Yo!

Just want to let everyone know up front that I am sick, and that there will be no updates next week because of it! Been in bed this entire week so far, getting out to upload this, and then getting back under the covers lol.


Chapter 23


"Wow, you've really gotten stronger in just these past few days!" One of the trainers Bianca had been facing off against here on Route 104 commented as she and Kirlia racked up another victory.

"Ah, well, I suppose we have." She responded, somewhat absent. "Honestly, it was Kirlia's idea to come down here this morning, I figured I might as well acquiesce."

The man nodded his head, before looking down at her Kirlia and smiling.

"I can just tell; already so strong as a Kirlia already, they're goin' to be a damned fine Gardevoir one day."

Bianca hummed out at that, agreeing with his claim. It made sense, after all. Kirlia's psychic moves were potent and powerful, and though it continuously attempted to train with fists and kicks…

Well, there wasn't really much point.

She and Kirlia decided to face off against a few more trainers over the course of the next hour or so. Cynthia wasn't here, given that Bianca had woken up at the crack of dawn, left a note that stated where she'd be headed, if Cynthia really needed her, and then made her way down here immediately.

She resented the idea that she was trying to avoid Cynthia, even if it was maybe true.

Still, she and Kirlia were… recovering after the incident the previous evening. Obviously, Kirlia hadn't been trying to hurt her, so it wasn't as if Bianca was concerned about such. But she could not deny that she'd held some worry within her heart that the things she'd said were going to form a rift between them.

In a way it had. She had tried to speak with Kirlia a bit but hadn't received much of a response. Her Pokémon was doing its best to focus on the training that Bianca was giving it, mostly by way of an apology.

For the most part, it seemed to be working pretty well.

Still, it was probably about time for the two of them to depart the training grounds, and head back into Petalburg. Bianca hadn't eaten when they'd woken up at around six in the morning, and it was cresting nine or so now, judging by the suns position in the sky.

She said as much to Kirlia, that they'd be leaving shortly, and earned a huff from her Pokémon as it turned towards her.

"I know you want to stay," She told them, "But I'm sure you're hungry as well."

Kirlia, as if to prove her point, had their stomach rumble, then. Her Pokémon looked rather embarrassed and hissed out under their breath. They did, however, step up towards Bianca, and allow themselves to be recalled back into their Pokéball.

Bianca sighed as her Pokémon faded away entirely, feeling… conflicted was probably a good word for it.

They returned back to the hotel first and foremost. Cynthia was there to greet her, smiling over at her somewhat awkwardly after their conversation the previous night. It was odd for Cynthia to be so involved, so unwilling to let Bianca slide on things. If it was to become the norm, however…

Well, Bianca didn't think she'd mind.

Intellectually. She'd probably still wish Cynthia would leave her alone while she was compromised, but compromised Bianca didn't get to have a say in anything.

As much as she wanted to avoid talking about her problems, she was also enough of a realist to realize that doing just that was stupid and infantile at best.

They talked about nothing in particular for a while, before, eventually, going out to eat together. It was just breakfast, but there was a local mom and pop shop that served pancakes that had all of Bianca's fellow coordinators talking in the dressing room, and she felt as if she might as well experience this for herself.

They were, admittedly, absolutely delectable.

They ate for a while, before the conversation eventually shifted towards somewhat more important topics.

"So," Cynthia cleared her throat as she finished off her glass of moomoo milk. "How've your Pokémon been doing?"

"Milotic and Leavanny are both their normal selves," She told Cynthia, "Shellgon has actually mellowed out a bit ever since evolving, or maybe it's just that it finally feels as if it's proved itself somewhat."

Cynthia nodded her head. "And Kirlia?"

"Kirlia's… I don't know." She admitted. "It's hard to tell sometimes. Kirlia's got a lot of potential but seems to gravitate towards means of using that potential that aren't quite as efficient as they could be."

Cynthia hummed, before leaning on her elbow and asking, "And is that all that matters? Efficiency?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, let me ask what you mean when you say that Kirlia's 'got a lot of potential'."

"Er… Kirlia's psychic type moves hit hard and fast, and it's allowed the two of us to get in a lot of victories. Just this morning, we faced off against seven trainers, or, well, five trainers, but two of them twice."

"And?"

"Well, I guess… Kirlia doesn't seem to want to default to those moves. If anything, it seems to want to utilize a more physical set, which… doesn't really fit a Kirlia much at all."

"No," Cynthia stated, "But it might fit it one day."

"As a Gardevoir?"

Cynthia sighed, shaking her head with some fondness. "You can be oddly tunnel-visioned when you're concerned about something, Bianca."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. In this particular case, despite what I said the previous evening, I really do think it should be you who figures this one out. It would be disingenuous for me to just tell you."

Bianca sighed, but ultimately accepted that without that much trouble. It was just kind of how Cynthia was.

"Do I get a hint?"

"Hm…" Cynthia pondered that a moment. "Listen to your Pokémon, and to yourself, over anyone else."

"…Does that include you?"

"No, listen to me over yourself always, unquestioningly." Cynthia quipped, and Bianca rolled her eyes, albeit with a quiet chuckle. "Alright, let's pay for this, and then we can head on out."

They did just that, heading out once more into Petalburg, which, while still rather active, was far less so than it had been a week or so ago, when the contest had started in full force. That was largely because most all of the people that had been out and about at that time had settled into place here or had left the city entirely.

There weren't many who could afford to vacation for a full week and a half just to watch a contest in person, especially not when it was going to be broadcast on television anyways.

Hell, Bianca imagined that even with Cynthia being rather filthily rich – she'd never actually asked Cynthia how well off she was financially, but it seemed to be pretty damn well – this was at least having an impact on her bank account.

"I have an idea, Bianca, if you'd like to hear it?"

"Sure, I guess. What is it?"

"Why don't we go camping out in Petalburg Woods for a while?"

Bianca's face contorted somewhat in confusion, uncertain as to why Cynthia would suggest such.

When she asked the reason behind it, Cynthia responded with, "I just think it would be good for you, to get away from it all, to be alone with your Pokémon, and get to work stuff out."

"Stuff, huh?"

"It's a technical term."

Bianca snorted under her breath.

/

They ended up doing just that that evening.

They stopped by an outdoor supply shop, bought a big tent – they'd briefly suggested two smaller tents, but the larger one had been on sale, and when Bianca had, somewhat red-faced, asked Cynthia if she was okay sharing the same tent, she'd teased her for going on fifteen minutes – and two sleeping bags.

Technically, they had a set of outdoor equipment back on the plane, but that was a four hour journey each way to make it to Slateport, and buying a new set had been something Cynthia was more than willing to do to save time.

"Money is expendable," Cynthia spoke as they slung their gear on their backs and began the trek towards Petalburg Woods. "But you can't ever get lost time back."

Bianca felt a small chill run down her spine at that, but ultimately dismissed it as nothing.

Their journey took them around an hour and a half, and by the time they began to set up their tents within the middle of Petalburg Woods, it was going on eight or so in the evening. The sun was setting, and the bugs were buzzing.

One particular Dustox seemed to be making it its life's mission to piss Bianca off specifically, with the way it kept radiating its itchy dust on her from the treetops above. She was half-tempted to release Milotic and have her Pokémon blast the thing out of the tree line, but ultimately kept herself under control.

That was until she sneezed rather violently and had to be all but restrained by a rather amused Cynthia before she unleashed a blizzard on the damndable creature.

Finally, the time came for Bianca to actually sit and relax in her tent. She didn't end up doing this for very long, given that Cynthia had started a fire, and begun to heat up an instant rice and curry meal that smelled quite good. She had also procured some on-the-go Pokémon food, which Bianca got set up for each of her four Pokémon, before allowing them out.

They all stretched their legs – or, in Milotic's case, their bodies – before eating. After that, they found a decent clearing where they could see the stars above them and enjoyed the sights.

"It's quite pretty." Bianca noted, and Cynthia chuckled.

"You say that rather clinically."

"I was a scientist for the vast majority of my life." She spoke a bit petulantly.

"And is science all about cynicism?"

"You're certainly making me feel more cynical right now."

Cynthia laughed.

The night waned on, and eventually, Bianca was sat beneath the stars by herself, staring up at the vast expanse above.

She heard the sounds of exertion, however. The sounds of training, of effort being expended.

Somewhere in her mind's eye, she already knew what it was making said sounds.

She also knew she owed their maker an apology.

She stood up and made her way fifty or so paces deeper into the forest, where she came to a stop upon seeing Kirlia hitting the base of a tall oak tree.

Their blows were soft, barely audible in the din of all sorts of nightly sounds. But even so…

Bianca found herself walking up to her Pokémon and kneeling down two meters or so from them.

"Kirlia?"

Her Pokémon kept hitting the tree, either ignoring her or just not hearing her.

Bianca was willing to bet it was the former.

"Kirlia, may I talk to you?"

Her Pokémon's blows stopped. They looked back at her with a mixture of annoyance and indignance, and yet still, look back they did.

"Thank you. I'm sorry to interrupt your training. And… I'm sorry that I was insensitive towards you the other night."

Kirlia huffed somewhat agitatedly.

"Can I ask you something, Kirlia?"

Her Pokémon tilted their head.

"Why do you want to be able to use things like punches and kicks, when your Psychic moves are so potent already?"

It was a question that had been hanging at the back of Bianca's mind, in different forms, with different words, for days now. Ever since that girl, whose name escaped her at this point, had told her she had a talent for contests.

Kirlia, however, didn't seem to quite grasp the question. It was a similar reaction to that which she had received the previous evening, and yet…

Somehow, Bianca was able to discern its meaning, now.

"You don't know why?"

Kirlia hesitated somewhat, before nodding their head.

"You just… feel the way you do, huh? Without really knowing why?"

Again, Kirlia nodded.

Bianca quietly chuckled beneath her breath, even as she shook her head, and then let out a long sigh.

"It's funny. I was trying to use you as a vehicle to understand myself." Bianca admitted, even as she let herself fall out of her kneeling posture, and instead sat cross-legged on the ground. "I saw you, with your skills with Psychic abilities, trying to instead focus in on your physical attributes, and I just… I understood it. No… I'd been there, albeit differently. It's the same for me. Despite my talent at Pokémon contests – or skill, or whatever it is Cynthia might want to say – …in the end, I don't want to be a master coordinator, I don't think."

Bianca looked up into Kirlia's eyes, and smiled something more honest than she had in quite a while.

"I want to be a Pokémon Master, no matter how difficult a road that might be to walk, no matter how hopeless a goal that might seem to be. No matter how much talent I might have in other areas, I do not wish to pursue them. And I don't know why. It's simply… because I do."

Kirlia was somehow confused about this, but it didn't really matter, in Bianca's opinion. She had done some small bit of research the previous evening, trying to figure out just what the rock that Cynthia had given her was, and what it might be for.

And she'd figured out Cynthia's plan exactly.

For the stone in her hands was a Dawn Stone, and its usage was fairly obvious.

She drew the mineral out of her bag and held it out towards Kirlia. Its face lit up upon seeing it, but it did not lunge towards it like it so obviously wanted to.

"Even knowing the road ahead might be far harder, even knowing that it may have twists and turns that you cannot see, even knowing that all that might await you at the end is disappointment…" She swallowed, and then met Kirlia's gaze head on. "Is this the route you wish to take?"

Kirlia nodded without an ounce of hesitation.

And given that… how could Bianca herself afford to hesitate, either?

She couldn't. Wouldn't.

"Then take it."

And Kirlia did.

The change was instantaneous. Immediately, Kirlia's form began to glow a bright white in color, and as its body reshaped itself, Bianca found her own heart, previously fluttering about endlessly, finally stilling.

This was what her Pokémon desired. This was what she desired.

So, what if the road might be harder? So, what if her talents might point her in other directions?

Such didn't matter.

Not at all.

And as the light cleared, and as Gallade stood from its kneeling position, a confidence in its eyes that Bianca had never seen before, she knew what they had to do.

"Well," She spoke, smiling up at her Pokémon as she, too, rose.

"I suppose we'd better get to training."

/

She still competed in the remainder of the Festival, mostly because she wanted to.

Yet her mindset was entirely different, her heart beat steadily, her posture, her form; all of it was crisp, clear, and precise.

She came in third, and she didn't mind at all.

Technically, by placing in the top four, she'd earned a low seed into the Grand Festival at the end of the year, and yet…

Bianca chose to decline.

"Unfortunately, I'm not planning on attending the Grand Festival." She'd spoken out when asked by interviewers later at the podium. "I'll instead be attending the Pokémon World Championships, being held at that same time."

"I see, I see." The interviewer spoke into the handheld recorder she was holding out intermittently towards Bianca. "Well, I'm sure all our listeners here will be wishing you luck with whatever you choose to endeavor towards. Thank you for the interview, Ms. Bianca. For more coverage like this, please visit–"

/

"You're certain?"

"Completely." She answered Cynthia as she stepped out of the contest hall, a wide smile still glued to her face.

"Then I suppose I've no reason to try and convince you otherwise."

"None at all."

Cynthia chuckled. "I'm glad to hear it, personally."

"I think Gallade was as well." She said, smiling down at the Pokéball resting on her hip. "But honestly, I simply haven't the time to focus so readily on contests. Not when I have something far more pressing to prepare for."

"Oh?" Cynthia cocked an eyebrow. "And what might that be, I wonder?"

Their trip was not too terribly long. Petalburg was a decently large city, but the contest hall and its accompanying Pokémon gym were rather closely spaced together.

The man at the door smiled at seeing the two of them, although Bianca couldn't quite tell if that was happiness at seeing specifically Bianca, coming to rewrite her previous defeat, or simply something he had trained into him working in customer service.

Honestly, it was probably the latter.

"Aha," Norman smiled as he turned back towards the two of them. "I thought you might be coming back. I watched your interview. You handle yourself quite well."

"Thank you, sir." She bowed her head somewhat.

"If only May could be so candid in interviews. Going on a decade and a half of being champion, and she still struggles at them." He chuckles good-naturedly. "Ah, well. That's life, I suppose. Some people are always going to struggle with things that others grasp in no time at all."

Bianca found herself laughing internally at that, at how easy a thing Norman found to put that which she had been herself struggling with for a week or so now.

"Well, then." Norman cleared his throat, before meeting Bianca's gaze and asking,

"Shall we?"

/

It was down to the wire.

"Milotic has fainted!" The referee called.

She recalled Milotic back into their Pokéball, before reaching down towards the last one on her hip, the only one that contained a conscious Pokémon within it.

Across from her, Norman's Slaking was taking a break, having just demolished Milotic before it could do much of anything.

But that was fine.

Norman had played into her plan.

"Alright, let's finish this, Gallade!"

She threw the Pokéball out, and her Pokémon, her Gallade, took to the arena.

It landed on one knee and rose from out of the pose to stand tall.

Norman whistled. "So… this is the decision you've made?"

"Yeah." Bianca answered. "But not just me… it's the decision that both I, and Gallade, came to!"

The man across from her laughed heartily. "Good. Never lose sight of that conviction. No matter what might try and take it from you. Come then, Bianca. One final clash!"

Slaking snapped awake, standing up on its own two feet. Even still, it was the far slower Pokémon.

And Bianca planned on ending this before it could do a thing.

It was a risk, certainly, the move she was planning on utilizing. If it didn't work, then it set her up rather plainly to be KO'd back.

But she had faith. Had faith in herself, but most of all…

She had faith in Gallade.

"Hit it with a Close Combat, Gallade!"

Her Pokémon cried out its ascent, even as it charged forwards, its arms beginning to glow.

Norman held out a hand, and called out, "Fake Out, Slaking!"

The opponent's Pokémon raised both its hands, spread them wide apart, and then slammed them together.

The resulting shockwave was enough to have both Norman and Bianca flinching.

But, crucially, it had no such effect on Gallade.

"Wha–"

Gallade, after all, carried Inner Focus.

Her Pokémon charged inwards, getting underneath Slaking's extended arms. The opposing Pokémon attempted to bring those arms down atop Gallade's head, but Gallade was faster, dodging to the side, and then…

Then it unleashed its attack.

Close Combat landed straight on, buffeting Slaking's head and body backwards. It couldn't do a thing to counter Gallade's assault, especially given that it was recovering via Truant from having used that last Fake Out.

It never stood a chance.

Slaking teetered on its feet once the attack had finished, its body swaying as it tried valiantly to stay standing.

But Gallade had other plans.

It stood tall once more, its posture perfect, its balance pristine. It stepped towards the swaying Slaking, and then, casually, reached out a hand.

And then it gave Slaking a gentle push.

That was all it took to send the Pokémon crashing down to the floor, where it remained incredibly still.

"Slaking is unable to battle!" The referee called out, and Bianca felt her heart soar.

"The winner is… Bianca!"

And as Gallade turned back to her, a smile on its face and a proud look in its eyes…

It was all Bianca could do to smile back.


End Chapter 23


Alright, that's the end of Petalburg!

Well, kind of. There'll be some cooldown next chapter as we decide where we're going next. More than halfway through the journey though, that's pretty cool!

For now, I will see you all in two weeks!


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