Downward Spiral Chapter 1
By Faye Locke
The door to the tavern banged open, letting in a gust of cold air, chilling the occupants of the room. A tall man stepped through the doorway, standing a moment in the porthole, as if deciding whether or not he wished to enter the smoke-filled room. Long silver hair blew in the doorway, obscuring the features of the late guest.
"Hey," shouted the bartender from across the room, "shut the door or you will have to buy us all a round of ale to shake off the chill your letting in." Murmurs of angry agreement came from the somewhat drunken members of the tavern. The figure in the doorway seemed to go tense for a moment, almost backing out of the tavern. But then he stepped forward across the threshold, slamming the door behind him. The silver hair flowed slowly back into place, revealing the stranger clothed in a strange black body armor with a heavy black trench coat and tight gloves his only protection from the cold.
"Well, its about time," complained the bartender, "another moment an---" His mouth stopped working as the silver hair parted to reveal a face with ember green eyes and Leor, the bartender, realized who he was yelling at. The bartender was stunned. The man in his tavern, shaking off snow with oh-so-delicate seeming gloved fingers, was none other than Sephiroth, the warrior legend fast arising in Shinras SOLDIER core. In just barely a year, Sephiroth had become known to people all over the world for his extraordinary abilities and incredible feats. And Leor, a lowly bartender, had yelled and threatened Sephiroth. It was all Leor could do to not run and hide in the back room privy, for Sephiroth had also become known world-wide for his brutality to his not-always deserving victims.
"I am in need of a guide," said Sephiroth coolly, as if he had not heard the bartenders earlier words.
"A g-guide?" Leor managed.
"Yes." Sephiroths eyes settled on the man behind the bar, who visibly quivered under the emerald gaze.
"W-w-where would you be needing a guide to?"
"The forest, to a certain location in the mountains beyond."
"There is a-a person, who might be able to help you," Leor was overcoming his initial fear, yet a feeling of doom still settled over him.
"Then fetch him," Sephiroth said.
"Sir, in this weather?" The bartender gulped, trying to decide which was more dangerous; the weather, or Sephiroth. He quickly came to a conclusion and scurried over to the door, grabbing his cloak off the rack on the way out. "Of course, I will be back soon." Leor nodded to the tavern wench, telling her to take over before he slipped out the door into the bone-chilling winter cold.
"May I get you a drink, sir?" The tavern wench showed more bravery than all the men in the tavern, who were now staring into their cups and pretending they could not see the visitor. Sephiroth regarded her a moment, his gaze far more calculating than any she had ever been submitted to. Instead of the usual look in the eye of I wonder if I have some extra change for her company tonight?, there was the question I wonder how pieces I could cut her into before she died? in this strangers eyes. She took an involuntary step back.
"No." Sephiroth turned his back to her, then walked to a table in the darkest corner of the room. The occupants of the table vacated it as soon as they saw him coming. When he sat, there was not an occupied table within ten feet of him. Outside of that space, the tavern patrons were going on as usual, if somewhat subdued, pretending that there not a cold-blooded killer in the room, staring into space, yet seeming completely aware of his surroundings at the same time.
Over an hour later, the half-frozen bartender returned, followed by a slight shape shrouded in a heavy cloak with the hood up. Leor stumbled over to fire, where he was immediately tended to by the tavern wench and a tall mug of warm beer.
The cloaked figure navigated through the tables to Sephiroths table, not bothering to remove the hood of the cloak. Sephiroth rose swiftly as the figure came near his table, unsheathing his sword in one swift movement and bringing it level with the cloaked figures chest. Another ten feet around his table became vacant in a matter of moments. The cloaked person stopped, the sword point inches from their body. A few moments passed as the unknown person took in the perfect silver hair and glowing green eyes.
"Show your face," Sephiroth demanded. A soft laugh emitted from the depths of the hood, even as the persons heavily gloved hands reached to push the hood back.
"What has the mighty Sephiroth have to fear from me?" The hood fell back, revealing a young womans face surrounded by a halo of fiery red curls that were not quite restrained in a braid. She was smiling, her hazel eyes shining in amusement at Sephiroths obvious paranoia. Sephiroths eyes narrowed, then he looked at the bartender, who was still shivering by the fire, trying not to be obvious in watching the exchange. He studiously looked back at the fire the moment Sephiroth looked at him.
"This is to be my guide?" Sephiroth demanded, indicating to the girl-just-barely-a-woman before him with his sword.
"M-my lord," the bartender stammered, "she knows the forest well. She can take where you need to go faster than any other." The mans chattering made his words barely coherent. "And she is the only guide this town has." Sephiroth looked back to her.
"Sit," he commanded to his would-be guide, raising his sword out of her way so that she might do so. The young womans smile had vanished, replaced with a hard calculating look. She sat carefully on the bench across the table from Sephiroth. He sat as well, setting the sword across the table - its point extended a good three feet beyond the bench she sat on - but not removing his hand from the massive hilt.
"You wish a guide," she said, removing her glove and setting them to the side of the table. Sephiroth took note of the calluses that marred her hands. Sword-calluses, which made his respect for the young woman inch up a small notch. "Through the forest to a certain location in the mountains."
Sephiroth nodded. "You have thorough knowledge of the area?" The young woman nodded, reaching into her cloak at the same time. In an instant, Sephiroth raised the sword edge to her neck, holding the hilt with both hands. The guide froze, casting a sidelong look questionably at the blade, then turning her hazel eyes to Sephiroth. Many long moments of silence passed in the tavern before she spoke.
"I was just getting a map," she said calmly, as if there was not a sword caressing her neck. She understood that he thought she might be reaching for a weapon, although why he was worried about a young guide taking a weapon to him... she could only guess that his life had not been an easy one.
Sephiroths eyes seemed to glow with fury for a moment at her words, then he smothered the anger and resumed his former position, resting the sword back on the table as if nothing had happened. The background noise returned to normal after a tense sigh of relief expressed by all the patrons. The young woman withdrew the map from her cloak, placing it on the table and unrolling it. Her hands shook as she flattened the map on the table, betraying the fear she had been hiding. She looked up at Sephiroths face to find him watching her. A slow smile twisted his features, matching the evil and amused light that came to his eyes. He need not say the words they both knew he was thinking; You cant hide your fear from me. She tore her gaze away from his face, so perfect in beauty yet so terrible in its ferocity, and continued to unroll the map. She pressed her hands down on the edges, holding them down and trying to control the tremors that shook them.
"Show me the general area you need to go," she said finally, not looking up from the map.
"The forest is vast; their are many ways through its heart to the mountains; if I know the general area you wish to go, I will be able to take the fastest trail to that location." She swallowed with difficulty, yet was still proud that she had found her voice to answer his cold, demanding question. A slender gloved hand moved over the paper, then closed to a first, leaving only the first finger unclenched. That finger then made a circle on the map, encircling a forlorn stretch of peaks far to one side of the range.
"This area," Sephiroth said. The young woman gasped slightly, then controlled herself. He had indicated the most dangerous part of her known territory, an area that was a no-mans land to all, filled with monsters and horrible creatures. The journey would take weeks, and would not be easy at any stage. Only a fool would attempt such a trip in the best of weather. It was suicidal to attempt to do so in the winter. She wished she had never opened the door for the barkeep.
"Are you sure?" she asked, looking back to the perfect face. He was still looking at her, as if he had never looked down at the map. She realized she had let too much information show in her face, and tried to restore her calm appearance. Sephiroth nodded, seeming to enjoy her discomfort. Looking down at the map for a few more moments, the young woman weighed her options. To refuse him might very well mean death, or worse. But to attempt this mission was suicide. Still, there existed the chance that she might survive the ordeal and live off the money she would make for the rest of her days.
"100,000 gil; Ill take no less," she said after many long moments of deliberation, rolling the map back up and replacing it in her cloak. It was just too much of an opportunity to pass up.
She nearly fell off the bench, completely taken off guard that he had not engaged in any haggling at all. She had expected only half the initial sum after the haggling had finished. But he had accepted the cost without a thought. Worried that this might mean that he had no intention of paying up, she continued.
"Half up front," she said, "and that does not include supplies."
"Fine. Done," he said, leaning back from the table, as if he was tired of the conversation, "you will have the gil in the morning, and I expect to leave by the morning after next." She stared at him a few moments longer, as if he had gone mad. Did he have no monetary sense at all? Only a fool would accept such a cost. Of course, only a fool would want to go where he wanted to go.
"I will see you in two days then," she said, standing, gathering her gloves and slipping them back on..
"One last thing," he said as she turned to go.
"Do not fail me, Jyleth," Sephiroth warned, "it is death to do so." Jyleth nodded curtly, the pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and fled the tavern.
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