Downward Spiral Chapter 5

By Faye Locke

The next several days brought them deeper into the forest. Little conversation passed between them, and Jyleth believed that whatever companionship might have started to grow between herself and her employer had become completely stagnant. She still woke herself up for her own watch, and Sephiroth never said anything, merely closing his eyes in the semblance of sleep when she woke. Jyleth had no way of knowing whether or not he actually slept, but he was not showing any fatigue, so she let the issue rest. Only one thing still bothered her deeply about him; twice more she had combed her hair through, and both those times she had caught him stealing glances in her direction. The last time, she had nearly wanted to just tell him to look all he wanted and stop trying to look when he thought she would not notice. Clearly, he was fascinated by her hair, and that unnerved her. Jyleth could only console herself that Sephiroth had not seen anyone with hair like hers before. She had to admit that she admired his hair - which she never saw him comb through, even though it looked perfect all the time. The hood of his cloak covered most of the silver locks, but what little escaped was always straight and neat. Jyleth wondered how he reconciled long hair cramping his fighting style. Sephiroth, vain? She laughed at the idea.

Nearly two weeks after their departure, Jyleth became aware that they were being followed. She tried circling to see if she could find tracks, but whatever was following them covered their tracks too well for her to see.

"What is following us?" Sephiroth demanded. Jyleth looked up from the snow she was looking at, impressed that he had not only noticed that they had circled, but the reason for it as well. Again she reminded herself of who exactly Sephiroth was. It seemed easy to think of him as another half-witted client. Well, maybe not mistake him for a half-wit, she though with a smile. It was just hard to think of him as the supreme warrior living on the face of the planet, here in her world.

"I don’t know," she said, bringing herself back the situation at hand. Biting her lip, she looked closer at the snow, looking for anything. "It must have covered its tracks. That rules out animals, making ‘it’ a ‘they.’" Something caught Jyleth’s attention in the snow, something that was not quite right. The snow had an odd look to it, like... "Shit," she said, looking up at the trees as realization dawned on her. The snow had fallen from the branches above. They were being followed from above, in the trees, which only meant one thing.

"What?" Sephiroth said, pulling the Masamune from its sheath and stepping closer.

"Munkies," Jyleth whispered, not moving from her squatting position as she surveyed the trees around them. She caught several dark flits, just a ghost of a shadow, but it was enough to set her heart pounding with adrenaline.

"What about munkies?" Sephiroth asked.

"They are going to attack," Jyleth said, standing and pulling her twin swords loose.

"What?" Sephiroth looked around, noticing the dark shapes moving in around them, "I thought you said they would not attack us."

"I was wrong," Jyleth said.

If she said anything else, Sephiroth did not hear, for a deafening cry suddenly erupted from the trees above and the snow all about them. The munkies swarmed from the trees, waving crude clubs as they advanced. Sephiroth barely noticed the white froth around their mouths as he slashed at them, cleaving them apart as soon as them came in range. He wished he had thought to use a materia spell earlier, but now they were too close for him to take the time to concentrate on a spell. He sensed Jyleth behind him, covering his back. From the death cries of the creatures he could hear behind him, she seemed to be handling her own. The battle lasted for what seemed hours, then ended suddenly as it had begun. One moment there had been howling creatures seething about him, struggling through blood red snow and over bodies to attack him, and the next, all was still and quiet. Sephiroth blinked, not believing the enormity of the end of the action. He turned swiftly to check on Jyleth, finding her looking as puzzled as he was. He was glad to find that she was unharmed. Sephiroth, of course, had received no injury.

"This isn’t right," she muttered, looking at the steaming bodies around them. "This is too many for one colony, too many for even a few colonies together, which they simply don’t do." She picked up a club, looking closely at the weapon. Her face paled when she realized what she was looking at. "This was made with a sharp instrument, and it has inscriptions - a language!" She threw the club down and examined several others, finding them all similar.

"Why are you worried?" Sephiroth asked. "They were not difficult to defeat."

"This is all wrong!" Jyleth said, scanning the area about them. "This all goes against everything I know about munkies. They don’t have the knowledge to make sharp objects, they don’t join to form large groups, and they don’t have a language. And even this attack - munkies usually attack from the trees, leaping on their victims, not come down from the tree and attacking their victim from the ground."

"Then perhaps they have advanced themselves," Sephiroth said, coming to realize what she was getting at. "This did seem more like a tactic to test us, looking for weaknesses..." He trailed off, now fully comprehending the danger the munkies represented. "I think we should leave this area, and quickly."

Jyleth nodded and started to move out, only to stop at a strange whistling sound.

"Down!" Sephiroth yelled. Jyleth barely managed to do so before an arrow whistled over her head, imbedding in a tree next to her.

"This is bad," she said, looking for the source of the arrow. She saw nothing. A quick look at Sephiroth, then she got up running, followed closely by Sephiroth. A rain of arrows started to fall the moment they moved. Somehow, they managed to avoid all arrows, ducking threw the brush off the trail and keeping low. The arrows began to fall far short of the mark until at last they stopped, finally signaling that they were moving out of the archers’ range. It was then, when they thought it was safe to slow down, that one arrow finally found its mark in Jyleth’s shoulder. She gasped and fell, rolling in the snow. Sephiroth stopped and knelt by her, looking the direction of the last arrow. Unlike the rest, this one had come from in front of them.

He decided that now his materia might be useful. Using his Sense materia, Sephiroth determined there was only a single archer in front of them; the one responsible for the arrow that Jyleth had taken. A larger mass of munkies was behind them, but not advancing. He concentrated on another materia, then smiled with satisfaction as a burst of fire followed by a short scream appeared a few hundred yards ahead of them. Having dealt with the immediate danger, Sephiroth turned his attention back to his guide.

Jyleth was sitting up, clutching the shaft of the arrow with both hands. She pulled the arrow out, stifling a cry of pain. A wave of nausea passed over her, followed by a sudden flash of heat through her limbs. Holding one hand over the wound, she tossed the arrow aside and reached to unlatch her pack. It was only then that she realized that neither of them had thought to remove their packs when they had fought. A good thing, for Jyleth knew they would need all of their supplies.

A wave of dizziness consumed her, then she recovered, finding that she was now laying in the snow. Sephiroth knelt beside her, a look of concern marring his features. "Poison?" he asked. Jyleth managed to nod, trying to get at her pack once more, seeking an antidote.

"Let me," Sephiroth said, clasping his hands together and closing his eyes. A green glow surrounded his hands, then shot out toward her. Immediately, Jyleth felt the effects of the poison fade. "Poisona magic," he explained. She nodded her thanks, then opened her pack, removing some bandaging materials. Sephiroth looked in the direction they had come from.

"They are coming," he said, "can you do that later?" Jyleth listened to the sounds of the munkie’s approach for a moment, then decided she could staunch the blood with her hand until they reached a safer location.

"I know of a place where we can take shelter," she said, stuffing the bandaging back into her pack and swinging the pack carefully over her uninjured shoulder, "not too far from here." Sephiroth helped her up, then the two of them moved quickly away. A few miles later, they came across the place Jyleth had mentioned. It was a cave, recessed under a small hill. The cave entrance was small and narrow; Sephiroth had to remove his pack and winter cloak to squeeze through. Inside, the cave height increased, enough that he did not have to keep his head down. The size of the cave was little more than Jyleth’s hut; four of Sephiroth’s paces marked its dimensions. Sephiroth removed his pack, turning to look at the entrance to determine its defensibility. He heard Jyleth murmur a curse, then turned to find her falling to the ground. He rushed to catch her, not quite getting there in time. Turning her carefully on her back, he could see that her face was flushed with fever. The poison had not been completely removed.

Now taking his turn at swearing, Sephiroth thought back to the moment when he had see Jyleth remove the arrow. *There.* He could see that the arrow was notched at the end, meaning that there had been a tip, which was still lodged in Jyleth’s shoulder. Posiona magic and antidotes did not work unless the source of the poison had been removed. Sephiroth considered his enemy, the munkies, which were becoming more advance by the moment. First, an organized attack to detect their weaknesses, then archers, now arrows that were made to lose their tips when arrow was removed. He had no doubt the arrowhead was hollow, releasing the poison only after being separated from the rest of the arrow.

In any case, the arrowhead had to come out. But it was too dark in the cave for him to see what he was doing, so Sephiroth made the concession to light a small fire in the middle of the cave. Magical fire was harder to make then a real fire, for it drained magical power, but it did not require fuel like a real fire did, while still providing heat and light. Sephiroth lit a magical fire, using a large stone as a place to set the spell. Magical fire was also very useful in that it did not expel smoke or smell. They would not have their presence given away by it, unless someone got close enough to see the light of the fire through the cave opening, but he did not intend the leave the fire lit long enough to allow for the possibility. Outside, it was still daylight, and would be so for a few more hours, so the danger of someone seeing the fire was minimal. Still, Sephiroth needed to work quickly, for the fire required a constant energy flow to stay lit.

Sephiroth untied Jyleth’s cloak and spread it underneath her. He removed her coat gently, careful to avoid touching the bloodied area to keep from being poisoned himself. He paused as he started to undo her thermal shirt, seeing skin beneath. In SOLDIER, he had been trained to treat all sorts of battle wounds, but he had never had to apply his knowledge to a woman. Sephiroth was somewhat uncomfortable having to undress her. Shaking his head and silently admonishing himself to just treat the wound, he finished unlacing the shirt, pushing it off her shoulder so that he could get to the wound. In spite of what he had told himself earlier, he was relieved to find that she wore a halter told underneath her shirt. He did have to pull away the strap to get at the wound, but he still felt more comfortable that she was properly covered.

The wound itself was a mess, weeping dark, infected blood. Sephiroth sighed, realizing there was really no way for him to avoid touching the blood. He was going to have the clean up some of the blood before he went at getting the arrowhead out, so that he might see what he was doing. He pulled out his canteen, then removed one of the bandages from his pack. He washed away the blood, carefully probing at the wound as he did. A small hard lump indicated the location of the arrowhead. It was going to have to removed with a knife, for he knew he could not maneuver out the way it had come in. Sephiroth removed his knife, a weapon he rarely used anymore. Forged by the same person who had made the Masamune, the double edged blade was sharp as a razor. It would suit the purpose just fine.

He carefully made a small incision, making the wound larger. With the tip of the knife, he prodded the arrowhead out of the larger cut, causing no small loss of Jyleth’s blood as he did. Sephiroth carefully balanced the arrowhead on the blade of the knife, then set the poisonous item aside for study later. Now that he had the source of the poison out, Sephiroth gathered his magical energies and cast another poisona spell. Taking a small self-inventory as he prepared to cast a strong cure spell on Jyleth, Sephiroth realized that he was running somewhat low on his magical energy. He decided to cast a weaker cure spell, so that he would be magically defenseless should another attack come. Some sleep would restore most of his energies, and he decided to cast a more powerful spell the next day. Until then, he used the bandaging from her pack to dress the wound tightly.

Jyleth’s coat and undershirt where soaked in blood, so Sephiroth took the shirt off her and set it aside with the coat, to be cleaned later. He had managed to remove most of the blood from the halter top when he was trying to see the wound, so he left that on her. Looking at the fire, he decided he needed to put it out, though he was loath to lose its heat. Sephiroth ended the spell that kept the fire going, then sat against the cave wall, contemplating his situation. Jyleth would require at least a full day of rest, even with a healing spell. Staying in the cave seemed like the best idea, but he was not at all happy that they were still within a few hours walk of where the munkies had attacked. Sephiroth knew it was not wise to stay in an enemy’s territory, especially if there was wounded in your party. Still, Sephiroth did not doubt that he could overcome any attack made by the munkies. It was just a matter of keeping Jyleth unhurt.

Thinking back to the fight earlier, that day, Sephiroth realized that Jyleth had handled herself quite well. In fact, he realized only then, he had felt more comfortable with her guarding his back than he did with a squad of Shinra SOLDIERS. He had subconsciously already come to the conclusion that he realized now - she was the best fighter he had ever come across. The past few weeks he had noticed subtle details - such as the careful way she walked, never wasting a movement - that gave away, to his trained eye and mind, that she possessed a rare skill. Which was why it was altogether odd to find her out here, in the wilderness. Clearly, she had not been exposed to Mako, for her eyes did not hold the intensity of one who had. Which meant she was either a natural warrior, or a mystery.

Sephiroth smiled slightly at the thought, wondering why she had not been discovered by Shinra yet. Hojo would drool over the possibilities of her abilities once she had been exposed to Mako. Sephiroth frowned, not liking the idea of Hojo tampering with Jyleth. She may be mystery, but she was *his* mystery, one that he did not want to share with others, much less with that borderline psychopath Hojo.

A sudden gust of cold wind chilled Sephiroth out of his thoughts. He looked at Jyleth, who was shivering even in her unconscious state. He picked up her pack, rummaging for a spare shirt. After he managed to get the shirt on her, he realized that she would need more protection from the cold. However, putting the coat back on her was not an option, and even wrapping her in her cloak would leave her too exposed. And she could not activate the shelter materia if she was not awake. Sephiroth grew more annoyed at each moment and his options were narrowed down. Narrowed down to one.

He would have to activate the shelter materia, and stay close enough to her to keep her warm. Damn options, he thought. He sighed deeply, then rose and stretched slowly. After the battle, the running to safety, he had not had a chance to ease his tight muscles. Before he made himself lie still all night, he decided to work out some of the kinks that were trying to form. He pulled the Masamune out, examining its edge for any damage. Brown blood was starting the crust on the blade; he scowled, annoyed at himself for not remembering to clean the blade before he had sheathed it. When he returned from this journey, he would have to purchase a new sheath to replace his sullied one... again. Sephiroth damped a silken polishing cloth and cleaned the blade meticulously, not noticing the passage of time as he submerged himself in the ritual. No matter what trouble surrounded him, Sephiroth always found that cleaning his blade helped clear and focus his mind like no other task could. Of course, his sword practices were essential, but cleaning the blade was different, something he did not really understand - or even want to understand. He enjoyed the sense of not quite knowing completely, for it always left something for him to hold as his.

The blade glimmered like a mirror when he was finished. Sephiroth started to pick up the sheathe, then thought the better of it, not wanting to put the freshly cleaned blade in the dirty sheathe. He looked at Jyleth, then realized the lateness of the hour and how cold the air was becoming. The light coming into the cave would not have been enough for a normal person to see by. Scowling slighting, Sephiroth rose and walked over to Jyleth. He stretched out her cloak enough so that he could lay down beside her and still be off of the cold rock floor. He took his own cloak and spread over both of them as he laid down beside her. It was awkward for him to be so close to another person, and he found it difficult to find a comfortable position. Finally he settled on lying on his side and laying an arm over her waist. He held the masamune, sharp edge out, in his hand that rested a few inches from her body. Activating the shelter materia, Sephiroth tried to settle into the half-sleep that he used every night. After a few moments, he had achieved the semi-restful state, only to be awakened by Jyleth turning on her side in her sleep so that she had her back to him. Sephiroth lay very still for many long minutes, then adjusted his arm over her waist to a more comfortable position before falling back into his guard sleep.


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