Downward Spiral Chapter 3

By Faye Locke

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 singer room of her home to see if any dangers waited for him within. Again, Jyleth wondered what Sephiroth could possibly see as a threat.

"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, were 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. She started to say something in the way of admonishment, but he cut her off.

"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 too 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 was 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 creates 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.

After a few hours, Jyleth was already regretting accepting Sephiroth’s commission. The SOLDIER was a fool. He did not even seem to know what a guide was for. Jyleth was supposed to be in the lead, using her staff and knowledge to keep them from falling into ditches or stumbling across other dangers, such as hidden shrubs or even trees. But, no, Sephiroth decided he would lead. Not that he had spoken as such; just every time Jyleth caught up to him and tried to move in front of him, he would increase his pace to prevent her from doing so. Jyleth thought it might have been a mistake to tell him that the first few days they would be going straight north. Finally, feeling very tired and very annoyed, Jyleth stayed behind Sephiroth, conserving her energy by walking the path he plowed through the snow. She told herself it would not been long before he realized why she should be in the lead.

It was no surprise to her when a short time later, a short yell followed by the sound of snow shifting brought her attention to Sephiroth, who had fallen into a snow pit nearly up to his neck. Jyleth ambled up to him, carefully poking her staff in the snow to find a safe path. She squatted in the snow a few feet from him, looking at his angry glare with a bemused expression.

"You know, if you had let your guide do her job, this would not have happened," she said simply.

Sephiroth’s glare became something harder and more dangerous. A moment later, Jyleth was thrown back a few feet by a sudden blast of heat. She quickly scrambled to her feet to see Sephiroth standing free in a pit of flattened, half-melted snow that was about ten feet around. He walked to the ledge and easily vaulted back up to the surface of the snow, sinking only a few inches. Jyleth bit off the fear that she felt as she watched him move toward her.

"Then lead," he said simply. Jyleth repressed a shiver from the malice she saw in his eyes as she turned around and started walking, carefully observing the snow for hidden dangers. She wondered if the greatest danger to her was following a few steps behind her.

Jyleth stopped that night long after the sun had set, only calling a end to the day when the shadows became too blurred to distinguish. They camped in the open, so that they could watch for danger in any direction. No fire was lit, for it would do more harm than help, melting the snow and soaking their clothes and supplies. Fire also attracted heat-seeking predators. After eating in silence, Jyleth broached the subject of watches.

"What?" Sephiroth had not really been paying attention to what she had said.

"Do you want first or second watch?" Jyleth repeated.

"First," Sephiroth replied after giving her one of his measuring looks.

"Good, then wake me when the third moon has set," Jyleth said, indicating to the small pink orb just past zenith in the sky. She did not look to see if Sephiroth had acknowledged her. She pulled her cloak tightly around her and activated the shelter materia, falling asleep only moments later.

Jyleth awoke some time later, filled with a sense of wrong. Looking at the sky, she knew immediately that the third moon had set some time ago. Why hadn’t Sephiroth woken her? For that matter, she thought, looking around the camp, where was Sephiroth? Feeling very annoyed, Jyleth deactivated her shelter materia and got up to look for her errant employer, not before checking her weapons and loosening the twin swords in their sheathes.

She followed his tracks easily, as it was apparent to her that he either had done nothing to disguise them of had not cared. The tracks did not show that he had moved quickly or in distress. About one-hundred yards from the camp, the tracks simply stopped. Jyleth turned back to the last signs of his path, to make sure she had not missed anything. She hadn’t. He had just disappeared. Jyleth spared a glance to the sky, worried about sky-born predators, then she shook her head. The tracks were not scuffed as if he had been grabbed by an giant eagle or a griffin. Sephiroth was too good a fighter to be picked off by either, she thought, as well as probably too big. She returned her attention to the tracks. The cold touch of metal against her neck made her jump to one side in a reflex action, away from the source of danger. She whirled around, bringing both of her sword out at the same time, holding them in ready position to meet the danger.

Sephiroth pulled his Masamune back as she turned to face him, his eyes holding an amused glint that reminded her of a predator toying with its food. Jyleth still held her swords up, unsure of whether he was a threat to her or not. Her mind raced, trying to rationalize just how he had gotten behind so quietly and how he had gotten his tracks to disappear. Long moments passed by, Jyleth’s breath coming out in misty puffs the only noise audible above the wind.

"If I had intended to kill you, you would be dead," Sephiroth finally said, stepping a few paces back from her as if to prove he had no deadly intention to her. Jyleth’s fear was fading rapidly, replaced with red anger.

"What do you think you were doing?" She demanded, replacing her swords in the sheaths across her back. "I told you to wake me when the third moon set! It set hours ago! And wandering away from camp? What do you know of this land? What do you know of the dangers that lie beneath the snow and above your head? You are a fool, Sephiroth." Anger could be a wonderful thing, Jyleth noted absently, it could give even a poor guide the bravery to chastise the greatest warrior on the planet. The amused look in Sephiroth’s eyes drained away, leaving his eyes expressionless once more. Jyleth worried that she might have pushed him too far.

"I know enough of this land that the dangers are nothing that I can’t handle," he said, "and –"

"Then you know nothing," she cut in coldly. Jyleth turned away from him and began to walk back to the camp before she could see how he reacted to that. She almost did not care that he might kill her for being so rude to him. The danger of that seemed little now, for she felt that his ignorance - no, arrogance - would kill them anyway. She had not walked two steps before she felt his hand grasp her arm, spinning her around to face him.

"Let me go," she said simply, looking at his arm disdainfully. All fear vanished, for male clients touching her automatically brought about a fierce response in her, one that was not dimmed by any fear of danger. Her free arm went to the hilt one of her daggers at her belt.

Sephiroth’s other hand clasped her chin, forcing her face up so that her eyes met his. Jyleth tried to focus of pulling the dagger out of its sheathe, but she found herself transfixed by his perfect features, so close to her now, and his eyes, which glowed fiercely mako green. Sephiroth’s mouth curled into a slow smile, as if he enjoyed the effect he had on her.

"I may not know this land," he whispered, "but I know enough to put a foolish guide in her place." The wind shifted, blowing Sephiroth’s long hair across his face, obscuring his eyes. Jyleth felt the spell broken and immediately ripped her dagger from her belt, slashing at his arm. Sephiroth let her go and stepped back before she could scratch him. She kept the dagger out, but he ignored her and the blade and headed back to their camp. Jyleth waited for several minutes before she followed him, not moving until her hands had stopped shaking.


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