Downward Spiral Chapter 6

By Faye Locke

Finding a blade inches from her face was not Jyleth’s idea of waking up nicely, even if that blade was facing away from her. As she became more aware, Jyleth realized that there was a weight resting across her waist, a weight that would explain the sword edge that loomed largely in her vision. Lying quietly, she could just feel the faint brush of someone’s breath across the back of her neck. Jyleth did not have to guess as to who the owner of the sword, the arm, or the breath might be. She lay very still, only moving her hand so that she might remove the dagger from the sheathe on her wrist. Her left arm was pinned down, used as a pillow for her own head. But her right was free, and she had every intention to encourage Sephiroth to move from his too-close position beside her.

In one swift movement, Jyleth swung her hand behind her, now armed with the knife, and twisted at the same time to get a better angle. She really had no intention to harm, just to make a point that his attentions, whatever they might be, were not welcome. She was altogether surprised to find her movement stopped before her dagger even moved a foot. Sephiroth’s hand grabbed her wrist tightly, slamming it down on the ground and knocking the knife out her numbed hand. He pinned her down effectively without hardly having to move. They lay very still for a moment, somewhat tangled in Sephiroth’s cloak.

"What did you think you were doing?" Jyleth finally stuttered angrily, struggling for a moment, then stopping when she realized the futility of themovement. Sephiroth blinked a few times, as if he found her anger puzzling.

"Are you going to relax now," he said slowly, a slight smile on his face, "or must I take away your knife?"

Jyleth narrowed her eyes, not liking his tone at all. "Get off me and there won’t be a problem." Jyleth felt cold air against her face, and realized that he had deactivated the shelter materia. As he slowly released her and moved away, she realized the cause of his proximity had been the shelter materia. He had been trying to keep her warm, nothing more than that. Feeling somewhat foolish for over-reacting, Jyleth re-called the night before. The last thing she remember was feeling the effects of the poison flood her senses with pain. Jyleth tossed Sephiroth’s cloak off and tried to unlace her shirt to see what Sephiroth had done for her, but her shoulder was too stiff to allow much movement.

"I took care of the wound," Sephiroth said when he saw what she was doing. "But the bandaging probably needs to be changed."

"And the poison?" Jyleth asked, shivering a little. The cold was rapidly chilling her skin. She looked around for her coat. A sudden flare followed by a warm wave of heat made her raise her arm in defense, her heart leaping at the idea of an attack.

"Why are you so jumpy?" Sephiroth asked, standing on the other side of the flame he had created to warm and light the cave.

"Tell me next time you plan on doing something like that," Jyleth said wearily, scowling at him as she dropped her arm and reached for her pack. She opened the pack, pulling out the bandaging she had hastily stuffed away the day before. Her shoulder throbbed uncomfortably, and she doubted she was going to be able to change the dressing by herself. Sephiroth moved beside her, dropping to a kneeling position.

"It would be easier for me to replace the bandage," he said, sparing her having to ask him for help.

Jyleth nodded for him to help, removing some dried meat from her pack to chew on while he worked. He unlace the shirt, then pulled it over her head slowly. As he began to unwind the bandaging, Jyleth pondered his volatile moods. The past few weeks, he had been very distant, yet now he seemed to have changed overnight, going from his aloof self to someone much more personable and wanting to help. She did not want to discourage this change he had adopted.

"As for why the poison came back," Sephiroth said as he worked, stirring her from her thoughts, "the arrowhead was still in you."

"There was an arrowhead?" Jyleth asked after swallowing.

"Yes, and I think that it was made so that it would fall off easily. The notch end was hollow, so the poison could not be released until the shaft was removed." Sephiroth moved away, then came back with the bloodied arrowhead balanced across his dagger. He handed the dagger over to her for her inspection. Jyleth agreed with him about the make and intention of the arrowhead. Setting the dagger down, she motioned for Sephiroth to continue.

"These munkies of yours do not seem to be anything like you told me," he said after a several silent minutes, echoing her own thoughts.

"They aren’t like anything I have ever seen or heard of," Jyleth said, musing over all that she had learned in the past day. Munkies that were as advanced as humans were a serious danger for all the border settlements, especially if they continued to band in large numbers. The news had to be taken back as soon as possible. Yet going back the way they had come was impossible. Jyleth already formed an alternate return route, one that would take nearly twice as long but should keep them out of munkie territory. Jyleth hoped to be back at her town by early spring, for that was when munkie attacks were most likely.

Sephiroth finished removing the bandaging and examined the wound carefully. It did not appear to have any infection, but had not healed as much as he would like to see. Carefully checking his magical energy, he decided he could cast at least two cure spells during the day to aide and hasten her recovery. Sephiroth hated wasting time; already a feeling had settled just below his stomach that he was dangerously behind on his schedule. He ignored the feeling, knowing that he was truly not on a time schedule, and that it was the years of vigorous SOLDIER training that made him feel like he was.

"Lie back," he instructed Jyleth. "I am going to cast another cure spell; it will be more effective if you are still for some time afterwards," he explained after she gave him a sharp look. Jyleth nodded, not really understanding the nature of materia healing and not wanting to argue him. Again, his aide was an unexpected boon, one that she did not want to spurn. She closed her eyes, settling into a comfortable position as Sephiroth began in incantation for the cure spell. As the magic crept through her slowly, she marveled that she could feel it working within her. Warmth seeped across her body, starting from her shoulder and spreading quickly. Jyleth’s consciousness dimmed, and she let sleep take her, knowing it was the fastest way for her to heal.

Sephiroth watched Jyleth sleep, smiling a little to himself at how neatly he had slipped on the sleep spell at the end of the cure spell. She probably had no idea how materia truly worked, other than the properties of the shelter materia. The twin swords she carried lay crossed at his feet. After examining the swords, he had found that his guide was more of a mystery that he had imagined. The maker of her twin swords was the same person that had made his Masamune and dagger. Sephiroth knew that the weaponsmaster was not an any way cheap, so how could a guide afford these twin swords of the highest craftsmanship? The weaponsmaster only made weapons for people who could pay, and he did not make the weapons without meeting the person who was to have them, because he had to make measurements in order to ensure that the weapon was perfect for that person. The weaponmaster lived halfway across the world, a continent away. How could Jyleth, who had never left the Northern continent, been able to receive the swords?

The only alternative was that she has stolen the weapons off some poor, unsuspecting traveler. That she had been able to take the weapons at all from a person who had been worthy enough to own them spoke of her incredible fighting ability. Other possibilities came to mind then, and he realized that she might have even stumbled across them, the previous owner having succumbed to the harsh elements. Sephiroth favored that idea the most, for it did not place him in a difficult position regarding trust in his guide. He still decided that he would have to ask Jyleth about the weapons at some time, to see what her story was on how she had received them.

Sephiroth removed four materia crystals from his pack, studying them carefully. They were pieces of materia that had been formed when he had mastered cure, fire, ice, and lighting materia. The master pieces were in his weapons, he really had no use for the new materia. Jyleth, however, might benefit a great deal from their use. It would also enable her to be able to cure herself in the future. He removed two pseudo-materia stones from each of her swords, replacing the slots with the green crystals. The pseudo-materia he placed back in her pack. He kept the swords out, planning on teaching Jyleth the use of the materia once she woke.

Jyleth stirred awake a few hours later, the sleep spell quickly wearing off. She stretched slowly, finding her shoulder much less stiff. The cave was dark, the fire that Sephiroth had lit earlier no longer burning. As she pushed her cloak off, which Sephiroth must have wrapped around her once she fell asleep, and pulled her shirt back on, she realized that Sephiroth was no longer in the cave. Seeing her swords lying unsheathed several feet away, Jyleth scowled and rose swiftly to her feet, retrieving her weapons. What had Sephiroth been doing with them? She worried about what he might have thought about her owning such quality of weapons. Seeing a glimmer in the hilts, Jyleth looked closer and realized that there was materia, real materia, in four of the eight materia slots.

"They are yours," Sephiroth said, slipping back in the cave. Jyleth looked at him, then back at the materia, not quite able to find words. "I have no need of them, and it will be useful to have you able to perform some magic."

"Thank-you," Jyleth finally said, forgetting her earlier annoyance at him for examining her swords. Real materia! She had never thought she would be able to own any, for materia was very rare in the border towns, and usually very expensive by the time it got there.

"Let me show you how to use them," Sephiroth said. Jyleth nodded, then pulling her coat and cloak on to ward off the chill.

Several hours later, Jyleth had a pretty good grasp of how to use the materia. Sephiroth was inwardly pleased at her potential. Once she had touched the real materia, he had been able to Sense the magical ability within her. It was very strong, not as strong as his own, and would only grow as she used the materia. He again wondered over how such a strong combination of innate magical and fighting skills could occur naturally in one person. What Shin-ra had only been to accomplish with Mako infusion, the cold Northern continent had produced naturally. Hojo would kill to have this girl to test on; to learn the secrets of her body. Sephiroth was determined to make sure that Hojo never learned of this girl, for he had no desire to wish his own tormented childhood, full of painful test after test, on any person. Jyleth was his little secret, and he would make sure she stayed that way.

"First or second watch?" Jyleth asked, breaking into his thoughts. She was combing through her hair, which caught Sephiroth’s undivided attention before he consciously made himself look away.

"Neither, you need your sleep," he said, leaning against the wall of the cave and gazing at the entrance.

"And you don’t?" Jyleth demanded.

"I can rest and still keep my guard up," Sephiroth said, hoping that he might put the debate to rest finally. "How do you think I am still alert after all this time?"

Jyleth grumbled something, but still did not seem to want to give up the argument. "A guard is not true sleep," she pointed out, "a person will go mad without true sleep."

"I will not argue this with you," Sephiroth, looking back at her. Her hair distracted only for a moment, his anger for once able to keep him from being entranced by the copper waves. "You will rest, the entire night."

"Or else what?" Jyleth set the comb down and rose to her feet, gathering her cloak around her. Sephiroth did not answer, but instead gathered his magic around him for another sleep spell. Jyleth saw the glow coming from hands, and narrowed her eyes at him.

"Don’t you dare use—" She did not finish, for the magic shot from Sephiroth’s hands straight into her, blacking out her vision before she realized she was falling.

Sephiroth caught Jyleth easily as she fell, holding her carefully in her arms. He laid her down carefully, once again spreading her cloak beneath her to serve as a barrier against the cave floor. The dressing on the wound was due for a change, so he quickly undressed her and removed the bandaging. This time, the injury was little more than a angry red mark. Sephiroth cast another cure spell to finish the healing, then covered Jyleth with her coat while he cleaned the bandaging. Jyleth had cleaned all of the other rags earlier, having melted some snow in a small pot she carried in her pack. Sephiroth found the grainy block she had used to remove the blood and cleaned the dressing as best he could before laying it out to dry beside the fire he had lit. He turned his attention back to Jyleth, realizing only then that she had not bound her hair back up before he had hit her with the sleep spell. It now lay spread around her, like a pool of blood. He found himself kneeling beside her sleeping form, removing his gloves and touching her hair softly, as if he was afraid the red strands would break beneath his touch. Sephiroth closed his eyes, clenching his teeth enough to cause pain, trying to break the rising tide in him. H breathed in deeply, slowly working through mind exercises until he felt that he could open his eyes again and still be in control of his actions.

Jyleth had not moved, yet it seemed to Sephiroth he had been kneeling by her side for hours. He picked up her shirt and pulled in back on her, re-lacing it tightly to ward against the cold. Knowing that he would have to sleep close to her again to keep her warm with the shelter materia, Sephiroth decided to remove any weapons she had on her to prevent her from attacking him again. He placed all of her daggers on the other side of the cave, then lay down beside her, pulling his cloak over them both and quickly falling into his half-sleep state. The thought of her hair, just inches from his hands, lingered in his thoughts, but he used the discipline SOLDIER had taught him to not act on his body’s impulse.

Waking the next morning, Jyleth found herself strangely sore and thoroughly pissed at Sephiroth for casting the sleep spell on her. The SOLDIER was nowhere to be seen, however. Jyleth shrugged off his absence, having decided by then that trying to control Sephiroth was beyond pointless. As she broke her fast and braided her hair, she decided that they had to move that day. Other than the odd soreness, she felt perfectly rested and ready to resume travel. She probably had overdone her practicing with her swords the night before, which would account for the aching. Dismissing the protesting muscles, she gathered her belongings together and headed out of the cave, pondering only shortly why her weapons had been removed. Sephiroth had probably not wanted to wake with a dagger at his throat, she guessed. She followed Sephiroth’s tracks a few hundred yards before finding him practicing in a small glade.

"We are leaving," Sephiroth said. Jyleth thought it might have been a question, but his tone was so flat she could not be sure. She looked at his sword, which seemed to tinted strangely. Sephiroth ended his kata and Jyleth realized that fresh blood was coating the length of the Masamune.

"Munkies," Sephiroth explained, following her gaze. He gestured to the other side of the clearing, where Jyleth realized several dismembered bodies lay. They must of come across Sephiroth during his practice, and he had just killed them and continued on.

"There are more in the area, I would think we should move quickly," he said, removing a small polishing cloth from his coat and cleaning the Masamune. He sheathed the sword retrieved his pack from behind a bush. Jyleth noticed that he was carefully avoiding meeting her gaze, but thought nothing of it, thinking he had simply had another one of his sudden mood changes. She was far more worried about how unfazed he seemed about the proximity of the munkies. His every movement was languid, as if the munkies were no threat. Jyleth heard a distant crack, bringing her back to reality. As Sephiroth had said, it was time to move on, and quickly.


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