Downward Spiral Chapter 4
By Faye Locke
Jyleth led them from the camp the next morning under the glow of false dawn. After she had joined him at camp, neither had said a word, but neither had gone to sleep either. They had sat apart, not saying anything, not acknowledging the others presence. Jyleth had felt Sephiroths gaze fall to her more than once when she was not looking. She had astutely ignored it, for she had stolen a few glances at him when he was looking another glance, still unsettled that such incredible perfection that he embodied could be so... cold and unfeeling. When the sky had lightened noticeably, Jyleth had picked up her pack and set off, knowing Sephiroth was no more than a few steps behind her.
Jyleth was letting some travel bread slowly warm and dissolve in her mouth when she was startled by Sephiroths voice.
"Tell me of the predators that inhabit this land," he said. Jyleth paused a moment, looking at him strangely. It was an odd tone he held, almost like that of a curious child - or perhaps, that of an abashed student. His eyes told her nothing, so she continued on, chewing on the travel bread while she tried to think of what to tell him.
"There are many, but they can be divided thrice," she said when she had finally swallowed the last of the bread. "Beneath the surface of the snow, on the surface, and in the sky above." She looked back to see if he was listening. Sephiroth gave her a quick nod and indicated that she go on.
"Beneath the surface are those that are the most dangerous for the ignorant. They burrow under during snowfall, so that an unwary traveler might mistake them for a drift or covered rock. They can sense footfalls, so even if you know how to spot them, they still know you are coming. The trick to avoiding burrowers is to know how to look for them, for although they know you are there, if you far enough away they will not attack, for they are slow-moving creatures. Their strongest asset is surprise. They are mostly teeth and claws, both of which are poisonous. Their flesh, when eaten, will any creature in a slow, lingering death. They are not something to be worried about as long as you stay with me and dont wander around on your own." Jyleth gave him a meaningful glance, but he did not show any trace of emotion at her implied reprimand. She sighed and moved on the next class of creatures.
"At the surface there are a variety of creatures. Wolves, although they will only be a problem for the first part of our travels, for they cannot survive in the extreme cold. There are some snow imps and goblins, but they rarely attack a healthy person. They tend to be scavengers."
"These I know about," Sephiroth said, interrupting her.
"Do you want to know about the predators or not?" she asked curtly. His mouth was set in a firm line, but he did say anymore. "I had guessed you knew about them, what I am sure you probably are not aware of are the munkies."
"They are strange creatures, smaller than a man, but they walk on two legs, some of the time anyway. They are very primitive, but very territorial. Usually, they stay away from humans, marking their territories far away from our towns. However, there has been some errant colonies that come too close for comfort. If that happens, the local villages will go munkie-hunting. It is usually a simple slaughter - even the children join in. I have never seen a munkie attack a human unless the human threatened the munkies territory. Even sometime when humans cross munkie territory, the munkies do not attack because they fear humans so much." Jyleth stopped when she saw the forest edge rearing up in the distance.
"Are we crossing munkie territory?" Sephiroth asked, coming to stand beside her.
"Yes," she said, bemused, "worried?" For an answer, Sephiroth began walking toward the forest, although he slowed to let her catch up and take the lead.
"And the air?" he asked after a short while. The forest was less than a mile away.
"Giant eagles and griffins. Usually only dangerous when they hunt in packs, which is rare. A full-grown human is too heavy for them to take. Watch the land for moving shadows and you will be safe. At night, you have to listen carefully to the wind, for they will come upon the wind down onto you. If you know what to listen for, you can be prepared. They dont like to attack those who are aware of their presence."
"You listen to the wind?" Sephiroth asked. "You can here the difference when something travels on it?"
"Yes," Jyleth replied, now wanting to tell Sephiroth all of her skills . But he was unwilling to let the subject drop.
"Can all people who live here do this?"
"Most of them can."
"Why not all?"
"Look, you come from Midgar, and thats a pretty big city right?" Jyleth was irritated by his pestering questions. Still, questions were better than ignorance.
"Yes, you might say Midgar is a big city," he said, not really seeing where she was going.
"Well, in Midgar, you must hear a lot of noises, some that perhaps portent danger, and some that are not a threat at all. You probably automatically interpret these sounds for the meanings they have. To me, they would mean nothing. Here, the sounds that mean danger are not what you are attuned to. Because I have lived here all my life, and served as a guide for a good length of time, I do know what they mean. I cant really describe how I do it."
"I understand," Sephiroth said, surprising her by not persisting anymore into the subject. "Where does the munkie territory start?"
Jyleth paused, then looked around behind Sephiroth, smiling slightly. "About one-half an hour ago," she said before heading toward to the forest.
That night, they camped well into the forest, beneath trees heavy with snow. Occasionally, they would hear a tremendous cracking noise, followed by a solid thump. The first time the noise occurred, Sephiroth had pulled his sword free and was ready to attack before the thump could be heard. Jyleth had barely managed not to laugh, explaining to him that it was simply tree branches breaking and falling under the weight of snow and ice.
"How do you know one of those falling branches wont fall on you when you sleep?" Sephiroth asked. Jyleth had just finished her rations and washed them down with several swallows from her canteen.
"Well, I dont, but I did choose this place carefully," she said, indicating to the tree above them, "this tree is still young, and has thin branches that dont collect a lot of snow." Sephiroth did not look convinced. "I have not had one fall on me yet," she said, trying to convince him further. He finally just shrugged kept silent.
Jyleth rummaged about her pack, seeking her comb. After two days, her braid was falling loose and needed to be redone. Unbound, her hair fell easily past her waist, even as curly as it was. The comb had wide set teeth; otherwise, she would never get it through an inch of her hair. As she worked the tangles out of her hair, she noticed Sephiroth was stealing glances in her direction as he ate his rations. She tried not to pay attention, but his constant looks were unnerving her a great deal. Finally, she just closed her eyes and finished the job without having to see what Sephiroth was doing. When her hair was firmly tied back again, she opened her eyes to find Sephiroth busy polishing his Masamune. He had the blade laying across his knees as he knelt in the snow. Jyleth could not help but be impressed by the sheer beauty of its craftsmanship, as well as a grudging admiration for the one who could wield such a weapon. She quietly chided herself, remind her errant mind that the man she was guiding was the most skillful and fiercest warrior all the known lands have ever seen.
"First or second watch?" She asked, remembering she had not yet asked him why he had not woken her for her watch last night. For that matter, she had not ask why he had wandered away from the camp either. Jyleth decided to let both questions rest one more night to see if he did the same thing again.
"First," Sephiroth replied, not taking his eyes off his sword.
"All right then, wake me when the third moon sets," Jyleth said, even though she was fully capable of waking herself at that time. Sephiroth nodded acknowledgment, never looking in her direction. Jyleth had a vague feeling that Sephiroth was uncomfortable with something, but she dismissed it quickly. The most powerful warrior on the planet could hardly be made uncomfortable by a simple guide, could he? She went to sleep, trying to focus on the day ahead rather than what had caught Sephiroths attention when she was combing her hair.
Jyleth awoke later on her own, annoyed but not much surprised to find that the third moon had already set. She sat up and was somewhat relieved to find that Sephiroth had decided to stay in the camp this time. Deactivating the shelter materia, Jyleth stood up and walked to him. He was sitting against a tree, the Masamune resting unsheathed next to him on the snow. His eyes rested on something behind Jyleth, not moving from that object even as she walked to him.
"What part of waking me up when the third moon sets do you not understand?" Jyleth demanded. Sephiroth said nothing, not even looking at her, only serving to make Jyleth more annoyed. "Whether or not you think you dont need sleep, I am the guide here, therefore, when I say you need sleep, you need sleep. Understand?"
Sephiroth finally looked at her, as if he had just realized that she was there. "Of course," he said. He closed his eyes, activating the shelter materia. Jyleth sighed heavily, knowing that she could not force the issue.
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