Yo!

Second chapter of this, and it's actually out in time!

I'm actually already working on Chapter 5 of this story myself. Though we'll see if I'll be slowing down my release schedule given I have new classes starting next week and also might be starting a job depending on how my interview goes today. Wish me luck?


Chapter 2


Cynthia had a private jet.

Bianca wasn't really sure what to think about the fact that she was riding in said private jet.

It was about as far from what she'd pictured her journey would be like as possible.

Roughing it alone in the wilderness with no one but her Pokémon alongside her, occasionally running into her fellow trainers – Hilda and Cheren mostly, but she did run into N from time to time – for battles that she almost exclusively lost. She'd pictured similar things from this journey.

Landing in a scenic, waterfront town inside of a private jet that was, assumedly, owned by a rich millionaire was really, really not how she'd thought she'd be getting around.

Yet that was her reality, somehow.

She disembarked from the gold and black jet – which was a bit gaudy, in Bianca's opinion, but she wasn't going to say that when her benefactor Cynthia had so kindly done all of this just for her sake – and immediately took in the sights around them.

The city they were in was situated inside of a massive indentation. It seemed to be either a crater, or the caldera of a long-since dead volcano. Either way, it had Bianca's jaw on the floor, and that was before she saw the white marble buildings, and the pathways that ran through the entire city, and the people running up and down and everywhere.

It was idyllic, in a word.

"Welcome to Sootopolis!" Cynthia called to her as she herself stepped out of her private jet, saying a few quiet words to the pilot before stepping down on terra firma. "Gosh, I haven't been here in a while. It certainly hasn't changed much."

"W-Wait, Sootopolis!?" Bianca rounded on her benefactor. "I-Isn't Sootopolis in Hoenn!?"

"Yes, indeed it is."

"What are we doing in Hoenn!?"

"Why, we're here for you to challenge the gym leader." Cynthia stated, in a voice that left no room for arguments. Or, well, maybe it did, but Bianca was definitely not the type to provide any. "I'll need to get a cursory idea as to what you're currently capable of, skill-wise, if I'm to work with you. And I figured what better way to do that than by having you battle against a gym leader I'm quite familiar with?"

Bianca's brow furrowed, and she mentally ran through her knowledge of other regions gym leaders. She wasn't too terribly familiar with them, in all honesty, mostly because such hadn't had much to do with her career as a Pokémon researcher, and also because when she'd been doing research on such things, she'd been fourteen.

It had been a while, given she was twenty-eight now.

"Okay." Bianca surrendered, seeing no real reason to go against Cynthia's idea. "So, uhm… where is the gym?"

"Well, we're not going there right away." Cynthia stated. "I need to dress in something a bit more appropriate for the heat. And more importantly, I need to stand out a bit less."

"Are you easily recognizable?"

Cynthia looked at her with a raised eyebrow, then, and though Bianca didn't quite get what that was about, eventually, the woman just shook her head with a wry sort of smile upon her lips.

"Something like that." Cynthia commented after a while. "We'll be heading to a condo owned by a friend of mine first and foremost, changing into something more sensible, and then heading out."

Bianca nodded, and with that, they were off.

They didn't have to travel very far before they arrived at the condo that Cynthia had been speaking of. It was, as Bianca had assumed, quite the high-class establishment; clearly outside of Bianca's price range if a room were to be available to rent.

Cynthia, however, strolled right in like she owned the place – which honestly wouldn't have surprised Bianca much. She made her way to the stairwell, gestured for Bianca to follow, and climbed a flight by the time Bianca had made her way to her.

She wanted to call out for Cynthia to slow down, but, well… she didn't want to be rude. So instead, she trudged along behind her, panting lightly as she climbed the three or four flights of stairs until they arrived on the 3rd floor. Cynthia unlocked a door, and they stepped inside to…

Yep, Cynthia – or her friend, in this case – was filthy rich.

To say it was a nice place felt like Bianca was underselling it somewhat. It was something that she would've seen in one of those 'houses of the rich and famous' programs they sometimes aired whenever it wasn't championship season, and news networks needed to fill airtime. The floor was covered with pale brown wood which shone in the sunlight streaming through a wide window that stretched across the entire backwall of the condo. It also doubled as a set of doors that led out to a balcony, complete with seating and an honest to gods firepit.

Bianca had a feeling she was a bit out of her league, here.

"Uhm…" She started, but she quickly realized that Cynthia herself wasn't actually… here. "C-Cynthia?"

She hadn't left, to be certain; Bianca would've noticed if she'd snuck by her and trotted out the door. But even still, she'd wandered off into one of the many adjourning side rooms. Bianca wanted to go and look for her, but that meant she'd have been intruding in someone else's space, and she didn't want to be–

"Oh, here you are!" Cynthia suddenly called out from off to Bianca's left, and when she turned to see her, she was already dressed in an entirely different outfit.

But it's only been thirty seconds, at most! Bianca felt her mind try and deal with this confounding information.

"You can come and change into one of Phoebe's outfits if you wanted; I'm sure she wouldn't mind!"

Bianca looked down at the one that Cynthia herself was wearing. It was a much more fitting outfit for the seemingly endless sunlight of Sootopolis City. A white sleeveless top that still had a collar built into it, but seemed to be composed of much more breathable material, and a comfortable-looking yellow skirt, which went all the way down to her shins. She'd also slipped into some sandals, donned a pair of sunglasses which hid her eyes, and tied her long blonde hair up into a ponytail.

All in all, she looked both disguised and fabulous. Bianca was a bit jealous, in all honesty.

"Bianca?" Cynthia spoke, and Bianca realized she'd been staring at Cynthia's outfit for well over five seconds, which was a rather uncomfortable length of time. "Are you okay? Did you hear what I said?"

"O-Oh, right, uhm, I'm okay with what I'm wearing!" She said, holding both her hands up in an attempt to placate Cynthia.

"Really? You're wearing a hoodie with sweatpants. That can't be comfortable in this weather."

"It's fine, really."

Cynthia frowned, staring right into Bianca's eyes a moment. Bianca herself couldn't hold the gaze, and looked away barely a second later. Neither of them said a word, but eventually, Cynthia let out a little sigh, before nodding her head.

"Well, if you're sure." Cynthia conceded. "We can go ahead and make out way to the gym now. I should fly under the radar in this."

Bianca nodded. "You look like an entirely different person, really."

"I hope you mean that in a good way?"

Bianca went red. "O-Of course, I–"

Cynthia chuckled. "I'm just teasing you, Bianca."

Bianca looked away, still feeling some shame roiling in her gut as they made their way out of the condo – Bianca was going to be thinking about those five or so minutes spent in opulent luxury for the rest of her life – and back into Sootopolis proper.

The city still took some getting used to for Bianca. For one, the sun was right in their faces the entire time, and despite the fact that she'd told Cynthia she was fine… well, she was hot. Very hot. To the point that she tried to subtly inquire about getting some flavored shaved ice from a nearby stand. Cynthia read her like a book, and pulled the both of them over, sliding her rather sleek card in to pay for both of their snacks.

"I can pay for mine!" Bianca felt the need to say.

"Nonsense." Cynthia shook her head. "I dragged you all the way out here. The least I can do is pay for you. And besides, it's not really my money."

Bianca wasn't really sure what to make of that, so she spooned a bit of shaved ice into her mouth – it was blue razz berry, one of her favorites – and used that as an excuse to remain quiet for the rest of their trip inland, and further into the crater – or caldera – of Sootopolis.

It took them a good fifteen minutes to walk from the main streets of Sootopolis down to one of the boats that would take them out to the Sootopolis Gym. Technically, if they'd had a water typed Pokémon, they likely could've surfed their way there, but Bianca didn't, and Cynthia, to her knowledge, wasn't actually a trainer.

About five minutes later, they were exiting out of the dinghy and making their way onto the central island of Sootopolis, upon which a Pokémon gym had been erected. It was a surprisingly ostentatious building, truth be told, and when Bianca commented on such idly, Cynthia actually explained.

"This used to just be a Pokémon gym, but as Pokémon contests have become more and more popular here in Sootopolis, the local government decided to remodel the building so that it serves as a Pokémon Gym somedays, and a contest hall on others. Thusly, it's far grander than any normal gym you'd ever see."

Bianca hummed. "Wasn't the gym leader upset to lose sole rights to their gym?"

"Oh, quite the opposite," Cynthia said with a smirk on her face like she was a part of some inside joke Bianca wasn't privy to. "He was one of the people who proposed it. Now, let's head inside."

And with that, Cynthia once again marched ahead of Bianca, forcing her to speedwalk behind her to catch up.

The inside was just as impressive, albeit with a bit of a different vibe. It was tiled with white and blue accented pieces, and to Bianca, at least, it looked like the kind of place that would serve as a public pool, or some other similar space.

"This is a water type gym, then?" She asked based off that, and Cynthia nodded her head.

"Indeed. And its leader is one of the foremost experts in the type in the world. Ah, there he is now."

Bianca followed Cynthia's outstretched finger towards a figure leaping from off of a high-diving board. Her mouth was agape as they fully stepped into the room, which contained a pool the likes of which Bianca herself had never seen before.

It was the size of a Pokémon stadium itself; easily 50 meters long, if not longer, and more than half as wide. She didn't have too terribly much time to take in the little intricacies of the pool itself, however, as a long and slender Pokémon came rushing up from the depths, sending a torrent of water out from where it broke the surface that arced in an eye-catching way, as if rehearsed.

The Pokémon created a spiral pattern in midair, one that the person who'd dived off the board earlier took full advantage. He passed right through the makeshift rings, and landed perfectly just where the Pokémon had leapt from the water a moment earlier.

The Pokémon, likewise, hit the water after that. A beat passed before both Pokémon and trainer broke the surface of the water; trainer riding along the Pokémon's back, with his hands in the air, as if having just finished an elaborate performance. His Pokémon, likewise, let out a victorious cry, one that had Bianca smiling without even realizing she'd done such.

Cynthia was far more blasé about the entire ordeal; she stepped around the pool, following the quickest line to the mysterious trainer that wouldn't involve leaping into the water, and clapped her hands the entire time.

"Bravo, Wallace." She called out, finally catching the attention of the trainer – apparently named Wallace, and where had Bianca heard that name before? – as she planted her feet and crossed her arms over her breasts. "I see your routine has only grown all the grander since I saw it last."

"Hah," Wallace exclaimed, backflipping off of his Pokémon in a daring maneuver that had Bianca's heart doing flips, and landing almost effortlessly back on dry land. "A compliment from you of all people, Cynthia, I must be doing something right."

Cynthia chuckled. "It's been a long time. How are you?"

"Oh, you know how it is. Keeping entertained." The man said as his Pokémon – which, now that the routine had ended, Bianca was able to recognize as a Milotic – came up and nuzzled against him. "And keeping my Pokémon entertained as well. This one won't ever give me a moment's rest."

The Milotic in question lightly pushed against Wallace's side, as if in protest, and the man simply laughed.

"Case in point." He said, before, finally, spotting Bianca herself. "And who's this?"

"This," Cynthia said, gesturing for Bianca to approach, and she did, even if there were Butterfree swarming in her stomach. "Is Bianca. She's an aspiring Pokémon Master."

"W-Well, I–" She made to interject, to say that wasn't really true, that she wasn't really like that, but before she could–

"Haha!" Wallace placed both hands on his hips, and let out a boisterous laugh. "I see, I see. So, is she what lit the fire in your heart again, then? I had heard you'd decided to register for the–"

Suddenly, Cynthia had a hand on Wallace's lips, and a smile on her face that seemed rather… scary.

"Let's discuss those matters later."

Wallace took the entire thing in stride, nodding his head as Cynthia took her hand away. "I see. Well, then, might I ask what it is you two are here for today?"

"Bianca here," Cynthia stated, "is aiming to collect eight gym badges, and to enter into the World Championships at the end of the year. She's not technically required to, of course, given that they're open to all comers…"

"But those with eight gym badges get to skip quite a bit of the qualifying rounds." Wallace stated, nodding his head. "So, I see. And you've come here today to try and win a badge from me, then?"

"U-Uhm… yes, sir."

"Hah, I'm no sir to you, miss." Wallace stated, winking at her and causing Bianca to blush. "After this is all over, perhaps the two of us could get more acquainted with–"

"None of that." Cynthia stated, placing an arm between Bianca and Wallace and silently glaring at the latter. "Bianca is not to be flirted with."

"Phooey." Wallace stated, and Bianca's face went redder, if it was possible. "But fine."

Bianca was too flabbergasted to say much of anything then, and she pointedly avoided even thinking about the fact that she was apparently being hit on by someone she'd met five minutes ago.

Her life had gone off the deep end yesterday, and she was apparently just a passenger now.

"Right, right, well then," Wallace cleared his throat. "Might I ask how many Pokémon you have, and how many gym badges you currently possess?"

"Uhm… I have one Pokémon… and z-zero gym badges."

Wallace watched her a moment, seemingly checking whether or not she was being serious. Eventually, however, he seemed to cotton onto the fact that she was, and he shot Cynthia a bit of an odd look before saying, "Alright, I'll go fetch a Pokémon of mine."

Wallace disappeared into a backroom after he'd called Milotic back into its Pokéball. Bianca was left standing there, feeling pathetic, like a failure – really just her normal range of emotions.

"He's a gym leader, isn't he?" Bianca asked quietly. "And… he's a strong one, isn't he?"

"Yes."

"Then… how is he going to not just… destroy me?"

"Gym Leader's aren't meant to be impassable walls. They're tests of your ability, meant to be overcome, but still to be challenging." Cynthia explained as she stepped towards Bianca, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "He'll adjust his team to suit your own, and challenge you based on what he himself sees as important to a Pokémon trainers skillset. Every leader has their own qualities they're searching for in the trainers that challenge them. Wallace… well, I'll not spoil the surprise."

Bianca felt a bit ashamed to admit, "I wouldn't mind if you did…"

Cynthia placed a fist in front of her mouth, trying to disguise the bit of laughter she let out then as a cough. "Well, I'm not going to abandon you either. But for now, I want you to face Wallace with all that you have. I want to get an idea as to what you're capable of."

Bianca nodded her head. Cynthia had said as such before. Bianca wasn't entirely certain why Cynthia was so adamant about this; she was, to Bianca's knowledge, not even a Pokémon trainer herself, but well…

Before she could think on that any further, the door that Wallace had taken into the back opened, and the man stepped out with a single Pokéball in his left hand.

"Alright, Bianca," Wallace stated, smiling over at her. "Shall we begin?"

/

Bianca was nervous.

It wasn't exactly the most shocking thing in the world; Bianca was, in general, a rather nervous person. But she felt that in this particular case she had more reason to be nervous than most. For one, she was about to compete in her first Pokémon battle in roughly ten years. She remembered what she was supposed to do; it was rather hard to forget what to do in something like Pokémon battling, but even saying that, her hands were shaking, and she felt like at any moment, she might collapse, and fall into the massive pool that stretched out in front of her.

And that was another thing; the setting of their Pokémon battle.

Of course, it made sense that Wallace, as both a trainer of water-typed Pokémon and as the Gym Leader himself, would get to dictate that their arena would be the pool itself. But Bianca couldn't help feeling her own Pokémon would be at quite the disadvantage before the battle had even begun.

Really, how was she supposed to have any hope at all when she was starting with so many impediments?

"Are both parties ready?"

Cynthia's voice snapped Bianca from out of her own head, and she turned towards the woman to see her standing off to their right on dry land around halfway between the two of them. She'd offered to officiate their match, saying she'd seen enough Pokémon battles in her life to be able to call a match when it was over. Bianca had actually done the same herself for some of the children in Nuvema, so she knew that one didn't necessarily have to be an active trainer to be able to officiate.

She appreciated having Cynthia around, given that she was just about the only person actively making sure Bianca had her head in the game.

She forced her hand towards her belt, and gripped the Pokéball latched there. She gently pried it away, swallowed on the barren dryness of her throat, and threw the ball towards the arena.

"G-Go, Bagon!" She said more on instinct than anything.

Her Pokémon appeared in a blast of white energy, and as the energy itself coalesced into the shape of her Bagon, she realized that she had not actually let her Pokémon out of its ball in the time since she'd left Nuvema town.

She'd done no training at all. None.

She was doomed. She just knew it.

"Go, Luvdisc!" Wallace shouted from the other end, throwing a dive ball which soared through the air in a graceful arc, before jettisoning its own inhabitant.

Wallace's Luvdisc did not seem to have any particularly notable features as Bianca took in the sight of it. It was an average Luvdisc; perhaps even a tad bit small for its species. The tiniest flicker of hope sparked into being within Bianca's chest, and she forced herself to tighten her hands into fists, and look towards Cynthia.

"I-I'm ready!" She exclaimed with far more energy than she really possessed.

"As am I." Wallace echoed her.

"Very well then," Cynthia stated, smiling widely as she took a step back from the water. "Trainers… Begin!"

"Luvdisc, open things with an aqua ring!" Wallace shouted.

Immediately, his Pokémon let out a cry of assent, and began channeling a ring of water around its form. Bianca knew that aqua ring would be giving Luvdisc passive recovery, and that meant Wallace intended to wear her down.

Which meant she had to be fast.

And yet, when she tried to think of what she should have her Bagon do… she couldn't make up her mind. Different options flowed into and out of her head in a rhythm, and before she could give Bagon a single order, Wallace was already moving again.

"Luvdisc, hit it with a water gun!"

Again, Luvdisc answered its master's call, shooting out a jet of water that arced right towards Bianca's Bagon.

"D-Dodge, Bagon!"

Her Pokémon hesitated a moment, however, despite her words. Bianca felt a surge of panic fill her chest as Bagon only narrowly avoided taking the water gun full on, and still got clipped by the edge of the blast. It wouldn't do too terribly much to Bagon, due to the type disadvantage that water had against dragon, but even so…

"B-Bagon, use dragon rage!" She shouted, trying to reach her Pokémon.

Again, Bagon hesitated. It looked back towards her, seemingly asking her if she was sure of her decision.

And really, was she? Was she sure of what she wanted Bagon to do? Perhaps she should've been setting up a more defensive strategy to try and outlast Luvdisc's aqua ring. Or maybe she should've been trying to get Bagon to–

"Luvdisc, hit it with a take down!"

Bianca was shocked out of her own head only in time to see her Pokémon rearing back for the dragon rage that she'd told it to cast a few seconds prior. Unfortunately, before it could manage to expel the purple and yellow flames from its gullet, Wallace's Luvdisc had already moved in on it.

With a cry of its own name, Luvdisc crashed right into Bagon, sending it flying backwards in the water.

"B-Bagon!" She cried on instinct.

And suddenly, it was all coming back to her. The trauma she'd undergone, the fears she carried in her heart. Everything she'd been through, everything she'd seen, everything she'd–

"Trainer Bianca is out of usable Pokémon!" She heard Cynthia shout. "The winner of this match is Gym Leader Wallace!"

Bianca, she…

She looked down into the water to see her Bagon floating lifelessly, its eyes closed and its breathing automatic.

It had been knocked out by that last attack.

She'd lost.

It had barely been a minute, and she'd already lost.

On instinct more than anything, she brought Bagon's Pokéball up and brought it back to its ball. She'd need to make a trip to a Pokémon center, it seemed. Then… then what? Challenge Wallace again? After she'd made such a pathetic showing?

Before she could let herself be consumed by her thoughts once more, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned to see Cynthia standing there, looking down at her.

"Are you alright?" She asked her first and foremost.

"I-I'm…" Bianca wasn't really sure what to say. "I'm fine."

Cynthia didn't seem to believe her. She just looked at her with a certain expression, as if trying to coax her true feelings out.

"…I lost."

"You did."

"…So now you know." Bianca muttered a bit sadly. "How crappy of a trainer I am."

Cynthia surprised Bianca when she shook her head. "That battle there had very little to do with your skills as a trainer."

"What do you… how could it have to do with anything else?"

Cynthia waited a few seconds before speaking, seemingly waiting for Bianca to interject and say something herself. When she didn't, however, Cynthia frowned.

"Ah, I see you two are already discussing the match."

Bianca looked just past Cynthia's shoulder to see Wallace strolling up to them, smiling. It was dampened, somewhat, from what she'd seen on his face earlier.

She recognized that look.

Pity.

It was always pity, with Bianca.

She bit down on the inside of her lip without really meaning to; the pain and iron taste in her mouth enough that she realized she'd likely caused herself to bleed somewhat.

"I-I'm going to the restroom," Bianca stated, using her bleeding mouth as an excuse to get out from under that pitying expression. "Would you mind pointing the way for me?"

"Of course not," Wallace stated, gesturing in the direction of the facility. "But if you wouldn't mind me saying first, I think you should–"

To Bianca's surprise, it was actually Cynthia who stopped Wallace from continuing with whatever he was about to say. When the man turned to see just what it was Cynthia meant by her actions, she simply shook her head.

Bianca took that moment to exit the room.

She walked towards the restroom, practically flung herself inside one of the stalls, and sunk to the floor almost instantly.

She did not cry, because she was not sad. She was not angry, either.

No, she was more… numb.

She didn't feel much of anything beyond a stinging in her chest. It was the kind of sting one received from keeping their hands under freezing water for too long, the kind of sting that felt hot, but was, paradoxically, cold.

And it hurt. Regardless of what Bianca might've wanted to feel about her loss, no matter how she might've wanted to handle things better, handle her lack of skill as a trainer, or her ability to give her Pokémon commands, or her…

She shook her head, trying to ignore the way tears built within her eyes.

"Damn it." Bianca whispered out beneath her breath as she took a piece of toilet paper and dabbed at her bloodied lip.

"…Damn it…"

/

"Why did you stop me?"

Cynthia wasn't entirely shocked to hear such words coming from Wallace's mouth. After all, the man had been glaring daggers at her ever since Bianca had run off to the restroom.

She also couldn't much blame him for them. After all, in a normal circumstance, dealing with the average trainer who'd just lost a match, perhaps Wallace's advice – which Cynthia was nearly certain he'd been about to offer Bianca before she'd interrupted him – would've been helpful.

But Bianca was not a normal case. She'd seen some of it just now, as she'd faced off against Wallace in battle.

If such could really be called a Pokémon battle at all.

No. Bianca had not been warring with Wallace then; not at all.

She'd been warring with herself.

So, advice on Pokémon battling was pointless. There was nothing that Wallace could say or offer that could do anything to assist Bianca beyond tertiary improvements. But the real problems that Bianca was facing…

Cynthia knew them.

She'd faced this particular one herself, in what felt like a whole other life.

"Wallace?"

"Are you going to ignore me, Cynthia?

"That contest that's being held this week… are the slots all filled out?"

"They are…" Wallace said, before sighing. "I assume you want me to open one up?"

Cynthia smiled. "Seems you can still read me after all."

"I was a champion, once upon a time." Wallace shook his head. "I had to be able to get a read on my fellows if I was to succeed in my role."

Cynthia nodded.

Wallace, however, didn't quite drop the subject.

"That girl… I saw the look in her eyes when she tried to give orders to her Pokémon."

"Mm?"

"She seemed… afraid."

Cynthia hummed out in agreement.

"Do you have some idea as to why?"

"Perhaps I do."

"It's personal, then?"

"Perhaps it is."

"Hah," Wallace barked out a laugh. "Fine, fine, be your usual mysterious self. I can see that Bianca somehow doesn't know who you are. Do you not plan on telling her?"

"One day, I will." Cynthia answered, smiling all the while. "But not today."

It felt like it might've been the end to a normal conversation of theirs, but…

"Oh, and…" Cynthia said, smiling over at Wallace.

"There was one other thing…"


End Chapter 2


That's that!

So yes, Bianca loses her first match, and the simple reason is that she has too much she's dealing with beyond Pokemon battling. She's going to need to address at least some of those before she can so much as think about earning a gym badge.

More on that next chapter. Hope you guys are enjoying the story! I wanted to thank everyone for their comments on the last chapter; it was a lot more engagement than I was expecting, truth be told.

That's all from me; See you all next time!