Ladies?" A guard spoke as he walked over. "The time has come. We have to tell the Al Bhed to begin the operation at once. Please be prepared to defend yourselves if needed. The fiends could possibly break through at any time. Are you ready?"
"Yes" Tara nods.
"Maester Ethan, if you would please." The guard said and Ethan nodded and left.
Tara turned to the guard "Will Sin come?"
"Sin always returns for its spawn... And to make sure, we're going to encourage them to call out."
Giles was standing behind the guard looking board "You won't have to. Sin will come."
I remembered Giles telling me. Sin is my old man. Sin is Ira.
A man screamed causing Willow and Tara to turn and see that the Sinspawn had merged and was now out of the cage. It looked like a mutant centipede. It stood twenty-five foot tall, it had a red head, two armor covers as hands, and another head in the stomach area of its body. There were five legs on each side of its upper body.
The men that were attacking it were thrown to the side as the Sinspawn moved forward. After telling Tara to stand back, Willow ran over to the Sinspawn attacking the base head. The armored hands covered the head before her sword hit, protecting it. Giles used his piercing samurai sword and cut through the right armored hand. The Sinspawn screeched in pain as the hand was cut in half, and swiped at Giles with the left hand. Giles jumped back, and the head of the fiend was suddenly hit by a Fira spell. Turning Giles saw Anya and Xander beside Willow and Faith. Xander threw his ball hitting the fiend’s head, along with another Fira spell. Faith hit the right hand cutting it down to the middle; Willow followed up and severed it. The fiend spit poison venom at the group hitting Xander, Anya, and Faith. The three of them were turning green around their eyes and getting weak, but still fought. Tara seeing this hurriedly cast an Esuna spell healing their bodies of the poison. Giles and Willow were hitting the base head at the same time as Anya cast another Fira spell on the top head. Both heads turned gray, and the fiend fell to the ground.
Before the group had time to rest there was screaming from their right. Turning to look they saw Sin rising out of the ocean.
"Hold your positions!" Drusilla hollered out as she and the Crusaders drew their swords.
"Fire!" Ethan called.
A blackish barrier surrounded Sin's body and Sinspawn fell into the water as the cannon balls hit Sin's skin. The Sinspawn swam toward the shore, where the Crusaders were waiting.
"Charge!" Drusilla ordered charging her Chocobo forward. The Crusaders followed as they got to the knee-deep water they jumped off the Chocobos, and started killing the Sinspawn. They didn't see the protective barrier fall and energy surround Sin's body.
"Look out!" Giles shouted making everyone hit the ground face down.
The energy formed into a huge ball and flew straight toward the Crusaders, and disintegrated them upon contact. Only a few Crusaders made it out of the blast alive, but they were injured badly. As Tara got up she only saw Giles and Glory, and they were fighting off the Sinspawn from the cage.
"Stay back Lady Tara. We shall take care of this." Glory said the cast a Fire spell on the Sinspawn, as Giles cut off one of the armored hands. The Sinspawn spit venom out of its mouth, Giles and Glory jumped back avoiding it. Giles ran forward and cut the other armored hand off, leaving the base head defenseless. Glory cast another Fire spell on the top head causing it to turn gray and go limp. Giles thrust his sword in the base head and twisting it. The fiend fell to the ground and burst into bright lights and disappeared.
"Where are the others? Where's Willow?" Tara asked as Giles cleaned his sword off.
"They are around. Do not worry about them, you should be worrying about what is going to happen." Giles said showing no emotion in his voice.
Tara ran to the ledge and watched the fighting going on below with a hopeful look on her face.
Sin turned to a huge tower on the right shore where the Al Bhed had set up a two pronged energy cannon. The Al Bhed men inside the tower were aiming the prongs at Sin, and hit the switch to release a steady stream of strong energy. The energy hit the barrier surrounding Sin's body pushing it inward, Sin fought back pushing his energy out. The cannon overloaded and exploded killing the men and women in the tower. Tara hung her head and fell to her knees as tears fell from her eyes.
Willow groaned and turned over on the sandy beach where she fell to after Sin's energy hit. She rose and looked around, the bloody, torn and tattered bodies of the Crusaders, Al Bhed were laying all over the beach. Willow checked a few of them that, and still found that they were dead she looked over and saw Oz sitting against a boulder. Running over she kneels and looks him over.
"Oz? Come on, Oz! Wake up!" Willow says shaking him. Oz falls over to the side with his eyes closed. Willow hangs her head knowing he's dead. "Dammit!" Willow shouts and turns toward the ocean to see Sin turning and diving under the water. "Don't you run from me!" She screams at Sin, and dives into the water not hearing or seeing Tara.
"Stand back everyone! I'll summon!"
Glory holds Tara back "No, you won't hurt it!"
"I have to do something!" Tara says starting her summon.
"You can't. It won't do any good!" Glory says grabbing Tara's staff stopping her from summoning.
In the water Willow is furiously swimming after Sin, but can't catch up and stops. She turns and heads back to the shore.
I have no idea what I was thinking when I ran after Sin that day. But before I knew what I was doing, there I was chasing him down like a thief at market. Maybe I was angry, maybe I wanted to go home. I kept thinking of Zanarkand, and my old man.
When Willow reached the beach she sat down in the sand and thought about the operation, and of home.
Oz appeared and looked around before walking away. A hooded character appeared and disappeared just as quick.
"What?" Willow hears Ira say
"Everyone is saying that you're gonna retire, that you don't practice anymore."
"Let them talk. I'm still the best."
"Everyone is saying that you're no good 'cause you're drinking all the time." Her young self said.
"Ha! I can quit drinkin' anytime I want!"
"Then do it now."
"What did you just say?"
"You just said you can!"
"Yeah, tomorrow maybe."
"Why not today?"
"Why do today what you can leave for tomorrow? Oh hell don't you start your cryin' again!"
I thought I sensed my old man there. Somewhere... Or maybe it was just Sin's toxin playing tricks on my mind.
Willow gets up and starts walking down the beach among the dead bodies of hundreds of men and women. Some were torn in half, and others were just bloody.
How many died today? People die, and Tara dances. When will she stop dancing? When will is stop? Tara won't stop dancing... not until Sin is gone. Those were my thoughts then... I think.
"You're still here, I see." Giles said as Willow came into sight.
"Many stories ended here today... But... Yours still goes on."
Sin had come and gone, but I remained here.
Giles walks over to Ethan who is about to leave for Djose. "A swift retreat. Satisfied?"
"What do you mean by that, Giles?"
"Those who turned from the teachings of Yevon died, while the faithful live on."
"I see the past ten years have changed you." Ethan says as Glory walks by him and over to Tara.
"You do not look so well. But now more than ever, you must be the people's strength, their confidence. Anyone else would be expected to show their sorrow. But you...are a summoner. You are Spira's hope. Until Sin is defeated, you must not relent. You do understand don't you?"
"Yes. I understand."
"Are you afraid? Tara, take me as your pillar of strength. As Yunalesca had her lord Zaon. Lady Tara. Until we meet again, farewell." Glory leaves with Ethan by her side.
Willow walks over to Giles as she watches Glory leave.
"Sin is Ira."
"Yeah, for a while there, I thought I could feel him. But that doesn't mean I believe you."
"Sin is Ira. And he came here for you."
"What? You're telling he killed all those people just for a chance to see me?"
"That's what Sin does. He wanted to show that to you. Do you know why, don't you?"
"And just how am I supposed to know that?"
"So you would kill him. As long as he is Sin, Ira will keep killing. He wants you to stop him."
"You gotta be kidding me. Just how do you know all of this, anyway?" Willow asks and Giles walks away. "Dammit! You're just like my old man! Don't run away from me, I'm not done talking to you!"
Giles stops and turns to Willow. "You are the one running away."
Willow growls as she walks toward the group.
"Are you ready?" Xander asked standing up.
"Yeah, let's go." Willow replies and walks behind the group with Faith following.
Tara turns back and smiles "Hey, you two! Hurry up!"
"Well she's awfully cheerful." Willow says more to herself but Faith overheard
"In dark times she must be." Faith looks to the ground then back to Willow. "She must shine bright. And right now are dark times... So Tara is trying hard to be bright."
"We should help her, then."
"If we worry, she'll only try harder."
Catching up to the group was a bit of a problem when a huge snake fiend slithered in front of her and Faith. It was white and orange with two fin like arms, and a glowing orange oval shape in the middle of its head. It struck at Willow who dodged left, and Faith learned Stone Touch from it. Willow flipped over its body pulling her sword from the sheath, and stabbing the midsection when she landed. The fiend turned and a laser shot out of the oval turning the grass at Willow's feet to stone.
"Damn!" Willow jumped back wide-eyed.
"This is a Basilisk and it can turn a person to stone. So, watch out." Faith said slicing one of the arms off.
Willow nodded and swung at the fiend cutting its throat making it hiss at her. Faith finished if off with a swing from her spear. The fiend disappeared as they walked on and finally caught up to the group.
"Hey, how much longer till we get to Zanarkand?" Willow asked when they reached a fork in the road.
Xander tossed his ball in the air and caught it as he turned. "It's still a ways to go."
"Yes" Anya said frowning at Xander childish act "First we go down the Moonflow to the Guado city of Guadosalam... Then we cross the Thunder Plains to the Temple of Macalania."
"Oh, boy." Willow sighed.
"And before all of that, we get to pray at the Temple in Djose!" Tara said excitedly.
Willow snapped her fingers "We can't just skip all that? Can we?
"I have to pray to the fayth in every temple in order to earn the Final Aeon."
"You see that is a summoner's training. She's gotta prepare mind and body, all just to get ready for the Final Summoning." Xander said tossing his ball again just to annoy Anya.
"That must be tough...huh, Tara?"
Tara smiled "I'll be fine with you here." she whispered in Willow's ear making her smile.
The group began walking towards the Temple grounds with Willow and Giles last.
"Hey" Giles said making Willow turn.
"And who else would I be talking to? The fiends?"
"What can I do for ya, boss?"
"I want you to keep Ira being Sin quiet. I don't want Tara to know. You know her...she would...distance herself from you. And you do not want that."
"I think I understand... But even if I did say something, no one would believe me, you know?"
"That's true...Hey, did I really need to know about Ira? What about how I feel?"
"It was better you finding out now, than at a critical moment, and becoming emotional."
"What? Me, emotional? I don't think so."
Giles grinned. "I heard you were quite the crybaby." He says and walks off.
Yeah, maybe when I was a kid. Maybe even a little now. Just a little.
"I still don't believe your story, you hear?”