This was beyond stupid.
There was no way they could have traversed them safely. The crag-filled paths; the looming edges of cliffs; the snow-covered peaks – they weren't prepared for any of it. Even from the forest below, the jagged horizon torn into the sky by these mountains had instantly struck her as ominous. No one in their right mind would have willingly chosen this route. It was beyond stupid.
But, of course, Ash Ketchum was the exception. He and stupidity simply went together, like peanut butter and jelly…
Or, in this case, freezing cold gusts of wind and a bone-deep chill that reminded anyone, no matter how confident or brazen, of their own mortality.
Looking ahead to her short-sighted companion, Misty huddled into herself as another icy gust swept through the valley, whipping her side-ponytail against her head and cutting through the coral-pink blanket wrapped around her upper body. A yellow crop top and jean shorts were nothing against this weather; her entire figure was shivering against the cold, and her bare legs felt as if they would give out at any moment. She had soldiered on for what seemed like miles – but, no matter how far they had gone, all that had greeted them was an endless expanse of ridges and crevasses. The peaks that had been so distant hours earlier didn't seem much closer. Enough was enough.
"Ash, this is insane!" she called out to him, her voice muffled by the howls of the wind. "We need to turn around right now! This is more than we can handle!"
Turning his head to address the voice, the boy peered back from under the shelter of his cap, surveying his two friends trudging through the snow as they lagged several feet behind him. Neither of them had been thrilled with his idea of a "shortcut" – after all, climbing up a mountain trail didn't exactly seem quick.
He had assured them, though. It would be a breeze. It was just a simple hike up a snowy hill and back down the other side. Going around the sierra would take days, but they'd be done with this in no time. There was nothing to it.
Of course, when they scaled the first peak and found an expansive mountain range spread out as far as the eye could see, his claims – along with Misty's hand – had come back to smack him across the head. Still, he had convinced them to stay the course; it would be a little more difficult than he had stated, but backtracking would just be a waste of time. A bunch of Dugtrio hills were no match for these three. They could still pull it off.
But now, even he had started to show the same worry etched into the faces of his companions. Reality was setting in, and making it across these mountains – let alone doing it in a single day – didn't seem feasible. Still, he was too stubborn to admit defeat.
"What d'ya mean, turn around? We've gotta be more than halfway there by now! Going back will just take longer!"
"Damn it, would you listen for once?" said Misty, stomping through powder as she finally caught up to him. Grabbing his shoulder, she spun him back towards the direction the group was heading and pointed to the hazy, azure peaks in the distance. "Those are the same mountains we saw when we got up here. Does that look like halfway to you?"
"Exactly. Those are who-knows how many miles away, we didn't pack for this, and you're an idiot. Now let's get the hell out of here before we freeze to death."
Ash looked down at the worried yellow face peeking out from the inside of his jacket – short sleeves of white attached to dark blue. Pikachu knew she was right. Hell, even Ash himself knew she was right. None of them had come prepared for a wintry hike, but at least he and Brock weren't dressed for summer. If he could still feel the chill through his jacket and jeans, she must have been frigid.
"Actually…" a deep voice chimed in from behind them, "Ash might have a point."
The redhead turned and gawked at the taller boy standing a few feet behind her. A khaki green vest, orange T-shirt, and dark brown jeans covered his sturdy frame, and his spiked hair complimented this as it somehow stood firm in the winds. His narrowed eyes were focused downward, staring at an object in his hand with an eyebrow raised.
"You can't be serious. You're agreeing with him?!"
"Well, no," the boy replied. "But I don't think we'll be able to find our way back."
"And why wouldn't we…" Misty paused for a moment, shifting her view to his hand. "Brock, what are you looking at?"
Holding it up to face them, Brock revealed a compass in his palm. The device itself was no surprise; he was always the one to keep track of the important details: directions; meals; supplies – just about everything that Ash would forget in the blink of an eye. The rapidly-spinning needle inside the instrument's glass casing, however, was a bit more shocking.
"I've been getting strange readings off this for a while, but now it's gone completely haywire. There must be a large amount of iron deposits in these mountains. We won't be able to use it with that kind of interference."
"So how will we know where we're going?" Misty asked shakily.
"Well…" he replied, looking up at the overcast sky. The sun hung directly above them, hidden behind a curtain of stratus clouds. "We won't until sunset. For now, we're lost."
A moment of silence fell over the group, permeated only by the sounds of the whipping winds.
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"
"Mist, calm down! You're gonna cause an avalanche!"
Poor choice of words, thought Ash, a moment later. The girl whirled around to face him, eyes blazing as she grabbed the collar of his jacket and yanked him towards her – close enough to feel her warm breath against his cheeks.
"Oh, that's the last thing you've got to worry about right now, Ash Ketchum. You'd better hope you get buried in snow, because that's nothing compared to what I'll do to you unless you get us off this mountain!" She tightened her grip, staring him down with her patented glare. At times like these, he could never be completely sure whether she was serious. "Now … what are we going to do?"
"Well, uh …" he began, glancing away from her narrowing eyes as he tried to come up with a plan. "If we can't make it all the way across, then maybe… Maybe there's another way out. A trail that cuts off to the side of the mountains, or something!"
Misty, still clenching the fabric around his neck, raised her eyebrow. "… Like a shortcut?"
"Um," Ash answered with a gulp, unable to stop a grin from slipping onto his face. "Yeah, a shortcut."
Misty simply stared at him for a few seconds, features set into stone. The edge of her lips quivered upwards – and suddenly, she broke into a fit of uncontrollable giggling. Ash, bewildered, blinked with wide eyes as she let go of his collar and, laughs subsiding, raised her head to the sky.
"I swear, Ash. Either you're crazy, or I'm crazy for following you. Maybe it's both." She sighed, turning her gaze back towards him with a smirk. "So, how do we go about finding this shortcut out of our shortcut?"
"Hm …" Ash raised his hand to his chin in thought, only to have his eyes light up a moment later. Reaching for his belt, he unlatched a poké ball, enlarged it, and tossed it into the air.
In a flash of light, a moderately-sized bird pokémon appeared overhead. It flapped its beige wings as it hovered against the winds, feather crested head aimed downwards as it awaited the orders of its master.
"Pidgeotto! We need to find a way out of these mountains. Can you look for any nearby trails that lead down to the plains?"
"Pid-geottooo!" it responded, riding the currents as it soared high and away into the sky. The gang watched as it became merely a silhouette, gliding through the air and disappearing behind a ridge face several dozen yards away.
"Guys, I think we should look for a place to set up camp in case Pidgeotto doesn't find anything," said Brock, glancing up towards the grayed sky. "It doesn't look like this weather's going to last."
Ash and Misty nodded in agreement, and they resumed their hike through the rocky landscape.
"Why does Brock always have to be right?" sighed Ash, holding onto the brim of his hat to shield his black, unkempt hair from the snowfall as he followed the pokémon breeder's lead.
"Tell me about it," Misty muttered from beside him, clutching her blanket around herself tightly as her shoes crunched through the white, flaky ground.
As if reacting on prophecy, the weather had begun to worsen only a few minutes after Brock's declaration. The skies had darkened considerably, and the once gusty winds had now become gales, whipping against the travelers as they climbed up a particularly steep, rocky slope. Worst of all, it had begun snowing, and the falling crystals only intensified as they made their way up to the top of the plateau. By the time the trio reached the top, the snowstorm had turned into a blizzard, and the blinding squalls, coupled with a vanishing sun, had destroyed any hope of them keeping their sense of direction.
"Brock, do you see anything?!" Ash shouted, trying to catch his ear above the screams of the tempest.
"This way!" he yelled, turning back to them and motioning his arm to follow. They trudged through the maelstrom of white flakes and black horizons, struggling to find shelter amongst the darkness. From within this encircling void, a faint cry managed to reach Misty's ears.
"Ash!" she exclaimed, grabbing his arm to get his attention. He looked at her confusedly as she pointed off in what seemed to be a random direction, and then turned back to him. "Listen!"
Squinting off into the distance, Ash heard the familiar call echo through the valley. A snow-covered shadow appeared suddenly in the distant air, flapping desperately toward them against the high winds.
"Pidgeotto!" Ash cried, catching the bird as it dive-bombed into his arms. His eyes scanned over it frantically. "Are you hurt?" The bird shook its head, ruffling off the built-up snow from its crown as a relieved smile sprang onto Ash's face. "So, did you find a way out of here?"
"Pidgeotto," it replied, nodding affirmatively.
"Hey, what are you guys doing back there?" came a call from up ahead. Turning in response, the two spotted Brock standing several yards away. With his hand making a visor across his forehead, he took a few steps toward them as he struggled to see through the snow.
"Brock! Pidgeotto's back! He found a trail we can use!" Ash shouted.
"That's good news," he called back, his voice quickly switching from relief to urgency. "But we need to focus on getting to shelter for now. We're not going anywhere in this storm." He pointed back in the direction the group was heading. "I think there's a ridge up ahead! If we're lucky, we might find a cave to hole up in."
"Right!" Ash responded, turning back to Pidgeotto as he returned it to its poké ball. As the red beam disappeared into its interface, he took a step towards Brock—
And stopped in his tracks.
The snow felt different against his feet. The powder would usually resist against his shoes, but this time … it almost felt as if it was shifting.
Then he heard the rumble. It was much louder than any sound that he could remember – far surpassing the roar of any pokémon in existence. It emanated from all around him, reverberating through the ground and the air. Soon, the noise was joined by a second shudder of the terrain. That sound, he realized, was coming from below.
Ash turned his head to find Misty staring straight at him. Her face had lost all of its color, and her eyes were wide with horror. All he could do was say it.
The ground around them collapsed in an instant, hurtling both of them down into the void as their terrified screams pierced the air. In a mere second, they had disappeared from Brock's view.
"ASH! MISTY!" he cried frantically, scrambling over to the decaying remnants of the cliff side. On his hands and knees, he threw his head over the edge and scanned the face of the bluff in a frenzy. Chips of rock broke off and fell from its edges, plummeting downward in pursuit of the two adventurers.
Nothing. There was nothing but of a void of darkness beyond that place. Everything that had fallen from that ledge had descended into a tomb of eternal black.
They were gone.
A/N: THE END.
... Or not.
(Is it still a cliffhanger if they fall off one?)
So. This is another old (oooold) story that I wrote years ago, back when Johto was still a thing. The first few chapters are mostly revisions, so the writing may be a little janky in parts. Nothing too noticeable, hopefully. Updates planned weekly, but if you follow me, you'll know I can be sporadic with them sometimes. Hit that button so you don't miss 'em.
Oh, and this -will- follow Snow Way Out ... with some minor twists.
Merry Winter Solstice. ~(๑╹ᆺ╹)~