Downward Spiral Chapter 7

By Faye Locke

Hoping to place a considerable amount of distance between themselves and the munkies, the guide set a fast pace, taking the quickest route out of munkie territory. The munkies followed, but did not attempt to overtake them. Jyleth muttered under her breath about the oddity of the animal’s behavior, only silencing after she realize Sephiroth was giving her a pointed stare. Finally, she gave up on trying to predict the munkies next move, focusing instead on preparing herself for anything.

The sun had passed halfway across the sky when Jyleth felt the first twinges of cramping in her stomach. She ignored it, thinking it only the normal course, though it was early. However, the cramping quickly mounted to pain, and Jyleth realized, stumbling to a stop, that she might be experiencing yet another effect of the poison. A wave of pain put an end to thinking as she fell to her knees, clutching her stomach.

"Jyleth?" Sephiroth’s voice seemed distant, barely discernible beyond the buzzing of pain that swarmed her senses. Jyleth could feel his hands on her arms, steadying her gently.

"I—" she gasped, "the poison must have contained a... ah—damn!" Jyleth pulled away from Sephiroth, crawling a few feet in the snow, trying to get away from the pain. She curled in a ball, barely able to breathe. Sephiroth moved to her side again, but did not touch her.

"What do you need?" he asked finally.

The pain eased a little, and Jyleth felt a warm trickle sliding down her thigh. She breathed in deeply a few times, trying to gather her pain-scattered thoughts. "Widow’s breath," she said.

"What is widow’s breath? Do you need that?"

"No," Jyleth repeated, feeling the pain rising again, "it’s --- a slow acting toxin. It must have been in the arrow as well." She gasped, succumbing to the pain again. When it receeded, hot tears were slowing freezing on her cheeks.

"Leave me," Jyleth said, not wanting to share with him, a man, what was happening.

"What? Why?" Sephiroth demanded, not quite able to understand what she was saying. "Jyleth, what is wrong?"

"There is nothing you can do," she said through gritted teeth. "Just go."

"Are you dying?"

"No," Jyleth laughed coarsely. "I just need some time alone. It’s. . .not something a man would understand."

Sephiroth stiffened at her words and was silent for many long moments, gazing at Jyleth as she was overtaken by another wave of pain. Slowly he rose, his face devoid of any emotion. Casting a sense spell, he located the nearest group of munkies and set off toward them, not looking back once at Jyleth.

The pain came in for nearly an hour before receding to a dull throb. Jyleth slowly roused herself, taking stock of her situation. Sephiroth had indeed left her, but she had no idea how far he had gone or how soon he would return. The woods were silent, not giving her any clue as to his presence or that of the munkies. She quickly removed her pack and took from it clean undergarments, knowing she might not have much privacy left. The thick undergarments meant to keep warmth in also managed to contain all the blood she had lost. They were a loss, she did not even want to think about trying to remove the blood from the thick wool without the proper cleaning tools. Those she buried deep in the snow, covering them up neatly. The pain, she knew, would be with her for days, possibly weeks, but not nearly so debilitating as the last hour she had endured. The ache that had settled in her heart would never leave her.

Sephiroth arrived just as she shouldered her back, his cloak showing new splatters of blood. Jyleth did not need to ask what he had been doing while she had been disposed.

"You are well now?" he asked, again carefully averting his eyes away from her when he spoke.

"Enough," she said. In truth she felt very weak and tired, but she knew too much time had already been wasted. Without speaking, she took her lead position once more and trudged unsteadily through the snow.

They stopped later that day, earlier than Jyleth would have liked, but she knew that she could not go on. The loss of blood combined with other effects were enough to drain most of the precious strength she had acquired in the two days of rest in the cave. Sephiroth said nothing about the early stopping, but he did drill her again on the use of materia. Jyleth managed to do a small cure spell on herself, but it was only enough to make some of the aching recede. Of course, there was no real cure for the poison widow’s breath - the slow potent toxin only worked on women, and there was yet to be an antidote to treat it.

Travel for the next several days found them harried at different times by the munkies, but never a full-fledged attack. Jyleth grew silent and troubled, and Sephiroth saw no reason to attempt conversation. He had learned to read her body language fairly well, so he knew when to stop and when to move quickly simply by the way she moved, rather than having to be told. However, he began to notice a pattern in the munkies attacks, and he brought this up to her.

"What are they herding us toward?" He asked as they cleaned their weapons after another small foray from the munkies. It had only be five beasts, hardly a challenge for either of them. Jyleth regarded him for many long minutes, as if she were translating what he had said into something she would understand.

"Just noticed that, huh?" She smiled grimly. "There is a bridge, about another day’s walk for here. They are . . . encouraging us away from it. It’s the fastest way out of their territory. Actually, the crevasse it spans is the end of their territory. These small attacks keep coming when I try to head toward that bridge. As to what they are herding us to . . . I believe that they are trying to move us to the heart of their territory, where they have the distinct advantage, and there they intend to kill us."

"I hardly think these creatures could kill us," Sephiroth pointed out.

"Not even with the archers?" Sephiroth chose not to respond to that. "In any case," Jyleth continued, wondering if his arrogance was yet to be the end of them, "I plan on getting to that bridge. Probably make a break for it tomorrow afternoon."

"You mean run?"

"Well, yes," Jyleth scowled at the disapproving tone in his voice, "As soon as they realize we aren’t going where they want us, how long do you think before they will bring their archers back? Moving quickly is our best chance."

"Why are they not just picking us off now?" Sephiroth demanded. "Where are these archers? What you propose is ridiculous."

"I never said the munkies made sense," Jyleth muttered, finally done cleaning her blade. She turned from the bloody scene and carefully chose her direction before moving on. "I don’t know why they are doing this, and I hardly know why they are so advanced. I can only guess that they are deficient in their thinking in some ways. That their advancement left some gaps in their logic." Sephiroth shrugged, still not believing that she could be right but he had no better reason.

The next morning dawned bright, the sun shining on the snow so brightly that they would have been blinded but for the shades Jyleth had packed. Sephiroth had scowled when Jyleth had given him the shades for the first time, but had not argued with her. Perhaps he realized that being about to see without squinting actually helped his fighting ability more than the shades would limit. Whatever the case, Jyleth was simply pleased that Sephiroth was finally beginning to accept her in her role. Their journey would go much smoother the more he learned to trust her.

Jyleth crouched quietly in the snow, observing the area around her. The munkies had been quiet all morning, but she knew that they could not be far. She guessed the bridge was five miles away. It was time for them to make their break. Sephiroth knelt beside her, also scanning the landscape for munkies.

"How far?" Sephiroth's voice was hushed, barely audible.

"About five miles," Jyleth breathed back. "It’s time to run." Sephiroth nodded quiet agreement. He made to stand up, but Jyleth grabbed his arm.

"Do not stop and fight. If they get in your path, only fight those who block your path. Every moment you spend fighting is a moment they can get their archers within range." She motioned to his dagger. "I take it you can fight with that as well?" He nodded, pulling his arm out of her grasp. "Good. Use it instead of that sword. It’s too big." Sephiroth frowned, but nodded again. Jyleth looked out once more across the snow and trees, mentally preparing herself for the hard run as well as looking for any sign of munkies. A moment later, she bolted from her cover, Sephiroth a scant few steps behind her.

The forest erupted with commotion within minutes of their flight. Jyleth caught glimpses of dark shapes heading toward them out of the corner of her eye, and put on a renewed burst of speed to avoid them. She trusted her instinct to guide her away from snow pits, knowing she was moving far too fast to detect them. A shape sailed in front of her, and her staff was moving to meet it before she recognized the shape as a munkie. A solid crack and a howl told of the staff’s contact; she didn’t look back to see how damaged the creature was. Behind her, Sephiroth moved easily, keeping up with her without having to expend too much effort. Of course, she was breaking the path for him, and he was taller, so his longer strides covered far more ground that she could.

With only a mile left between them and the bridge, a swarm of munkies converged upon them. Jyleth had no choice but to stand her ground. She attacked every munkie that came within reach of her staff, noting that Sephiroth was protecting her back, leaving her to protect his.

"We have to move!" Jyleth shouted after a few minutes of intense battle. "Staying here will only allow them to pick us off with their archers!"

"I know!" Sephiroth shouted back. "Duck!" Jyleth barely had time to do so before he swung his Masamune n a full circle, a long line of lighting issuing forth from its tip as he did. The lighting literally mowed the munkies down. Jyleth sprung from her crouching position and resumed her path to the bridge, knowing Sephiroth had bought them precious little time.

Jyleth reached the bridge without having to fight another munkie, but she realized after crossing that Sephiroth had not been so lucky. Several long minutes passed before he emerged from the woods, munkies trailing his path closely.

"Jyleth!" He yelled as he reached the bridge, "A fire spell would be prudent!" Jyleth began the spell immediately. The power for the spell came far faster than she expected, and the spell leaped from her hands before she realized she had summoned it. The bridge exploded into a fiery inferno, spewing flaming brands in all directions. Jyleth fell back and brought her arms to her face, protecting her eyes. She felt a touch on her shoulder and looked up to see Sephiroth kneeling beside her. His face and clothes were smudged in soot, and in some places there was evidence of charring.

"Next time, wait until I get off the bridge," he said quietly.

"I—" Jyleth started, not remembering if she had looked to see where Sephiroth was before starting the spell. Shame flowed over her, realizing she had nearly killed her patron.

"Don’t think too badly about it," Sephiroth said, glancing back at the burning bridge. "If I had known you had that much power, I would not have asked you to burn it." Jyleth shook her head, amazed at the damage she had done to the bridge. She looked back at Sephiroth, realizing for the first time that blood stained his hair and skin as well.

"You’re hurt," she said, reaching a hand toward him before quickly drawing back. Sephiroth looked at her oddly, first her hand, then her face, as if surprised by her concern. A munkie howl broke the uneasy silence.

"I think we should move on," he said, seeing the munkies gather at the opposite side of the crevasse, "before they decide to use those archers." Jyleth nodded a quickly rose to her feet, anxious to leave the vicious primates behind them.


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