Yo!

This is going to be the last chapter for a few weeks, since I'm going to be going on vacation this sunday! I'll be gone a week, and then I'm going to take some extra time off just to enjoy playing FF7 Rebirth. More on scheduling and stuff at the end of the chapter!


Chapter 16


Okay. It was official.

Fourteen-year-old Bianca had really romanticized hiking through the wilderness.

That, or she'd had thrice as much energy back then as she did now.

"I'm tired…" Bianca moaned out under her breath, and Cynthia, who was somehow doing an awful lot better than her at what had to be at least the age of forty, chuckled.

"Well, we're almost across the bridge," Cynthia stated as she gestured in front of them where, sure enough, only a half a kilometer or so of walking remained until they'd be at Driftveil proper. "We can take a break once we're there."

"That would be nice." She bemoaned, and Cynthia only seemed to grow more amused.

"So, about you being so excited to go walking around the region again…"

"I told you; I got used to riding in a plane, alright!" Bianca harrumphed, which only egged Cynthia on further.

She teased her for the remaining twenty or so minutes until they hit Driftveil, and then didn't really stop even when the two of them checked into a hotel and took turns showering and preparing for the remainder of their journey. The word 'remainder' was really pulling an awful lot of weight there, given that they'd done maybe ten percent of the journey thus far, and it had already been a full two days.

Then again, that was about the pace that Cynthia had set for them, if not a little ahead, so perhaps they were actually doing decently well, all things considered.

That didn't change Bianca feeling like she was slowing them down, of course. But then, there wasn't really much she could do about that.

"How about we get something to eat?" Cynthia offered, and Bianca frowned.

"Shouldn't we keep moving? We wanted to get to Opelucid in just a few weeks."

"Bianca, honey, we can't exactly force ourselves to travel all day every day 24/7 until we get there. Sure, it would only take a week or so if we did that, but then, we'd also be dead by the time we actually arrived. Your body needs fuel if it's going to travel as far as we're planning on travelling, and that means food and water."

Bianca grumbled, but couldn't really argue that point.

She was right, of course. Cynthia was rarely not right.

"Fine."

"Good." Cynthia smiled. "We can go for sandwiches."

That… actually sounded nice.

/

They went for sandwiches, and Bianca happened to hear about an event that was being hosted in Driftveil that very day.

A bullet contest.

It wasn't something she'd ever heard of before, but apparently, it was a Pokémon contest that happened over the course of just a few short hours. It was said to be a fairly popular format, seeing as how the audience in attendance only had to show up – and more importantly pay – once in order to see both the performances and the verdicts at the end of the show.

And Bianca… well, she was admittedly interested, so she decided to see if Cynthia didn't mind her entering.

"Oh?" She cocked an eyebrow. "I thought you didn't want to 'waste time'?"

"Er… well…"

"I'm kidding, Bianca." Cynthia shook her head amusedly. "Yes. I agree. It sounds like fun. Go ahead and register, I'll don a disguise and join the audience."

And that was how Bianca ended up in her third Pokémon contest in just over a month.

It went well.

It was all a bit of a blur for Bianca, really. It felt like one moment she was preparing to go onstage for the first time that day, and the next, she was up on the winner's podium, accepting the first-place trophy, and yet another ribbon – which she'd probably have to find a case for at this point, given she now had two.

"You did excellently!" Cynthia greeted her with a hug as she exited out of the Contest Hall's changing rooms.

"Hehe…" She laughed a bit nervously, her chest burning with a tad bit of pride in herself. "I guess I did?"

"What do you mean 'you guess'? You won; of course you did excellently."

"Sorry…" Bianca murmured awkwardly. "I guess I just… I'm not used to winning at something so much." She admitted. "It's weird. I've only placed in second and first in every contest I've competed in."

Cynthia chuckled. "You seem to have quite the knack for it."

Bianca laughed, and the pride was hard to keep out this time. "I suppose I do?"

"Stop…" Cynthia sighed. "Never mind. I'm starting to gather that you ending your statements with questions is just a thing I'm going to have to get used to."

"I'm sorry?"

"Please, mercy."

Bianca laughed.

/

They made their way out of Driftveil the following morning, and hiked all the way to the entrance to Twist Mountain. Bianca had first explored this place in her youth during the winter, when the entire place had filled to the brim with snow, and she'd never come again.

She'd been by the entrances – both of them – several times during work for Professor Juniper, but in truth, she'd not thought much about the mountain itself during those times.

The route they took through it was unfamiliar, and, admittedly, they got lost.

"You're sure this is the way?" Bianca asked Cynthia for what must've been the tenth time.

"At this point; no, I am no longer sure this is the way." Cynthia admitted, "But then, we don't really have that many options, so we might as well just pick a route and hope for the best."

"That doesn't really seem like the best idea…"

"Eh."

"What do you mean 'eh'?"

Cynthia shrugged. "It's not like we're in danger. Twist Mountain is a relatively populated place, given it's a hub for mining. We could probably ask some of the workers near the base for the path if we need to."

Bianca conceded that particular point to Cynthia, given she wasn't wrong.

That didn't make her feel all that much better, of course, but she also couldn't argue against what she was saying, either.

As they made their way deeper into Twist Mountain, Bianca came to the conclusion that things were probably going to work out alright.

This was her mistake, really. She'd gotten comfortable. Complacent.

Then the wall beside her cracked open.

Cynthia was faster than her, somehow, and pushed her backwards. She stumbled, before falling back on her butt, and looking up at the massive rockfall in front of her.

And saw that Cynthia wasn't there.

"C-Cynthia!" She called out, before cursing herself for calling out her rather famous mentor's name. "E-Er, I–"

"I'm fine!" She heard, but it was terribly quiet, muted by the rocks that had fallen between them. "Seems like a cave-in caused by a burrowing Pokémon. Perhaps a Steelix or Excadrill. How are you, are you hurt!?"

"No, I'm fine!" She called back, checking behind her and confirming that the path behind her hadn't closed. She still had a way back out into the open air. "What about you, though?"

"I'll be fine." Cynthia called back. "I'm resourceful. I've been in far worse situations than this one."

Bianca wasn't really sure how that was the case, given that she was a businesswoman, and not an adventurer or something, but she'd concede that Cynthia was, in general, a very capable person.

She had faith in her.

"A-Alright… what do you think I should–"

There was a terrible tremor, then, and Bianca nearly fell on her butt yet again. Still, she was far too awash with worry to focus on anything but Cynthia's safety.

"A-Are you okay!?"

Cynthia didn't respond.

Bianca's eyes widened, even as she ran up to the rockfall that separated the two of them, and yelled the woman's name again.

Again, there was no response.

She felt her nerves kicking into overdrive, her anxieties all overwhelming her at once.

She could barely process what was going on. They'd been fine. Completely fine. Walking through a well-lit cavern and joking around.

And now Cynthia was in danger. Real, palpable danger.

She had to get help. She had to.

She ran back out of the cavern and into the open air with her breaths coming unevenly. As she emerged, she found that all around her were sheer edges lined with fences that prevented anyone from falling. She ran over to one of them, and looked down.

Sure enough, at the bottom of the canyon was a team of workers.

"H-Hey!" She shouted as loud as she could, and one or two of them looked up at her, seemingly surprised to see her. "T-There was a cave-in! Someone's in trouble!"

None of them seemed to be able to clearly hear her. It was likely they'd simply heard noise, and turned to look. She swore beneath her breath – which showed how desperate the situation really was, because she wasn't at all the type – before looking for the closest way she could make her way down.

Lo and behold, she spotted a rather rickety looking ladder that led down to a level some two stories beneath her. Bianca swallowed down her nerves, and then, with a bravery she most certainly wouldn't have possessed in any other scenario, vaulted the railing closest to the ladder, and latched on.

It held – which was good, Bianca probably would've died otherwise, and wow, when she thought about that, she realized she really should've done any preliminary testing of the ladder before she'd put all her weight on it – and she made her descent. She could hear the workers all shouting things at her – likely something along the lines of "What in the hell are you doing, girl!?"

Still, she'd descended far enough that she felt she could accurately communicate with the workers below.

"There was a cave-in!" She shouted again, and this time, she could see a few of the men startle at that. "Someone was trapped within!"

That, at least, was heard. Several of the men began talking with each other rather animatedly, before another reached out, and grabbed a power-tool, one which seemed to be used for this sort of thing. Another reached for his belt, and sent out an Excadrill of his own.

Cynthia had theorized that the cave-in could've been caused by an Excadrill, or Steelix, or some other burrowing Pokémon, but in truth, Bianca knew very little about such things.

It was only then, far later than she should've, that Bianca realized what the earlier rumbling following the cave-in could've been.

If that Pokémon had burrowed out, caused that cave-in and – even if it was a horrible unlikely occurrence – been aggressive…

Cynthia could've been in very real danger.

A lot of Pokémon couldn't truly threaten humans, and most Pokémon didn't have the temperament for it, either. But some did. Some more territorial Pokémon had hurt, and even killed people in the past.

It was something Bianca dreaded to think about in that moment, even as she shouted down at the workers below that the situation might've been a whole lot more serious than she'd thought.

"I-I think a Pokémon might've done it!" She shouted. "The person trapped with it wasn't a Pokémon trainer! She can't defend herself!"

That had the men kicking into high gear. She heard one or two swear audibly – and far more severely than Bianca had – as they ran into some of the nearby caverns, which likely led to the higher areas. One seemed to be pointing towards somewhere on the mountain, and Bianca realized he was trying to get her to give him a cave in question.

Bianca pointed to the cave she and Cynthia had gone into, and the man nodded, before reaching down towards a walkie-talkie and saying something into it.

Bianca's nerves were completely shot, even as the men beneath her scrambled into action. She was as tense as she'd ever been, practically wound up like a spring. She could feel herself beginning to hyperventilate, could see her vision swimming, could tell she was soon going to have a panic attack, and she could feel as pathetic as she wanted about that, but in that moment, Cynthia was the one truly in danger.

She couldn't… she couldn't break here. She had to help her, had to be able to aid her.

If Cynthia was in trouble, then Bianca had to save her, like Cynthia had saved Bianca.

And it was as she thought that, as she doing her best to fight off a panic attack, that she heard someone shout down at her.

"Bianca!"

Instantly, the film over her vision cleared – albiet she initially assumed she was simply hearing things – and she peered up to see…

Cynthia, right as rain, standing about 10 meters away on a platform a story above her.

To say Bianca felt relieved was an understatement.

She collapsed to her knees almost immediately – the worry that had been coursing through her suddenly finding an outlet. A horrid breath of relief and a thousand other things poured out of her, and she realized with some embarrassment that tears were coming to her eyes.

She felt silly. Like she'd made a big deal out of nothing.

It ended up taking fifteen or so minutes for Cynthia to make it to her. She'd been guided through by some of the workers to Bianca's side, and she'd wasted no time in explaining what happened to both Bianca and them.

"A Steelix burrowed its way through the wall, separating the two of us."

One of the men whistled. "Damn. Steelix can be pretty aggressive if they think you're infringing on their territory. Was it?"

"It wasn't particularly pleased with me, no. It attempted to attack me, but luckily, I was able to avoid it. I ran out of the general area, and it didn't seem to see fit to give chase. Like you said, I imagine I had invaded its perceived territory."

"Huh." Another of the men had an odd look on his face. "…I feel like I know you, what did you say your name was?"

"I'm Daphne." Cynthia lied. "And I don't believe we've met before?"

"Ah, I'm probably just seein' things," The man laughed the experience off. "Alright, well, glad to reunite the two of you, and glad no one got hurt; cave-ins are always serious, and Pokémon-caused ones more so. If you'd like we could escort you two ladies to the other side, or just give you the route, if you want?"

"The route would be fine, I think." Cynthia stated. "Bianca here has Pokémon that can protect the two of us. It was only that we were separated that caused the issue in the first place."

The man nodded. "Well, have a good one, ladies. Safe travels."

The group of miners headed back deeper into Twist Mountain, getting back to work on their tasks. One man – the trainer who'd released the Excadrill earlier – stayed behind to remove the cave-in, and Bianca and Cynthia began down the alternate route that had been provided by the head miner.

Bianca immediately set about making sure Cynthia was really alright.

"You seriously weren't hurt?"

"I wasn't."

"I just… I heard the ground shake, and knowing a Steelix had you, and–"

"Bianca," Cynthia smiled down at her both reassuringly and somewhat amusedly. "I'm fine. Really."

"Okay… I just…" She sighed. "Okay."

"I'm sorry I worried you, really."

"Everything just happened so fast, and I… twenty-five minutes ago, everything was fine, and then I was panicking like the world was going to end, and then here we are again, back on our journey like everything's normal!"

Cynthia chuckled. "It is a tad disconcerting, I understand. If you'd like, how about we stop here, and we can eat some of the sandwiches that we procured for lunch?"

That was what they did. They found a good spot, set a blanket down out of the walkway of the path, and then ate. Bianca wasn't surprised that she felt a lot better once she'd eaten, because in all her life, she didn't think she'd ever felt bad, eaten, and then felt worse, but still…

"You're really alright?"

"Bianca." Cynthia glared playfully at her. "How many more times are you going to ask that?"

Bianca wasn't really sure. Probably a few more.

It was just… she wasn't really sure why this was affecting her so much. Maybe it was because Cynthia was such an unflappable figure to her, so invincible, that seeing her in danger, even if nothing had come of it, had been shocking.

Cynthia wasn't invincible. She was just a person. Like Bianca, or Wallace, or Burgh, or Elesa. A person with wants, and desires, and weaknesses.

And she was perfectly mortal. Perfectly able to be taken away from Bianca at any time.

Just like Emboar had been.

"L-Let's talk about something else," She decided, and Cynthia seemed satisfied enough to humor her. "Do you want to do anything while we're in Icirrus?"

"Not in particular." Cynthia admitted. "Though their marshes are fairly infamous, so I suppose I'd like to avoid those. Even my crappy, travel-style pants I don't particularly want getting covered in dirt and mud."

Bianca nodded her head, albeit hesitantly. "I… don't know how possible that will be, given I'm pretty sure the marshes are the only real route we can take to make it to the bridge, and then through to Opelucid."

Cynthia sighed. "Yes, you're probably right, but that doesn't mean I have to accept such now."

Bianca giggled, more than willing to allow herself to be eased into a calm, simple conversation.

There was some part of her, small though it might have been, that couldn't help calling out to the rest of her that she should've been bringing up her feelings on losing Cynthia – or perhaps losing people in general – to Cynthia herself. She should've tried to talk her issues out, and grow as a person.

She didn't. Instead, she allowed herself to be carried away by the quiet lull of conversation, until they had finished eating, and resolved to carry on towards Icirrus.

And though she knew it was wrong, she did not let such things bother her for long.

For there were certain things she did not want others to know.

This was one of them.

/

Earlier, just after the cave-in within Twist Mountain

Seems it's a Steelix after all.

That was the first thing that ran through Cynthia's mind as she threw herself forward, narrowly avoiding the wall to her right practically exploding open, and a massive creature made of rock and steel emerging from out of it.

She'd already confirmed that Bianca was okay, and exchanged a few words – albeit very briefly – to let her know that she was as well. The problem, really, was the now rather angry-looking creature looking down at her, which seemed to be quite territorial about where she was currently standing.

"I don't suppose you'll go away quietly?" She asked it. "I have no intention of sticking around, if that's what you're worried ab–"

In that instant, the Steelix lunged towards her, and Cynthia swore under her breath as she tapped into instincts that she hadn't had to use in months to dodge backwards, narrowly avoid being squashed like a bug.

Steelix hit the ground and caused the entire cave to seem to shake. Cynthia's inner ear rattled, and she found herself getting somewhat dizzy, even as she shook her head, tuning out Bianca calling out to her.

She couldn't answer. Not now. She had more important things to worry about.

Like not dying.

It was in that moment, however, that a thought came to her, and it was that that caused Cynthia to retreat just a bit further, some twenty or so feet. She gazed down the cavern, and saw the rockfall that had separated her and Bianca to be about thirty feet back.

Far enough, in Cynthia's eyes.

The Steelix approached her, even after she'd left its initial path. That wasn't unusual. Pokémon could – and often did – get into petty territorial disputes with one another, and it wasn't uncommon for said fights to be to the death. Pokémon were often treated as beloved partners, but those who grew and lived exclusively in a natural environment, without a trainer or a Pokéball to calm them…

Well, they were just animals, in Cynthia's eyes at least.

"Y'know, maybe you being here is a blessing in disguise, big guy." Cynthia couldn't help the broad smile that came into being upon her lips, even as she reached back into her travel bag, and unzipped a compartment near the bottom. "I've been going a bit stir crazy having to constantly pretend be a businesswoman instead of who I really am… and I think you've just given me the chance to cut loose a little."

The Steelix did not hear her – that or it didn't care what she had to say. Pokémon professors the world over had often postulated whether or not wild Pokémon were capable of understanding human language, and the general consensus was… well, that there was no consensus.

Cynthia didn't particularly care in that moment, however.

She plucked from out of her bag a Pokéball, and pressed the button in the center, causing it to expand in her hand.

The weight, and the feel of it…

It felt good.

She'd missed this.

"So as thanks for this opportunity…" Her smile took on an almost feral edge. "Allow the two of us to give you the battle you seem to so desperately be seeking."

The Steelix roared at her, and it caused her ears to ring.

Somehow, though, her blood only boiled.

"Let's go…" She spoke for the first time in nearly half a year, and her smile turned almost feral.

"Garchomp."


End Chapter 16


Alright! Bit of a filler chapter but I wanted to get some of Bianca's thoughts and feelings on Cynthia, and really, people she's close to in general, out into the open with this chapter. Not much else to say.

Next chapter will be in three weeks, not this week, not next week, but the week after. Next weekend I'm still going to be away, and then I'm going to relax and enjoy playing some of the games I've been trying recently.

Of course, I may decide to update this story in two weeks time anyways, because I often ignore my own scheduling, but expect it to be three weeks, and then be pleasantly surprised if its not.

Not much else to say, hope you guys have a good one!