Chapter 9
Zanarkand Showdown

Since she had no more healing potions of any type on her, Rikku was forced to take Yuna's garment grid and replace one of her dress spheres with the White Mage dress sphere, as well as being sure to swipe back her Trainer dress sphere. She used Curaga on everyone, making sure that no wounds were left unhealed and no ailments left behind by the fight, and finally changed back to her comfortable and most favorite outfit.

When Yuna slowly opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Rikku changing to her Thief dress sphere, and her loving boyfriend struggling to get his strange uneven-legged shorts on. It didn't look right, to say the least, and a burst of light laughter jumped from her without warning. "What happened, you two?"

"Yunie!" The Al Bhed girl practically pounced onto her cousin, embracing her tightly. "They almost got you, but we saved you! Er, Auron saved you!"

"Sir Auron…? What do you mean?" she asked, now sitting up to look around. The darkness that had encircled the platform and most of the Farplane itself was now completely gone, and the bright, white clouds drifted high above them happily, as though to bring the three comfort. The beautiful, ever-breathtaking waterfalls circled them, pyreflies dancing happily around them with their strange, eerily beautiful hums and sparkles.

"Uh, well…" Rikku stood still for a moment and scratched her head. "He sort of came out of me, I think," she replied to Yuna.

"What?" The ex-summoner stifled a giggle. "Came…out of you?"

"Oh, not like that!" the thief cried. "I mean, his spirit, or something, just…yeah. Tidus, you tell her!" Rikku stepped back, knowing that her confusing rush of sentences would only make matters worse. Of course, Rikku would scold herself later for asking him to continue for her, but hadn't stopped to fully think about that at the moment.

Tidus, with one boot unlaced and the other not even on yet, looked up with a small pout. "You were naked."

Yuna almost couldn't believe her ears. "…What?"

"I heard one of those guys say you were naked," he replied, now feeling foolish.

"…Is that why you stripped down?" Rikku had pulled out her headset and was fiddling with its insides when she looked up at him with sudden realization. "It is, isn't it?"

"…Maybe, but I only did it because Yuna was doing it!"

The laughter that erupted from the lonely little platform was priceless. Tidus, though a little embarrassed now, slowly caved in and began to laugh with the two girls. Even after everyone recovered and gained their composure, Rikku still had a case of the giggles, and continued to burst into laughter uncontrollably.

Yuna changed back into her Gunner dress sphere, which, of course, was her personal favorite, while Tidus finished putting on his other boot. The hyper little Al Bhed was now inspecting the three men they had faced, and a particularly interesting item had caught her eye. While she walked over to the one named Tran to observe the foreign item further, Yuna, whom was deep in thought, now spoke up. The mention of Auron's spirit coming out of Rikku while she had been unconscious was beginning to bother her.

"Do you think he no longer feels at peace?" the ex-summoner asked aloud, mostly to herself. When she received puzzled looks from both of the blonds, she added quickly, "I mean Sir Auron. Do you think that he is…being bothered by something?"

"Why, what do you mean?" Tidus replied.

"Well, when I was using the Songstress dress sphere and Lenne began to come out…it was because of her unrest. Because she wanted Shuyin to be with her and at peace." Yuna walked slowly over to her cousin, whom had now forgotten about the strange, mechanical object in her hand so that she could fully listen to what the brunette was saying. "You were wearing the Samurai sphere when I woke up, right?"

"Yeah, I was," Rikku replied, looking down in surprise. "Oh no, what if Auron needs our help?"

"Yes, that was my thought, exactly," Yuna said, clasping her hands together. "Why else would his spirit come out of your dress sphere when it did?"

"Looked more like he was helping us," Tidus mentioned, joining the two girls with his hands on his hips. "Maybe he just wanted to help you?"

Yuna thought back to the time she was last in the Farplane, when she and the Gullwings were going after Vegnagun. Auron's voice came to her, filling the air and her mind, and encouraged her onward repeatedly until she and her best of friends had won. Could he have come back again to do his duty to her and Tidus once more, to protect them from harm? "You know what…? I think you may be right."

"Yeah, I'll agree on that," Rikku added with a nod. Suddenly, her spiraling eyes widened as she remembered insulting him in the field of flowers. "Oh no…"

"What's wrong, Rikku?" Yuna asked, kneeling down in front of her cousin with concern.

"Well, I, um…" The Al Bhed twirled her fingers about, biting her lip in shame. "I kinda sorta…called Auron a…meanie…"

"That's nothing new," Tidus said with a short laugh, followed by a smile from Yuna.

"But that's not all," Rikku added, her face now turning a light shade of pink. "I, um… I think I may have called him…the worst Guardian in the world…" When the two before her gasped, she jumped up and held her hands out in defense. "It's not what ya think! I, um, was trying to get him to be a Guardian again, since Lulu and Wakka are too busy gettin' it on and Kimahri's busy with ruling his race and stuff, but he didn't move or anything…so I got a little mad!" With her head down, Rikku dug the tip of her shoe into the hard, stone surface beneath her. "I'm sorry…"

Yuna giggled a bit and put a hand on her cousin's shoulder. "Actually, I bet he did come out to help me, and not to get revenge on you for saying those things."

Tidus chipped in, agreeing with her. "Yeah, I mean, look at all the things I've done to annoy him, and he still never budged." He followed his statement with a laugh, causing Rikku to cheer up a little.

Before they could dwell on it further, the ex-summoner noted the strange device in Rikku's hand and pointed at it. "What is that?"

"Well, I don't really know yet… But I have a feeling that whatever it is, it's gonna be big!"

"Let's get outta this place before we see more of these guys," Tidus suggested, and the two girls did not object.

After pocketing the sphere-sized, metal-encased device, Rikku, Yuna, and Tidus walked to the nearest exit, a hole in the ground that was much like the one in Djose, and helped each other up to it and out of the Farplane. They did not know where it would lead, but decided that they could always call on the Celsius to come and pick them up. Almost as soon as they made it up and out of the hole, landing onto the very place they had fought and defeated Yunalesca, Buddy and Cid's voices could be heard through the headsets.

"Yuna, Rikku?!" Both of them would not stop crying out their names, along with other indistinguishable words, so it was hard to tell what else they had said.

With a wince, Yuna answered. "It's okay, we're okay! We're all here." She smiled as she looked back at Rikku and Tidus.

"What was going on down there? We lost signal when you all went in!" Buddy cried out.

"You know, Farplane fun times, always ruining things!" Rikku replied with a giggle. "So, think you can come pick us up?"

"Yeah, but we don't see you," Cid cried back, a bit of irritation in his voice. "Where the hell are you three?"

"Hmm… Well, if I had to guess," Rikku replied, looking about their surroundings, "I would say we're in Zanarkand."

"…Zanarkand?!"

"Hey, calm down Pops!" she cried back, holding the earpiece away from her ear to keep it from rupturing at the volume of his tone. "We'll wait here for ya!"

After a bit of grumbling from Cid, Buddy finally replied back to them. "Setting course for Zanarkand Ruins, hold on tight."

Rikku cheered, looking back to both of her friends with a grin. "Okay, we'll wait! And we didn't see Brother down there, so those guys really were just calling our bluff!" Relief seemed to spread quickly, even through Yuna and Tidus, whom had already known this. "Oh yeah," the teen added, rummaging in her pouch for the strange metal device. "We found something…weird. On one of the guys we fought. Oh, and Yuna almost got kidnapped again!"

Cid sighed to himself, but it came through the earpiece without his knowledge of it and the two cousins exchanged glances. "You're okay now though, Yuna?"

"Yep!" the brunette replied cheerfully. "Let's just say that…I have good friends to help me."

An odd static shot through the transmission, and then a familiar voice came through that made nearly everyone smile. "Hey… Heard someone needed a lift."

"Paine!" Yuna and Rikku cried together, giving each other a high five.

"What's going on?" Tidus asked, his hands behind his head. "You know, you guys should really get me one of those things so I can hear what's going on."

Yuna grinned and came closer to him, holding out the earpiece so that they could listen together. Rikku shook her head with a grin. "Love bunnies!"

"What was that?" Paine asked through the headset, puzzled.

"Erm, nothing!" the Al Bhed quickly replied. "So, um, you're coming to pick us up?"

"Of course," the ex-Gullwing said. "And, we're closer to you than Cid is." Quickly, and with a hidden excitement, she added, "Oh, and we have our own airship now…"

Everyone but Cid gasped, and then Buddy cut in to speak with her. "Oh, really? What make?"

"32 MK 2 model," Paine replied with a proud voice. "Titan."

Rikku's jaw dropped. A Titan model! It was by far the sturdiest airship, basically a tank with wings, but its weight did make it a bit slower than the Celsius. "I can't wait to see it!" she cried out, jumping from foot to foot with anticipation.

"We're close," Paine announced to them. "Make your way outside, we shouldn't be long."

"Alrighty!" With the metal device in hand, Rikku hurried forward to the stairs that led down and out of the area, but stopped when she realized that only Tidus had followed her. They both exchanged confused looks, then went back. Yuna hadn't moved from her position, and was now looking around the area with a deep pang of nostalgia in her eyes.

Rikku was touched by it, and smiled as she looked to Tidus. The look on his face was even softer, a strong pull that he had only for the brunette before him that seemed to relax his features to show a wonderful feeling that could not be named. The Al Bhed girl suddenly felt left out.

"We battled her here," Yuna whispered, her arms out as she turned around to look at the hole in the ground. "We broke the cycle of Sin, and brought the Eternal Calm…and it all began right here…"

"No, Yuna," the Blitzball star replied with a smile, walking over to her with his hands out. "You broke the cycle and brought the Eternal Calm."

Again, the fluffy moment was nearly suffocating to Rikku, and more than anything, she wanted to whip out a record sphere and start catching everything that was happening. But she had a job to do. A serious, difficult job. One that would require her full attention, strength, and determination. A job that would make Auron nod respectfully to her again, so that she could feel like she was actually doing something right for once. Perhaps she could even get him to smile? Rikku nearly laughed at this thought as she came up to her two friends and nudged them both with her elbows to get their attention. "Hey, get a room you two!"

"Haha, very funny Wakka," Tidus replied with a laugh, remembering those very words when he had come back to Spira…back to Yuna. Wakka was always full of smart comments like that, but they were always in good fun.

"We should go. I wouldn't want to keep Paine waiting for too long," Yuna replied. Together, the three made their way down the steps and out of the area. Double doors led them through into a circular room – the same style room that all of the temples shared in design and elegance. Of course, Zanarkand was no longer a place of elegance, but there were signs to lead others into seeing that it used to be.

They traveled quickly across the room, passing several happy wild monkeys and a few opened chests, which Yuna, Rikku, and Paine were all guilty of looting, and entered the Chamber of the Fayth. Even more pairs of monkeys were found here, and the three had to carefully walk through them all without stepping on them. Thanks to the efforts of YRP nearly a year before, the wild monkeys made their home in the ruins, and now had all multiplied entirely. It was amazing to see so many of them scurrying about.

Everyone continued forward, stopping at a rising platform that would lead them up and out of the chamber, and a soft sound, one that resembled a shoe scuffing the floor, was heard from above them. The three stopped, looking up curiously, and then looked to each other. "Did you guys hear that?"

Rikku's question was needless, but the other two answered, nodding. "I think someone might be here, too," Tidus replied quietly.

"Do you think it could be them?" Yuna whispered. "The kidnappers from the Farplane?"

Everyone shrugged, but all seemed to suspect that it really could be the rogue Al Bhed, hired by the unknown enemy to steal Yuna from them. Rikku stepped closer to her cousin, as though to keep her safe from whatever may come, and Tidus stepped in front of her protectively. "We can take 'em… Let's go," he quietly replied. Everyone stepped carefully onto the platform.

Unfortunately, the platform was not only old and creaky, but rusted and almost unusable now from its long life and natural wear and tear. It rose noisily to the top, exposing them to Zanarkand's own Cloister of Trials, as well as a lone Al Bhed in the corner. His weapon, a tricked out rifle, was already aimed for them as they rose.

"Uh… Hiya!" Rikku said nervously, waving a timid hand. "Paah fyedehk muhk? (been waiting long)?"

With a growl, the Al Bhed man in the corner pulled the trigger. All three immediately jumped separate ways, narrowly avoiding the bullet, but the enemy was faster than what they had hoped for. A well placed round hit Tidus in the thigh, sending him to his side in a cry of pain. He quickly recovered, though, and ignored his pain for now. He had to protect Yuna, and he didn't care how many times he would get hit. As long as she was safe.

Rikku looked at her garment grid, remembering that she had not yet given the White Mage dress sphere back to her cousin, and then looked at the metal device in her hand. She decided that she would hang onto it as long as she could, in case their adversary wanted it back, and she placed it behind her on the ground before switching dress spheres.

Yuna, seeing that Rikku had decided to be the healer for her and her lifemate, immediately aimed for the Al Bhed man and began emptying everything she had in her pistols into his chest and head. With the thick helm and tough armor he wore, her bullets barely did anything, and with a frown she pulled out her garment grid and prepared to change back into old faithful – the Dark Knight dress sphere.

Tidus lunged forward for the rifleman, his sword already unsheathed and glistening from the sparkling liquid within the blade. As all of the liquid within rushed to the tip of the blade, it became a little heavier and his swing quickened, causing his attack to come down harder. The victim of the swipe cried out, noticeably injured, and countered back with a hard kick of his boot into the blond's chest, knocking the air out of his lungs and making him stagger back a bit. Right before the Al Bhed rifleman tipped his gun up and shot Tidus pointblank, Rikku instantly began casting like mad, gripping her staff tightly while focusing on a prayer to give a quick boost in everyone's health, then changing to stack Protect and Shell on everyone.

Yuna charged forward, now clad in the dull, midnight blue armor that covered her entirely, and quickly gave the enemy a taste of Darkness. Even though such an attack harmed her a bit, taking some of her life force and converting it into a harmful attack that spread outward in a far-reaching radius, Rikku's quick heals kept her on her feet and ready to go again. With her sword now held before her, she focused her mind on the dark energies and flung them forward to the lone foe, a nifty spell that most liked to call Death. It failed, but the ex-summoner wasted no time in charging for another round of Darkness.

All the while, Tidus fought heavily, slashing and jumping back, slashing and jumping back, until he had accumulated enough energy to perform one of his most damaging overdrive abilities. Rikku did not stop casting for the life of her, and as the Blitzball star went into his special attack, she stopped to bring out an ether potion. The soft, blue liquid spread quickly through her as she consumed it, and before she could start casting again, the enemy aimed his sights dead on her and shot a magic round through her protective barriers. Though it didn't kill her outright, it sure did hurt her, and she fell to the ground with only her arms to support her.

"Owie…" Rikku closed her eyes, gritting her teeth, and when she stood to cast a heal on herself, she lost her footing and fell forward again, only this time knocking the spherical metal device over in the process.

Right as Tidus and Yuna joined together to finish their most powerful tag-team attack, everything suddenly went completely black around them, as though a light had been cut off. No one could see anyone, but they could see themselves very clearly, just like the effect that was happening in the Farplane. The sound of footsteps scurrying frantically echoed throughout the lonely room.

The black nothingness suddenly began to flicker, showing only a split second of where everyone stood, and then slowly began to fade out from each person's feet. The metal device, which seemed to have an odd button slightly protruding from its side, glowing a faint violet, gradually powered down with a fading whirl, and then became still and silent. The light was no longer there. Neither was the Al Bhed rifleman.

"Did you guys…see that?" Rikku asked, her eyes wide in amazement. When there was no response, she turned around and gasped. Tidus and Yuna were both knocked out, sprawled awkwardly on the ground. Judging by the way they were facing each other, the two somehow hit each other unconscious at the last second. The blonde immediately went to work reviving them and helping them to their feet.

"Where did he go?" Yuna asked, rubbing the side of her face.

"He ran…no thanks to me," Rikku replied in a small voice. Her pout was erased by forgiving smiles from the other two. "That round metal thingy – that's what was causing that darkness in the Farplane."

Yuna gasped. "Then this is proof… It's proof that they knew we were down there."

"Proof that they already had everything planned out to try and kidnap you again," Tidus added with a nod.

"Just what is there obsession with kidnapping?" the Al Bhed girl asked with a confused shrug. "Do you have something they want, Yunie?"

"Not that I know of," her cousin replied.

"I could be because she's a High Summoner and all," Tidus chipped in, his hands behind his head. "That would be a big claim to fame there – saying that they kidnapped the one and only Yuna."

"Well…something just doesn't add up," the ex-summoner said softly, looking to the ground in thought. "Something isn't right about this whole thing…"

"C'mon," Rikku said, encouraging her with a pat on her shoulder. "We should try and catch up to that coward. If we could beat 'em down and take him in, we might be able to solve this mystery once and for all!"

"Yeah, I'm in!" Tidus cried out, and before Yuna could object, the two were practically dragging her out of the Cloister of Trials. The three ran the length of the corridor of the dome, jumping down the many steps here and there and avoiding obstacles and other old, broken down debris that littered the pathway, until they reached the interior of the dome – the largest and most challenging area to get through. Pyreflies floated softly by them everywhere, and Rikku swatted them away as Tidus pointed ahead. "That's him!"

Everyone's eyes fell on the Al Bhed man, whom was limping his way across odd trails created by broken roads and buildings laying across gaps and other such things. Tidus immediately equipped a Charm Bangle, which kept random fiends from bothering them, and all three headed on, the metal device cradled in Rikku's arm.

They followed the length of the broken roads, crossing old grates and long beams that laid perfectly over gaps and served well as ramps and shortcuts. Through a tunnel-like area, where an old road on top of them laid, as well as one beneath their feet, and then over a short path that lead to the outside of the dome. A crafty grenade greeted them as they exited, and Rikku immediately used Prayer for a short health boost. They all resumed their fighting stances, until a loud, thunderous crash shook the very ruins they stood on. Everyone, including the enemy, looked up above them, and surely enough, high up in the sky, two airships were engaging each other.

Rikku immediately recognized the Titan, as it was much rounder and thicker than the adversary ship. The brown and black paint job looked pretty much brand new, but now there were a few minor dents in it. Looking over across from the Titan, the enemy airship, now with a rather large dent in its pretty aqua and yellow colored side, was circling the large, brown airship before it. She wasn't sure, but Rikku guessed that it was a 119 MK 5 – Leviathan. Its build was most definitely for speed, not armor, and its thin, long tail-like stern allowed for pristine maneuverability. Almost drooling now, the Al Bhed girl had to force herself to look away. The familiar feeling of love suddenly crept into her heart, and she decided that if they could ever get a hold of that ship, she would claim it for her own.

"Rikku, look out!" Yuna cried from behind. The blonde looked before her in alarm as the Al Bhed man pulled the trigger, hitting her square in the chest. Rikku staggered backward and immediately focused on casting a heal for herself, but the foe was quicker. He reloaded, then aimed for her and took the shot. Yuna leaped in front of her cousin with her sword up, and came down with another Darkness attack as the bullet hit her in the arm. Rikku healed herself with a rueful laugh, completely thankful for Yuna's quick acting, and before she could prepare a few barriers for everyone, their opponent began limping backward. From the sky, the quick, slender Leviathan curved around and downward, headed for the fleeing Al Bhed man.

"Get back here!" Rikku cried angrily. Quickly, she switched to her Trainer dress sphere, and once Ghiki appeared, she pointed her finger toward the enemy. "Go, funky monkey - go!"

Everyone rushed forward to catch up with him. Even with his limp, the man was moving pretty quickly. Tidus was much faster than the two girls, so he began to pass them up as they charged forward, but the monkey had them all beaten. Dread began to take over Rikku as she realized that her monkey wouldn't be able to make it in time. The Leviathan stopped to hover close to the ground, and a rope was released for the Al Bhed escapee to grab a hold of. Just as Ghiki was almost on his heel, the rifleman snatched the rope and held on tightly, and the airship began to rise from the ground, leaving Tidus, Yuna, Rikku, and the monkey to watch in dismay as the enemies once again escaped. They were still no closer to solving the mystery than they were when they began.