Beneath a steadily darkening sky, snow fell.
Storm clouds rolled down from the north, where mountains reached up icy peaks to scrape the heavens. Carried on a fierce, chill wind born from the beat of Articuno’s wings, the clouds blanketed the sky above the foothills and the northern plains. Slowly the first flakes drifted down, snatched away by the savage wind before they could touch the ground; as the temperature plunged, more and more began to fall, until the air was a maze of swirling whiteness.
It was the first storm of the winter, but it would not be the last.
Slanting diagonally with the force of an icy wind that shrieked and howled with anger, the white flakes gusted and spiraled, flung into cascading waves or miniature cyclones of icy crystals with every minute shift of the wind. An inch of snow already covered the hard-frozen ground, bending into submission the weakening stalks of dried, dead grass. A solitary tree, its branches withered and leafless, creaked and groaned as its roots fought against the force of the wind.
Through the snowstorm tramped a Zangoose, one razor-clawed paw held up to shield his eyes from the stinging snow. Flakes clung to his thick pale fur, melting only to refreeze into clumps that obscured the red zigzag across his chest and made him appear to be some strange, undiscovered Ice Pokémon.
Close behind the Zangoose followed a skinny Mightyena, his black coat liberally dusted with snowflakes. With his grey pointed ears flattened back against the wind and his narrow snout hovering just above the snow-covered ground, the Pokémon appeared to be utterly miserable. His red eyes were narrowed to slits, full of boiling frustration at the meager quality of the trail that he had been ordered to follow.
“This is ridiculous, Zed,” the Mightyena growled finally. Although he spoke in normal tones, his voice was barely audible over the high-pitched shriek of the wind. “How am I supposed to scent anything in this stuff? For all we know, it’s still hiding back in the forest, having a good laugh.”
“You think I don’t know that?” the Zangoose shot back, angrily slicing one paw out in front of him as though his claws could tear through the wall of swirling snow that surrounded them in every direction. “I’m not the one who insisted we keep going.”
Growling inarticulately, the Mightyena lowered his head to the ground again. His nose was a frozen, painful lump of cold, absolutely useless—he doubted if he could scent even a noxious Vileplume at the moment—and the snow was piling up, obscuring any footprints they could fall back upon to help them find their quarry.
“Like looking for a Geodude in a landslide,” the Zangoose muttered sourly.
Still the snow fell, still the wind howled and bit through their fur to chill them to the bone. The empty, icy scenery of the plains was unchanging; they might have been walking in place for all they knew. The Mightyena, giving up on the futile attempt to find a day-old scent beneath the growing layer of snow, thought dreamily of Aspear berries that could thaw his frozen snout. Zed, his fur caked with ice, focused on following the faint, narrow footprints in the snow, the only sign of the silent companion that preceded them.
Suffering in silence, the pair of Pokémon stumbled along, growing colder by the instant. Their paws were growing numb; small, barely noticeable irregularities in the terrain caused them to stumble every few feet, often nearly falling when their exhausted nervous systems could not react quickly enough.
“Orias! Orias!” The Zangoose’s hoarse yell rose above the sound of the storm.
Several yards in front of them, a small dark figure paused. Turning slowly around, the Weavile brushed snowflakes from his blue-black fur and fixed Zed in a baleful stare. “…Yes?”
The brief scrap of courage that the Zangoose had found drained away beneath the Weavile’s intense, unblinking gaze. “We… we have to stop,” he muttered. “It’s too cold. Grim’s half-frozen, he can’t smell a thing…”
The Weavile brought his paws together, the curved claws touching, beneath his chin; the gesture was unusual for a Pokémon. “If we stop now, we’ll only lose time.” His voice was flat, emotionless.
“We’re losing time already!” Zed replied hotly. “It could have gone anywhere in this storm; we don’t even know where to look for the trail anymore. If we rest now, we can keep searching once the snow stops.”
“No.” Orias turned his back, curtly ending the conversation.
“For Arceus’s sake!” the Zangoose shouted. “We’re not Ice-types like you are! We’ll faint if we keep going for much longer.”
The wailing of the wind was the only sound for a long, long moment. Fear began to grow in the Zangoose’s pink eyes; the Mightyena, half-asleep from the numbing effect of the cold, wondered vaguely why they weren’t still walking.
When Orias finally spoke, it was quietly and in the same flat tone as before. “I was told that Team Razor was the best tracking team in Nexus City. I see now that I was wrong.”
“That’s not fair,” Zed protested, indignant. “Just because—”
The Weavile held up one tri-clawed paw, and the Zangoose’s voice choked off abruptly. “Stay here and rest, if you can travel no farther,” Orias said quietly. “I will continue on.” Another pause, while the snow fell ever faster, and Zed struggled with feelings that mixed relief and apprehension. “When next you present yourself at the Nexus City Rangers’ Guild, Zangoose, I think that you will not find a warm reception.”
Without another word the Weavile strode off into the snowstorm. Zed watched him for a moment, wondering if it was a bluff, but the dark figure dwindled into the distance and soon disappeared from sight through the tumbling snowflakes. Shivering uncontrollably, the Zangoose collapsed to the ground, too exhausted to stand upright any longer. With a pitiful growl, Grim sat down by his side, and the two Pokémon huddled together while the dark sky emptied snow and ice onto the world below.