Downward Spiral Chapter 2

By Faye Locke

Jyleth woke early the next morning, anxious to check her account to see if the 50,000 gil had truly been deposited. She also was making a mental list of items she would need for the undertaking. She pulled on thick, fur-lined trousers and a matching coat over her thin thermal clothing then left her small house and swiftly walked into town. The snowstorm had ended late last night, leaving the landscape in sparkling white perfection. Sparkling white cold perfection, Jyleth amended mentally, pulling her cloak tighter.

She arrived in town no longer shivering, the fast pace she had set on her walk had quickly warmed her. She stopped first at the bank, and was somewhat surprised to find that the gil Sephiroth had promised was indeed now credited to her account. Next, the items shop. Jyleth mused over what she would need, wondering what Sephiroth would have on his person. Because of the heavy snows, tents were out of the question - they would collapse under a snowstorm in less than an hour. Instead, Jyleth opted for the more expensive yet infinitely better snow-shelter materia. It created a small warming field that prevented snow from accumulating on sleeping travelers. Unfortunately, it was not powerful enough to make a field large enough for a tent. Jyleth had never owned one, having borrowed the one she had used from a good friend. That friend was no longer around, and, in any case, she had been wanting to own one for some time, and since she was not footing the bill...she took two, since she did not know what Sephiroth had and, as the guide, she had to be prepared for anything.

Food was also going to be a problem. Game in winter was scarce, and Jyleth suspected that Sephiroth would not be willing to take the time necessary for hunting down what little game that lived during the winter on the snowy wastes to supplement their food. So that meant carrying they would have to carry all of their food from the beginning of the trek. After she calculated the weight of the travel rations required to supply them for three months, Jyleth decided that on the way back, it would be warmer and game would be easier to catch; therefore, they could supplement later in the journey. So she took rations of travel bread, dried fruit, and jerked beef, still wincing at the weight it amounted to.

Jyleth now turned her mind to clothing. Her own personal wardrobe was vast enough to accommodate her needs sufficiently, however, she again lacked knowledge of Sephiroth's needs. Surely he had acquired the proper clothing merely to come here? Or did the legendary Sephiroth not feel cold as the rest of the world did? What he had been wearing the night before had definitely not been appropriate for the winter season - Jyleth could not help wondering what he had worn in his trip to her remote village. Perhaps he really did not feel the cold like everyone else. Even if that were the case, Jyleth was unsettled at the idea of anyone striding around without proper clothing under her care, so she picked out a heavy, warm cloak for him. As she picked the cloak off the rack, Jyleth paused a moment, studying it. It had been bleached to an ivory white, as all winter cloaks were, so that the wearer would not stand out against the snow to the eyes predators or ambushers. She worried that the black-clad Sephiroth might object to wearing such a color. Shaking her head, she decided he would wear it whether he liked it or not; she would not fight every banshee and wolf along the way because of Sephiroth's preference of the color he wore.

Another surprise awaited her when she brought her selections to the counter. When she had dug out her gil pouch, the shopkeeper stopped her with a quick wave.

"No need for that, Miss Jyleth," he said with an unfamiliar formality, "He - Lord Sephiroth - stopped off earlier and let us know to charge your purchases to his - Shinra's - account. No need for your gil for this."

"Gryg, since when have I been Miss?" Jyleth asked, trying not to act surprised at Sephiroth's accommodations for her. She had expected to have to present a bill to him to be later recompensed for her purchases.

"Since you became employed by the Lord Sephiroth, Miss," Gryg informed her warily.

"He told you to treat me like this?" Jyleth was outraged that Sephiroth would cause this trouble with people she had known all of her life.

"No, no, Miss," Gryg corrected quickly. "I'm sorry M-Jyleth. Folks, you know, talk."

"About what?" Jyleth could feel the anger mounting inside her and quickly suppressed it. Whatever folks were talking about, it was not Gryg's fault.

"That, well," Gryg seemed clearly uncomfortable, obvious by his glances over to the doorway. Jyleth sighed and leaned forward over the counter, giving Gryg a hug.

"Now," she whispered to his hear, holding him close, "people will just think I am giving you a good-bye hug. You can tell me without worrying about them."

"They say that you might be his ears," Gryg whispered back to her, clearly happy to remove the barrier between himself and his friend.

"What?" Jyleth nearly shouted, pulling away quickly. At Gryg's anxious look, she calmed down and continued. "They think I am a spy now?" Gryg shrugged, then suddenly started putting her purchases into two linen bags.

"Will that be all for you today, Miss Jyleth?" Gryg asked, looking as if they had not just discussed the town's distrust for Jyleth. Jyleth looked over her shoulder to see that the tanner's wife, Lliana, had walked in. Gryg was not going to take a chance of people thinking he was too friendly with the temperamental SOLDIER, for it was their purchases that kept him fed and warm.

"Yes, thank you," Jyleth replied, gathering her bags and leaving the store, deeply troubled by what her latest commission had cost her in trust. Of course, the people of the isolated town fed on gossip like flies to a dung pile. After stopping by the bank to deposit the gil she had on her. She had decided not to leave any gil in her home, due to the time she would be gone. Simply too much of a temptation to the younger, more desperate members of the town. Or the odd stranger that might stumble across her humble abode.

Heading home, Jyleth planned out the rest of her day, putting aside the matter of town trust until a time when it would matter. She would need to plan the packing of the travel packs, making sure that she conserved space and equally distributed the supplies. Jyleth always kept spare packs for her customers, for they rarely had the proper kind for the harsh environment of her land. Another pause in her thoughts. Would Sephiroth carry a pack? Surely he did not think himself too far above the rest of the world to think that carrying a pack was not something he needed to do. Jyleth dismissed the idea; Sephiroth was a SOLDIER, they were trained to the utmost peak of their capabilities (and beyond, or so the rumors said), so carrying a pack would be nothing to him.

Jyleth arrived at her home, and small one room dwelling that looked little more than a rude hut. However, looks can be deceiving, for Jyleth's house was well insulated against winter's cold touch. She stepped inside and wondered how much she would miss the place. True, she had been gone longer than this journey should take, but never had any of those undertakings been so dangerous. The thought that she might never again see her home chilled Jyleth more than the bitter wind could. She cast the thought aside quickly, however, for there was work to be done and thinking about what might happen accomplished little other than wasting time. She set to arranging the packs.

The last order of business for Jyleth was inventory of her weapons. She prided herself in mastery of several different types of weapons, and for this journey, she felt the need to take all of them with her. First were her knives. She had two sets of throwing knives, one set that strapped onto her wrists and one that she inserted into her boots. Next, a fine pair of daggers, each half as long as her arm. They were double edged and honed nicely to a razor sharp edge. These she wore on her belt. Next was her prize - a set of twin swords, known as Kusamé. Single edged, they were incredible weapons that she had mastered only with years and years of practice. She would never admit where she had acquired them, for they were forged with mythril, something she should not have been able to afford. She carried them in crossing sheathes strapped across her back underneath her pack. They each had four materia slots, but these slots were currently filled with pseudo-materia - stones that were the same size, shape, and weight as materia. All weapons had pseudo-materia until the user acquired materia to fill the slots with, for it was necessary for the slots to be filled to maintain the proper balance in a weapon. Jyleth completed her weaponry with a simple, smooth staff - it was actually a walking staff, but she had found it worked just as well for the bashing of unwanted visitors. It was also handy for detecting snow depths in one's path without having to find the difference one's feet. After lying out the packs and weapons, Jyleth banked her fire and went to sleep for the last time in her home.

The next morning, Jyleth had just finished dressing and strapping on her weapons when a loud knock interrupted her thoughts. Shivering, she pulled on her cloak. She had put out the fire so that she would not sweat in the warm winter clothing, but still the sudden sapping of the heat had made her cold.

"Come in," she said, knowing who her visitor was. Sephiroth entered quickly taking a moment to adjust his eyes to the dim interior while carefully looking around the single room of her home.

"You are ready?" he asked. He had added to his apparel a long heavy shirt of some sort of oily black material that was belted snugly at his waist. That, combined with the black trench coat, body armor, and gloves, was still not nearly enough for where they were going. She was very glad she had bought the cloak, but knew she was going to have to dig up some more stuff for him.

"Of course I am ready," she answered, turning to retrieve the cloak. She tossed it at Sephiroth, who caught it with a motion almost too fast for her to detect.

"What is this?"

"Don't they teach you anything at Shinra?" Jyleth asked, digging out a scarf, then turning back to him, holding it loosely. Sephiroth dark look caused her to soften her tone. "It's a cloak, so you won't freeze our first day out, all right?" She tossed the scarf to him, which he caught with equal swiftness.

"They're white," Sephiroth stated disapprovingly as he shook the folded material of the cloak out. The scarf he dropped on the floor

"Yes, and so is the snow. You blend in better." Jyleth picked up the scarf and handed it back to him. Sephiroth scowled slightly, taking the scarf. To her relief, he swung the pale cloak over his shoulders, but still held the scarf gingerly, as if he did not know what to do with it.

"Have you ever had a scarf?" Jyleth asked, then waved her hand before he could answer. "Never mind, let me show you." She pulled off her own scarf, then re-wound it. Sephiroth looked at the scarf like it was a snake, then apparently decided it was not worth the argument and wound it around his neck as she had. Jyleth looked him over, then decided he still needed something else.

"Do you have any heavier gloves?" she asked. The black ones he wore now did not look like they would protect from frostbite.

"These gloves are fine," Sephiroth said.

"You will not be saying that when you get frostbite," Jyleth said, turning her back to him and rummaging in an old chest for a pair of gloves that would fit him.

"Do not waste your time," Sephiroth said, stepping next to her and shutting the chest. Jyleth barely managed to keep her hands from being smashed. Jyleth bit off a sharp retort, not wanting to irk her customer so early in the commission.

"These gloves are specially designed to maintain body temperature in all climates. I will not part with them, nor will put other gloves over them and risk impairing my grip." Jyleth nodded, deciding it was best not to argue with him on this point. She hoped his gloves lived up to his expectations, however, for if they did not... well, she didn't need to dwell on those possibilities. Jyleth picked up a pack and handed it to him. When he did not reach to take it, she sighed heavily and said, "Do you plan on eating snow?"

"I will not have this hindering me," he replied, being far more unreasonable than Jyleth had expected. "In a fight, this would get in the way."

"Look," she said, feeling a little exasperated. She put on her own pack, swinging it easily over both shoulders. "See this latches?" She indicated to the pseudo-metal latches located on the shoulder straps in front. Pseudo-metal was used up north because it did not keep cold like true metal did, thus not sticking to warm fingers when touched. "You squeeze them," she demonstrated. The pack came unbuckled immediately and fell to the ground. "No more hindrance. Is that acceptable?" For an answer, Sephiroth picked up his pack and swung it in place. Jyleth sighed, beginning to wonder if the great warrior Sephiroth knew anything about survival beyond fighting.

"Is that all?" Sephiroth seemed anxious to move, showing SOLDIER training in his dislike of wasting any moment's time.

"One more thing," Jyleth said, tossing him a purple materia orb. "Can't use tents, because of the snowfall, so this will be how we sleep at night. It created a warming field and keeps the sleeper dry." Sephiroth nodded and pocketed the materia. Without further word, her turned and opened the door, prepared to leave. Jyleth grabbed her pack and quickly reset the latches, then followed him out the door, stopping only to grab her staff.


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