The Path of Destiny
Chapter 1 - The Beginnings of a Journey
An icy cold wind blew fiercely across a vast rocky mountainside, bringing with it snow and ice that coated the jagged spurs of rock that jutted out from the mountain peak. The strong chilling winds filled the frigid air with their soft mournful howl, drowning out all other noise in the desolate landscape.
The great snow-capped mountain loomed over a wilderness of dry plains and rugged grasslands. On the mountain's slopes, ice-covered shards of dark rock jutted out over immense canyons and crevices, creating steep and perilous drops at almost every turn. All that could be seen was rock and snow; there was no sign of life.
The strong winds lashed down mercilessly, sending snow and hail flying in all directions. Clouds obscured the sky, eclipsing the mountain in almost complete darkness.
Yet…there was sign of life after all…
Padding carefully across the pale snow and ice was a pokémon. And, even more strangely, the pokémon was a growlithe, a young one. But even stranger still, the puppy pokémon had an unusual coloration. The growlithe's fur was as white as the snow she walked across so effortlessly, and her back was marked with pale gray stripes. The growlithe looked to the sky momentarily, showing no sign that she felt the cold. Lifting her paw again, the pokémon continued her short journey. Increasing her pace to a sprint, she seemed to glide over the ice and snow.
Near a large slab of dark gray rock topped with snow a little ways away, another snow-white growlithe sat waiting. The pokémon's thick fur was fluffed out against the wind and his eyes were half closed as snow swirled around him. As the first growlithe approached, he spoke. "The others have been waiting."
"I'm sorry," the female growlithe whispered, shuffling her paws. "Am I…am I the last one here?"
The male growlithe bared his fangs, disregarding her question. "Do you have any idea of the importance of this meeting? Our leader has important news that every growlithe must know, Snowcrystal. Now hurry!"
The growlithe called Snowcrystal carefully trotted around the rock's base until she came to a small crevice in its side. Slipping inside, she was followed by the growlithe who had been waiting for her. The two of them crawled through a dark and narrow tunnel and emerged into an immense underground cavern. All around the walls of the cave were stone ledges where several other growlithe sat, looking down at a group of youngsters who were scuffling on the cave floor, sending small embers into the air every once in a while. Stalactites covered the ceiling that arched over their heads, and the walls were studded with luminous crystal shards, all glowing a pale red. In fact, it was from those very same crystals that Snowcrystal had gotten her name.
Once the two arriving growlithe had taken their place on the cave floor, the growlithe sitting on the highest ledge stepped forward. Eyeing each of the growlithe seated below him in turn, the leader prepared to deliver what could only be bad news. "Growlithe of the ice mountain," he began, "our land has been changing much in the past year. The ice is melting, and the houndour tribe has now claimed the lands that were once ice and snow. Many things have changed since Articuno left our mountain. I fear that in this time, we must adapt, and become like our cousins, the orange-furred growlithe that hunt in forests and plains."
This statement was met with shocked cries, and one growlithe called out, "But Icefang, we aren't like other growlithe! We cannot hunt in warm climates as they can."
"There must be other lands of snow," another cried. "Maybe we can search for a new home!"
"I think we should send someone out to search!"
"And who's to say that someone would even make it back?"
"Well what should we do? Move every growlithe, young and old, into strange lands without knowing what lies beyond?"
The leader growlithe, Icefang, sat calmly on the high ledge as he listened to the others' cries. He had anticipated this. "Listen," he called to those down below, "on clear days one can stand on the mountain at any point and view the land around for miles. Have you seen any other mountains? No. We may have to adapt to strange places. If we are to survive, we must leave before the snow melts completely, or the houndour tribe will drive us out themselves. We will need to learn to hunt in forests and plains, and live in the warmer lands, at least until our travels lead us to a new home."
The growlithe down below glanced nervously at one another. To most, the idea of moving the entire growlithe tribe was nothing new; there had been lots of rumors about such a thing before. However, it was startling to hear that it would soon actually be happening. Still, most of them were doubtful that they could survive in such strange territories beyond what had always been their home. There was a reason the houndour tribe was taking the growlithe tribe's territory as the snow melted; the land further on was little more than a barren wasteland, though from the mountain, a growlithe could see what looked like a forest beyond that. However, no one was sure what lurked there, and if the houndour tribe had no interest in moving to that forest, it couldn't be an ideal territory.
The young growlithe Snowcrystal listened as the members of the growlithe tribe argued back and forth. It was apparent that they were wondering how soon they would have to leave, where they would go, and just how far the houndour who lived in the plains near the mountain would go to claim their home.
Snowcrystal knew that until recently, the growlithe and the houndour had for the most part left each other in peace, each having their own hunting grounds and lands to call their own. However, she also knew that hunting was difficult in both habitats, and the houndour had been taking over what once had been frozen plains for themselves. The melting of the snow seemed so strange and unnatural that the only explanation anyone could give was that it was happening because Articuno had left the mountain.
No one had understood how or why, but the great arctic bird who had once protected them, shielding their lands from enemies who happened to stumble upon the mountain, had one day flown from the snowy cliffs and off into the distance. Several growlithe had seen it, but they didn't think it so unusual until a long time had passed, and Articuno had still not returned. When the snow started to melt in the plains surrounding the mountain, the growlithe had almost immediately blamed it on the disappearance of the legendary bird. Some were worried that without Articuno's protection, humans would stumble upon the mountain. The growlithe had heard from traveling pokémon, mostly flying types, of trainers and the way they greatly valued pokémon of unusual color. To Snowcrystal, white growlithe were normal, but according to the travelers, humans had never seen or heard of them before.
For a while, Snowcrystal had tried to believe that Articuno hadn't abandoned them, or that the ice would stop melting, but it all seemed as if they really had been left to fend for themselves. It all seemed as if Articuno, the one who'd helped them survive for so long, had really left their land for good.
But what if there was a reason for it? Ignoring the other growlithe, Snowcrystal stood up and called to her leader, who was still trying to reason with the tribe, "What if someone went to search for Articuno?"
Snowcrystal was immediately aware of all eyes focusing on her. Icefang spoke to her calmly, "I am afraid Articuno has probably left of his own free will. If that is really the case, there is nothing we can do to bring him back."
"But what if there's a reason Articuno left?" Snowcrystal cried back, hardly noticing that the cavern had become suddenly silent. "What if he can't get back? What if he needs our help?" The young growlithe had thought these things over many times, but until now, she had never really thought about doing anything. After all, those thoughts had just been guesses, but they suddenly seemed like their only hope of being able to hold their claim on the lands they called home.
"We still have a lot of our territory left," Snowcrystal continued. "We have time. I could search for Articuno, and if I don't find him, then yes, we will have to leave, but we can't give up just yet! Besides, taking the entire tribe into unknown territory is dangerous, especially for the young ones. There are humans and strange pokémon further on. We all know that this is one of the few places humans don't travel by."
Icefang sighed. He admired the young growlithe's courage, but he knew there was very little chance that she would discover Articuno's whereabouts. "We cannot rely on mere guesses and ideas for something this important, Snowcrystal. Finding Articuno would be a near impossible feat."
"But I could still try!" Snowcrystal protested. "I've never been to the lands beyond the snow, but I'm not afraid! One growlithe leaving now would be better than moving the entire group without knowing what's out there. Besides, the tribe won't have to move for a while longer, so it still gives us time. And…and if you don't approve, I'll go anyway!"
At the last remark, Snowcrystal received disapproving glares from many of the surrounding growlithe. One was not to speak to a leader in that way. However, Icefang did not seem angry. "Very well," he stated at last, his voice betraying no emotion. "No one can stop you if this is what you truly want. We still have a while before we must move to new territory, and in the meantime we must all discuss what we are to do." He turned to the rest of the tribe, addressing them. "I understand that you are worried about this news, but I have thought it over for a long time. Unless Articuno returns and replenishes our land…" He paused, his eyes betraying hints of sadness. "I'm afraid we will have to leave." He glanced over the solemn gazes of the growlithe crowding the cavern and sighed. "We will discuss this again starting tomorrow night…"
After Icefang finished his small speech, the growlithe slowly left the cavern in stunned silence; the thought of losing their home was devastating. However, a few of them looked hopeful, giving Snowcrystal encouraging glances as they passed through the narrow tunnel.
At last, only she and Icefang remained. The larger growlithe walked over to her, looking at her with a serious expression. "I hope you understand just what you're getting into if you choose to undertake this mission."
Snowcrystal gave him a small smile. "I don't know what I'm getting into," she told him, "but whatever happens, I'll do my best to find Articuno."
Icefang nodded in reply. He knew that the growlithe he ruled over were far from weak. They thrived in the frigid mountain climate, and in the icy plains below. A growlithe had great endurance, able to travel across the mountain many times in one day without getting tired. "I know you will," he told the young growlithe, "but you must remember everything you've learned. Every survival skill you posses will be vitally important. And also…"
The leader's voice trailed off as he leaped up the stone ledges to his own place at the highest one, vanishing into a small cave behind it that was nearly hidden by the rock. A moment later he reappeared, holding a bright amulet in his mouth. Attached to a string of tough plant fibers, a single glowing red crystal blazed brightly. Leaping gracefully to the ground, Icefang presented Snowcrystal with the gift, setting it down reverently at the young growlithe's paws.
"This amulet was given to me by my mother, the growlithe leader before me. I was told to pass it down to one who has done great service to the tribe. At the time, I believed it meant that I must give it to the next leader, but now, I believe I should let you keep it."
"But…I haven't done anything yet," Snowcrystal replied, giving the leader a confused glance.
He smiled. "You are very brave to undertake a journey for the tribe like this, Snowcrystal, and I know that if you manage to find Articuno and convince him to return, he will be able to restore our home to the way it was. There might not be another leader after me if our tribe cannot adapt and separates, and I'd much rather send this amulet with the one hope that we may be able to keep our old lands."
"Th-thank you," Snowcrystal began, astonished. She was surprised that the leader had decided to put so much faith in her, when she knew her quest was going to be a long and difficult one, if it was even possible at all.
Carefully, Icefang bent down and picked up the amulet, placing it around Snowcrystal's neck. "Who knows?" the leader chuckled. "It may bring you good luck."
Snowcrystal smiled. "Maybe…" She glanced toward the rocky tunnel and replied, "I should leave as soon as possible. Thank you for your gift, but I must begin my journey."
Icefang nodded again. "I understand…" As Snowcrystal turned to leave, the older growlithe whispered, "And may the legendaries be with you…"
By early morning, the clouds that lingered above the great mountain had thinned out, and the wind had died down a bit. Padding carefully through the snow, Snowcrystal turned and glanced back at the mountain she had left, knowing that if she failed, she may never see it again. Still, she knew she had to try, and she was determined to one day return, along with Articuno.
Turning back to the way ahead, the growlithe failed to notice the group of pokémon who were crouched down in the sparse grass near where the snow plains ended not far away. As Snowcrystal passed by without a glance, a dog-like pokémon raised his black and red head over the blades of dried grass.
The houndour was puzzled. Turning to his hunting companions, he whispered, "It's one of the growlithe…what's she doing so close to our lands?"
"I dunno, Fang," one of his companions, a houndour whose muzzle and belly fur were an orange color in contrast to the first one's red, replied. "But she doesn't look lost…she's heading somewhere with a purpose. But what would that be?"
The first houndour, Blazefang, narrowed his eyes as he watched the white shape walking so calmly over the snow. Turning to the speaker, he replied, "I don't know, but this is strange. I don't like it…"
"I don't understand, though," a third houndour barked, speaking up for the first time, "what do we have to worry about a stray growlithe? Looks like she's heading away from our lands as well as the mountain; it's not like she's planning to take part of our territory."
"I've got a bad feeling…" Blazefang muttered. "I want to know what's going on. Wildflame!" he turned to the houndour who had first spoken her opinion. "Go and find Darkclaw. I want to know if the growlithe are planning anything."
Wildflame nodded and headed off. Lowering their heads, the other two followed, making hardly a sound as they slipped into the shelter of the tall grass, vanishing as if they were never there.
Darkclaw the murkrow was a well known spy among the houndour tribe. He had already alerted the tribe to the fact that the growlithe were possibly planning on leaving if their snowy habitat continued to shrink. The houndour came to him whenever they suspected that the growlithe tribe might be planning a move against them, and he gladly accepted their requests, for the price of a rattata or two.
As the group of houndour approached his favorite tree, Darkclaw flew down toward a twisted lower bough, facing Blazefang. The murkrow ruffled his black feathers as he alighted on the branch, giving the group of houndour a curious gaze through narrowed eyes.
The tough houndour smiled as the murkrow landed. "Darkclaw," he began, "I need to know what's going on at the growlithe's mountain…"
To be continued…