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Candice's Christmas

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Snowpoint City was the premier place to celebrate Christmas in Sinnoh. A forest encompassed the city to the north and east while plateaus and more trees blocked the wind coming from the west. Mount Coronet could be seen on the south horizon past the shipping canal on a clear day. It was a winter wonderland once the sun set. Getting there was another story.

Any ferry leaving from the Pokémon League, Battle Frontier, Veilstone City, or Sunyshore City would cost a decent chunk of change; all came from the far east of the region. Flying on a Pokémon's back was preferable to anyone who had a partner willing to make the trip. Surfing was technically an option but not encouraged due to the drastic change in temperature.

The route available to Snowpoint's gym leader, Candice, was the hardest despite her being in Celestic Town, the closest town to the snowy city.

"Thank you both for meeting with me about the Snowpoint Temple despite Christmas being two days away. I wish the league would give us more time off for winter break," Candice said.

The elder of Celestic Town smiled. "My pleasure. I appreciate you stopping by my house and learning more about your city's past. Please take care of those ancient tablets from Snowpoint's settlers. The citizens will be interested to see them."

Cynthia, Sinnoh's champion, nodded in agreement. "My grandma can answer questions if anything new comes up. For being the youngest leader in Sinnoh at nineteen years old, you're off to a great start."

"Oh… thank you so much," Candice replied, trying not to blush from the praise. "The day after Christmas will mark one year since I took the job. I still have a lot to prove as an ice type specialist and as a leader in the community."

"Just take it one day at a time," Cynthia urged.

"I understand. That said, it's time I get going."

The elder escorted her out. "Are you comfortable walking back to Snowpoint alone? Cynthia would be happy to accompany you."

Candice put on her thick jacket and wool hat over her black hair. Her traditional brown skirt that she wore in her gym was replaced with a pair of waterproof nylon pants. Leggings designed for cold weather added another layer of warmth. Wool socks combined with waterproof boots kept her feet toasty. Insulated gloves covered her hands.

"I've lived in Snowpoint all my life, so I'm used to the surrounding area. I appreciate the offer, though."

"You have everything?" Cynthia asked.

"Way ahead of you!" Candice dug through her backpack to ease their minds. "Pokédex, maps, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, flashlight, and cell phone."

"What about your Pokémon?"

"All four are fully healed. The side pockets are stuffed with healing items."

Sinnoh's champion shrugged her shoulders. "Can't argue with that. Have a safe trip!"

The trek from Celestic to Snowpoint was twenty hours assuming a traveler took no breaks and didn't get lost. Candice hoped to arrive home just before sunset on Christmas Eve to lead the city in its annual Christmas ceremony. She got to Mount Coronet's base and sat down at the entrance to look over her map of the mountain. The sun was low in the sky.

"North, down some stairs, west to another set of stairs, continue north on the level below, up some stairs to the east, north for a bit then exit to the west," the gym leader mumbled. "Seems pretty simple."

Natural light filled a decent portion of the area Candice entered. She tried to go north only to be met with a large boulder blocking the way. The path continued to the first set of stairs after Candice looked through an opening.

"Abomasnow, I need your help!"

It was the Pokémon she had raised since childhood. She had lost count of how many times it had gotten her out of tight spots on and off the battlefield. The hybrid ice and grass type stood at 7'3" and clocked in at 300 pounds.

"Can you use Focus Blast to break this boulder?"

It fired a concentrated blast of energy to clear the path. Rumbling echoed through the area as the dust settled. Squeaking noises came from below the stairs and got louder as they descended.

"Get ready!" Abomasnow braved the assault from a group of angry yet weak Zubats. "Avalanche!"

A loud roar came before a tidal wave of snow engulfed over half of the small flying types. Zubats caught in the attack wouldn't regain consciousness anytime soon. Ones not in the mix quickly flew away. Avalanche was the cornerstone to their battling success as getting hit before using it resulted in double the damage.

"I didn't want to battle, but we didn't really have a choice. How are you feeling? Let me see," she said after pulling out her flashlight.

She saw minor wounds on Abomasnow's upper body. Pokémon used by challengers that were outmatched always put more of a dent in Abomasnow than wild ones around the area. Candice still didn't want to take any chances.

"Hold still while I spray this super potion." A quiet grunt from Abomasnow followed a hissing noise; any lingering pain was instantly gone. "Done!"

The two continued moving ahead on the underground path into a dense fog. Her flashlight offered little help and she resorted to keeping her left hand on the wall for guidance. Abomasnow stayed in front of its trainer ready to battle if necessary.

Noise from flapping wings in the distance became louder with each step they took. A flash of pink and blue out of the corner of Candice's right eye made her duck for cover. Her partner shielded her while trying to assess the situation.

Despite having better eyesight, Abomasnow couldn't make out what was lurking in the distance. Candice regained her composure to point the flashlight ahead. The maneuver did nothing for the gym leader but prevented a complete sneak attack from whatever was up ahead.

Abomasnow blindly swatting the area around it made Candice feel comfortable about walking again, albeit slower than normal. Anything attacking from above or in front of them was likely going to get hit first. One swing unintentionally connected with a soft object. A loud thud had Candice worried.

"Golbat?" she whispered while pointing the flashlight in the direction of the thud.

Her suspicion was correct. The pink underside of its wings contrasted with its unconscious blue body. Others had flown away from a rock arch they were previously sleeping on. Another one nearby let out a screech indicating a threat was in their territory.

"No! I don't want to fight! I'm just passing through," Candice pleaded.

Pokémon living in the wild were hit and miss when it came to understanding humans. One flew ahead of the pack claiming to be the leader. She called on another teammate to handle the situation.

"Froslass, I choose you!"

Evolved from a Snorunt found near Lake Acuity just to the west of Snowpoint, Froslass was the go-to partner for keeping things from getting out of hand. Its serious nature kept the rest of Candice's team in check during training. It was also a capable battler. Golbat stood no chance against the ghost and ice type yet didn't back down.

"Please tell them we're trying to get home. We're not looking for a fight," Candace calmly said.

Negotiations started off well before getting worse. Golbat wasn't happy about Abomasnow flailing its arms around or about blowing up the boulder from earlier. Apologizing didn't appear to have much of an effect. Tension escalated when poison needles were fired at the ground as a warning. The gym leader saw her partner's head tilt back.

"Don't do that!" Candice yelled. "Blizzard should be a last resort. Psychic should be enough to get the point across."

Its eyes turned completely neon blue to hold the flying and poison type in place. In a real battle, the move would easily knock it out. Froslass floated forward while effortlessly moving the leader out of the way with via psychic powers. Everyone got the message not to fight. A stern nod told Candice it was safe to pass through.

Rippling water normally heard on the other side of the corridor eventually stopped as they continued to go deeper. Air temperature drastically decreased to the point where Candice worried about getting frostbite on her face. The trio stopped when she turned the flashlight at the body of water.

"It's completely frozen. But how? That's not natural," she noted in disbelief while climbing down a small ledge.

Mount Coronet had pools of water varying in size throughout each level. Even the smaller ones that froze weren't safe enough to walk on.

No ice types lived in the cave and even if they did, deep freezing the largest body of water by depth and surface area in the mountain would take a bit of effort. Waterfalls near the summit had a strong flow. Abomasnow had no problem going further out to test the ice's durability. Froslass stayed behind to glare into the darkness.

"Something wrong?"

Her question was met with a sound akin to a large flag rippling in strong winds. Snowflakes could be seen falling into her line of sight shortly after. The gym leader dropped her backpack then dug through it hoping to get answers.

"Pokédex, don't fail me now."

Unfortunately, the machine didn't register anything. Candice thought it couldn't scan what it couldn't see or maybe she thought she was too far away. Regardless, she tried again. Something started to come in but humming from Froslass got her attention. At the same time, Abomasnow rushed back to shore anticipating a strong opponent.

It yelled into the darkness for a bit followed by something murmuring back. The conversation turned calm until the rippling noise picked up and went away from them. Candice swore a blue ribbon flashed in her line of sight.

"Everybody okay? Let's get out of here."

The group continued through the fog until reaching the end of the lower level. Upstairs had no fog and moonlight filtered in from outside. She let out a tiny squeal of excitement when looking at the snowy landscape under a full moon at midnight. Candice recalled both Pokémon to give them some rest.

Route 216 was more familiar to the Snowpoint native. League officials had built five sets of stairs over the course of half a mile to help trainers navigate the consistently snowy terrain coming down from Mount Coronet. A small cabin at the far west of the route dubbed the Snowbound Lodge was also owned by the league. The place had at least two employees on duty.

"Good to see you Candice! Did you find any answers in Celestic Town?" a middle-aged woman asked.

"Hard to believe, but yes. I'd like to think of it as a present for the whole city. How are things here?"

A younger man poured her a cup of hot chocolate. "Quiet for the most part. All five beds are empty."

Snowbound Lodge was meant to be a temporary rest stop more than anything. It had basic amenities although adding beds was suggested by Candice four months into her tenure. She wanted trainers as rested as possible before moving on. Route 217 north to Snowpoint was arguably the most miserable and dangerous route to travel in Sinnoh. It was common for the average traveler to return to the Snowbound Lodge for assistance.

"Sounds good. I need to feed my team first." All four Pokémon came out once she set up the food bowls.

Abomasnow carefully sat on the wooden floor so it wouldn't bump into anyone. Froslass couldn't wait to eat and scarfed down dinner before falling asleep; stress from the earlier incident had caught up to it.

Sneasel, the third Pokémon, was the toughest wild Pokémon Candice caught while training on route 217. One could easily miss it standing at just under three feet, but its bluish black body with amber markings and red tail feathers stood out among the snow. Sneasels in the wild were vicious, sneaky predators yet Candice had suppressed the need for that behavior.

Piloswine was easygoing outside of combat. Brown fur covered its entire body including both eyes. It didn't have a problem using smell over sight to check its surroundings while two small tusks by its nose could put a dent in anything. The ability to keep its balance on snow and ice made it perfect for Candice's gym.

"Get some rest after you're done. I'm going to need everyone's help tomorrow. We're almost home." They nodded in agreement.

Both employees left Candice alone while she mapped out the best path and potential rest points until 1:30 in the morning. Pokémon went back to their balls and the gym leader waved over to the employees before going to bed.

"Merry Christmas."

Leaving at the crack of dawn gave Candice eleven hours of daylight to work with. More than enough time on paper, but it never felt that way when walking on route 217. Unpredictable blizzards in the mostly open area made it easy to lose one's sense of direction. Cutting through the forest lining the west side was dangerous because of the Pokémon lurking within.

The route started with a few trees plus a shallow layer of snow. Gusts upwards of thirty miles per hour provided the misery since it wasn't snowing. Candice's clothing held up well against the elements provided she kept moving. Digging through her backpack for lunch caused some frustration. A loud yawn escaped after she was done.

Roughly halfway through the route, conditions drastically changed. Snow on the ground went from ankle deep to knee deep; walking took significantly more effort. Dark clouds were on the horizon as the wind picked up. There was a private cabin in the distance on her left, but there was no guarantee someone was home. Candice pushed on until 2:30 where she stopped under a lone tree on her right.

"Everyone, I need some help!" They came out feeling refreshed. "Can you please clear out a small area?"

Her team effortlessly created a large space featuring frozen dirt instead of packed snow. They also held the tent up until the last stake was jammed into the ground.

"There's a blizzard coming plus I need to rest. As much as I want you to enjoy it, now's not the time. Return." The red beam brought each Pokémon back to their ball.

Her plan was to rest for an hour before getting back on track. According to a rough estimate based on the map, she completed eighty percent of the route to the lakefront. A long sigh came out when she used her phone to set an alarm.

"No service. Fantastic," she sarcastically noted. "Not like anyone has called me since I left."

The nap didn't make Candice feel as rested as she had hoped. Strong winds plus the idea of not making it home on time contributed to her not having a proper sleep cycle. Three inches of snow had fallen outside since she entered the tent and showed no signs of letting up.

Continuing north to the lakefront then east into the city on her planned route was going to take longer than usual. She figured her fatigue would get worse because of the blizzard; setting up camp for a second time was a strong possibility.

Going through the forest to the northwest could get her to the city limits by sunset provided she kept a fast pace. Candice thought about the possibility of running into territorial Pokémon but trusted her skills and teammates to power through. She quickly packed everything up knowing daylight was fading.

Sinnoh's famous Ice Rock was outside the unofficial entrance. It got the gym leader fantasizing about evolving an Eevee into Glaceon for battling someday. Just having one as a pet would be good enough.

When she got tired of daydreaming, Candice realized the forest was easier to maneuver through. Snow only went up to her ankles and trees significantly weakened the blizzard. The crunching noise from every step was too loud for her liking.

"Sneasel, time to shine," she whispered. It came out ready for battle. "Keep an eye out for anything suspicious. I got your back."

The two didn't get far before hearing a distinct pitter-patter sound on some branches ahead. Sneasel's ears twitched then it jumped back. A wild Sneasel dove from a tree hoping for a sneak attack; its claw got stuck in the ground. Another one came from the side to land a successful headbutt. Candice's Pokémon immediately got up only to get rammed by a third one.

Recalling her battle with Sneasel some months ago, Candice knew there would be some toying before the trio got vicious. Being passive wasn't going to work.

"My Sneasel is stronger than all three of you combined! Slash!" she confidently said.

Both of her partner's arms glowed as it rushed ahead. The trio was surprised how quickly one of their brethren wanted to attack. Despite the tempo change, they were fast enough to retaliate. A triangle was formed when they all backed up into what little open space was around. Candice's Sneasel charged ahead but diverted its attack to one coming from the left.

The hit landed cleanly at the cost of the remaining Sneasel on the right getting a shot in. Metal Claw was used by the intended target for a super effective hit. The one that delivered the cheap shot ended up following up with its own Metal Claw. Candice's teammate was knocked out shortly after.

Adrenaline and panic replaced her fatigue in a heartbeat. "Return! Froslass, I choose you!"

Despite going against a dark type, Candice had a trick to wear them all down at once. The tactic was her backup victory plan if Abomasnow lost in a gym match.

"Double Team!"

Froslass made a dozen copies of itself then reached out to embrace the blizzard. Its ability, Snow Cloak, activated and it nearly turned invisible. Unfortunately, the Sneasel trio ran ahead and used Faint Attack at the same time. The dark type attack allowed them to bypass any trickery and was guaranteed to hit no matter what. To make matters worse, each hit was super effective.

One managed a swipe at the gym leader only to cut her backpack's bulging side pocket. While stepping back, she rolled her ankle on the uneven surface. Various healing items either fell out or the bottles were cut in two. Froslass struggling to stand drew attention away from Candice. The second round of pummeling resulted in a knockout.

"Return! Go Piloswine!" she cried out in desperation. "Stone Edge!"

It yelled as glowing stones appeared out of thin air. The attack wasn't as accurate in an official battle but with three targets, the Sneasel who got hit earlier fainted after getting hit. Enraged, the remaining two jumped in and hacked away with Metal Claw.

"Stone Edge again!"

Piloswine tried attacking again but couldn't focus on making the stones. It went down in a heap yet both Sneasels didn't stop.

"Come back! Go Abomasnow!" Her oldest Pokémon was beyond furious; neither Sneasel was intimidated. "Wood Hammer!"

Abomasnow roared as its right arm went from green to neon blue. Both Sneasels recklessly rushed in with Metal Claw again only to not land the blow. Candice's Pokémon treated the two like baseballs and sent them both flying with one swing. It hunched over from the recoil damage once they were out of sight.

"Are you alright!?" she yelled trying to fight back tears. An uncut super potion bottle restored most of her remaining Pokémon's strength. "I'm sorry! I should've swallowed my pride and used everybody at once!"

Candice dug her face into Abomasnow then wailed. They embraced each other until she went to clean the sharp pieces of plastic scattered about. Nothing in her remaining healing pouch would make the other three conscious enough to battle.

Between her bum ankle and the distance left to go, the sun would be down by the time she got home. She put her Pokédex and phone in her coat pocket in case it picked something up and the flashlight in the other. Grabbing a fistful of Abomasnow's side was the only way she could keep her balance.

The blizzard worsened as they trudged through the dense forest. Candice's fatigue amplified, and she struggled to stay upright. Her teammate's physical appearance alone kept most wild Pokémon away. Anyone looking to pick a fight was shown a glowing arm as a warning. Sunset had come and gone with no signs of civilization or cell phone service. Candice was running on fumes.

Every step was heavy, keeping her eyes open was exhausting, her limping and overall posture had gotten worse, and her face had moderate frostbite. Her sense of direction and time no longer worked. Abomasnow looked up to the sky when it sensed something trying to take advantage of their predicament.

"Wha-? What's that?" Candice asked in a daze.

Despite the clouds covering the moon, a sparkling object was oddly low in the sky. Neither of them comprehended the figure, but Abomasnow felt a strong urge to follow it. Doing so got them back to Snowpoint at 12:01 on Christmas morning.

As expected, the city was quiet. Only the Pokémon Center had its lights on which made it easy to find. The warmth of the lobby made Candice slump to the ground in relief.

"I need a stretcher! Now!" Nurse Joy yelled into a phone. She rushed over to the gym leader. "Candice! Candice! Say something!"

"Bed," Candice mumbled.

Nurse Joy treated Candice then stayed in the room to observe. She woke up four hours later to explain what happened but couldn't remember anything after the sun went down. Tears started streaking down her face.

"I missed the ceremony, she sniveled. "I ran out on my responsibilities and I put my Pokémon's lives in danger. I'm a terrible leader!" A comforting hand was gently placed on her shoulder.

"Nobody is mad at you," Nurse Joy whispered with a smile. "When word got out you left for Celestic Town, everyone supported your decision."

Candice blushed. "That was supposed to be a surprise."

"Don't worry about it. You and your Pokémon are better now which is all I care about. Would you like me to drive you back to the gym? Your bedroom is warm in there, right?" Candice recalled Abomasnow.

"Yes."

"I'll warm up the rescue vehicle. By the way, your Pokédex light is blinking."

Before Candice left, she saw two notifications about a new entry. They were the same entry with the same description:

Articuno, the Freeze Pokémon. It likes to visit cold places around the world despite being native to Kanto. The air around it can get so cold, everything can become encased in ice. Each flap of its wings can produce snow. It is said to appear before doomed people who are lost in snowy areas and leading them to safety.

"No… that's impossible. Twice?" she said in shock.

The ride over had her crying tears of joy; a box of Christmas cards from residents aged one to ninety-two was given to her. After they parted ways, Candice saw something on the gym's doorstep.

A large blue feather.