Long ago, in an era of exploration and mysterious dungeons, most of the world has already been explored. A Ninetales, dissatisfied with the exploration group he has been assigned to, travels north to the last unexplored region. He is promised riches, but instead he will find exactly what he has been looking for. Rated T for depictions of death. Spoiler: Chapter 1 The Path North Cold. I felt cold. Not just any kind of cold, but a bone deep freeze like my body was encased in ice. My eyes couldn’t penetrate the blinding white mist. It was ever so cold. My body shivered and quaked, but I felt none of it. I howled, but the sound was ripped away by the raging white winds. I couldn’t tell up from down or left from right as I stood, stuck in the ground, hopelessly alone. From the swirling murky white, a mirror image of myself emerged. ***** I jumped to my paws, my eyes returning to reality. I panted and rocked as I cradled my head and reassured myself, “It was just a dream.” I lumbered out of my straw bed, stretched my four legs and looked at the other two empty beds. “Looks like Ferilar and Brow are already up. I need to hurry or Ferilar will get mad.” A small mirror nearly the size of my bags reflected a white Ninetales with minor bed fur. After I quickly groomed myself, I stepped out into dirt into the crowded hallway in hopes to find my companions. As I weaved my way through the tight space, the mundane stone walls went unnoticed in my rush. Eventually I found my teammates in the most likely spot, the dining hall. “Hey Taily!” Ferilar shouted across the dining hall, not caring who he bothered. I sighed and sat next to Ferilar who was scarfing down some apples. “Took you long enough to wake up, Taily.” I hated that nickname. Ferilar was a menacing Feraligatr. There was really no challenging him. Perfect fit for a leader. My other teammate Brow, a Bronzong, sat to the other side and levitated an apple over to me. I grabbed it, “Thank you.” “No thanks required,” He…it…said in a grating monotone, “energy of party member must be maintained to increase survival chances.” About what I should have expected from him. I nibbled on my apple while Ferilar gobbled his food and spoke at the same time, apple bits tumbling from his mouth. “After that last raid on the dungeon in the Corgious mountains,” And I nearly got my butt kicked by all the rock types, I thought, “we got promoted and the guild leader himself is going to send us on a special mission.” “Mission directive, discuss.” Brow made more of a demand than a question. “Apparently there’s land that has been completely unexplored and he wants us to do boring survey work.” “Objection, currently all land has been explored by exploration teams.” “Welp little bell, not this place. Anyways, this place is further than we’ve ever gone before, Taily why don’t you go pick up 6 months’ worth of supplies.” Oh yeah, let the Ninetales with no arms collect and carry 6 months’ worth of food and water. Sarcasm permeated my thoughts, the ripped Ferilar couldn’t possibly carry all the supplies. The jaded thoughts clambered in my mind. If only my contract let me say that. “I’ll be on it as soon as I’m done with this,” I gestured at my half-eaten apple. “We’re shipping out tomorrow and the guild master wants to meet us before we leave. Don’t know what he wants, but at least I finally get to meet the guy.” I rolled my eyes as I left the table, Now I’m on a time limit, “I’d better start getting the supplies.” I walked out, avoiding the mass of Pokémon moving in and out of the dining hall. It’s not like they’re bad team members, I just didn’t sign up to work for a team that was driven by money. Then again, I did sign a contract for the guild, so I might have. I just wish that I had signed up with a guild that actually does rescuing rather than the first one that offered me a position right out of exploration school. ***** The next day, our group had finished packing our rather large saddle bags and backpacks. “Alright, let’s go meet the guild leader,” Ferilar said as he strung his bags on his back. We followed him down the hallways to a pair of ornate carved doors that was the Guild Master’s office. Ferilar nervously knocked. “Come in,” the voice came from beyond the door. Ferilar and our team pushed through the doors. The room was larger than I thought. Instead of a single desk with the guild leader positioned behind it, there were three wooden desks that formed the shape of a U. A guild administrator sat at each of the two desks facing each other. A Clefable, who I’d never met, and Hiso the Hypno. He was the one who gave me my position in the guild and I hadn’t talked to him since. I often saw him and Ferilar talk about various responsibilities that Ferilar needed to do, most of them money related. Both the administers were responsible for keeping the guild running and it showed as both Pokémon were working furiously to avoid being drowned in paper. However, the seat straight ahead of us, that should have held the Guild Master, was empty. “Where’s the Guild Master,” our leader asked. “He’ll be here soon,” Hiso said without even looking up from his work. We stood in the room awkwardly, the silence broken only by pen scratching on paper. After a few moments, the doors swung open. A single Shiftry strode into the room and placed a pile of papers next to Hiso before acknowledging us. “You must be the exploration group headed north, right?” His raspy voice reverberated off the walls. “Y…yes that’s us,” Ferilar nervously responded. “Wonderful, I’m so glad you’re taking this mission. I’m Sertila, Guild Master of Sertila’s Bounty Hunter Guild.” Once again, I wondered how I ended up in a Bounty Hunter Guild, “Up in the far north, there are riches beyond your wildest dreams, piles of gold and materials. But first, we have to scout the area to find the gold.” “And…you want us to scout for the gold?” Ferilar asked timidly. “Bingo. Due to the importance of this mission, the reward will be 25 percent of all the gold you find. Guild tax free.” I starred in shocked silence. Ferilar flinched in disbelief, “2…25 percent,” “25 percent in gold rich environment,” Brow voiced his cold thoughts aloud, “calculating gains…gains worth any previously foreseen risks. We must go.” “Be careful,” Sertila cut in, “other guilds are sure to want the gold, too. Don’t listen to what anyone else says about the north, they will try to lead you astray. Also, be prepared to fight veteran exploration teams. Your job is to scout, claim and protect.” He handed us a paper. Ferilar unraveled it to reveal a map of the known north. I noticed that only half of it was filled out. “Once you’ve scouted a sizeable chunk of land, head back. I’ll leave it to your group leader’s discretion as to what sizeable means. Report back to me directly and no one else. Alright?” Both Ferilar and Brow furiously bobbed their heads while I only nodded once. Our team stepped out of the room as I glanced back to see him waving us off. ***** The northern tundra was freezing. We hadn’t even made it to the unexplored regions, yet I felt like all my body heat was being stripped away with every passing moment. Fortune smiled on me as I was still able to keep a fire burning within myself, replacing the lost heat. It didn’t stop me from feeling like I was going to freeze over. Not to mention that every breath I took seemed to suck moisture out of me. Ferilar led our charge into the tundra, desperately clutching a flaming stick that I had made for him. His whole body shook uncontrollably despite the flame. Brow’s steely exterior had ice crystals clinging to it, but it seemed almost unphased by the cold…almost. It was floating a little closer to the ground than usual. “It’s…so cold…” Ferilar said through chattering razor-sharp teeth. “Used to temperate climate, cold climate not adapted.” Was it just me or did Brow not make a proper sentence? I understood where Ferilar was coming from. Ever since we’d left the last dungeon, it’s been chilling winds and these endless pine forests blanketed with snow. We had actually met surprisingly few wild Pokémon in this forest. It’s a good thing, too, because I don’t think we’d have enough energy to fight them all off. “We’re…we’re…nearly at the outpost,” Ferilar stuttered out as he tried his best to clutch the map in his shaking hands. All I saw was a hill. Then again, almost all guild outposts are built in hills or rock faces for ease of construction. “The…the Guild Master said not to go to this outpost for its not ours, but…we…need proper rest.” For once I agreed with his decision. We slowly made our way. My paws felt like blocks of ice treading clumsily through the snowy terrain. We came to a clearing in the forest. The outpost was imbedded into the hill on the other side of the clearing, but there was something odd about this place. Several structures and buildings stood in front of the hill. “What’s going on here?” I asked. “Answer,” Brow’s metallic voice responded slower than usual, “this outpost has had residences form around it supporting the actions of those that work here. Conclusion, this is a well-used outpost.” “Good thing these outpost towns are public,” Ferilar forced out as he started forward. Together, we walked into the town. As I stepped through the snow-covered streets, I was amazed by the shear amount of Pokémon that lived here. Rather than a handful of merchants that are supposed to be in these kinds of towns, I counted at least 7 different Pokémon just walking around. Usually outposts only run on a small team of 2 or 3 Pokémon. This was a full town. What’s a full town doing all the way up here? We’re being watched. The prickling sensation creeping up my spine derailed my previous train of thought as I tried to subtly search for the source. I should have expected it since we’re marching on another guild’s outpost. Everyone was watching us, some more discretely than others. My unease grew as I realized all their gazes were not on our group but on me specifically. Ferilar spotted a very familiar face and headed in that direction, either unaware of others spying, or too cold to care. Probably both. We stepped up in front of a Kecleon stall. “Welcome to Kecleon Shop!” This Kecleon sang like all the others. “Do you know of a place we can shelter?” Ferilar asked. “Why yes,” he turned and pointed to a pair of weathered doors that were imbedded in the cliff face at the end of the rows of buildings, “You see the double doors over there? That’s where the guest beds are.” Ferilar and Brow moved towards the doors without even looking back at Kecleon. I nodded at him, too afraid that my chattering teeth would become audible if I tried to say anything. “Thanks! Please come again!” His practiced goodbye barely registered through the ears that I couldn’t feel. We stepped through the double doors and I was bathed by a wave of blissfully warm air that fought back the freezing winds. I paused in the doorway as the warmth started to thaw my frozen senses. Ferilar and Brow stepped inside quickly, leaving me holding the door open. Someone shouted across the hall, “Hey, keep the door closed.” I proceeded to close the door and examine the room that I assumed was a guild outpost. A huge bonfire raged from its perch in the center of the room. Torches lined the walls, giving what heat they could. Two doors opened off the left and right walls and a desk with a Pokémon behind it rested at the far wall beyond the bonfire. I noticed two hallways on either side of the desk going deeper into the complex. All three of us gathered at the base of the bonfire, trying desperately to warm ourselves. “Do you three need something?” The Pokémon at the desk beyond the bonfire asked us. “Ye…yes, we need three beds,” Ferilar spoke as if unafraid that this was potentially an enemy base. “Of course!” The Breloom said as he rushed to our side. He handed us three wooden plates that had a number inscribed on them before pointing at the door furthest away from us on the right wall. “Your beds are in there. Please use the bed number on these passes.” He or she, I couldn’t tell, walked back behind the desk. “The mess hall is to your left whenever you want something to eat.” What kind of guild was this? ***** After we warmed up and found our beds, Ferilar thought it would be best to hit up the mess hall. Since we had to buy our meals, we only had a few apples to share between the three of us. The dining hall wasn’t all that impressive. It was rather small compared to the hall back at the guild and the table that filled the space could only seat about 14 Pokémon on each side. Several other Pokémon occupied seats at the table. I noticed a Poliwarth that came closer and sat across the table from us. His strength was clearly visible and I figured he was part of a different exploration team. I braced myself in anticipation of him trying to extort information from us or scare us off. “Hey…” his voice surprised me as it was devoid of emotion. “Could you not go any further north?” “What,” Ferilar said in objection, “we haven’t even gotten to the unexplored bit yet.” “That’s what I’m saying, don’t go up there, it’s too dangerous.” His explanation was flimsy as he seemed to lack conviction. “Danger everywhere,” Brow stated coldly, “risks worth reward.” “You’ll die if you go out there,” He deflated as if he already knew there was nothing he could say to stop us. “Yeah, whatever,” Ferilar blew him off, “we’re not listening to anyone from another guild so you might as well give it up.” The Poliwrath didn’t say a word after that, he just slowly left the room. I looked around at the few other Pokémon in the room. Rather than staring at me, like those outside, they were actively avoiding looking our way. What have we gotten ourselves into? ***** Leaving the snow-covered town, our group set out through the forest and headed north. The great snow pines reached high into the clear sky, covering us with chilling shade. The forest floor was devoid of any foliage, just white, untouched snow. The only sound that could be heard was the crunching of our feet and paws. Even though we had just left, and I had thick fur, I still felt my body begin to freeze with each step I took. It was like a leech sucking the heat out of me. I remade my little stick and flame for Ferilar, since he couldn’t handle the cold as well as I could. As we traveled through the pristine environment, I couldn’t help but remember what that Poliwrath had said. I knew not to trust the other competing teams, but his words still lingered in my mind with a sense of foreboding. My thoughts finally overflowed into words, “Is it really dangerous out here?” “No doubt,” Ferilar surprised me with his words, “just the environment is treacherous.” “Not to mention that Poliwrath’s words,” Brow spoke coldly, “Even if statement is incorrect, it means more experienced teams have come through here.” “The more I hear, the more I don’t like this mission,” Ferilar muttered softly before ordering, “keep an extra eye out for anyone trying to ambush or follow us.” I was glad that my team leader wasn’t as dumb as a brick, but I guess we would never have made it this far if he was. We continued forward, more alert than ever. We paused at the base of a long slow incline to catch our breath and eat an apple. My eyes kept returning to the hill in front of us. Something about it bothered me, but I couldn’t put my paw on it. As my gaze wondered over the trees, it dawned on me that the trees were being buried as the hill rose. It wasn’t a hill at all. The earth wasn’t rising, rather the snow was getting deeper and enveloping the trees. It spanned for miles in each direction and there was no way around it that I could see. “Looks like we have to go over this,” Ferilar spoke while clutching the map in his shaking claws. We started up the ramp of snow, my paws digging deeper the higher we climbed. Soon we were striding between the tops of trees, which now only looked like small bushes. It didn’t take long before even that was consumed by the snow. As we crested the incline, I was struck speechless. An enormous plateau of sparkling, untouched snow stretched as far as the eye could see. The glistening, pristine environment was breath-taking. I would have reveled in its magnificence a bit longer if the sudden bone chilling winds hadn’t instantly numbed my senses. The wind was so dry that it instantly sucked the moisture from my breath, and I was struck with an unexpected coughing fit. Ferilar had to cover his flame to keep it burning. “Just beyond this is our objective. We’re almost there, just one last obstacle.” Ferilar rallied us as he strode onto the pristine plain, sinking up to his hips in snow. He was lucky to have big feet which kept him from falling too far. Meanwhile, my small paws had me struggling to keep myself from drowning in the snow. I was sure Ferilar and I were both jealous of how Brow floated easily over the difficult terrain. I saw mountains on the horizon ahead of us and thought they must be our destination. Despite how beautiful everything is, I can’t wait to get out of this wickedly cold, dry air. ***** After several hours of traveling, I was still enchanted by the radiant arctic landscape. Then things started to go south. The wind picked up and I felt like I might actually freeze to death. I had lost all feeling in my paws hours ago and I feared the rest of my body would soon follow. The source of the wind loomed before us like a wild Pokémon ready to pounce. A sea of ominous grey clouds reached high above us and covered the land completely. As the great beast of a storm drew closer, the wind intensified and howled deafeningly. Ferilar’s screaming was barely audible before the great beast’s whirling winds. “Stick together and fall back!” As one, we turned and fled. Our feet sunk deeper and deeper into the snow with every step. We flailed about, trying to make headway. With a sinking feeling, I realized we weren’t going to outrun the storm’s ravenous clutches. In a panic, I searched the horizon for any kind of shelter. Nothing. Nothing in that vast empty ocean of stunning snow, that I had admired before, was going to protect us. With a dawning terror, I realized there was no escape. The storm crashed upon us like a tidal wave. The raging blizzard ripped and tore at my fur covered flesh, pelting me with a thousand needles. What terrified me even more was the rate at which the snow accumulated around us. We were on the cusp of being buried by the snow’s endless barrage. We just barely managed to keep from being buried alive. I tried my best to stay with the group, but the driving snow was obscuring them from sight. I felt a thud. I turned back to see Ferilar face down on the ground, already being consumed by the snow. I struggled to his side and placed a paw on him, but I couldn’t feel anything with my frozen paw. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything at all. It was a relief not to feel the biting cold anymore, but nothing could relieve the fear of losing our leader. “Brow!” I shouted, but the storm consumed my words. “Brow!” I shouted again turning to see the steel gong half covered in snow on the ground. Not you too. I could barely hold a thought. I looked back at Ferilar only to see a small mound of snow where he used to be. No! I’m not going to be alone out here! The paw that I had on him was the only thing that anchored me to the now snow-covered Pokémon. Out of options, I pulled what power I could muster and released a flamethrower on the mound of snow. What came out, however, was a sad excuse for a flame, let alone a flamethrower. I hadn’t even melted any of the snow before it fizzled out. I tried again, but this time nothing came out. I coughed and hacked as I tried to pull flames that just weren’t there. After two more weak attempts ending in violent coughing fits, I gave up on that fruitless option. I looked towards…anywhere. I couldn’t see…anything. It was all a blurry white mess. I couldn’t even see my own paws as I held them in front of my face. I can’t leave them, but I’ll die if I stay here. I don’t even know which way to go. There’s no way out. With that thought, my body melted into the snow as if that simple thought had sapped what remained of my strength. With a sense of relief, my vision slowly faded from white to black and I finally felt warm. Spoiler: Authors Note Hello everyone and thank you for reading the first chapter in this little story! I have actually completed this story 2 years ago, but due to real life drama never got around to editing it. This, however, is the first chapter I have edited and I hope to have the others out as soon as I can get them edited. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.