Yo! Back again with another chapter. Opelucid is going to be this chapter, the next, and then maaaybe one more? We'll have to see. After that we'll have a bit of a longer arc, but for now, let's get into it!

Chapter 18

Bianca awakened bright and early the next morning, groaning under her breath as she tried to decide whether or not being a productive member of society was worth being up this early.

She came to the conclusion that no, it wasn't, before Cynthia was in her line of sight, smiling down at her, and yanking the covers off of her.

She hissed like a Purloin, but did, eventually, relent.

"You're terrible." She glared at Cynthia after she'd taken a shower and gotten dressed. "Absolutely terrible."

"I'm sure." Cynthia snorted. "Now, c'mon. You were the one who wanted to get some training in before your match today, no?"

That… okay, yes, admittedly, that had been the case.

But she'd also made such a decision A. before she'd gone to sleep last night, and B. At a point in time where she wouldn't have to face the consequences of her own actions.

Past Bianca, present Bianca concluded, was a coward.

The jury was still out on future Bianca.

They exited the hotel around six-thirty in the morning, which was far, far earlier than Bianca normally awoke to do anything. But in fairness, she'd asked for this, and Cynthia had only acquiesced to her request.

They weren't going particularly far, in truth. Route 10 was just north of the city, and was a hotspot for trainers looking to get practice in for both Gym battles, and, far more commonly, the Pokémon League.

Or perhaps the word 'common' was not correct, for in truth, there were only ten or so trainers on the entire route, and a good few of them were Opelucid locals. The number of people who genuinely crossed route 10 on their way to the Pokémon League was quite small, as a matter of fact.

That was simply due to the fact that not many trainers who began their journeys ever actually made it this far.

Collecting eight gym badges alone was a difficult, taxing, months-long effort, something that few in the world had the patience and energy to accomplish. Her and her friends, Cheren, Hilda, and N had all been exceptions, and the latter… well, N didn't really count.

Many trainers didn't even collect a single gym badge before deciding to focus on something else, like Pokémon breeding, contests, or collecting. On a random day in the middle of the season, it added up in Bianca's eyes that there would be so few present.

Still, they did end up training with those present. Bianca was quite a bit weaker than most of them, and had quite a few less Pokémon. She possessed only a Bagon, Milotic, and Leavanny, after all, and though the latter two could usually hold their own, even against larger, more well-rounded teams…

Well, Bagon was having trouble keeping up.

"Are you alright?" She asked the Pokémon as she kneeled down beside it, and ran her hand down the ridges on its back. "We can stop here for today, if you'd like."

Her Bagon rather feistily declined her words, shaking its head back and forth vehemently, before pushing itself back onto its feet. It yapped up at her, and she smiled, if somewhat weakly, at seeing its enthusiasm.

"Alright, then." She spoke, turning back towards one of the other trainers that they'd been fighting, and calling out for them to give her a moment. She reached into her bag and drew out a hyper potion, which she sprayed on Bagon's wounds. They healed almost immediately, and her Pokémon gave an excited cry in response.

"Let's get back to it."


The unsurprising fact come the end of the day was that Bianca was not, it turned out, ready to face trainers preparing to take on the Pokémon league.

She said unsurprising because she'd expected as much. Even if she was training to eventually hit such heights – and truly, to surpass said heights – She was likely only halfway through her journey at present, if not less than that.

Nowhere was that more emblematic than in Bagon, the first Pokémon she'd received upon the start of her journey.

Bagon was walking alongside them, having been too down for Bianca to want to put it back inside its Pokéball. Bagon was clearly struggling, if the look on its face was anything to go by.

Today, it had learned how weak it truly was.

Bianca knew what that felt like. Had experienced it more times than she could count.

She had tried to offer comfort to Bagon, but it had seemed as if her Pokémon didn't quite want to hear that from her. Or, at least, it wasn't quite ready to hear as such from her yet.

That was fine. Bianca understood that these things could take time. She was willing to give it.

That wasn't the problem, however. They had a match coming up at the end of the day, which was rapidly approaching them, judging by the sun hanging high in the sky.

They likely only had five or six hours to work through this.

That, or they'd go into the battle against Iris unsteady and reeling. Bianca knew from experience fighting Wallace that such could only end in disaster.

Only it seemed as if that might not be nearly as much of a problem as they'd thought.

"I'm really sorry," Iris apologized for the third time as she bowed her head to them. "I just… I wasn't really feeling it after talking with Mars, and–"

"It's fine." Bianca spoke, even if somewhere deep in her heart of hearts she was a tad disappointed. "Delaying the match isn't a big deal. Besides, Cynthia and I are still trapped here in Opelucid until her jet is repaired."

"I… suppose that's true." Iris laughed awkwardly, scratching at the side of her face. "I guess I just… I didn't want to disappoint you."

"And you haven't." She assured the woman, which felt odd, given she was one of very few people Bianca knew younger than her. "Really. I, likely more than anyone, understand that sometimes you just need a break from it all."

"I suppose you would…" Iris noted, nodding her head before hesitating somewhat. "Uhm, Cynthia, may I speak with you a moment?"

Bianca's mentor seemed rather surprised at being pulled aside, but she didn't express any further dissatisfaction than that. She walked over a way's away with Iris, and discussed something with her for thirty or so seconds.

She stepped back over, alongside Iris, and bowed to the both of them.

"Then I'll take my leave. Have a good night, you two."

Cynthia left without a word, and though Bianca wasn't exactly flailing uselessly without her presence, she could admit she felt a bit less confident without Cynthia at her side.

"Uhm… what's…"

"Sorry." Iris murmured, sounding more unsteady than Bianca had ever heard. "The truth is, I asked Cynthia if the two of us could talk in private. After all… there are some things I'd like to ask you, and some others I'd like to show you."

Bianca's eyes widened somewhat, but after a while, she nodded her head, and Iris led her out of Opelucid proper.

They walked the edges of the city for a few minutes until they reached a rather humble-looking abode. It took Bianca a few seconds too long to realize that this was likely Iris' home, and even then, she admitted with some embarrassment that the thing that keyed her in was when the woman unlocked the door.

"Come in, please, and make yourself at home!" Iris announced cheerily, although there was a note to said excitement that seemed to ring almost… hollow to Bianca's ears.

She did just that, however, slipping off her shoes and setting them beside Iris' own. There were only those two pairs, which told Bianca that they were the only two people in the house. But then, she likely could've gathered that from the absolute silence within the building, outside of Iris' own footsteps as she made her way into the kitchen, and began putting on a pot of coffee.

They didn't end up doing very much for a while after that. Iris finished making the coffee, came out into the kitchen where Bianca had been patiently waiting, and poured them both a cup. To Bianca's surprise, Iris took her coffee black – which seemed like the antithesis of Iris, but who was she to judge?

"There's… something I've been meaning to tell you, ever since you arrived here." Iris began, and Bianca's brow furrowed somewhat in confusion. "I… I didn't want to battle you until we'd cleared the air."

"Cleared the air?" She couldn't help being somewhat… doubtful that there was any air to be cleaned between them in the first place. "Iris, you don't have to apologize to me for anything, at all."

"That's…" The woman reached up and massaged at her face with both hands, seeming so oddly vulnerable for the normally unflappable, invincible girl. "That's not precisely the case."

She stood from her position at the table, walked over to a nearby shelf, and opened it. From within, she took a weathered letter, one whose seal had long since been broken, and slid it across so that it was just in front of Bianca.

Then, she gestured for her to take a look at it.

Bianca did, albeit somewhat hesitantly. She had no real concept of where this was going, even as she peered down at the letter in front of her, flipped it around to check the sender, and–

Her breath caught in her throat.

To Iris, it said. From Hilda.

"W-What is…" Her voice was quiet.

"A letter. From Hilda. Just a few weeks before she was officially declared missing." Iris spoke. "It's… it's very likely that this is the last piece of communication that Hilda gave to anyone in all the world."

Bianca had made that same connection. It hadn't been until she'd been gone without a trace for two or so years that questions had begun to surface regarding her location, and it had taken Bianca personally another few years to accept that her best friend wasn't coming back.

But this… it meant that…

"Hilda… she was alive even two years after she disappeared." She half-spoke, half-gasped out the words. "That… that changes…"

"It changes a few things, yes, but ultimately…" Iris sighed, sitting back down in her chair opposite Bianca's own and running a hand down her face. For the first time that Bianca had ever seen, the woman across from her looked tired. Tired, and worn out, and not at all like herself. "Just because she was alive two years after she left Unova doesn't mean that she's alive today."

It was a knife to the gut, no matter how undeniable such a truth was. So many theories had been bubbling up in Bianca's chest in that instant, and for them to all be dashed against the wall…

She couldn't quite deny that it hurt more than she'd expected it to. That she felt lost, and confused, and more than a little angry.

She took it out on the woman sitting across from her almost immediately.

"…Why would she send you a letter, and not Cheren or I?" She said, and she regretted the level of vitriol that had sunk into her voice instantly. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't–"

"I asked myself that same question time and time again." Iris laughed, but it was a sad thing, filled with years and years of pain. "Why me, of all people? Why not her friends, why not her professor, or her mother, or… well, read the letter."

Iris gestured for her to do the same, and so she took the somewhat faded paper out of the envelope it had been contained within, and began to read.

Dear Iris,

I regret to inform you that I don't believe I'll be able to return to Unova for quite some time. I have a responsibility to see something through, something that only I can do. I would inform you, but I believe some things are best kept close to the chest. I wish you the best in your role as champion, and believe that you will succeed wholeheartedly.

Though I must provide a word of warning; I believe there are two figures who will one day come to challenge you. Two figures who will have what it takes to surpass you. My friends, Cheren, and Bianca. I ask that that you prepare yourself for their inevitable appearances, and when the time comes, that you face them with everything that you are.

Thank you for everything,


It was… it was so brief. So very little information to go on. Almost nothing, in the grand scheme of things.

Hilda hadn't said what she'd been planning on doing when she disappeared. She hadn't said where she was going, or if she'd gone with anyone at all – they'd always assumed N had been with her, given he too had dropped off the face of the earth around that same time – to her destination.

"At first, I didn't understand why she'd send me, of all people, a letter, instead of one of you…" Iris said it quietly, but there was a melancholic smile on her face. "But I realized why that was eventually. It was because she wanted me to be there for the two of you, for you and Cheren both. For when you would challenge the Pokémon League, for when you'd attempt to become champions yourselves. To wait, and to prepare."


Bianca found herself gazing down at the letter, reading and rereading it over and over again, trying to gleam some hidden meaning from out of the words, but in the end, there was nothing at all.

It was really just… so very simple.

She'd never intended for this to be the last words she ever communicated, and yet, despite that, they likely were.

She'd had such faith in them. She'd believed them to be those who would one day challenge for the position of champion of Unova. She and Cheren both.

And while Cheren had come close numerous times…

"She was wrong." The words stung as they passed her lips. "I wasn't… neither Cheren or I could ever hope to live up to her expectations."

Iris took issue with that, it seemed.

"Was she? Was she really wrong?"

Bianca's lips parted to speak, but in the end no sound came out.

"I don't think she was. I think her timeframe might've been a bit off, but seeing you now…" Iris smiled, then, and Bianca felt something burning behind her eyes, within her heart. "There's no doubt in my mind you could do it if you tried."

"Iris…" Bianca felt tears welling up, the words meaning more to her than she'd thought they possibly could. "I… maybe Cheren, but I–"

"No. None of that." Iris spoke a bit petulantly, crossing her arms over her breasts and harrumphing. "I don't want to hear you belittling yourself. I… I would know more than anyone how easy it is to only see the negatives in oneself. But from the outside, all I can see when I look at you, Bianca, is how much you've grown since I last saw you."

Bianca was flabbergasted to hear as such. "…What? I… that's not… I used to be bubbly, and outgoing, and… and I used to be able to talk to people, but–"

"You're misremembering." Iris spoke, and her voice was like steel. "Or at the very least, you're attributing too much to your past self. You believe her to be this… this almost mythical figure that you ruined, but that's simply not the case. You, right here, right now, are enough. You are the best version of yourself that you've ever been."

Bianca gaped like a fish, her mouth opening and closing without any real rhyme or reason. She knew she should probably say something, but she wasn't quite sure what.

In the end, the thing that came to her was a question. Something that had stood out to her while Iris had been speaking.

"…You… you said that you understood what it was like to only see the negatives in yourself…?"

"Ah… heard that, did you?" Iris smiled, but it was a wan thing, and she ran her hand along the side of her neck as she looked away from Bianca, trying to find some excuse, or escape. "It's… complicated."

"W-Well…" Bianca didn't want to pry, she just wasn't the type, but… "If I can help, then please, tell me."

Iris stared at her a while, then, seemingly uncertain of how to handle the scenario she'd found herself in. But after a moment's time, her smile gained some energy, some life, and she said, "…Maybe you'd know better than anyone the kinds of things I'm going through, too."

It seemed impossible that Iris, of all people, could go through the kinds of things that Bianca had. A lack of faith in herself, feeling like she'd never lived up to the expectations she'd had set for her, and the expectations that she'd set for herself, a desire to go back to how she'd used to be…

Surely, Iris hadn't felt all of those?

"The truth of the matter is…" Iris sighed, running a hand through her hair and mussing it up a bit. "I felt like I never lived up to Hilda's expectations."

"What!?" She shook her head, unable to rectify those words with the reality in her mind. "That's not… how could you feel that way?"

"Hah…" Iris chuckled darkly. "A lot of the people I talked with this about said the same thing. That they couldn't believe I'd be struggling with image issues. I guess it makes sense, from an outside perspective. After all, I was a champion for quite a while, and even after giving up the position, I've stayed a gym leader this entire time."

Bianca nodded, because all of what Iris had said made sense to her. It was, in fact, almost her exact line of thought.

So how had Iris…

"But at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is that I didn't feel that way. And what others think about you matters a lot less than what you think about you."

Bianca rather agreed with those words, nodding her head somewhat absently.

"When I became the champion of Unova, it was more of a stopgap. Hilda had given up her position in order to do… well, something, she never did tell anyone, and the league needed someone to fill in. It was originally going to be Alder, but he basically refused outright." Iris laughed. "He'd had enough of it, I think. Wanted to go back to traveling the world. I can't blame him. The baton was passed to the Elite Four Members, but in the end… well, I stepped up, and won the position."

Bianca didn't remember much from that time. She'd been busy focusing on getting her feet wet in her new position at Professor Juniper's lab, and had, thusly, spent most of her time busy. She'd heard through the grapevine that Iris had been made champion sometime a few months later, but knew next to nothing about the process that had taken place to get there.

"In the end, they selected me to be champion. And at first, I was thrilled!" Iris smiled, and it brought some life back to her features. "I was getting to live out my dream as I'd always dreamt it; champion of Unova, the strongest trainer in all the land… but the years passed. Hilda didn't come back. She'd sent me that letter, and… I guess once I had it, I felt like Hilda was going to be counting on me. Like she was up there, somewhere, looking down on me, and making sure I held up my end of the bargain."

Bianca could understand that. No, perhaps more than anyone else on the planet, she resonated with that. She, too, had often spoken with Hilda, asked her what she should be doing, how to approach certain things. Even when she'd long been gone, long been but a memory.

"But as the months turned to years, and as they just kept going, I guess… I began to feel like the life of a champion wasn't for me. Sure, I could travel around with all of my offtime, and sure, I got invited to all sorts of tournaments and tv shows, but… that had never been why I'd become a Pokémon trainer in the first place. I'd done all of that to face off against other trainers! To battle against the best of the best, and to barely scrape my way to victory! Being a champion meant that I often only fought a single trainer in a month, oftentimes even more sparingly than that!"

Iris sighed.

"And in the end… it got to me. Both the pressure of being the champion, and my own desires. It didn't help that in terms of overall power level, I was probably the weakest of all the champions. I was going on sixteen at the time, and most of my fellow champions were in their thirties. They had easily double my experience, and it showed. I was usually the first to be eliminated in mock exhibition matches and the like. I felt like… if I was stuck as the champion, only getting the chance to actually learn and grow monthly – if that – …I was never going to be able to live up to my own expectations for myself."

"And so…" Iris continued. "I gave it up. I surrendered the position to Caitlin, and I came back here, to Opelucid. I took up being head of the Gym again, and… well, I felt better. I was getting to battle so much more often! And being tested, genuinely, by trainers from across the world. But… I couldn't help feeling that by giving up the position of champion, I'd failed Hilda. I'd failed her, and her expectations of me, and even the two of you."

Bianca was rather surprised to hear all of this coming from Iris. She'd thought her unchanged, unbowed by the flow of time, just as Elesa seemingly had thought she was, but…

No. It seemed as if no matter what, no matter who, in the end, everyone changed. Even if they didn't seem to.

"I understand, of course, that Hilda wouldn't have wanted me to be stuck in a position I hated. But my brain and my heart don't really like getting along with each other all that much," Iris chuckled. "What can you do, I suppose?"

"I…" Bianca hesitated. "…I don't know."

"And that's the problem. Neither do I."

That, it seemed, was that.

"Well, I'm sorry for being so depressing!" Iris put on a much more enthusiastic and bubblier persona. "I'm going to go ahead and get ready for our match tomorrow… if tomorrow works for you?"

It was as clear of a dismissal as Bianca had ever received, but she wasn't too terribly upset about that. All in all, a lot of the things she'd learned here she needed to think over either by herself, or with Cynthia's assistance. She wouldn't share Iris' own story, but those things related to Hilda, and her expectations for herself and Cheren…

Well, those she'd likely talk about.

"Yeah, tomorrow works." She said, as she too stood up. "It's been lovely getting to talk with you one-on-one again, Iris. The last time was…"

"I think it is was during that incident with Team Plasma, no?"

"Mm. It was."

"That takes me back." Iris said, but the smile on her face didn't reach her eyes. "Well… have a good day, Bianca."

"You too, Iris."

She stepped out of the house, wiped at her eyes, and tried to pretend like she was totally okay.

It didn't work.

End Chapter 18

Bianca and Iris talk. Things are sad. Just kind of this fic in a nutshell, huh?

Anyways, hope you guys enjoyed! Next chapter will come next week!