We do be posting chapters of Who We Used to Be doe.
If you can't tell by that opener, I have nothing tonight.
Even fourteen years after she'd visited the city for the first time, Castelia never failed to take Bianca's breath away.
The buildings that seemed to stretch on endlessly in every direction towered towards the skies. The streets that seemed to go on every which way like a maze were bustling with people, all going about their lives. There were shops, and restaurants, local stores, huge chains, theatres, street musicians and vendors; the entire city was alive.
She would almost compare it to seeing the inside of a Vespiquen nest; seeing the young Combee, and their larvae, buzzing around in chaotic synchronicity. Every single one had a role, a job, separate from the others, and yet it felt like they all worked towards a singular goal.
Of course, that wasn't quite so true in Castelia; most went about their business entirely separate from one another, but she still felt the example sufficed.
"I haven't been here in quite some time." Cynthia remarked as they stepped out of their taxi, and took in the sounds of the city for the first time. "It's quite a bit… louder than Veilstone or Jubilife."
"Jubilife, that's… the capital of Sinnoh, correct?"
"The de-facto capital, yes." Cynthia smiled. "There's no real official capital quite in the way that Castelia is Unova's, but yes, most consider it to be as such. You could honestly consider Veilstone to be the capital as well, or Hearthome, or Sunyshore. It really depends."
"So, we're off to see Burgh, then?"
"Ah, well…" Bianca felt a bit nervous at the sudden insinuation of their goals. "I wouldn't mind getting a bite to eat, first?"
Cynthia's eyes widened, before her stomach let loose a low growl. "Ah, it seems I agree with you, even if I didn't quite realize at first."
Bianca chuckled, as did Cynthia. They made their way into the city proper and stopped in at the first storefront that caught their eye. It was a bakery that sold a variety of goods. Cynthia bought two heavenly-looking croissants buttered nearly to perfection, and Bianca herself ended up with a delectable sugared strudel.
It was almost unbelievable that a shop as good as the one they'd eaten at – crammed into a corner table that barely had enough for one of them, let alone them both – was so tiny, and so unknown. It seemed like just another shop amongst the endless list in Castelia.
Were all of them so delicious, she found herself wondering?
Still, at that moment, they focused in on why they were there in the first place.
They first tried where Bianca had remembered the gym being when she'd come here ages ago, but not-all-that-surprisingly, it had since been moved to a different building in the decade and a half that Bianca had been absent. The building it had used to be housed within now contained a gymnastics studio, which Cynthia seemed vaguely interested in.
So, they started asking around. Or, well, Cynthia asked around, while Bianca sat back awkwardly and waited for the woman to get them some answers. It didn't take them long for someone to point them in the direction of the new Castelia Gym, which was apparently on the outer edges of town.
It would've surprised Bianca, but then, the original Castelia Gym had ostensibly been built into a back alley off of one of the major thoroughfares, so it wasn't like it being built near the outer limits of the city was any different, really.
What she hadn't expected, however, as she and Cynthia stepped up towards the gym, was to see a sign on the door.
One that declared the Gym as 'Closed'.
Bianca frowned, and tried to find some indication as to when the Gym would be opening back up. It didn't really make all that much sense for it to be closed in the first place; not when it was cresting the middle of the day, just before lunch, and Pokémon Gyms were normally open seven days a week.
Worse was that there was no information as to any schedule on the Gym door. There was a schedule, but it was what the closed sign had been placed overtop of, which said to Bianca that said schedule was no longer in effect.
She turned to Cynthia in an effort to get the woman's opinion, and saw her frowning.
"What is it?"
"Well, it's what one of the people I was speaking to earlier said; the one who pointed us towards the Gym. She said that she knew where the Gym was, but that the Gym Leader had been out for a month or so now, and that no one knew when they'd be back."
Bianca felt a wave of nerves flood her. "W-Wait, gone? Missing?"
"I don't know." Cynthia remarked, seeming troubled. "But it's strange; I've never met Burgh myself, but I knew a few people who were familiar with him, and from what they told me, this doesn't seem like him at all."
It didn't mesh very well with Bianca's own experiences with the man, either. Burgh had been a bastion for her and Hilda both; aiding in rescuing Bianca's Pokémon, and afterwards, he'd been a good sport and allowed Bianca to challenge him a total of three times before she'd finally defeated him, and claimed his Gym Badge.
She honestly looked up to the man, so to hear he was missing… it didn't sit right with Bianca. Not at all.
It was just then, however, as the two of them were still stood in front of the apparently empty gym, that the door parted, and out stepped what seemed to be someone who worked within the Gym.
"Ah, hello, there." The man greeted the two of them. "Can I help you with anything?"
"O-Oh, well…" Bianca hesitated, waited for Cynthia to answer for her, and then, realizing that she was perfectly capable of asking such a question herself, probed, "D-Do you happen to know w-where Burgh is?"
"Mr. Burgh? The Gym Leader here?" The man asked, and at Bianca's nod, the man frowned. "Well… Mr. Burgh hasn't been feeling himself lately. He decided to try and get some time away from the big city. He's staying down in his cottage in Pinwheel Forest. I'm afraid he has no intention of taking on any challengers at the moment."
Bianca couldn't help but feel like the wind had been plucked from her sails, hearing that. It must've shown on her face, too, for the man's own expression contorted somewhat.
"…Then again, it's been a full month now, and I've scant heard much at all from the man. I must confess I worry about him out there all alone. In all honesty, I already sent another prospective challenger out there to check on him earlier in the day, but perhaps the two of you, if you intend on challenging Burgh, might also be willing to make the journey?"
Honestly, Bianca probably shouldn't have been so willing to jump at such an opportunity, and yet, the moment the words were out of the man's mouth, she was already turning towards Cynthia, silently asking permission.
Cynthia herself just chuckled. "You don't need my 'okay' to do something, Bianca."
Bianca blushed in embarrassment, but nodded her head as she turned back towards the worker. "Then… in that case, we'll go!"
"Thank you, I appreciate it." The man nodded. "Like I said, he's up in his personal cabin in Pinwheel Forest. I'll give you the GPS coordinates, and you can plug them into your Rotom Phone."
It took them a few minutes to get the coordinates into Cynthia's Rotom phone, but once they did, they bid the man farewell, and began there trek across the Skyarrow Bridge, towards Pinwheel.
It had been years since Bianca had last been on the bridge; albeit she'd been here since her original journey a handful of times. Even so, it had been at least seven or eight years since her last visit, and so she and Cynthia both took some time to take in the wondrous sights that hung off the side of the bridge.
"Look!" Bianca pointed. "A flock of Swanna!"
"They must be flying back north now that spring has begun." Cynthia spoke, leaning against the edge of the guardrail with a wide smile. "Nature never ceases to amaze."
Bianca nodded her head in full agreement.
It was a part of the reason she'd become a Pokémon researcher; she'd wanted to know as much as she could about the many wondrous creatures called Pokémon. They were so varied, and so populous, and yet, despite that, they all shared so many common characteristics. Professor Juniper had theorized that they all hailed from one common ancestor – which was backed by legends that stated Arceus was the progenitor of all Pokémon.
It was a fascinating field of study; the origins of Pokémon. It had always been Professor Juniper's main field of study, and while Bianca herself had often focused on other characteristics, she'd been called on from time to time in order to aid her mentor whenever there was a project that would require more than one set of hands.
But they weren't there to sightsee – as much as Bianca did want to. According to that man back at the Castelia Gym, Burgh, the gym leader who'd once assisted her in getting her Pokémon back from Team Plasma, was in a rough spot.
It felt only right that Bianca tried to help him through his troubles, after what he'd done for her so very long ago.
It took them another thirty or so minutes to walk the length of Skyarrow Bridge, and by the time they crossed over to the other side, it was well past midday.
"Alright," Cynthia muttered to herself as she brought her phone out, and began searching nearby pathways as they exited off of Skyarrow, and made it to the edges of Pinwheel Forest proper. "So… it looks like we're taking a side path for a good hour or so, and then we'll arrive at Burgh's cottage. Luckily enough, from what I'm seeing here, it's a straight shot."
Bianca nodded her head, and eventually, they were on the path.
It wasn't as if Bianca had truly expected the journey to be enthralling, but admittedly, a good twenty or so minutes into walking down the same dirt path through trees that let little light through their canopies, Bianca found herself growing the slightest bit bored.
Well, she also felt rather tranquil as well. It was quite the location. As she'd noted, the fact that less light than was usual was able to get through the canopies of the trees hanging above them bathed the area in a strange darkness, one whose ambiance was only aided by the sounds of bug type Pokémon crying out into the forest surrounding them.
Yes, the calls of Pokémon attempting to mate were wondrous… or, well, when Bianca thought of it like that, it was less relaxing than it had been a moment prior, but even so, she found it somewhat soothing.
A relaxing tone.
…Was that a person shouting, or was Bianca just hearing things?
No, that was definitely someone shouting.
In fact, now that Bianca listened in, she was having trouble not hearing said person. They were really quite animated.
Cynthia, right beside her, had a somewhat disbelieving expression set upon her face.
"There's no way… is it really him?"
It was as they stepped over a particular ridge, and around a particular bend, that they saw just who it was had been making so much noise.
"Yeah, nice job, Snorlax!" The man laughed boisterously as he patted his Pokémon, a hulking Snorlax of considerably larger size than was normal, on the back. "We keep fighting the local wildlife, and we'll get you strong enough to sweep that Burgh guy all on your own!"
Bianca's eyes widened, even as she remembered back to what the worker at Burgh's gym had said.
"In all honesty, I already sent another prospective challenger out there to check on him earlier in the day, but perhaps the two of you, if you intend on challenging Burgh, might also be willing to make the journey?"
Then, this must've been.
"Barry?" Cynthia suddenly called out to him. "Barry, is that you?"
The blonde man turned towards the both of them, a look of recognition on his own face that matched Cynthia's. It took him a moment before his entire countenance lit up, and he exclaimed, "Ms. Cynthia! Hey, good to see you!"
He ran towards them, and stopped right in front of Cynthia, grabbing her hand with both of his and shaking it up and down.
"Man, it's been a seriously long time!" The man – apparently named Barry – continued to speak in an overly energetic manner. "How've you been?"
"I've been well, Barry." Cynthia spoke, chuckling under her breath. "And it's good to see you've not changed a bit; still the same hyperactive friendly face."
Barry laughed as he rubbed at the back of his neck. "I'll take that as a compliment, Ms. Cynthia. And who are you?" He turned to Bianca.
"O-Oh, I'm Bianca, Cynthia's, uhm… apprentice?" She looked to Cynthia for confirmation.
"Oh, I see, are you teaching her–"
Immediately, Cynthia placed a hand over Barry's mouth, smiled at him in a rather unnerving way, and then turned back to Bianca. "Give me a moment to speak with Barry here, alright Bianca?"
"Oh, uh… okay?"
Barry, despite having been silenced and having a hand still covering his mouth, looked entirely nonplused about this whole situation.
The two stepped a way's away to converse with one another about… something. Obviously, it was something about Cynthia that the woman didn't want Barry revealing to Bianca. She didn't really mind that Cynthia was keeping some secrets from her; she'd have been awfully hypocritical given that the same was true in reverse.
"Alright," Cynthia spoke as she stepped back over, smiling at Bianca. "Now that that's settled; I take it you were the other trainer sent to meet with Burgh, Barry?"
"Huh, how'd you figure that out, Ms. Cynthia?"
Cynthia looked over to Bianca, and Bianca realized she was waiting for her to answer.
"W-We spoke with the worker at Burgh's gym about his disappearance into Pinwheel Forest. He said he'd already sent someone out to check on Burgh, but then he asked us to do the same."
"Neat." Barry chuckled. "Well, I'm all for company! So far me and my Snorlax have been facing off against some of the stronger wild Pokémon around, but if you guys caught up to us, then we should probably start really making tracks."
"It does seem that way." Cynthia replied, quite amused.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Bianca!" Barry said again. "Me and Ms. Cynthia here go way back! My friend Dawn and her are actually quite close!"
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the name Dawn sounded familiar to Bianca, but she was unable to truly place it. Instead, she simply nodded her head, and said, "It's nice to meet you, too."
"Haha, alright, let's get goin'!"
Bianca couldn't help but be sort of… lost in the amount of energy that Barry seemed to possess. Every time she was sure he was going to run out of it, he only seemed to find a second – or perhaps by this point maybe fifth or sixth – wind.
He skipped along the path, 'Ooh'ing and 'Aah'ing at the Pokémon that flew overhead, or that hung above them in the trees. He even threw a Pokéball at a Pokémon that ran by, a Whirlipede, and cheered rather loudly when he captured it.
Still, they ended up spotting the cottage they'd come here to find about thirty or forty minutes later. It was a surprisingly large structure compared to what Bianca had been expecting. Honestly, aside from being made entirely out of reddish-brown wood, Bianca would've labeled it as a house more than a cottage. It was two stories tall, and seemed to be at least 1500 square ft, or somewhere around 150 square meters.
And sitting outside, resting his head on one arm and nursing a glass of alcohol in his other hand, was Burgh.
The man looked… well, he didn't look good. Obviously, a decade and a half had passed since last they'd met, so a good deal of the wrinkles on Burgh's face were simply due to aging. However, the bags under his eyes, and the completely unkempt five o'clock shadow on his face seemed to indicate only that he'd not been paying any attention to himself at all. His eyes seemed bloodshot from what Bianca could see. His hair was puffy and frazzled, which wasn't too different than when Bianca had last seen the man a decade and a half ago, but it seemed quite a bit more frayed.
His psyche looked no better, on account of the fact that there was an open bottle of wine beside him, which seemed to be almost entirely empty. On its own that might not have been too much of a problem, but…
Well, there were two empty bottles at his feet as well.
All in all, as far as first impressions went, Burgh was not setting the best.
And… it hurt Bianca, to see the man who'd once been there for her, who'd once helped her, reduced to such a state.
Bianca wasn't quite sure how to go about breaking the ice here, though. Burgh hadn't noticed them – at least she didn't think he had – which meant that it fell to one of them to be the one to–
"Hey, Mr. Burgh!" Barry suddenly shouted out as he stepped forward, smiling widely. "How you doin'!?"
The man jumped in his seat, spilling some of the wine in his glass on his outfit, and cursing under his breath. Immediately, Bianca winced, and Cynthia did no different.
"Who in the–" Burgh looked up at Barry with a glare, before taking in the lot of them in their entirety. His eyes seemed to stop on Cynthia a moment, as if he was trying to place her, but he must not have quite been able to, for the moment passed, and he turned back to Barry. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"The name's Barry, Mr. Burgh!" Barry stated as he walked up towards the man, and, seemingly ignoring the way the man was attempting to glare a hole straight through him, offered his hand out to be shaken. "I was sent to check up on you by the workers at your gym, sir!"
Immediately, some of the hostility within Burgh's eyes faded, and he took a deep, shuddering breath as he set the glass of alcohol down on the table beside him, and rubbed at his temples.
"Ah, I see. They sent you, huh?"
Burgh actually chuckled, albeit it seemed like quite a dry laugh. "You're quite the energetic one, aren't you?"
"People say that about me quite a lot, yeah!"
"Well…" Burgh shook his head. "If you're only here to check up on me, then let the guy's back at my gym know I'm fine. I don't need them to–"
"Actually, I was here to get your gym badge, sir!" Barry said without a hint of shame. "I thought that I could challenge you out here while I was checking up on you!"
"You…" Burgh looked up at Barry disbelievingly, before glancing over at Bianca and Cynthia as well. "And you two? What are you doing here?"
"U-Uhm…" Bianca felt quite a bit embarrassed to admit that, "S-Sort of the same thing?"
"You… both saw that my gym was closed, and thought that you should go and find me out in the forest to challenge me?"
It sounded quite ridiculous when the man laid it out like that for them.
"Yep!" Barry, again, said without a single iota of shame or embarrassment.
"I… have no words." Burgh sighed. "Well, sorry, but if you can't tell, I'm not taking challengers at the moment."
That was perhaps the single least surprising bit of information that Bianca had received so far. She had been able to tell that by getting a single look at Burgh. The man was… he was hurting, that was clear. Whatever it was that had done such to him was a mystery, but Bianca had seen that expression the man was wearing.
She'd seen it on herself in the mirror.
It was perhaps that sentiment that had her stepping forward, placing a hand on her breast, and saying, "U-Uhm, Mr. Burgh?"
"Yeah, what is it?" The man looked up at her blankly.
"You uhm… you probably don't remember me, but…" She swallowed on some spittle, trying to bring some moisture to her barren throat. "Fourteen years ago, back when Team Plasma was in their heyday, you helped me to get my Pokémon back from them, alongside Ms. Iris, and a few other–"
"Wait… Bianca?" Burgh suddenly spoke, and Bianca felt a rush of nerves and happiness filter through her all at once. "Is that… you?"
"Y-Yes, it is. Uhm, it's good to see you, sir."
"Hah… haha…" The man laughed, and for once, Bianca thought she heard some semblance of real happiness filtering through his tone. His entire countenance lit up, too. "Well, I can't say I expected to meet up with you again here of all places! Last I'd heard you were working with Professor Juniper!"
Bianca actually blushed. "You… knew that?"
"Hah, I will admit that back in the day I actually checked in on you from time to time. Hilda and Cheren… well, when they challenged me, they didn't seem to have any doubts. The former was handling herself a lot better than the latter, but I… well, after you beat me, I occasionally called my fellow gym leaders and asked how you were doing. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I worried about you."
Bianca honestly didn't take that the wrong way at all. She knew, of course, what kind of person she'd been back then; how she'd been constantly teetering atop a knife's edge. In the end, she'd fallen, unable to keep her balance. That Burgh had sought to try and keep track of her whereabouts… it meant a great deal to her.
"Oh, so you guys know each other, huh?" Barry cut in, smiling brightly. "That's really cool!"
Burgh laughed at Barry's total brazenness, and didn't seem to take it in a bad or unfortunate manner.
"Yeah, from way, way back. When last I saw Bianca here, she was… what, fourteen?"
Bianca nodded a bit embarrassedly. "Y-Yeah, I was."
"That would make you twenty-eight now, right?" Burgh chuckled as Bianca nodded, before shivering. "Oh god, that makes me feel old."
Their entire group chuckled at that, and Burgh seemed to be feeling somewhat better, because, in the next moment, he cleared his throat, and said, "Well, I'm still not planning on taking on challengers for the time being, but if you all would like, this cottage has more than enough rooms for you all to stay here a while, if you'd like?"
It wasn't exactly the scenario that Bianca had been expecting, and yet, as she looked towards Cynthia, wondering what the woman would think about such an arrangement, she found herself thinking quite favorably upon it.
"I'm down!" Barry slammed one fist into the other palm. "I can get some kick-butt training here in Pinwheel Forest while I'm at it! Oh, Bianca, how about the two of us spar against each other, too!?"
"Oh, uhm…" Bianca hesitated a moment, before nodding her head a bit nervously. "I think that could be fun, I guess?"
"Then it's settled." Burgh said as he stood from out of his chair, and gathered up the bottles of wine. "I'll go put on a pot of coffee… Arceus knows I need it. And…"
It was only then that Burgh seemed to finally put together exactly who Cynthia was. His eyes widened, his countenance shifted, and he looked back and forth between Bianca and Cynthia for a while before asking, "And if you wouldn't mind, Bianca, I'd like to have a word with your…"
"Mentor." Cynthia spoke. "And certainly. Bianca, how about you and Barry have a quick sparring session, and I'll go and speak with Burgh?"
Bianca nodded her head, even if she hadn't truly been planning on training that exact moment. it was hard to argue that it wouldn't be helpful, however, and so she decided to just go along with the flow for now.
"Alright!" Barry exclaimed as Cynthia and Burgh retreated into the cottage behind them. "Why don't we start with a quick one-on-one?"
"A-A single Pokémon versus another?" Bianca asked, getting a bit caught up in Barry's rhythm.
"Okay…" Bianca hesitated a moment before reaching towards the first Pokéball on her belt. "Uhm… shouldn't we have an officiator?"
"Nah," Barry chuckled. "It's cool. In a sparring match, we're not really going to fight until we knock each other out or anything. I mean, we're out in the middle of Pinwheel Forest! Not like there's a Pokémon Center anywhere nearby."
Actually, that was an incredibly good point.
"…So how should we do this, then?"
"We'll figure it out as we go!"
Bianca wished she had a shred of Barry's confidence.
Still, they did end up figuring it out as they went. Their spar was a rather quick affair – Bianca's Bagon up against Barry's Heracross. The latter took the victory without much effort.
Her Bagon wasn't too badly injured or anything, but when it was clear she was facing defeat, she recalled it back into its Pokéball without a word. She watched as, across the way from her, Barry did the same with a touch more enthusiasm than her.
"Haha, well done, buddy!" He held out a hand, and his Heracross gleefully high-fived him, before Barry recalled it back into its Pokéball as well.
Bianca couldn't help but frown staring at such a sight, although she wouldn't admit to herself the real reason why.
While Bianca was initially minorly frustrated about the results of the contest, Barry's words following it helped to calm her.
"Actually, I'm pretty darn good!" The man said with a laugh that somehow hadn't an ounce of ego within it. "I usually place pretty highly in tournaments that I attend, and I've even won a few of them here and there."
"Yeah!" Barry smiled widely. "I'm not quite as good as my friend Dawn is, but I don't think there's much shame in that."
"Dawn…" Bianca hummed. "I feel like I've heard that name before."
"You probably have." Barry puffed up slightly, as if proud of his friend. "Dawn is one of the two twin champions of Sinnoh, after all!"
All of a sudden, the information that Bianca had been trying to access for the last thirty or so minutes clicked into place, and she exclaimed, "That Dawn!?"
"Mhm." Barry hummed out in response. "She's just about the toughest trainer around. She's kind of my idol, to be honest!"
Bianca couldn't help but mentally note that, because Barry had said that Cynthia and Dawn were close, that meant that Cynthia was close friends with two champions, Wallace and Dawn. If Bianca had to guess, it was likely she was a sponsor of Pokémon events, which would've explained how she knew so many of them.
If she was constantly at celebratory dinners, or at pre-match parties, then she'd have more than enough time to schmooze with the best of the best.
…Although, somehow, the idea of Cynthia schmoozing didn't quite add up in her brain.
Odd. She'd set that aside for later.
"So… does that mean you're a champion, too?" She asked Barry, and the man laughed.
"Not quite, though I have beaten Dawn a few times in my career." The man ran a finger between his upper lip and the bottom of his nose, preening somewhat. "I don't mean to toot my own horn, but like I said, I'm pretty good. So don't be too ashamed that you lost, Bianca. I think you're doing pretty darn well for yourself!"
It might have sounded conceited out of quite literally anyone else's mouth, but somehow, when Barry said it, Bianca couldn't help but believe the man was being genuine. She felt that there wasn't a single mean bone in his entire body.
"Thanks." She murmured with a small smile, feeling a bit better. "Well, if you don't mind… could you and I train together, then? I wouldn't mind seeing how someone with as much experience as you goes about something like battling. Cynthia's very helpful, but given she's not a Pokémon trainer, I don't think she can help me in all facets of this stuff."
Barry looked like he was about to say something, then seemingly caught himself, and nodded his head with a laugh.
"Sure, I'd love to! I don't do a lot that's special, and most of it is honestly copied from what Dawn does, but hey, her stuff works!"
Bianca laughed. "It certainly seems to."
"Alright, then! Let's head on out!"
And so, the two of them stepped out into Pinwheel Forest proper, content to engage in some training before they eventually headed back to Burgh's cabin in the evening.
But for now, those thoughts were not what Bianca lurked on.
No. it was the sight of Barry and his Heracross sharing a high-five. Such an innocent moment of happiness between Pokémon and trainer.
Bianca put it out of her mind as best she could.
She wasn't particularly successful.
End Chapter 7
Alright, another chapter of Who We Used to Be, and the setup for the next arc. We'll be stationed here at Burgh's cabin in Pinwheel for the next little while. Think 4-5 chapters? The same general timeframe we were in Sootopolis, really.
Anyways, in slightly worser news, I am taking programming classes that are kicking my ass right now. I'm managing currently, but I didn't find the time to work on this story at all this past week. I have some reserve chapters, so we're mostly fine, but if I can't work on this story next week either, I'll probably put this story on a bi-weekly schedule for a while, just until Cinderella and Prince Charming (my current other story) is finished.
Tentatively, however, we're keeping the weekly schedule for now.
Alright, see you all next week!