Yo!

Back from break. Not a ton to say, really. Let's hop right in!


Start Chapter 20


Bianca and Cynthia ended up staying in Opelucid for around a week or so's more time.

That time was spent, largely, accomplishing nothing of value, which Bianca was completely okay with. She'd pretty much speedran the last two or so months of her life, gathering four gym badges and growing as a person. Having a week off was not at all an unappreciated event.

She enjoyed speaking with Cynthia about her progress, with Iris about Pokémon battling strategies, and with Mars – who'd stuck around for the week, citing a need for a break herself – about their plans for the future.

"I plan on heading to Johto within the near future," Mars told her, and she was fairly certain she already knew that, that Mars had already told her, "There are a few things I'd like to investigate there; I think that I might be able to gather further knowledge about the creation trio by investigating some of the Unown ruins down there."

Bianca nodded her head, because it sounded like a good idea in general. "I hope it all works out for you."

"Thank you, Bianca." Mars smiled, "And the same for you, of course. Oh, there was something I wanted to mention, I wasn't certain you'd heard, but…"

Mars turned around, and reached into her back pocket. She drew from out of it a Rotom phone, which she tinkered with for a moment to get a flier to pop up. Once she had, she handed the phone to Bianca, who investigated it for a moment before her eyes widened.

Because upon it…

'Petalburg City will be playing host to the Pokémon Contest Associations' Quarterly Festival, working up towards the Grand Festival at the end of the year! All Coordinators carrying at least one 1st place Contest Ribbon are allowed entry!'

It… wasn't exactly what Bianca was assuming she'd be doing next on her journey, in truth. And yet, she found herself smiling as the thought of entering truly settled, and she realized that maybe, just maybe, it might be fun to try out for the big contest.

Plus, heading back to Hoenn wouldn't be so bad.

"That… I think I might just try and compete." Bianca laughed, rubbing at the back of her neck. "Not sure how well I'd do, but… I think it's worth the attempt."

"Hah, that's the spirit." Mars patted her on the shoulder, even as she reached down and took her phone back. "Alright, well, I unfortunately have a plane to catch; and not at all the private kind."

Bianca chuckled. "Good luck. And stay safe, of course. Who knows, maybe we'll meet up again sometime soon?"

Mars smiled. "I think I'd like that."

/

Petalburg didn't have an airport itself, and so they were forced to take Cynthia's jet into Slateport city instead.

It was a trading city, and one could tell that immediately as they stepped out into the busy streets, and saw the massive tanker ships that were docked in multiple places along the coast. Men and women all over were helping to unload cargo and shipping containers, and Bianca found herself impressed by how gigantic the entire place felt in scope.

They didn't spend any real time in the shipping sector, however, and instead moved towards the beach, which was somehow even more packed with people. Bianca found herself growing the smallest bit nervous, swallowing on some spittle at the back of her throat as she and Cynthia – who'd again donned a disguise inside of her private jet – stepped across the beach, and towards the water.

They were headed for one particular old man.

"Mr. Briney, I take it?" Cynthia called out to an… Bianca hesitated to say ancient-looking person, but it was the truth.

He turned their way, with a wide smile hidden from view by a gray mustache and beard.

"That would be me!" He announced, chuckling under his breath. "I take it you must be the two who wanted transport to Petalburg?"

"Indeed." Cynthia nodded, taking charge in the conversation, which Bianca very much appreciated. "Can we leave immediately?"

"Aye, aye," The man stood, a bit rickety, but heartier than Bianca would've expected for someone his age. "Just give me a moment here. Peeko? Peeko!"

Bianca was uncertain of just what it was the old man was trying to do for just a moment, before a Pelipper sailed down out of the sky, and landed on the man's head.

"Ah, there you are!" He chuckled. "We're setting sail, girl!"

The Pelipper gave a cry at that, before it sailed off the man's head, and landed atop the boat they'd be taking to Petalburg.

"Alrighty, then." My. Briney cleared his throat. "Welcome aboard, you two!"

/

Their trip to Petalburg took a few hours, and during said time, Bianca had the very much unwanted privilege of figuring out that she grew seasick fairly easily. It was the first time she'd ever had the chance to figure said information out, given she'd never actually been anywhere by boat in all her life beforehand.

"Easy, there, lassie," Mr. Briney patted her lightly on the back, even as he handed her a few napkins to wipe at her face, which still had some remnants of her lunch – freshly puked up – over it. "We'll be makin' it into Petalburg here shortly. Try to walk around the deck a bit, it'll help you adjust to the rocking of the boat, make things a bit easier."

Bianca heard the advice, really, she did, but it was all she could do to keep herself standing, let alone try and move with the boat as it swayed with the waves.

She ended up not spilling as much of her stomach as she'd expected by the time they finally made it to Petalburg, but she wasn't exactly feeling grand as they stepped off of the boat, and onto the sandy shoals of Route 104.

"Good luck t'ya', lassies!" Mr. Briney shouted to them as he started his boat back up, and immediately set back off for Slateport city.

They waved, but mostly focused in on themselves, and their trek towards Petalburg. It was, at most, an hour from their location, but that was a lot more travel than Bianca currently felt up to.

"You alright?"

"I'll…" She groaned. "Manage."

"You don't seem like it." Cynthia chuckled, but there was a note of concern in her tone.

"…Okay, maybe we could stop for a bit?"

"I think that's more than fine."

They made… camp felt like too strong a word, given that what they set up was more of a blanket on the ground just above the beach itself, but Bianca was going to call it a camp for the time being.

It took around twenty or so minutes for her stomach to settle, and then another ten for her to want to actually make any headway towards their destination. Cynthia was there for her through it all, laughing and joking with her.

Not for the first time, Bianca found herself wondering how she'd gotten here. How the rich businesswoman she was sitting with had seen anything in her, and decided to invest in her, to ferry her around the world and go on some grand journey with her. For what?

"Hey, Cynthia?"

"What's up?"

"Why did you…" She hesitated. "I don't mean this in a self-demeaning way, just to cut that off at the pass…"

Cynthia snickered, but nodded her head, urging her to continue.

"What did you see in me?"

Cynthia raised an eyebrow. "I do believe we've been over this."

"I just… it's…"

"You don't believe me? That I saw my old self in you?"

"It's not that. I guess I just… what drove you to do all of this for me? Was it really so simple?"

"Well…" Cynthia reached up and massaged at her chin. "It's both that simple, and not that simple. There's more to the story, I'll admit, but it's not something I truly want to divulge to you at the moment. I apologize for hiding things from you, but–"

"No, no," She rushed to assure Cynthia. "Don't apologize. You're fine, really. I was only curious."

"Is that it?" Cynthia, again, looked to her with some reservation in her expression. "Or were you doubting yourself again?"

"Not doubt, more… I don't know how to put it, really." She admitted, sighing. "Maybe I'm just being dumb."

"Somehow I don't think that's it." Cynthia rolled her eyes. "I guess telling you not to worry about it isn't going to be much help?"

"How did you guess?" Bianca smarmed.

"Something, something, a woman's intuition." Cynthia smarmed back.

They got up a few minutes later, and began the trek towards Petalburg. Speaking of the city, it served a dual purpose; being both a location that would play host to a rather high-end Pokémon Contest, and being the sight of what would, hopefully, end up being Bianca's fifth gym badge.

Norman, Gym leader of Normal Type Pokémon – and wow, that name felt a bit coincidental – also called the city his home.

As they traveled, however, a strange event occurred. Cynthia gasped, and while Bianca initially thought something must've been wrong, when she went to investigate exactly what it was that was wrong…

She found Cynthia smiling down at a small Pokémon on the path.

"Why hello there, little one." Cynthia spoke quietly, kneeling down where she stood.

The Ralts tilted its head, and gave a quiet, melodious cry in response. Cynthia chuckled, but offered out a hand, which the Pokémon leaned into.

"A Ralts…" Bianca murmured, even as she walked carefully and quietly over towards the two of them. "They're quite rare."

"Indeed, they are." Cynthia responded with a knowing smile. "So, what would you think about adding one to that team of yours?"

She honestly probably should've expected as much the moment the Pokémon appeared to them, and when she thought about it herself, the pieces were clicking into place.

Psychic was a typing her team could use, and it filled a rather important niche on her team. While it wasn't a perfect fit – she still felt as if she had too many special-attackers – it would do, she felt.

So… she drew from out of her bag a Pokéball, smiled down at the Ralts being pet by Cynthia, and threw it out.

/

They arrived in Petalburg proper an hour later, and immediately, Cynthia and Bianca headed towards the hotel they'd booked, more than wanting a break from the constant traveling they'd been doing all day.

It wasn't much to write home about – oh gods, Bianca had become well and truly conceited if she was calling a perfectly average hotel something like that! – but it would do for her purposes at that moment.

Her purposes being a shower, and then sleep.

They woke the next day to find that Petalburg had transformed somewhat during the night.

All over, there were festivities abounding, banners hung, people laughing and playing, and the reason behind it all was obvious.

The Quarterly Pokémon Festival – a high-tier contest that only those who'd already won a contest somewhere else in the world could enter into.

Bianca hadn't at all expected something this popular, however. The other contests she'd been to had all been much more understated affairs, with the exception, perhaps, of Sootopolis, which had been in all fairness about as grand as this.

Then again, it had also been in Hoenn, so perhaps that was the difference.

Unova must not have taken Pokémon Contests nearly as seriously as Hoenn did.

It seemed more apt to call it a carnival than a festival, in Bianca's eyes. There were temporary rides that had been set up – rickety and a bit dangerous looking, but probably fine to partake of… even if Bianca wouldn't be testing that theory – and vendors of things like candied apples and cotton candy.

Honestly, the whole thing had Bianca smiling, even if she was, admittedly, also quite nervous to be around so many people.

Still, she and Cynthia partook of the activities to be had. They each got cotton candy, and ate of it as they rode on some low-to-the-ground coasters that were also much smaller than some of the more grandiose ones.

They got off, ate lunch at a restaurant in a rare part of the city that wasn't all dolled up for the festivities, and then made their way back so that Bianca could register herself for the competition.

It was, after all, coming up in just a few short days.

Petalburg's contest hall had been built rather recently, it seemed. Judging based on what she heard some of the other contestants talking about as she and Cynthia stepped into it, and made their way towards the sign-up desk, it had been built just five years ago.

In that time, however, it had become a major source of tourism for Petalburg, and because of that, the city had gone all in on celebrating the quarterly Festivals when they came around, even televising them.

Which… would be a new event for Bianca. She'd yet to actually attend a contest that was set to be televised. Even her dual-performance alongside Elesa had only been reported about in the paper, and that had only been because Elesa herself had gone and performed.

She would be on TV. She could probably text home and let her parents and friends back home in Nuvema know that she'd be appearing, and they'd tune in to watch.

It was thrilling, in a somewhat terrifying way.

Actually, it was just regularly terrifying.

The building itself was rather ostentatious, much like Sootopolis' contest hall. The entryway was a grand room with a high ceiling. It resembled a fancy theatre, almost, in the somewhat dim lighting, and the choice of darker, but stronger colors being used. Deep mahogany and black. At the back of the entryway, flanked on both sides by the doors that would take them into the actual arena that the contests were to be held within, was a screen that seemingly displayed the names of all those applicants who'd entered into the upcoming Festival.

"Next!"

She was snapped out of her thoughts by the person working the desk, and Bianca stepped up towards her, with her ribbon case all ready to go.

The woman inspected the ribbons that Bianca had won, nodded her head, and added her to the lineup. It was a thrilling thing, seeing her name added to the screen. She stared at it for a long time, even as she and Cynthia left the line, and stood just off of the entrance to the building.

"So?" Cynthia asked her. "Excited? Nervous?"

"Is there an 'all of the above' option?" She joked, and Cynthia chuckled. "It's… a bit much, to be honest. But I've made it through everything else so far, y'know? I guess I figure I can handle it."

Cynthia smiled. "Look at you."

"Heh-heh…" She scratched at her cheek somewhat awkwardly. "So, uh… what do you want to do? The contest isn't for a few days."

"Well, you do have a fresh member of your team, don't you?" Cynthia suggested, pointing down towards Ralts' Pokéball. "Why don't we go hit Route 104, and see if we can't encounter a few trainers?"

It was as good an idea as any other, in Bianca's opinion.

/

Training went fine.

Much like their stay in one of Petalburg's perfectly acceptable hotels, the training wasn't anything to write home about. Still, during it, she'd grown to learn some about her new team member, Ralts, and the fact that it was a bit… different to most of its species.

Ralts was fiery. Determined. They seemed to have an attitude closer to Shelgon's than anything else, and the oxymoronic nature of Ralts' demure appearance and its feisty nature had her giggling every time her Pokémon successfully defeated another trainers'.

And that was something new, too. She was actually winning battles quite regularly on Route 104. That was, likely, because many trainers in Hoenn started near and around Petalburg for their Pokémon journeys, and thus many were still on the up-and-up in terms of experience. Still, given Ralts had been freshly caught, Bianca had a lot of work to do to get the Pokémon up to speed.

So, she was battling against some of the other, newer trainers, and using only Ralts to do it. of course, she had to head back to the Pokémon center rather frequently, but it was only a ten- or so-minute walk back to Petalburg from where many of the newer trainers gathered, so it wasn't too big a deal.

Ralts was growing already, Bianca could tell, and that excited her.

They stuck to that routine for the next few days. Wake up, get something to eat, go out to route 104 and train. Between that time, Bianca came up with a performance for the upcoming contest. It wasn't anything too ornate in her opinion, but she'd heard that the event would take place over multiple rounds, and that she would need, in total, at least three different routines.

She decided to fall back on the routine she'd… eh… borrowed from Wallace for one of them, and then a sort of play on the routine she'd done during her time in Nimbasa alongside Elesa, substituting the electricity of Electrivire for a signal beam, also from Leavanny.

Finally, she figured that incorporating Ralts as the final member of her routine would be fun, and so she decided that they would be there for the final performance.

But first, Ralts would need to evolve.

There was nothing especially wrong with Ralts in and of itself in a contest setting, but it lacked dynamism, the ability to quickly move about the stage and impress the audience. It was cute, and would get points through that, but Bianca didn't feel that cuteness would be enough.

A Kirlia, however, had a far wider range of movements available to it. A Pokémon that had an affinity for dancing, Kirlia was a ballerina, and a damned good one at that, almost by nature. Bianca would have to come up with something to aid that to impress the judges, but if she did…

Well, she was fairly certain it would make for a damn good final routine.

First things first was, of course, getting Ralts to evolve in the first place. That didn't take too terribly long, however. Only four days of training – closing in on the festival, which would begin just three days following that – and Ralts was glowing white, growing and stretching until a Kirlia stood where it had.

It sang out melodiously, and Bianca laughed.

"Well, well. That didn't take very long." Cynthia noted, smiling herself.

"Well, we pretty much solely battled trainers all day, every day for the last half a week. I'd have been surprised if it took much longer." Bianca reasoned.

"I suppose that makes sense." Cynthia nodded her head. "Still, a Kirlia, hm? How interesting."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing too major. Just… consider your options, so to speak."

Bianca tilted her head to one side, largely oblivious as to whatever it was Cynthia might have meant. Before she could ask any further questions, another trainer, who'd been waiting for Bianca's current battle to finish, approached her and asked for a match themselves.

Bianca smiled, nervous, but more than happy to oblige.

After all, she was growing stronger. Slowly, bit by bit, but it was the truth.

The her from two months ago, who'd left home without so much as a plan, couldn't have made it this far.

She'd changed. She wasn't who she used to be anymore.

She was going to prove it.

/

The festival was getting closer and closer, which meant that the festivities surrounding it were growing more and more lively.

Bianca thought she'd seen it all when they'd first gotten here a few days ago, and yet now, merely a day out from the contest itself, Petalburg's population seemed to have somehow doubled in size.

They could barely walk down the streets without rubbing shoulders against a thousand other people, and for the first time in her life, Bianca was able to get a glimpse of the fact that Pokémon contests truly did compete with battling in terms of popularity.

If a quarterly event drew this kind of crowd, she could barely imagine what the Grand Festival would be like at the end of the year.

What Bianca had really, really not been expecting, however, was that when she bumped shoulders with one of those passerby's, they turned, saw her…

And reacted.

"Hold on…" The teenager – seeming at least a decade younger than Bianca herself – held up a finger. "Hooooold on… are you…"

Bianca was, at first, sure that it was Cynthia she was pointing to. After all, it would've made sense. Cynthia did have to disguise herself in order to blend in, and more often than not, she did her best to stay out of view of this many people.

She'd counted on the massive crowd to lend her a sense of anonymity, but apparently such hadn't worked out as she'd hoped.

Or, well, that was what Bianca had thought. Except, a second later, the girl's friend, who seemed to be about the same age as her, came up and tapped the girl on the arm.

"What's up?"

"Oh, uh…" The girl snapped out of whatever funk was hanging over her. "Alright, I'll just ask; is your name Bianca?"

Bianca wasn't quite sure where this was going, but she felt… more than a little nervous that some random person in the middle of a city she'd arrived in just a few days prior knew her name.

"Yes…?"

"Oh, I knew it!" The girl jumped, seemingly out of joy. "Mable, she's competing in the festival!"

Bianca found her eyes widening, her breath catching, even as the girl's friend – Mable, apparently – seemed surprised herself.

"Really? I've never heard of her."

Bianca wasn't surprised; she'd never heard of herself in the context of contests either.

"I keep telling you that you need to follow the underground scenes more! She's a coordinator out of Unova! She only started competing two months ago, but she's won all but one of the contests that she's competed in, and the only one she didn't win was because she was up against Wallace! Wallace, Mable!"

"Shit, you went up against Wallace?" Mable seemed impressed.

"Oh uhm… yes, I did." Bianca rubbed at the back of her neck, both wanting to hear this girl sing her praises until the end of time, and also wanting nothing more than to run away screaming at the top of her lungs. The two feelings averaged out to her standing stock still.

Mable whistled. "Damn. Nice. How many Ribbons have you won?"

"T-Three first place Ribbons."

"In two months!?" Now Mable seemed shocked. "Damn, Casey, I get what you mean."

"I know, right!" Casey, the other girl, apparently, gushed. "Uhm, Ms. Bianca, if you don't mind, can I have your autograph!?"

Bianca wasn't certain what alternate reality she'd stepped into while she'd not been looking, but something had gone wrong somewhere around the time that she'd woken up this morning, and she'd arisen in bizzarro world.

…She did kind of want to sign the autograph the girl was asking for, however. It made her feel a bit conceited to admit it, but she had always sort of wanted to do these kinds of things.

Of course, normally that had been as part and parcel with her dream to becoming a champion; imagining trainers from all over, young and old, cheering for her, begging for autographs, interviews, battles…

Bianca smiled awkwardly, even as Cynthia, who looked about as proud as Bianca's own mother would've been, reached into her pocket and pulled out a pen.

"Here."

Bianca took it with shaky hands. She turned back towards Casey, and took the notebook she'd taken out of her backpack. On it was a page full of signatures, many from people she'd never heard of, and a few from some more famous names.

Evidently, Casey was a superfan of contests.

Bianca signed her name, and it felt… it felt weird. Very weird.

Not necessarily in a bad way, but weird nonetheless.

"Thank you so much!" Casey again gushed.

"Oh uhm… well, I'm not really… anything special, though."

"That's not true!" Casey shook her head, before looking up at her with a bright smile. "You're a real natural at this contest thing! Not too many people can say they have your talent for it!"

Somehow, in that moment, despite the kind words, Bianca felt cold. It was like… like her chest had tightened, and her brain had blanked. She recognized that the two, Casey and Mable, were leaving, and she waved, albiet stiltedly.

But she was not truly conscious.

That…

Talent…

"You okay?"

Cynthia's voice snapped her from out of her own head, and she looked up at her mentor to see her face drawn into a frown.

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine."

"You don't look it."

"That… I am. I'm fine." She claimed yet again, shaking her head. "It's just… it's nothing. Let's go. We've still got some more training to get in."

And so, she looked away from Cynthia, and began walking towards Route 104 before she could see what was upon her features. Evidently, it would be a look of supreme doubt. Cynthia wasn't going to believe such an obvious lie.

Even if Bianca herself tried more than anything to.


End Chapter 20


Not a ton to say on this one! Starting the Petalburg arc, which will actually be a pretty long one, probably four or five chapters!

See you all... probably next week? Although I might wait until Saturday to actually upload the next chapter, since I could use the boost in viewership the weekends bring.