Operation: Saltus Valley

Knightfall here! This is a side story to my main work, PMD: Overthrown, and thus will share the same universe. It is encouraged you read it before moving on to this story.

Rating will be around PG-13 to 15 for the occasional scenes of violence and some themes present in the later parts of the story.

Operation: Saltus Valley
Chapter One: Under the Ice

"We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
– <Author Disputed>

“State your name and species clearly into the Frism.”

There is always a time for everything. A time for growth. A time for decay. A time for summer. A time for winter. Everything has its rightful place of when, where, and how it is supposed to occur. Dialga’s mighty heart determines how far and fast the stream of time will flow, whether it will strike rapids, or burst its banks at the slightest agitation. There is a time to live, and there is a time to relinquish the desperate hold on the mortal realm to transcend onto a higher plane.

“Did you not hear me? State your name and species.”

Verus was a world of time. Controlled, directed, and guided every step by its never-ceasing measures. It was built in an attempt to create a perfect world after the great conflict which had for so long rendered it asunder. The previous world had been consumed in order to shape the existing one from the ashes. For these long centuries, the balance was kept. The imperfection sealed away and the innocent allowed to flourish in a bountiful world free of prejudice. That was until corruption finally caught up with the current state of affairs, dragging it down into the depths of depravity and immorality.

“Do you need me to hit you? State your damn name and species for the record. Do it, otherwise I’ll call in the guards again and this time I’ll grow deaf to your screams.”

A figure, hidden by the dim light shining from the flickering torch mounted on the wall, was slumped on the wooden table. His legs were immobile against the cold iron supports. His heavy restraints clinking as his once-sleek body sagged in defeat. The Pokémon’s blue skin was chafed raw against the slightly rusted cuffs linked around his wrists. He let out a weak groan as he let out a cough that felt like his body was wrenching his lungs from his torso.

The interrogating guard came into the small circle of torchlight. The globular being floated above the rough surface of the counter, his circular face and underdeveloped body and organelles suspended in a viscous green mass of organic gelatin. His beady black eye twitched as one of the limbs stretched forward towards the exhausted prisoner. The gel solidified as it forced its way around his unresponsive head and gripped the entire space of the blue, spiked cranium. The captive had little idea what was happening to him, only that his body was on the verge of collapse.

A mischievous glint flashed in the Reuniclus’s eyes as a pulse of cyan energy shot outwards from its central body in the green cytoplasm through the extended limb and finally reaching a terminal at temples of the blue Pokemon’s skull. Vivid images of the past: choking smoke, blistering winds, and the faces of the cursed all shot into the forefront of his fatigued brain from the blackest pit of hell.

The sunken eyes of the Golduck widened in utter terror while memories long since buried by time were pressed into his sight. He shook his head wildly, attempting to throw off the gelatinous hand that gripped him and the twisted images of the citizens now crying out to him for his help. He tried closing his eyes, hoping that the darkness would purge the demonic incubus from his mind, but to no avail. They cried out to him, still after all this time, while their shattered faces froze in the bitter cold of their penal realm.

Before he could scream in a final act of desperation as the stone-cold limbs grasped his skin, contaminating him permanently, the Psychic-type law officer released his tight grip on his psyche. The Golduck wanted to fall to the table again, his body needed the rest, but the fear had crawled into his spine and kept it straight as a ruler. The suspended Pokémon grunted as he left the prisoner’s side and returned to his original post directly across the counter.

“I’m going to ask one more time before I get the truly invasive Psychics down here. State your name and species so we can get this over with!” the expressively annoyed Pokémon demanded, slamming down an odd ice formation on the splintery surface of the table. The pokémon slowly moved his arms and legs, rattling the chains that bound them as he shifted forward onto the table. Splinters pressed into his river-blue skin and webbed hands, but he was far too numb to their trivial pain to notice. His stoic gaze locked with the floating officer’s as he sucked in a breath through his bent beak and readied his worn voice.

“Name: Jackson, Jack for short. Species: Golduck.”

“Please state the charges you were arrested under and former ranking,” the interrogator’s voice droned as he went through the standard procedure. Jack closed his eyes as he thought of his response, wanting to spent as little of his remaining energy on it as possible.

“Ranking: Gold Badge: First Class, Kingdom Disaster Response and Containment Unit, otherwise known as Gold Squad. Charges: Serving my king dutifully, preventing a mass genocide, and destroying the most dangerous artifact in Verus.” Jack felt the psychic force from the disgruntled officer paralyze his upper body and smash his unvolunteering head into the wood.

“I’m not here to hear your comments on the matter. Don’t make me have to squeeze your mind again. Now again, state the charges brought against you.” The Golduck panted as he painfully raised his bruised head. Blood dripped from his nearly shattered nose as the darkened prison cell swayed dizzily in his eyes. The grey cobblestone floor rocking sideways along the similarly-built stone wall. Fire danced and split in the air as his temporarily duplicated vision slowly restored itself to normal functioning. Forcing back an urge to vomit, Jack gripped the sides of his throbbing head as he made his mouth choke out the “correct” facts.

“Charges: Arson … grand theft … murder, … high treason,” he uttered in between gasps of agonizing fire that seemed to consume the inside of his skull.

“Good, good. Now, eat this,” the Psychic-type officer gruffly ordered. Jack barely managed to look up as a small, round berry materialized in front of him. Its speckled blue surface reflected the light of the fire as his webbed hands wasted no time in snatching it up and shoving it into his beak in one gulp. His eyes shut from the sudden twinge of hurt, but was almost immediately dulled by the rush of the healing properties of the Oran juice.

“As soon as you can talk without sounding like a Glameow slit your tongue and shoved it down your throat, you are going to explain to this Frism just what happened three years ago in the Saltus Valley Province.” The very name sent a convulsion that wasn’t from the pain down his spine. As the Oran worked its otherworldly reconstructive powers on his failing body, Jack sat up once again to face the floating Pokémon in front of him.

“Officer Hythal, do you know what happened there? Not what the Kingdom told you, but what actually happened there, in Saltus Valley?” The Golduck’s voice was barely beyond a whisper in the darkened chamber. The Reuniclus betrayed no emotion or response from his face inside the green jelly. The prospect of death being only a few yards outside the hall gave him fuel for the fire beginning to combust inside of him. It had been three long years since then. And now, as the clock ticked closer and closer to the end of his life at the Kingdom stockade, he would make sure that his story was recorded.

“What I say here is true. Every word, officer. What I did was a crime if you trust the reports from the teams that investigated afterwards, but that’s only if you chose to believe them. What I’m going to tell you if the truth: the truth about what happened in Saltus Valley and Post Town.”

Saltus Valley: Three Years and Two Weeks Earlier


It had long been told that the King of Silver came from the eastern lands. Ever since the beginning of the Days of Ash, the first among the scattered species of the land was one who had clawed his way up from the depths of the chasm with his claws. His stature against the unceasing waves of war was that of a shield, single-handedly pushing back the senseless onslaught. For several long years, this endured: the Innocent pitted against the Guilt-Ridden as both sides let go of their morals to unleash the fullest measure of destruction upon their foes.

However, as time passed following their secession from the empire of evil, the eastern lands once again grew lawless and wild. The King forgot his homeland and fled to the coast where he built up high castles and towers to bring order to the world. But in his efforts, the eastern mountains and valleys were left to their own devices. And so they remain, in definition they were one with the Kingdom, but have little involvement with the burgeoning empire.

It was in these distant and uncharted lands, and the chain of mountains that extended to the western coast across the continent that became known as the Borderlands, that oddities of the climactic sort were wont to occur. It was in the western end that the star nearly fell from the sky and and time nearly ceased to flow, but in the east, it had been quiet. Its disaster was far more potent, far more latent, and far from unpredictable.

Saltus Valley was a place where the outside world never seemed to bother on account of it being of seemingly little importance. Tucked away like a single star in the vast fringes of the galaxy that was the Kingdom, officials in Silver City barely recognized it on the censuses that went through every now and again. It became a place to exile political prisoners and various Pokémon that too eagerly voiced their disdain with the monarchy. Because it was so removed of temperate climate and possessed an amiable population, there were no qualms about moving to this piece of absolute paradise. The cool, lush forests and protective mountains provided an aura of ease about the valley, allowing a culture unlike the increasing greed and corruption of the Kingdom surrounding it.

It was the end of spring when the Incident occurred. At the time, no one knew what it was, nor of the disastrous consequences it was about to rain down upon them. That day, the gods of Verus turned away from the Valley as in the course of thirty unforgettable seconds, the world changed. Under the calming rays of the late spring sun, a time of life and creation, a flood of dread and death swept from the fallen fortress of ultimate evil. The heroes had overlooked one pivotal piece, and now it had exploded in a supernova of absolute zero over the natural culvert of the mountains.

From on the opposite side of the mountains, the citizens of Post Town, a regional trading hub located on a barely traveled crossroads, watched with uncertainty as an ominous white mist rose from inside the Valley. The astronomical sign of hope and happiness that had recently reemerged from the glaciers of the northern end of the Valley had disappeared once more under the endless cold mist that drifted into the sky like an unending tower to the heavens. And so, it remained for fourteen long days.

Inside the Valley was a mystery. No one was able to scale the mountains to see what had caused such a catastrophe, nor if there were any survivors from the thousands of souls that inhabited the isolated townships within. If they had all been killed by the strange mist, or if they were stumbling around in the fog for an escape, there were no answers. It was that reason that King Nickolas Lucario in Silver City swiftly set up a squad of the finest fighters and explorers the Federation and Royal Army had to offer to investigate and potentially mitigate the impact of the disaster.

Gold Squad was the lucky one, if such a job could be called fortunate. Entering uncharted and potential hazardous and hostile territory was never an issue for them. Regardless of where the situation was, they managed to surmount it. Their finest hours had come from such low-points in the Kingdom’s history such as the Stun Seed Gas Crisis in Abor Town that threatened to permanently paralyze half the nation once the winds changed, and the infamous Battle of Volcanic Pit which ended the Second Bandit War in the Borderlands. They possessed a tangible aura of confidence and superiority which suited them well and won them the adoration of the crown and subjects alike.

The synergistic combination of these two factors lead to them being selected by unanimous decision by the Senate and King, the later of which gave the twenty Pokémon squad his personal thanks in settling the matter. It was their directive to restore Saltus Valley and rescue who they could. And so, with heads held high with the promise of eternal good favor and rewards from their nation, they set forth to the lands which held their greatest trials against them like a sword waiting to strike.

The Amara Salis Sea, The Kingdom, Western Borderlands

Splinters. Why in the name of Suicune’s Wind did we have to use the cheapest galleon of the fleet for this job? The one ship that had to be built entirely out of splinters… The thoughts of a healthy Golduck wondered as he plucked another of the devilish miniature spears of pine out of the thin webbing on his feet. He sat against the sturdy railing of the swiftly rocking boat as he held his right leg over his left. His eyes narrowed in concentration as his claws carefully caught the visible tip of the wooden piece invading his body and pulled against the deeply embedded artifact.

Tears began to bead on the Water-type’s eyes as he pulled harder against the unyielding thorn of pure and unrelenting evil. Fortunately, the splinter’s resolve broke first and vacated the sensitive skin between his clawed toes. Jack let out a triumphant laugh as he held his enemy up to his face, examining his relinquished foe in closer detail. It was hardly worth his attention, and deciding this, Jack vanquished the prisoner of war by throwing it over his shoulder into the churning depths of the sea rushing below him.

“T’is tha’ a tear I see on ya’, Jacky?” The accented voice pulled the blue Pokémon out of his victorious thoughts and back onto the unstable deck of the Kingdom Royal Navy clipper. He looked up to see the thickly armored bipedal Pokémon looking down on him with his usual grin plastered across his steel jaw.

“You’d be tearing too if you had a thorn stuck in your foot, Calur. Don’t you start with that!” Jack laughed as he hopped to his feet to stand up in front of the large Steel-type. Calur laughed, a tremendous roar that seemed to make the entire deck shudder, and possibly gave heart attacks to the unfortunate Pokémon bunking underneath the bow of the ship.

“Tha’ ain’t no thorn, mate! Try tha’ piece again when ya’ get a real injury!” Calur heartily joked, patting the Golduck on his shoulder. Jack was unprepared for the assault by his physical squadmate and felt his legs buckle under the massive pressure forced down on them. The Aggron immediately stopped his giant paw from accidentally pummeling his downed partner and offered him the same hand up. The Golduck eagerly accepted the ‘mon’s offer and was thrown to his feet an instant later.

“By the storm, Cal, you’re going to dislocate my shoulder by the end of this clean-up job,” Jack said with a playful smile as he leaned his back up against the rickety railing.

The Golduck took a deep breath of the sea air. He always loved the missions that came out this way, rarely were they assigned a job from this sleepy corner of the Kingdom. The entire environment was one that acquainted itself with him excellently the very first time he had come its way. The Amara Salis Sea was the strongest reason he enjoyed doing jobs in the region. The giant inland sea was an oddity, even for a land dotted with spatial anomalies as if they were ticks on the back of one of the stray dogs that roamed the alleys of Silver City.

The salty air mixed with the thick covering of grey clouds which obscured the sun behind their tumultuous masses. Waves swirled and crashed about them, constantly spraying the worn deck with a mist of stinging water. Jack was one of the few among the unrivaled Gold Squad that liked the journey along the sea. Aside from the floor of splinters, the Water-type enjoyed the harsh winds of water droplets and rocking ship. There was an unseeable quality that instinctively made him feel right at home among the waves and wind. For the three days they had traveled on the ship, only now had the weather decided to act in this manner.

“Ya’d best be carefal, Jack. I heard tha’ Kalitka’s goin’ on the warpath today. She’ll have you tied up and shipped back ta’ Silver if ya’ don’t take this job serious,” Calur warned grimly as both Pokémon could distinctly hear the muffled curses and swears coming from their commanding officer from below deck. Jack winced as he heard a door slam against its frame and the enraged footsteps of his leader quickly moving up from the central stairwell. Jack quickly stood from his reclined position against the guardrail and gathered up a small brown pouch with a strap from the deck.

Just as the Golduck slid the leather strap over his shoulder, a wooden door just across from the capstan slammed open, its rusted hinges screeching as it swung wide to reveal a white-furred vessel of anger. There was almost no time to brace as she shot a withering glare in their direction. Jack felt his skin prickle as the Pokémon strode across the deck. The jagged crimson streak across her chest seemed to glow in intensity as she approached, the line of color having no rival against the dull brown wood or the grey skies. She stopped right in front of the two soldiers. While she was a foot shorter than Jack, her biting stare seemed to make both him and the towering Aggron shrink rapidly in her sight.

“What are you both doing? Did you not hear the announcement that land’s been spotted?” she asked, waving her pointed claws towards to bow of the ship and the dark mass of land that began to emerge from the fog.

“Umm… We were honestly just relaxing up top now that the storm’s passed. I didn’t think we’d arrive that quickly,” Jack sheepishly admitted as he rubbed the back of his head with his webbed hand. The Zangoose simply closed her eyes and let a swift stream of air hiss from between her clenched teeth. Jack looked out of the corner of his eyes at Calur, the mighty Steel-type doing the same to him. The unmistakable presence of fear was evident in both.

“There’s no time for relaxing! We make port in ten minutes, and I want us on the move towards the mission in eleven! Get your hides down below and help the others pack the cargo or else I’ll chop you both up and dump you overboard for the Sharpedo! Move it!” the commanding Zangoose snapped as she dug inside her own satchel and dug out a small-handled object that had a large, curved, blood-red blade tied to the base. She brandished the weapon, holding it up to Jack’s neck as she slowly circled in between the Golduck and Calur. Jack, wanting to keep the contents of his throat inside his skin, obliged to let her though as she got behind the two.

“Get moving, you slackers. There’s crates that need to be positioned to the gangway, and Cal, you’re going to be one of the primary movers.” The Zangoose jabbed the Seviper tail knife towards the direction of the lower decks. Calur lead the way, crunching the decaying wood floor as his giant form ducked to get under the narrow passageway down.

“I’m glad those relaxation sessions with Liya have helped. It’s been three days on this ship and you haven’t stabbed anyone yet. Good job, Kali,” Jack said to her with a chuckle shortly before the aforementioned blade once again became well acquainted with the skin of his neck. The laughter died on his beak instantly. Behind him, the Zangoose bristled her fur and urged him to move downwards.

“First, what did you call me? And second, just because I haven’t yet, doesn’t mean you won’t be the first, Jack. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit stressed over this mission and trying to keep things running to course is a nightmare. So, try any of your ‘wise’ talk, it’ll be overboard tied to a cannon for you,” the Zangoose swiftly replied, her voice swelling with rising rage as her breathing hastened.

“You know, it isn’t good for you to be this stressed. We haven’t even landed yet … Kida,” Jack noted, quickly adding in the Zangoose’s prefered name of choice. As Jack feared for his life, he got the chance to see the Zangoose closely for the first time that day. She looked as if she had missed out on a night or two of sleep, and had failed to keep up the sharp, uniform style to her white fur as it was now starting to become matted in a few places.

“Thanks for your concern, Jacky, but as soon as we’re back on schedule and on land, I’ll feel a whole lot better. But for now, you, down below. Now,” Kida snapped while she shoved him through the passageway to the lower areas. But before she turned away, Jack saw her give him a faint smile. Smiling a bit to himself, Jack jogged through the cramped hallway as he turned down the tight passages until he skidded to a stop in front of a doorway.

His temporary quarters had already been packed, the few belongings he personally owned inside his leather pack, and the general mess had been cleaned. All that remained was the tool that he had come to love leaning against the rocking wall. He bent down and gripped the cool metal grip of the steel artifact. Jack swung it into his hands, examining the sturdy companion of over a dozen missions for blemishes. The icepick had saved his life on multiple occasions, probably more than he could remember at this point in his career.

Jack vaguely wondered when Gold Squad would be returning to the small port of Fedczecka in the far north, where he had bought the handy tool from a kindly blacksmith in the marketplace. He had only returned there once afterwards, and not nearly for enough time to properly thank the Machamp working the furnaces. With a shrug, Jack clipped the bottom of the handle to his equipment belt on his right side.

“Still the best batch of Silver Poké I ever spent,” he remarked as he patted the ever-sharp edges supposedly forged from the skin of a Registeel. Jack doubted the validity of the claim, but the dual-sided pick had yet to fail him and it made for a good story, so he allowed the rumor to persist. Exiting his cabin, he rounded the corner and descended into the main cargo hold where the vast majority of his squadmates toiled at Kida’s tasks.

There, for exactly the next ten minutes, he helped the other Pokémon carefully hoist the small host of crates to the pulley and platform system. From there, he, along with Calur’s massive form, went back up to spin the tense ropes of the capstan for the cargo lift. Together, the entire Gold Squad managed to have each of the crates in position on the top deck as it glided into position at the darb harbor town.

Greycliff City had earned its name not from the cliffs that surrounded it, but from the perpetual gloomy atmosphere that appeared to smother the port. The Pokémon working the moorings appeared to be just as grey and lifeless in the overcast light from the grey clouds above.

Jack hated coming here. It was the only downside of traveling on the Amara Salis Sea. This port was the only one capable of taking in a ship of their size safely. He figured he knew why Kida had wanted everything to be ready to disembark and leave as soon as they arrived. He had nearly forgotten how horribly depressing the town was.

No wonder why this place is called “The Dreamer’s Pyre”. It looks like a thousand of them were burned and this town is what was left… he thought as he internally criticized the town.

The metal-roofed buildings always carried the appearance of just surviving an ashen rain. Even the streets, supposedly built out of white stone from the cliffs, carried a mood-crushing grey color to them. As soon as the lines were secure on the docks below, Kida’s voice startled him out of the hypnotic trance the lifeless cityscape had drawn him into. At once, he began the process of controlling the cargo platform as it was hoisted down onto the dock below under watchful eyes.

“Look alive! The Drifblim are here to take the stuff. Go help make it ready for them!” the Zangoose shouted as she vaulted over the side of the ship and descended down one of the mooring cables with her claws to the rickety dock. Jack looked up from the capstan bar as he saw the group of three primarily purple blimp creatures floating down from the sky over Graycliff City.

The gentle-hearted Drifblim had been the primary source of transportation of rescue and exploration teams back during the bleak days of political tensions and crises. While most had solemnly returned to their homeland far beyond the mountains in droves during the downturn in business, a few stayed behind to continue the legacy. Fortunately, despite its shortcomings, the Royal Navy and Army had done well with securing a contract with this particular flock for cargo transport. As the Ghost-types wrapped their trailing arms around the wooden crates, they joyfully exchanged conversations with various members of the Squad, including Kida.

“You all have no idea how glad we are to see you. This would be truly impossible otherwise,” Kida calmly spoke. Jack noticed that her tone towards the floating Pokémon was not reflective of the stress she exhibited earlier. “Geraz will go with you all to make sure you reach the right location. Is that acceptable?” Kida asked as a being of wings and talons clattered to the deck beside her.

Geraz was the most aerially competent bird Jack had ever met. He had once seen the Fearow dive from miles up in the sky and pierce an apple with his spear-like beak. The Flying-type could be trusted with a job, that much Jack knew. After a few last confirmations of directions, the Drifblim started to ascend into the skies with their payload of crates. After an affirmative nod from Kida, Geraz took off into the sky, his expansive wingspan making the task of monitoring the flock a light one. While the brown-plumaged bird became a speck in the distant grey skies, Kida immediately reverted to the attitude she bore on the ship.

“Alright, that was the easy part. You lot, gather what supplies you have left and let’s march. It’s eleven miles to Post Town from here through mountains and valleys. We will arrive before sunset, is that understood?” she iterated, her naturally compelling voice receiving a hearty cheer from the milling group of Gold Squad. Jack tightened the straps of his pouch and belt, making sure that they would not slip off him during what he knew would be an eleven mile long sprint to the trading town. Calur carefully stepped off the cargo platform onto the dock and followed along beside Jack as they began their swift hike through the hollow harbor town.

Fortunately, the horrible, little town eventually left their sight as they exited the city gates and entered into the arms of the widening foothills that ascended into the unnaturally tall Divine Mountains. The vast stone edifaces crowned with spires of snow glittered mockingly at the sun’s melting rays. The band of Pokémon pressed onwards, stamping over the dew-ridden grass and dusty trails of the forested hills. Jack remained alert and upbeat as he and several others, with Kida’s slight encouragement, took the opportunity to fight the feral Pokémon that lived in the woods.

The training, combined with the relentless pace that the Zangoose set at the front of the party, made the trip fly by in what seemed like no time at all. One moment, Jack swore he just concussed a rather feisty Raticate with a blast of water, and then just another moment later he found himself trudging up a steep stone trail through the final pass in the Divine Mountains. The Golduck didn’t even notice the sun’s position change in the sky while he was busy perfecting his combat skills with both his elemental attacks and true physical strategies.

Maybe you’re having a little too much fun with this, Jack. You should try and take this seriously, a little voice inside his head, possibly his conscious, suggested. As Jack contemplated following its advice, he found himself in the rear of the group of twenty Pokémon alongside Calur.

There the two Pokémon shot off into one of their varied conversations that concerned everything and nothing at all. That was one of the best things about his Aggron friend; after several years, the two of them just seemed to be able to create topics to discuss out of thin air and continue their talks even under dire conditions. Jack found himself debating the proper way to knock out a charging Stantler while he crossed the craggy pass, and which of the many taverns they had visited on their missions had the absolute best drinks in the Kingdom. Fierce breaths of winter threatened to stall their talks at times, but not even the worst of these frigid breezes in the holy mountain range could break apart their excitable conversation.

Once their squad had left the mountainous areas, the alien and desolate land seemed to instantly terraform into a series of smooth hills that were blooming with the lush grass carpet of spring. The fresh air emanating from the vibrant grass came like a benevolent slap to Jack’s face after most of the day among the lifeless Greycliff Town and in the crags of the Divine Mountains.


“Sorry to interrupt, but I asked for what happened in Saltus Valley. Not what happened ten days before the incident,” Officer Hythal huffed, slamming his green hand on the table, and snapping Jack out of his thoughts. The Golduck simply bowed his head and sighed as he gave a half-hearted tug against the chains that bound him.

“I expected that when you wanted the full story, you actually wanted the fully story, not the abbreviated version. Allow me to condense the Incident into a few choice words: ‘cold’, ‘hell’, and ‘failure’. There, is that short enough for you, Officer?” Jack shot back, his claws scratching against the rough grain of the table in irritation. The Reuniclus appeared to be stunned for a single moment, his internal structures going still with disbelief before regaining his forceful posture.

“Very well, Jackson. Have it your way. You may continue, but can we at least move it along until we get to Post Town and not spend fifteen minutes describing the scenery?” Hythal softly conceded as he turned away from the Golduck. Jack let a small smile pull against the frown in his beak as a small part of his mind celebrated the pointless victory.

“Alright then. So, Post Town was just as I expected it to be for being a frontier town…”


It was the exact opposite of Greycliff. Plants, trees, and flowers seemed to line every path in the bustling, mirco-city. There was something about the town that screamed the glories of life at every available opportunity, as if the entire city was ecstatic about being alive. A small waterfall spilt from the spring at the top of the central hill that supplied the town with clean water. The sparkling mist from the falls rose like an ethereal snow over the town square.

Just about everywhere Jack looked, he saw a rows upon rows of tents, shacks, and shanties filled with foods, fruits, and dungeon exploration equipment all stationed right next to each other. There were Orbs that held the power to change the weather, enigmatic disks that possessed the power of ancient skills and attacks, and a wide assortment of highly illegal seeds. Jack briefly considered how many of these merchants would be arrested on the spot for their wares.

Shrugging away the thoughts of calling in the illegal operations, Jack gave into the temptations of buying a few of the oddly shaped seeds and spheres of blue glass. His mind suddenly filled with the things he could accomplish with the purchase of these items. Aside from the colorful merchants, there were only surrounding streets filled with houses of various shapes, sizes, and designs. While he had seen more unique dwellings from his travels around the Kingdom, Post Town was doing its best to endear itself to him.

After being stalled at the city gates for several minutes with Kida yelling at Geraz for directing the Drifblim porters in the wrong direction, the group finally entered the inner reaches of the trading town. Almost immediately, the ambling crowds turned to look at the rugged band that marched into their city. Jack was certain that this was the first time that some of them, especially the wide-eyed children, had seen a true Kingdom soldier.

“This place doesn’t get much action if a military squad like us gets a full-blown reception the second we walk into town, huh?” Jack asked Kida. The Zangoose seemed to have temporarily let go of the stress that burdened her as she dismissed the squad to interact within the market.

“Heh, I think you’re right for once. We’re being treated like heroes, yet we haven’t actually done anything yet. Either that or they think of us as a freak show that just rolled in,” the Zangoose said with a light laugh as she caught an orange berry that was tossed her way by a passing rescue team.

“Hospitality at its finest, right there,” she commented happily as she bit into the freshly picked Qualot.

Jack immediately looked behind and waved a hand to the passing Pokémon team. The yellow mouse and primarily blue otter stopped and dug out another berry, this one pink in color. The Oshawott gave it a firm toss that Jack snatched out of the air with a smile and wink. He examined the berry for dead spots before he raised it to his beak.

The Pecha was gone in two bites from the Golduck. Tossing the remaining leafy stem to the roadside, Jack returned to the crowd around his team, wanting to ask in the limelight just a little longer. The impromptu celebration of their presence eventually settled down in the two-story inn directly beside the town’s spring and natural waterfall. Inside, the main floor was crowded with exhausted members of Gold Squad ordering plates of steaming food or milling among the interested citizens.

Jack saw Efang, the Arbok poison specialist, smoothly chatting with a Liepard in a corner table of the cafe, while Terminance, the odd Trevenant, seemed to be enjoying himself as he listened to the excited conversations around him at the counter. Jack slid onto a stool next to the haunted tree and called for two drinks from the Timburr barkeep. Within no time, two wooden goblets clattered down the smooth counter and came to a rest in Jack’s outstretched hands.

“Quite a shindig they’ve put on for us, wouldn’t ya say?” Jack asked, holding out the second cup to the tree Pokémon. Terminance, one of the best fighters when it came to forest missions, shifted his trunk and single, gleaming, crimson eye to Jack.

“I am inclined to agree, young Jackson. This is a very festive atmosphere they have put on for our arrival. Though, something inside me worries about how this imbibement in the others will affect our performance tomorrow. I think that it would be wise if we ended the festivities and rested,” the Trevenant said, his voice sounded like the groaning of trees in the woods.

“You’re a buzzkill, you know that, right? Though, as much as I want a drink, I think you’re right to some extent. We should see about getting to Kida,” Jack remarked as he took a light swig of his drink.


“Get to to point already, son. There’s not a lot of time until you’re due to die,” Hythal grumbled as he psychically tapped the torch to increase the light. Once again, Jack leaned back in his uncomfortable metal seat with an exhale of exasperation.

“You want me to skip to Post Town, and I skip to Post Town. Now you want me to bypass Post Town. What am I supposed to tell you then?” Jack asked, his voice was muffled as he placed his aching head down against the table.

“I want you to get to the actual Incident. I want to know how your side of this tragedy plays out. So please, get to the point.”

“Very well.”
Continued on Next Post


The mountains stretched up into the clouds, their jagged peaks concealed by the thorough covering of coagulated water vapor. Jack took a moment to stop and try to peer beyond the white cloak of the unknown, but failed miserably in doing so. The clouds were thick and unending here. The fact that Jack hadn’t seen the sun once since they exited the city proved this point.

It had been two days since Gold Squad had left the gentle refuge of Post Town for the rocky slopes of the Saltus Ridge Mountains. For two days they had attempted to break through every known and untested pass through to the valley, but so far nothing had worked. From top to bottom, the pass was filled with an impenetrable block of white ice that no one in the squad could even dent. Not even the combined efforts of Calur’s brute strength and Yemda’s fierce fires, the block still stood. Jack had tried using his precious pick until the metal threatened to bend and dull against the unmoving ice. Kida eventually called off the Aggron and Flareon duo before they exhausted themselves in a futile endeavor.

Saltus Valley had truly become a fortress to them, and almost certainly a prison for its inhabitants. Gold Squad was never one to be defeated by the elements. Even in the harshest deserts and pits of magma, they had succeeded. But here, they could do nothing against the barriers. As the visibly depressed squad returned to their humble camp at the foot of the mountains, Kida suddenly climbed up on top of an overturned crate. Her fur reflected the flames of the fire brightly in the dark night as she stamped on the empty box to get the group’s attention.

“Listen, you guys. I think it’s time I told you something about this mission. This isn’t some normal clean-up job, or even a standard search and rescue as it appears to be,” she stated, holding her head low. A low wave of murmurs swept through the attentive Pokémon as Jack stopped his polishing of the sharp end of his pick. Kida took a deep breath before continuing with the declassification of the confidential information.

“I was told by the Senate that we were to find the source of this disaster and secure it for the Kingdom. This isn’t a search and rescue, guys. We’re here to find whatever caused what happened inside that valley,” she said out of the corner of her mouth. Gold Squad was completely silent. The crackling fire was the only sound to break the dark hold of the night. Jack shifted his glance to his sides. The others, Terminance, Efang, and Calur among them also cast unsure looks at each other.

This was hardly the first time the specifics of a mission were withheld from them. Jack bitterly remembered those missions as his neutral expression turned into a scowl. They had nearly failed each and every one of them because they didn’t fully know what to expect. The relatively innocent tasks of cleaning up a chemical fire in the Frosty Forest and repairing a collapsed mine shaft in Lapis Cave had both turned into vicious fights to subdue the final remnants of the belligerents of the Second Bandit War. Why the Kingdom felt that keeping that pertinent information from them, Jack would never rightly know.

What Kida told them didn’t seem as much of a revelation as the previous ones did, but Jack knew something was up. Kida had always been unreadable when she had revealed similar confessions in the past, but now she visibly appeared worried.

“So, wha’ gives then? Why didn’ they tell us that? Why’s it so bad?” Calur asked from the back of the seated group.

“Since there’s no way through the passes, tomorrow we’re going to try going over the peaks. Perhaps we’ll be able to enter the Valley that way…” Kida said, half talking to herself as she turned away from the squad. The Zangoose’s apparent attempt to brush off the Aggron’s question only brought up a flurry of new questions from the Pokémon.

“What’sss up with the peaksss?” Efang hissed as he slithered closer to the fire.

“Yes, indeed. What is really going on, Kida?” Terminance asked, also moving closer to the Zangoose captain.

“Quiet! That’s an order!” The Zangoose’s eyes flashed with the light of the fire as she twisted around on her makeshift pedestal. Her claws curled threatening around the hilt of her Seviper tail weapon as she silenced her soldiers with a deathly stare. Jack crossed his arms as he heard the camp’s volume drop to zero.

“Listen. I realize that I haven’t told you all everything. But that’s how it has to be!” she snapped. The lack of noise made her words echo mockingly against the mountains that impeded them. Jack knew full well that there was more to the story, but decided against vocalizing against the troubled Zangoose as she slowly lowered her trembling hand and the weapon. Before more could be asked, she jumped down from the crate and walked to her tent.

Not one of the hardened Pokémon dared to follow. Instead, they sluggishly returned to the process of setting up dinner for the night. Jack rather enjoyed how there wasn’t one designated cook for the group. Everyone in Gold Squad had seemed to pick up a small tidbit about cooking during their many travels, leading to a unique meal almost every night, even if it was made from the same ingredients. Fortunately they still had a good supply of fresh foodstuffs from the generous residents of Post Town, which contributed greatly to their general meals of dried berries and biscuits, the standard military rations from the Kingdom.

That night it was a humble feast of boiled steak and potatoes taken directly from the productive farms of the Paradise territory just outside the glorified trading post. While he enjoyed the rare food, Jack’s thoughts constantly drifted to Kida as his gaze seemed to draw towards her tent. While the higher-ranked Zangoose was sometimes a pain to live under, Jack knew it was part of her designation. She had been in the Kingdom Army for several weeks before he joined, and ever since then it had been that way.

She had done more than her fair share of work to get to where she was now. Kida deserved the position of captain more than anyone on the team. She had clawed her way up from the very bottom, and despite the stress of the job, Jack could tell that she truly enjoyed the rank and all the glory that came along with it. However, each mission had gotten harder. The stakes rose higher and higher with every new assignment, along with the stress. Kida was hardly the only one on the team to feel it. There had been many sleepless nights before they had to fight outlaw gangs, or contain a situation. Those feelings came and went as they always did, but they never seemed to leave Kida from what he saw.

She always appeared to be burdened by some secret or guilt, and judging by the information the higher-up Kingdom officials told her, his guess wasn’t far off from the truth. He slowly picked at his meal, wondering just what knowledge was so bad that it seemed to be consuming her from the inside out. Jack put down the small wooden platter that held the last morsels of his uneaten food and hooked his ice-ax to the belt of toughened leather around his waist.

The Golduck shifted his gaze from the glowing fires that his comrades huddled around and talked about what challenges and trials lay ahead of them to the glorious black titans that stretched into the sky. The mountains had perpetually blocked their passage and stymied their mission for the last two days. Jack had spent long hours amongst the drafty crags and cravasses with the others, forever searching for a passage to their goal. None of them were accustomed to this sort of blockade when it came to missions.

Why did the Kingdom send us? The question sat on his mind like a gluttonous Snorlax, refusing to budge until its desire had been slaked. The demolition teams of Steel Squad or the phasers of Translucence Squad would have been far better suited for the task of forging a path through the impenetrable ice. Gold Squad specialized in containing disasters that were out of control, not breaking into inflicted areas. It simply wasn’t their forte and the government bureaucrats knew it perfectly well.

Is this just some sort of training exercise? Did they send us here as a sort of boot camp? he pondered as he looked up past the shadowed peaks into the clouded skies above. Jack grew annoyed with the weather. He had wanted to see the stars, especially on this stressful night. It had become a tradition to spend at least one night before an operation stargazing, but now it this simple pleasure was being denied to him. While Jack wasn’t one to believe in the claims of some of the so-called “star-mystics” he’d met on his travels, he held the abstract constellations in high esteem. They were the friends who would never truly leave him and were always keeping an eye out for him.

He had tried to get several of the others to join him with his observations of the nightly skies, but try as they might, none of them found the glowing pinpricks of light as soothing as he did. Calur and Terminance had both tried their hardest to sit and stare into the void with him on occasion, however they claimed they received their fill of the astrological wonder only a few minutes in. As he stared up into the roiling clouds on this night of fate, he wondered just how those mystics would claim his stars aligned. Was tomorrow etched into the numerous patterns of the nebulae, or had it yet to be ordained?

Jack didn’t know. All that he knew was that tonight would be one of unease under the starless sky. Tomorrow’s dawn would bring little relief, as the indomitable giants glared mockingly down at them. The mountains dared him to surpass them. To transcend their lofty heights to reach the limitless glory just beyond them. Unable to stand another moment in their glare, the Golduck went back into his faded, green tent. He unrolled the small, thick blanket made of refined Mareep wool designed to retain heat without the coarse, staticy feeling.

As he closed his eyes and let the wispy mistress of sleep take him away, the stars danced and shifted in their celestial promenade behind the opaque curtain of clouds. The long hours of the night passed all too quickly as the first dim glow of the dawn soon pressed against the purple mountains. Calur’s booming voice echoed through the camp, the Aggron had been assigned the mocking position of “Wake-Up Officer” from Kida after he lost to her in a duel last year in Delgura City.

In a whirlwind of actions, Jack found himself hastily scarfing down a breakfast made of a healthful mush of a plethora of berries plucked from near their camp. Calur had never been excellent at cooking, and so the slightly blue mixture in front of him had been developed by the Aggron as a way to avoid having to put effort into a disaster. Jack had found that he could stomach virtually anything Gold Squad had to throw at him, and was delighted to see that his friend’s food was not ranked at dead last in terms of edibility. It was quickly established that Terminance was not fit for food preparation by the fact that he tried to argue that topsoil could provide basic sustenance.

Within ten minutes of waking up, all breakfasts had been forced down as Kida got the day’s expedition of the mountain range moving at a breakneck pace. Jack had his small backpack filled with necessary supplies such as rope, rations, a small skin of water, and his blanket. The pack rested comfortably on his back as he aided the others in securing the camp while they would be out for the day and packing their own supplies. Within twenty minutes of waking up, the entirety of Gold Squad was mobilized and ascending the rocky base in the shadow of the mountain.

Jack unclipped his ax from his belt and gave it a light swing into the hard granite of the edifice. It stuck with a reassuring thud and Jack marked his first foothold on this third day of rock climbing. The others were taking the rapid climb well by the observations Jack made as he nimbly scaled towers of rock and crawled up sheer faces on the mountain with ease. His Zangoose leader was close behind him as he offered her a hand up onto the stable ledge. This was the one event that he excelled in more than she, and he took every opportunity to make sure she knew it well.

Her paw tightly grasped his and he hoisted her up onto the rest ledge.

“So, in about thirty minutes, we should be at the summit?” he cheekily guessed as he glanced up at the towering spine of the mountain range in the dim morning light. Kida scoffed in reply as she nudged a small pebble off the steep edge of the embankment.

“For you, maybe. The others will take two hours to get there at the very least,” she said as the two of Pokémon watched the rest of their team claw, slither, and fly up the rock path. Calur could easily be up there with them if he wanted to, being immediately at home among the mountains, but the Aggron had taken it upon himself to carry some of the less dexterous of Gold Squad as he half-charged-half-burrowed a winding path through the steep slope.

Again, Jack noticed that the dark clouds that seemed to brood over the Zangoose disappeared for an instant as she stood on the edge. The two of them took in the cold, bracing winds as the smell of the land below filled their noses with the scents of growth, pine, and early summer. It was calming and almost intoxicating. Their weariness fled like the darkness in the rising sun.

“This mission isn’t normal, is it?” Jack didn’t hesitate with the question. He knew that he had to ask her while he was virtually alone with her. The Zangoose known formally as Kalitka stiffened as her claws curled up into her paws.

“It’s dangerous. The hazard level for this one was through the roof, Jack. They were desperate, the Senators. Both Diamond and Platinum Squads had already refused on the grounds that they would throw their lives away.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper caught in the wind of the crisp mountain dawn. Her back slumped against the rock face behind her.

“Then why accept it? You’ve rejected dangerous missions before, why not now?” Jack inquired as he leaned up against the mountain beside her. Her mouth pressed in a stern frown as she seemed to mull over an answer in her mouth.

“I … I don’t know. Nickolas came to me himself, Jack. How can I refuse the king? And with all the rewards and promotions they promised to our squad if we succeeded … Well, I couldn’t say no.” She stopped for a second as she turned her head away from him.

“But, I’ve been dealing with this feeling of dread. That something terrible is going to happen to all of us and it’ll be out of my control to stop. No one knows what happened in Saltus Valley, so we’re going in there blind. We’ll have to be careful,” Kida allowed as she looked up at the foreboding peaks. There wasn’t much farther to go until they reached the summit and it would be easier finding a path down into the valley from there. Jack watched the rest of Gold Squad climb over the final ledge and reach the small rest stop. They were all blissfully unaware of the doubtful thoughts Kida had just shared with him.

“Alright! Catch your breath and let’s hit it double time, you lot! The Kingdom isn’t paying us to watch the sunrise! I want us to be halfway to the summit before it comes past the horizon!” the Zangoose ordered as she went through the small crowd of gathering Pokémon. Jack went behind her as he congratulated the others on their climb, saying trivial bits of encouragement as he went.

Someone among the group, probably Efang, opened up a small sack of Aspear Berries and passed them around. Kida grumbled that they were wasting time, but Jack observed as she gave in and chomped into her own fruit. His own berry was gone behind his beak in no time at all as he felt the warm, insulating feeling beneath his skin that the juice provided.

Once they had all properly celebrated their accomplishment near the edge of the mortal world, Kida quickly ushered them all back on course up the remainder of the mountain. Despite its lofty position as the crown of the mountain, the peak was much easier to climb than the initial ascent. Even as Jack removed his pick from the last foothold before he grasped the very pinnacle of the mountain, the others were only five minutes behind him, Kida being only a few feet below him.

His eyes grew wide at the sight he beheld from the top. To the east, the sun’s fully awakened face just separated from the chains of the horizon and had begun its fiery ascent to the realms of Elysium in the sky. And, to the west, towards destiny, towards Saltus Valley, was a vast plain of white. Jack had to shield his eyes from the very beginnings of the harsh glare from the rays of the rising sun.

“What in the name of Azelf’s tails happened here? Where’s the damn Valley?” Kida swore as she gazed out on the pure white landscape. She was right; Saltus Valley was gone and replaced by this void of white nothingness. They both stood there in stark disbelief as the last eighteen members of Gold squad reached the summit. Jack heard their shouts of confusion, but he did not look back at them.

Instead, his foot took a single stride forward on to the unknown white mesa from the rocky mountain. His webbed toes did not slide through the mist-like substance, but rather pressed down a few inches until it stopped. It was almost like snow, except it was far more airy.

He took another step, and then another as he blazed a trail into the mysterious field of white crystallized air. Despite the vague sense of instability that came with every crunching step, he continued into the unknown wilds. After he had taken roughly twenty strides away from the summit, he turned around to face the anxious Gold Squad.

“Seems stable! Some type of snow from how it feels! It’s packed pretty tight, so it should hold,” Jack called as he reported on his qualitative observations. Back on the rocky precipice, Kida nodded as she waved her claws forward. The crowd around her interpreted her signal and gingerly began inching their way onto the plain.

Jack held his breath as his Aggron friend took his first step into the solid white mass. Calur’s massive tree stump-like foot sank into the wispy element before crunching to a halt only one foot beneath the visible surface.The Aggron allowed a rocky smile to form on his mouth as he let out a gravelly laugh of triumph.

Seeing that the weird landscape would hold them all, Jack turned back to the path ahead. This was their destiny: to search and find the source. If the impetus keeping their righteous march true was to remain, they would have to cross this vast field. Jack was feeling unusually good at that moment. Despite having climbed a mountain in the very early hours of the waking dawn, his body still remained primed with energy. In that point in time, he would not have refused an offer to run the Royal Highway across the Kingdom. Something about this alien land sent waves of energy up through his feet, like he was walking on the very essence of air.

There comes a time in the course of events that the threads of Fate cross and intertwine in such a way that brings forth the worst possible scenario. It was then, as Jack took another step into the white void of faux-snow that the threads coiled and snapped, letting the chaos of the universe rush in and have its way. From far beneath the surface, a fierce shudder shook the plane. The Golduck swore it sounded like the feral roar of a dragon that rose up from the core of the world.

Jack fell to his side as his legs were jolted out from beneath him. His ice-ax flew from his grip and clattered across the powdery substance. The rumbling continued to shake the land as Jack struggled to pick himself up from the ground. He crawled over the unstable floor, his blue hands and knees crunched with every slow step he took to regain his lost tool. Far behind him, he saw Kida, Calur, Terminance, Efang, and the others in the same predicament he was in, stumbling and clawing for some sense of stability.

The roar beneath the land grew louder and louder with every passing second. Jack’s lungs worked harder than before as he flailed over the shifting mass to his beloved ax. The clear skies above the strange anomaly turned from the endless blue of the approaching dawn to darkened grey as roiling clouds rushed in from the west to block out the sky. A bitter chill swept over Jack as the feeble rays of the rising sun were overtaken by the opaque cloak sent from the heavens. It was then that his mind had the epiphany.

Wait … This isn’t snow. We’re too high up for it to be snow … This is … Luiga preserve us… his mind whispered as he looked down at his hands pressed into the white crystallized land. Jack pushed away from the material like lightning and shakily stood on his feet as the world continued to crumble away. He waved his left arm high in the air in his fevered try to attract his teammates’ attention while he dug inside his bag with his other hand. He brushed aside the supplies of food, bandages, and rope as his webbed hand desperately searched for one item in particular.

“It’s not snow! Get back! Get back!” he shouted as loud as his voice would allow. He could only watch as they continued on without hearing him. They were too consumed in their own survival of the immediate quake that they were blind to the underlying danger that would soon reveal itself. As his hand closed on the small glass sphere, he knew exactly what he had to do, but something inside him made him hesitate. His action would hurt them, but the wounds they might suffer at his hands would be a fraction of what they would gather if they continued as they were.

“Kida! Calur! It’s not snow! They’re clouds! They’re frozen clouds! Get everyone back!” he screamed as he readied the small glass Orb in his hands. The artifact filled with the compressed energy of the wind would activate as soon as it hit something hard enough to crack its fragile surface. He had to make sure his aim was accurate, otherwise his efforts would be for nothing. Beneath his feet he felt something akin to a bolt of lightning shoot through the deteriorating web of frozen water.

“There’s no time. I have to do this!” Jack shouted to himself as he reared his right arm back with the specialized Orb in hand. He had to aim for the one target he knew would activate the item and that would be the most likely to forgive him after the fact. Even as his legs were constantly shifted by the growing faults in the immense cloud, he took a deep break to calm his beating heart. Jack tried to think back to the numerous snowball battles he had fought with his brothers as a young Psyduck. He was feared for his accurate aim then, he hoped now in this crucial time that it would save his squadmates.

Without a second thought, he hurtled the sphere directly over the expanse of white at Calur, the Aggron still trying to find balance in the collapsing ground. Jack watched the path of the projectile as the thunderous cracks continued to spread beneath him. He would save himself as soon as the others were out of harm’s way. The electric-blue object spun in the air as it caught the few rays of light that still shone from the sky in its reflection. Jack held his racing breath as it began to descend towards the struggling Aggron.

Jack didn’t even notice the fact that his own feet were starting to drop through the cracking layers of solidified, aerated water as the Orb slammed into the back of Calur’s steely head with a clear shattering noise. The effect was instantaneous. From within the mystical core of the blue sphere, the awesome might of a terrible gale ripped across the plane. Jack could only brace himself as he was thrown backwards by the rushing wind, away from the safety of the mountains. The panicked screams coming from his friends and comrades filled his ears as they were all forced back against the stable peak of the mountain range.

The Golduck felt his back hit the rumbling cloud with a crunch that gave way to a loud crack. Thunder roared against his throbbing ears as he fell through the frosty layers. White flew by his eyes as he descended beneath the surface of the collapsing cloud bank. Jack didn’t even know if such meteorological formation was even possible, but it hardly mattered now. All that mattered now was his own survival. He tried to focus his disorientated body as he twisted himself over in midair and spread out his hands and feet to try and slow his freefall. He had been forced to learn a few basic strategies for surviving falls while in training, but he had never expected he would have to use them from falling from the sky.

Jack took a quick glance at the land below him. It was hard to make out in the darkness from the falling chunks of cloud and the grey sky, but he saw enough. The land below was as frozen as the clouds had been, completely coated in a thick layer of white frost. This was their ground zero. At last, this was Saltus Valley. A scathing wind tore past his falling body, trying hard to rip away his precious bag of supplies strapped to his back and the ice-pick he grasped tightly in his frozen hand.

This is it. This is where I die, isn’t it? At least it’ll be quick and painless, his mind observed as he tried to maneuver himself to a place where the land didn’t seem to be frozen solid. He didn’t have much choice as he plummeted to the forest below. As the ground came closer and closer to him, the Golduck gave up trying to change his course. In the final moments before impact, Jack closed his eyes and prayed to the Guardian of the Seas that he be kept safe.

Agony shot through the left side of his body as the thin branches of the flash-frozen trees whipped against him. Jack let out a shriek as he continued to rocket downwards, slamming into more and more branches as he went. There was no stopping the intense flood of torture that filled his nerves. The frozen tips of the tree limbs tore deep gashes all across his body or simply whacked against his unprotected skin, leaving a series of angry welts at random intervals. Jack was certain that more than several of his bones were shattered.

His falling form shot past the final series of branches that tore off the bag from his back. Jack landed facing up with a bone-crunching thud in a thick pile of snow. A red haze misted over his vision as the sudden onset of packed snow embraced his battered and broken body. His breaths were short and shallow and his mind felt like it was lost in a deep fog. He knew he had to move. He knew that he had to find help quickly. Otherwise, he would die.

Even though his mind screamed for him to move, it was several, long minutes of throbbing agony before he was able to twitch his right arm. Air playfully eluded each gaping gasp of his mouth, each failed attempt to breathe felt like a hammer slamming against his blood-spattered chest. His vision quickly flickered between black and white as he stared unblinking into the crumbling sky. Beams of sunlight streamed through the patchwork of unfallen clouds and the gaping holes left by the aerial avalanche.

One of these beams struck the packed snow beside his right hand and reflected a metallic gleam. He didn’t have to see it properly to know exactly what it was. The golden shine only could come from one object: his exploration badge. His neck felt as if it was shoved inside a furnace as he moved it a few degrees up to confirm his suspicions. The circular insignia was only inches from his fingertips. He could easily reach it and activate it without shifting his fragile body too much.

And besides, the damage is already done, right? What’s the worst that could happen? his blurry thoughts slurred as the Golduck suddenly rolled his body to the right and grasped the badge. He felt like he had just been slammed between a cliff and a wall of flaming steel. His body seized up as fresh blood began to seep from his recent wounds. His hand refused to let go of the metal circle, though. His survival depended on its mystical communication properties. Every heaving cough that came from his bruised lungs brought forth a spray of dark red blood onto his scarring chest and crimson snow around him. But, Jack knew what he had to do.

He brought his stiff, cold hand closer to his mouth as he jabbed the center button in the badge. Words came surprisingly clearly from his mouth amid the spurts of internal blood from his damaged innards.

“This is Corporal Jack Golduck.” A scream of agony. “I request immediate rescue. Medical care needed.” Jack let out a haunting cry that echoed through the dead Valley. “Situation: dire. Estimated time until expiration is–” Another scream that seemed to tear out what remained of his lungs. “One hour … Forty-five minutes if internal bleeding persists…”

There was nothing left. He had foolishly challenged Saltus Valley.

“This is Jack Golduck. Corporal, Gold Squad, Army of the Kingdom.”

Saltus Valley had accepted and swallowed him whole. His screams now were met with the vast emptiness that resonated from the frozen forest.

“Requesting immediate assistance from any Rescue Team that can hear me. Multiple military personnel in danger. Please respond!”

His words were carried along the sorrowful winds to be forever destined to echo among the lonely crags and peaks. The pleas he made would never make it through to a rescue relay. Much like him, they were cut off from the source.

End Chapter One

Author’s Notes: This is a project that’s been buzzing around in my head since June. As I said earlier, this is a side-story to my main story, PMD: Overthrown.

Ever since I introduced his character way back in Chapter Four of Overthrown, something about Jack urged me to continue with him. For the longest time, I had no idea how I was going to do it, but now, I know exactly what I want to do with him. There’s plenty of plot to be had from him, but this story will be short. I hope to share Jack’s story to its fullest extent.

Anyways, this shouldn’t hinder the progress with my other stories too much. Transcending the Abyss and Overthrown are still undergoing progress.

If you enjoyed or you want to point out an error, a review would be highly appreciated.

Knightfall signing off…

Chapter Two: The Personification of Glaciers

“Celebi … Celebi, please forgive me. I have killed the world. I have become the reaper, and the souls of nations are under my scythe. My gods, my gods… What have I done?”
– Administrator Martor Serperior on the first tests of Project: Marble King

Light flickered on the aged stone walls. The Luminous Orb overhead was finally beginning to dim. While it slowly faded, the Golduck reclined in his metal chair as far as his chains would let him. Jack looked up at the floating Reuniclus officer with a emotionless stare.

“So? Good enough for your bosses back in Silver City to execute me?” Jack asked with a sneer. Telling his story to the disgruntled officer had unbolded the former soldier. He felt a strength within him that had been absent for too long, and with that strength came defiance. The Loyalty Square officer merely grunted in reply and ignored the Golduck. His gelatinous arms rose and fell in the air as they shuffled through the papers detailing the report thus far.

“Jackson… I find it a bit unbelievable that your own government would try to send you to your death. Gold Squad was a decorated team— virtually a national asset. Why would the king and Senate simply send you to your death? Doesn’t add up for me,” Hythal grunted before psychically lifting a wooden mug to his membrane. The blue contents within swiftly diffused into his cellular as he let out a gasp of contentment.

“Then I’ll continue until you do understand just how it could happen… Let me first explain what happened to the other members after the clouds began to crack beneath our feet…” Jack sighed. The Golduck leaned over the table once again and closed his eyes. Memories of the events swirled around in his mind until he found what he had been looking for.

“It all started for her after I fell…”

Thunder rumbled under her padded feet. The Zangoose commander looked down from the flawless sky only to find that the white ground was not entirely solid. She tried to hold her position and keep her scrambling squad in line, but that goal was quickly shoved aside. A blast of air from Jack’s Blowback Orb sent them all flying backwards away from the epicenter of the collapse. She flipped over the frozen ground just before a series of jagged cracks appeared through the thin clouds. The Zangoose dug her claws into the ground and pulled herself upright. A threatening growl escaped her lips as she frantically looked over her battered team.

“Regroup! Regroup! Damnit, get up!” she screamed, tugging on Terminance’s branch-like arm and pulling the Trevenant up to his roots. She barely had time to give the possessed tree a slap on his back before the ground gave way. The tops of the mountains rushed by past her sight until she was looking at the wide, rocky slope beneath her. She twisted around in the air, yelling in rare fear.

The darkened ground of Saltus Valley opened up, and seemed to be ready to devour her whole once she landed. Her mind raced; memories of her training flashed in her head. She needed an idea— that and a miracle if she was to survive the plumet. Nothing was useful to her now. She hadn’t prepared for this. She had knowingly dragged her squad into an unstable environment and now she was going to face the consequences splattered against the side of a mountain.

Kida glanced at her struggling teammates through the stinging air. Each of them chaotically flipping around and flailing beside the chunks of frozen clouds. Come on, Kida! Think! There’s gotta be a way to — Her thoughts were quickly disrupted by the mountainside she was trying to avoid. She didn’t have time to brace herself as her body slammed into a bank of packed snow.

Breath was forced from her lungs. Her body twisted against the icy powder, but did not break. She turned her body so that she flipped over her shoulder, slowing her slide along the slope. Grunting in pain, she dug her clawed feet into the snow to stop her momentum. Her body lurched forward, barely avoiding tumbling over the precipice down into the frozen abyss. Kida gasped, holding her paw to her chest to keep her heart inside. She frantically scanned the lonely mountainside for the remaining members of Gold Squad. Yet only a scathing, frozen wind met her gaze.

The Zangoose’s feet uncomfortably shifted on the small snowbank. Her fur was doing a poor job at keeping her warm as her heart slowly calmed. Looking about the deserted mountainside, she found herself utterly alone. For once, the tall, stone vines ensnaring her heart withered and broke apart. She could do nothing to stem the rush of emotions that thundered down upon her.

Kida kneeled to the ground; paws pressed hard against her face. Tears of terror, pain, and regret streamed down her face. She wanted nothing more in the world then to reverse the decisions she’d made in the last week. Her desire for gold and glory for herself and the squad, now left her alone on a desolate mountain. All the training she had forced her body through meant nothing. She was stuck in a hostile environment, rapidly running out of sunlight, and held the blood of her missing squadmates in her claws.

No. Kida… Kalitka! You have to focus! You have to live! Come on, girl…

Looking up from her tear-streaked face, she fumbled around the leather belt around her waist. Inside one of the pouches was a small, gilded seed that glinted brightly in the canted light. She despised the item, yet she needed it. Her paw shook wildly as she tips it into her mouth. Her teeth instantly chewed the smooth surface, crunching the contents out of its kernel. She roughly swallowed the bitter seed, but the aftereffect was worth the minor discomfort.

A false surge of courage welled up inside her mind and drove the tears from her eyes. A small, insidious part of her brain berated her for relaying on the so-called medicine seeds. However, Kida quickly stomped out the voice before rising to her feet. Her paws unclasped the golden badge from her crimson scarf and pressed the central button on its circular surface. She cleared her voice and took a deep breath before she confidently spoke to the mechanism.

“To all rescue centers, this is Commander Kalitka Zangoose of Gold Squad. Requesting immediate assistance from Saltus Valley. Priority one! I repeat, this is a priority one rescue call! Any and all available rescue teams are to report to Saltus Valley immediately! Many lives at stake!” Her breath turned into mist and her words became whispers in the wind. She knew that no one would hear her plea. Even if Post Town managed to detect it, she doubted there was anything they could do to help.

The Zangoose brushed her claws through her matted fur and tried to retain the last shred of her dignity. Picking up the badge again, she felt her courage leave her, and her confident words melted into insecurity.

“P-please! Gold Squad is s-scattered! H-hostile environment! We need assis-t-tance!” She felt her knees give out, the snow pressing into her fur, and the weight of her guilt pulling her down. “P-Please! F-for the love of P-Palkia! S-save me! I-I can’t die here! C-can’t die here! Plea— AHHHHHHHHH!” Her transmission was cut brutally short by the mountain’s sudden decision to collapse beneath her.


“That’s wonderful, Jackson. However, I’m not getting paid to listen to you explain how your squad reacted. I am here to hear your story.” The Reuniclus officer grunted, psychically stirring his drink. Jack huffed, leaning back in his chair and rattling his chains.

“I tell you it’s important… But, fine. If you wish to get back to me, then I’ll tell it. And Hythal? I’d rather not be interrupted again unless you have a genuine question. Is that too much to ask?”

“Jackson, you are a traitor. You have no rights here. I’ll ask what questions I need to, you hear me?” Hythal growled with an impatient glare.


Wind softly whispered through the frozen forest. No branches stirred, no leaves fell, nothing changed from the weak zephyr. Time in the iced woods meant nothing. The rays of the sun shone cold on the abysmally frozen Valley. Though the sky was broken, it changed little on the ground. The only evidence that something had happened was the dying echoes that paced through the hardened trees like lost souls.

“My name is Jack. Jack Golduck. Can anyone hear me? Anyone! Help me!”

His broken voice had echoed through the empty wastelands for the better part of two agonizing hours before his heart stopped from the penetrating cold. Against his will, he had blissfully began to slip into the numbing void of unconsciousness. The heavily injured Golduck entertained slim thoughts of survival by that point and uttered a final, sloppy prayer to the gods of the ocean before his eyes closed and his head slumped to the side in the snow.

His mind however, did not feel so tired or cold. Clarity seemed to rush into it as his body began the process of becoming one with the snow. Jack didn’t know what to make of it. He had been pushed to the brink of death before, his position in Gold Squad demanded it constantly, but he had never experienced this sudden calm.

Beyond the transcendence of thought and the sudden euphoria that rushed through his body, he found not the comforting embrace of Cresselia, but rather a realm fit for her dark rival. He wasn’t guided through to the waiting light, but rather found himself chained in the darkness. Manacles of solid ice sealing his limbs to the ground as the seething emptiness closed in on his struggling form. Jack couldn’t breathe, yet there was no need for him to. This was death, and he had earned this eternal punishment. The unseen gods of Verus decreed it so.

His bonds tightened, nearly breaking his blue skin. The Golduck viciously kicked and clawed at the living shards, but it instead creeped around his body. The darkened ice whispered inane words, uttered sayings to pollute his mind, and prophecies to make him slip away into the depths of death. Tendrils of frost wrapped around his arms and torso, making every movement more difficult and his mind wallow in lethargy. His body was enveloped in the ice. He felt it bite into his skin and strangle his heart. Jack let out a stifled yell with the last breath he had before the hellish ice clamped a thick hand over his beak.

Sight, smell, and feeling were robbed from him as the ice masked his head. He willed his body to move, to break down the frost, but there was nothing to be done. He would become one with the ice as it choked the life out of him. His mind raced while the ice froze him to the floor. Around his body, he felt it crack and grow like an insidious vine. The numbness set in just as the last of the ice solidified around his body.

This can’t be my eternity! No! NO! His thoughts screamed, seemingly driving away the darkness that tried to consume his consciousness. But it was for naught as the ice clamped down harder. Jack tensed and prepared for his permanent end. He had heard the tales of Erebus being a place of eternal cold and darkness, but he had failed to grasp what “eternity” truly was until then.

Seconds passed, but it could have been days for all the Golduck knew. In his dismal prison of cold and weakness, there was nothing he could do to count the minutes and hours he spent chained to the unforgiving wall of Erebus. He had deserved this. He truly did. Being a member of Gold Squad came with the stipulation that one would obey orders. No matter what they were.

Whether the damning sin came from the small Sentret girl he orphaned by murdering her mother in cold blood to leave no credible witnesses, or by he and his squad torching the thriving forest city afterwards. It could have also easily been the off-the-record raids they conducted at the Senate’s request on individuals who supported the Colonial independence movement. He might have looked away when the murders took place, but that didn’t change the fact that he still held the targets down while they died. Their blood was on his hands, and it was more than enough to earn the attention of Darkrai.

This was the fate of his soul: to rot forever under the dark chill of Erebus. In his haste to achieve glory on Gold Squad, he had condemned himself here until Arceus ended the world. His memories, the only figments he had left of the outside world and warmth, swelled around him. He was about to dive amid them and lose his mind to reliving his past when the mighty chasm that was the darkness shook.

A ray of light shone through the abyss, parting the nothingness. Claws, driven by the fury of freedom, slashed through the clutching arms of the ensnaring ice. He felt their sharp tips dig into his face as the ice on his head shattered, allowing air to flow again. Systematically, his arms, legs, and body was torn from the ice. He could not see his savior in the darkness, but he did what he could to stand and flee the mass of frozen water.

The weak light that had accompanied his rescue flickered as the shadowed figure grabbed his wrist and dragged behind at a mad sprint. The Golduck had no idea what was happening, yet he needed no reassurance that he was doing the right thing. His purgatory had tried to seal his soul, but he had been freed. He had been guilty, yet he was being given a second chance to escape this hell. The light grew brighter as he and his savior dashed up the endless stair towards the small pinnacle of light, with the darkness and ice trailing only a few steps behind. A single misstep on his part would destroy his only chance at life.

“Who–” he asked breathlessly.

“Shut up! Run!” The figure cut him off abruptly. Despite being able to see his own blue skin --now alarmingly paler from the ice-- he was unable to see past the hue of shadows that seemed to cling to the ethereal figure. The voice at least, sounded feminine to Jack, so that much was solved. However, he didn’t have the time to think about the information as shards of ice swiped across the back of his calves, leaving trails of blood in his skin as he ran faster.

As they inched closer to the light, he noticed more about the mysterious female who had single-handedly severed the darkness. Droplets of light rained down on them; the downpour growing with each weighted step they took towards escape. The personified shroud of fluid ice tried to snatch his soul and return him to his eternal sentence. As his eyes swung to the shadowed girl beside him, he saw that the shadow seemed to melt away from her in scattered droplets in the canted light.

The nearer they got to the light, the more of her he could see. Patches of white fur appeared from beneath the gentle grey covering as the shadows faded away. In the final stretch into the square doorway of pure light, she shook her head during her sprint. The mask of night that hid her face broke apart in an explosion of twilight. Jack nearly stumbled on the ancient stone stairs. During his sprint, his gaze met hers and memories clicked into place.

“Kida!” he screamed, his heart somersaulting in joy even while the essence of Erebus hunted them down. The Zangoose smiled her usual devious smile at him as they screeched to a stop at the threshold of the archway. Jack tried to see beyond the dazzling light, but his eyes could not see past the splendor. Kida didn’t pant or breathe. She simply pointed a claw at him and then the exit. Erebus roared after them, the pitch-black ice slithering quickly up the crumbling stone.

“No! Come with me, Kida! Come on!” he pleaded, but she continued to look at him with her usual, cold analytical stare. She shook her head and walked up to him. Her paws gripped his shoulders and she marched him to the edge of the light.

“I am not her. You have to find her in the real world. I am giving you that chance. Do not waste it by letting Erebus catch you now,” the Zangoose whispered into his ear as a blood curdling roar shook the stone foundations. “I go now. And so do you!” she yelled as she reared up her foot and kicked his stomach. As he stumbled into the wall of light, he saw the Zangoose melt back into the shadows as she leapt at the encroaching ice with her claws extended. A furious yell met his ears just as everything of the fabled realm of purgatory faded with a flash of white.

“Doctor … Doctor! … Ampharos! He … The Cloud-Breaker is awake!” The sounds of the outside world pounded against his ears. Jack felt a spark shoot through his body as his arms twitched. His eyes still refused to open, but the Golduck noticed that his body was no longer numb from the cold. In fact, as far as he could tell, the cold was gone.

“Open your eyes, Golduck. There is much we need to discuss now that you are awake.” The voice was filled with knowledge. Wise, yet not hobbled with age. Jack’s eyes struggled to peel themselves apart before flying open and letting the light of the outside world overwhelm his senses. The Golduck let out a pained squawk as his hand shot to cover his burning eyes.

“There is not much time left, Golduck. Get up. Now.” The voice boomed against his aching ears as Jack’s eyes slowly flickered open and got used to the light. Disorientated, the Golduck coughed as he sat up from the bed of hay he was in. Instantly, he was met with an intense soreness from his chest. Clutching his stomach, he lowered his gaze to inspect himself. His gasp was stifled by the pain that followed.

His entire torso was wrapped in blood-stained bandages. The dull-white linen clung to his chest and limbs while he struggled to stand on his feet. A wave of dizziness washed over the soldier; threatening to make him double over in dry heaves. His aching legs stumbled out of the soft bed and onto the cold stone floor. Jack’s bleary eyes slowly fought through the fatigue. After a few minutes of blindly shuffling, the Golduck was able to properly survey the swaying chamber and the ones who had talked to him. A small paw grasped his right shoulder.

“Hello, Cloud-Breaker.” It was the same, wise voice from earlier, yet his body reacted differently. Jack’s hand shot down to his side, looking for his ice-axe, and grasped only bare flesh. Within a split second of realizing his beloved weapon was gone, his left hand curled into a glowing fist and swung at the speaker.

His energized, webbed fist was halted by a similarly charged paw. In the light, Jack saw that its owner, along with the wise voice, was a yellow and black Pokémon just shorter than him. The Ampharos grunted and easily pushed back his Brick Break attack. With his concentration diffused, Jack could only breathe deeply in relief when the irritated Electric-type lowered his own glowing paw in non-aggression.

“E-hem. As I was saying before you rudely attacked me… Greetings, Cloud-Breaker. We are pleased to have you among us once again. There are some of us here who wish to thank you for bringing back the sun to our frozen sky,” The older Ampharos elaborated and extended a paw to Jack. The alert Golduck didn’t accept his paw immediately, rather taking a moment to study his surroundings and the Ampharos.

He was inside a dimly lit cave. The floor was smooth and swept, but incredibly cold. Everything around him seemed to scream out how bitterly cold it was: the stone, the hay, the puffs of mist exiting his beak, and the air itself. Turning his attention away from the grizzled Ampharos, he saw that there were other Pokémon milling about the cavern also.

“H-hello…” Jack coughed as his body straightened up to full height. “I appreciate the treatment you gave me, sir. However, I must ask about the whereabouts of my weapon and gear that you found with me. They are Kingdom property,” Jack briskly stated. His mind swiftly spouting the protocol for interacting with civilians in a hostile environment. The Ampharos male chuckled as he reached into the large satchel that hung from his shoulder. A flash of silver met Jack’s eyes when the older Pokémon withdrew his treasured ice-axe and leather utility belt. Jack’s arm instinctively shot out at the weapon and belt, intending on snatching it back. However, his eager claws gripped nothing but air.

“I’ll give it back once you answer a few questions for me. Is that fair? Consider that your payment for fixin’ you up, son,” the Electric-type stated, holding up the axe out of Jack’s reach. The Golduck nearly considered tackling him for it, but backed away from this thought when a cackle of electricity sparked from the Ampharos’s other hand.

“Fine. What do you want?” Jack grunted. The older Pokémon merely gave him a disapproving glare before disappearing further into the cramped caverns. Not wanting to let his precious weapon and his other supplies out of his reach, Jack hastily followed. Trotting along behind the strange Pokémon, Jack glanced around the narrow passage. His webbed feet slapped against the smooth cave floor at regular rhythms. Each loud echo was only punctuated by a curse from Jack every time he stepped on a small stalagmite.

“You come at a troubled time, Cloud-Breaker. We are trapped under this infernal ice, as you saw. We are running out of time. A malady, cold as the ice, attempts to strike us down.” The Ampharos’s paw gestured to the rows of threadbare blankets along the cave wall. Looking closer, Jack saw that Pokémon were sleeping in them. “They appear sleeping, do they not? However, they sleep until death… And beyond…” Jack took another look at the row. This time he noticed what he had failed to see before.

Among the piles of rags, a Skitty lay still, its pink fur dulled to a sickly grey. In another pile was a Snivy and a Serperior, together, a family perhaps. Their green and white scales turned to blue and grey, as if they were freezing in the snow. And in yet another mess of cloth, the sight grew worse. Jack nearly heaved up his non-existant lunch when he saw the Tauros. The tawny beast’s fur had turned from a light brown to a patchy section of grey that was falling out of the skin. However, that was not the worst. The worst was the small, jagged shards of ice that stuck out of the Pokemon’s stomach and sides.

Jack’s vision began to weave in and out. He hadn’t been awake for ten minutes and he was being shoved into a world of sickness and ice. “Now you see, Cloud-Breaker, do you not? The sickness that eats us? Since the ice came, so has the clutches of infection… The children were among the first to fall.” Jack put his hands against his ears. This was enough. He wanted no more. Regardless of what they did for him, he knew he could not stay. He could not listen to the rambles of sickness and ice any longer.

With a yell, he twisted around and stormed out of the contaminated cavern. Ampharos’s paw was quick to hold onto his shoulder. “Where do you aim on going, young sir? You are desperately needed here.”

Jack huffed and turned on the Electric-type. With a fire in his eyes, he snatched his ice-axe and belt out of the Pokémon’s grip. Backing away from the surprised Ampharos, Jack hastily buckled the leather strip around his waist and held his weapon defensively. The curved, jagged blade glinted its sharpened steel in the flickering light of the cave.

“I am leaving. Thank you for healing me, but I have to go. I am sorry,” Jack retorted stiffly, giving the despairing older Pokémon a terse bow signaling that the conversation was at an end. Without another look at the aged healer, Jack turned his back and trudged up the sloping cave. He heard the Ampharos’s steps following him, but he did not acknowledge them. Every emaciated Pokémon the Golduck passed pressed itself against the sides of the cavern to let him by. Jack thought this a bit weird, but shook off the troubling observation. He continued upwards, moving along whichever path that felt the coldest.

After an unnaturally long stretch of minutes, Jack was met with his goal. Almost immediately, eyes widened in a mixture of surprise and fear.

“W-what in Erebus is this…?” He whispered while he gazed out at the entirety of Saltus Valley.

White. Everything was white. The endless stretch of forest was painted in the stark colors of a deep frost, despite it being the zenith of spring. Winter’s hold arrested every movement. All around him, nothing stirred. Not the leaves on the trees, the water on the mountain stream, or even the wind itself.

Jack heard the crunching of pebbles behind him and quickly started down the slick, iced-over mountain. His feet barely managed little more than a controlled slide past the still trees. Jack huffed and carefully leaned backwards. Cold dirt hit his sore back like a hammer, yet he slid faster down the mountain path. His lungs sucked in the crisp, freezing air.

“Almost there…” he muttered. His arm held his axe and dragged it along the packed ice to control his descent. Rough stones tore at the thin, blue feathers on his back. Jack squawked in pain, closed his eyes tightly, and tried to focus his thoughts elsewhere. Before he knew it, his aching feet slammed into the hard earth at the base of the mountain. Jack looked up into the sky, determining how much daylight was left. Except the sky was still broken.

His eyes widened. At once, the weight of his deed fell upon him. Sunlight poured in solitary beams through the jagged holes in the frozen clouds. Wisps of solidified clouds shrouded the majority of Saltus Valley in darkness, but Jack could tell that there was not much time left until sunset. Wiping the chilled beads of frost off his forehead, Jack trudged through the icy dirt. His heart pounded inside his chest. Clutching his axe protectively, he tried to calm himself.

What are you doing, Jack? You’re a soldier. You are part of Gold Squad! Man up! Stop acting like the rookie you aren’t! His thoughts attempted to reassure, but the eerie quietness of the frozen forest around him quickly sapped his courage away. Within the shrinking light, Jack found the long, frost-worn branches that loomed over him a lot more menacing. He swallowed a lump in his throat, yet the fear failed to pass with it.

The Golduck continued his solitary march through the ominous wood. Not a single sound reached his ears other than the crunch of his own feet against the frozen dirt and leaves. After a few moments, Jack twirled around as a small branch snapped and fell to the ground. His heart was ready to explode out of his chest, and Jack had to clutch the sides of his head in order to keep his brain from overreacting. Somewhere in his memories he held the hours of strict training under the Kingdom. Somewhere inside his mind was the fortitude and stone-cold demeanor he held on missions. Try as he might, his mind was intent on letting him squirm in bone-shaking anxiety.

”If the truth is too horrible to believe, lie until it isn’t.” The words of the grizzled Senator Cicero Torkoal suddenly rang in his ears. Jack blinked. The old, steaming tortoise had wheezed out that gem of advice on their final day of training. It was puzzling to his young mind at the time, but the very next day he found out just how true the phrase was. It was his first mission under Gold Squad to the catastrophe zone of Zero Isle. It was there that he had first experienced what hell truly when the mystery dungeon engulfed the archipelago.

“Lie until it isn’t…” Jack mumbled under his breath. His webbed hands shivered in the darkening cold. Deciding that frostbite wasn’t a pleasant way to die, Jack reached inside one of the pouches on his belt, found a small reddish seed, and plopped it inside his mouth. Careful not to break the brittle skin, he sucked gingerly on the Blast Seed, feeling its generous spiciness kick into his system within seconds. The grip of Kyurem was broken in an instant.

Armed with warmth coursing through his veins, Jack swung his axe in front of him. The curved blade was not suited to hacking down branches, but it snapped the icy limbs down easily enough. Grinning smugly, the Golduck hiked down the new path through the woods. He grunted in pain every time a branch nicked his skin and drew droplets of blood, but pressed onwards despite the clear path he left behind him in the snow.

The comfort the Blast Seed brought was slowly ebbing away all too soon. Huffing, Jack downed a final branch with his axe and stepped into a clearing. It was hard to see in the fading light, but Jack could make it out well enough. He even rubbed his eyes to ensure he wasn’t dreaming, but it was reality. An entire village was in front of him; every building seemingly untouched by looters and simply left to freeze. Jack whooped in triumph and holstered the axe to his belt. His bruised bones ached for any shelter from this unbearable cold. Abandoning all military conduct, Jack praised Kyogre and Suicune at the top of his lungs. The Golduck sprinted faster than any Linoone into the village, smelling deeply the sterile air as if he could still detect the scents of life.

Panting in the square, he slowly halted himself and surveyed the surrounding buildings. He needed something that was airtight and preferably stocked with blankets. However, seeing that the town would have been sweltering in the summer heat when the ice came, his hopes of finding such a dwelling were dampened. Jack walked around, his feet crunching loudly in the old snow. He stalked around the square, inspecting the houses made up of clay and branches for something that offered to keep out the chilly air. Jack stood on the tips of his toes and peered into a window frame of a rather large hut. It was then that he noticed something inside that was absent from the others: movement.

Jack flew away from the building, his feet backpedalling through the snow just before a roar shattered the unearthly silence. The wall of the house was decimated by the huge claw that tore through it. Jack numbly stared. The beast’s thick flesh was peeling back around its body, instead replaced by an icy hide. Exactly like the Pokémon in the infirmary, jagged shards of ice stuck out at odd intervals from beneath its skin and bones. It was no longer any Pokémon that Jack knew.

It let out a ragged breath though its torn jaw and its decayed nose sniffed the air for the intruder. Jack’s heart nearly stopped as the creature’s gaze captured him. Its sunken, yellowed eyes narrowed in their sockets on his quivering form. Part of his mind wondered how much he looked like prey just then. What remained of the canine’s large, shaggy mane fell off as it shook its head in a guttural roar.

Fear attempted to upset the adrenaline-fueled courage in his heart. Jack’s feet stumbled backwards in the snow before his back slammed against a wall. Fear, he knew, could not rule him now. Sucking in a deep breath, Jack decided that he wouldn’t be caught off guard by the creature. Curling his toes into the ice, the Golduck grasped his axe tightly and held it at arms length. In three fluid movements, he crossed the frozen street and leaped up at the snarling, ice-covered Arcanine. Jack smiled. He felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He wanted to kill.

In less than two seconds, his arm swung forward, twisted the jagged point of the axe downwards, and slammed through the frozen flesh of the Arcanine. The entire curved end disappeared inside where shoulder bone and heart should have been. Next to his head, a low, angered growl vibrated through Jack’s body. His eyes not daring to look beside him, he gazed at the hole he left in the massive dog’s side. No blood, no viscera, no organs, just a haze of sub-zero mist that leaked forth from the wound. Jack felt his entire body fall numb in sheer, unnatural terror. His head craned to the side and he saw exactly what he had desperately hoped wasn’t real: the beast’s barred, yellowed teeth inches from his face.

Jack’s hardly saw the teeth before they opened, revealed a gaping, empty maw. Instead of the sharp tools tearing into his neck and severing his life, a jet of blue fire blasted forth from the hollow depths of the monstrous Arcanine. The Golduck blinked in surprise even as the tongues of the faux fire licked his face. It didn’t burn. Nothing burned. In fact, it was deathly cold against his skin. Confused, the Golduck barely stumbled back a step, yet that did not stop the hollow canine. With a rattling howl, the beast pounced into the air. Jack was quickly acquainted with the frosted ground and the dead weight of the diseased Arcanine pinning him down.

Air barely managed to squeak through his beak. A massive, frostbitten paw pressed down on his chest, crushing the life from his lungs. In an increasing fit of desperation, the soldier fired a frigid blast of his own from his beak, yet the Ice Beam did nothing against the infected Pokémon. Water quickly followed, only to dry to a trickle as another paw stepped on his throat. The mental prowess that his species commanded fled him when the creature proved to have no mind.

The ice controls the beast. Jack’s grip tightened around his axe and his arm flailed. The serrated edge slicing through the deadened flesh with each panicked blow, yet no blood was spilt. Jack met the creature’s primal, unfeeling gaze again. A drop of cold saliva fell into his cheek, and the Golduck’s military training fled within a microsecond of seeing the teeth. The jaw snapped forward. And then in a flash, the jaw was no more.

A bolt of blue lightning shot forth from above and seared away half of the Arcanine’s frozen face. Instantly, the heavy paws flew off his torso and Jack rolled onto his stomach. Pushing himself up, he scrambled away as fast as he could from the wounded monster. His heart pounded against his chest in a rhythm fit for a tribal drum. When the world finally ceased spinning, Jack looked up despite his head’s protests.

“And so you see what the sickness does to us, Cloud-Breaker. You now see what the Frost does to us…” Jack’s head ached and blood pounded in his skull. Pressure built up against the ruby set in his forehead, yearning for a way to relieve the tension. In his bleary vision, the long, yellow face stared amusedly down at him. After a few seconds, Jack realized that he was holding out a paw for him to take. Pushing back his discomfort, his free hand reached up and grasped the Ampharos’s.

Thoughts pulsed in his head, all trying to take in the array of new information. Why was the Ampharos here? Had he followed him somehow? What is this Frost? What happened here?

“The Frost. The Frost… See how it changes us… Frey-tal… I had feared for you, my friend… Though it appears the sickness captured you as well…” Jack slowly realized that the older Pokémon was no longer talking to him. The healer walked away, towards the smoldering body of the headless Arcanine. Jack leaned against a wall in exhaustion, despite being enchanted by the Electric-type’s actions. The Ampharos knelt down next to the frozen, smoking carcass, placed his hands over its pockmarked chest, and whispered a few verses of what seemed like a prayer.

“Maybe you shall walk the blessed fields again. There be promise in eternity; the world will again be green and bright. If your heart be as pure as your deeds, then you shall go before me. Drink up the new world. Be born anew in its splendor. Treasure everything you see. Be you rested and hale. Take in the golden hue. Maybe, if the legends will it so, I will walk there too…”

The Ampharos rose and turned back to Jack. A withering glare pierced the chilling wind. “Come, Cloud-Breaker. There is much to be done and a debt of life you owe to me now. Night falls faster with Time’s fading heart, so rise and run! We shall take refuge among the houses of the dead and spill your tongue to me there, you will.” Jack swallowed the lump in his throat and his thoughts sunk. The strange-speaking healer gently opened a door. The Ampharos stopped in the doorway and spoke out the side of his mouth. “It is time you learned what your Kingdom has done to us…”

To Jack, the open door was more than a passage from outside to in. It was the culmination of everything that had transpired in the last two days. He had lost the world, yet had gained a purpose. He was no longer Jackson Golduck, of Gold Squad. He was Jack the Golduck, the Cloud-Breaker and indebted to the Ampharos. His thoughts were interrupted by said Pokemon’s sudden voice.

“Are you coming, Cloud-Breaker? Be swift on your feet! The Frostbitten do not wait long after dark to find the living. If you are to see the sun again, the night must be endured. Time snaps at our heels, so make haste!” The fervered shouts boomed in the quiet cold of Saltus Valley. Jack still couldn’t take it all in, even as the last echoes faded away into the night. It couldn’t be real. This wasn’t an operation anymore; it was a nightmare born from the snow. With the death of the last echo, a chorus of howls erupted from the mountains. Screams taken from the depths of Erebus chilled his bones worse than the ice.

Jack took a breath and stepped through the door.

End Chapter Two