Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon.




Author Notes: Chapter 14. A bit delayed, but here it is.

Chapter 14 – A New Coordinator

"We should be arriving to Rustboro Hall in a few minutes," Brock announced to his traveling friends, his apparently perpetually-closed eyes focused on his map of the area they were currently in. "That means we're exiting Petalburg Woods and entering Rustboro City's outskirts now."

"Awesome. That means I'm gonna get my second badge soon," Ash commented eagerly with a grin. "I'll be one badge closer to the Hoenn League then," he added elatedly. He turned to glance at Pikachu. "Isn't that nice, buddy?"

Pikachu nodded once. "Yep, it is. Hey, will I be participating this time around?" he asked curiously. The electric-type hadn't taken part in the team that fought against Norman back at Petalburg City, the lack of action causing him to feel eager for the battle at the next Pokémon Gym.

"Nope," Ash answered immediately, making the Mouse Pokémon moan in disappointment and slump down on his trainer's shoulder in dismay. Latios sent a snide chuckle at him, his gesture making Pikachu sigh softly. "I wanna use Treecko, Larvitar and Phanpy for this battle," the trainer added to his original answer as further explanation of his motives for leaving his most trusted partner out. "The kids have been doing well lately, and I'd like them to get a bit more experience. Also, I need to test Treecko out. It'll be our first battle together."

"Surprisingly, that's actually a very good team selection for this battle," Brock noted, his eyes now fixed on his informative book of the Hoenn League. "The Gym Leader of Rustboro City is a rock-type trainer. Larvitar and Phanpy are ground-types and Treecko is a grass-type. All of them have a good advantage over rock-types."

"Huh, that's surprising. Was that intentional or by dumb luck?" Latios asked in amusement as he glanced at Ash, already expecting the painfully obvious answer.

"I obviously chose my Pokémon very carefully," Ash lied, interlocking his hands behind his head in what he hoped looked like a cool, casual gesture. Needless to say, it didn't work. Nobody believed him for a second.

"Remember to be careful, Ash. You tend to screw up the worst when you have good advantages in battles," Pikachu advised.

Ash paused slightly and sweatdropped. "I'll keep that in mind, Pikachu," he responded aloud at the same time as he thought, 'Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, buddy.'

"You know he's right, though," Latios said, taking care to direct his words solely to be heard by Ash.

'Ack! Hey, I don't need your opinions on the matter, too!' Ash thought back in clear irritation.

"Just saying," replied Latios innocently, although he didn't bother to hide a small mental snicker of amusement at the end. Ash growled, gritting his teeth in annoyance.

"Though, is Treecko going to be physically fit for battling?" Latias asked abruptly, concerned for the grass-type's wellbeing. "He was injured by Seviper after all," she pointed out.

"I'm sure Professor Oak will get Treecko the care he needs when he receives him at his lab," Brock answered confidently. "We can ask him about his condition once we get to Rustboro City's Pokémon Center. If he's not ready, Ash will have to select another Pokémon."

"Hopefully me," Pikachu interrupted pointedly. Ash pretended not to pay attention him, and this earned him a glare from the electric-type. This, in return, generated an amused chuckle from Latios again.

"We'll see, then," Latias said telepathically, also ignoring Pikachu's interruption. "I hope Treecko's okay." She paused for a few seconds before changing topics. "Anyway, what's Rustboro Hall?" the dragoness asked, peeking over Brock's shoulder to glance at the book he was reading. At the time, due to them nearing the city outskirts, which increased the chances of running into other people, both Eon Dragons were invisible.

"It's a Pokémon Contest arena," Brock replied. He read carefully, checking the scheduled contests that the book's information provided. "Huh, there's a contest scheduled for today. It'll be later this afternoon. Maybe we can have a look at it."

"Oh, I'm definitely interested in that." Bianca smiled at the idea, feeling happy and eager at the chance to witness a contest live for the first time in her life.

"Me too!" Latias squealed cheerfully, instantly voicing her excitement on the matter. "Contests were awesome on TV! I can't begin to imagine how much cooler they'll be in person!"

Bianca nodded in agreement. "You got that right, Latias. I wonder what kind of stuff we'll see over there."

"I have no clue what's going on or what a contest is supposed to be," Pikachu stated flatly.

Ash frowned and quickly followed up with, "I don't know either."

Latios chuckled at his companions' lack of knowledge on the topic. "Like Pokémon, like trainer, it seems," the dragon joked mentally. Pikachu glared at the dragon again, or rather, at the general direction he thought the dragon was. He then proceeded to fire a powerful Thunderbolt in retaliation from pure annoyance. Latios was a bit surprised the electric-type had gotten the direction right, but without a visual reference for Pikachu to aim at, the dragon had to put little effort in evading the attack. "Missed me," he taunted, making Pikachu roll his eyes. Latios had a broad understanding of what a contest was, since Latias often made him watch them with her on Bianca's TV back at Alto Mare. Though the dragon admitted it wasn't something that really caught his interest in general, he was glad to do it for his sister.

Several minutes later, the group arrived to the aforementioned landmark. "This must be Rustboro Hall," Brock declared as a very large and impressive dome-shaped building came into view. The domed roof of the structure was painted in a brightly stunning lavender color and had a vivid red and yellow Pokémon contest advertisement banner located in the center of the rounded facade, facing the road that led to it. The rest of the structure was painted with an elegant cream color, with arch-shaped windows and entries lining the outer wall of the arena. The dirt road of the forest came to an end, giving way to a cement corridor coated in stylish red tiles that marked the path towards the arena. The walkway was framed with very neatly trimmed trees and bushes, followed by spectacular steel archways that were covered in well-kept plants and colorful roses.

"Wow, Rustboro Hall is definitely contest material," Bianca commented with awe, raising an eyebrow in surprise at the stunning first impression it provided. "I hope the inside is as impressive as the outside."

"I'm definitely curious to see this contest," Latias said telepathically, eyeing all the neat ornaments and designs that were in the hall's courtyard. "I loved seeing them on TV. They're so pretty!"

"Yes, I know you did, considering you made me watch them with you," Latios grumbled sister giggled softly and nuzzled her brother playfully. Latios smiled and wrapped an arm around his younger sibling's neck, pulling her into a quick hug.

Bianca glanced at Ash and Brock. "Have you two seen contests before or know what they're about?" she asked curiously. She herself had seen many Pokémon Contests herself while living at Alto Mare, as it was a topic that greatly interested her. This was primarily because contests could be interpreted as an artistic-styled competition for both Pokémon and trainers.

Brock nodded slowly. "I've seen many contests before. Most on TV, but some of them live when they were held near Pewter City. Coordinators focus on bringing out the best of a Pokémon to get better appeal in a contest. They raise their Pokémon to be in an attractive physical condition, as well as exceptional health, skill, and style, rather than just pure strength and power. Due to how challenging that can be, they often receive many kinds of advice and services from professional breeders to help them out. In my case, I watched contests to see how others had raised their Pokémon to be the best so I could learn from them. It's a very good activity for an aspiring breeder like myself to learn the tricks of the trade," the former Pewter City gym leader elaborated.

Ash hummed, thinking about his friend's words for several seconds. "I think I might have seen one or two announced on TV when I was in Pallet Town, but I don't think I really ever paid much attention to them and changed the channel pretty fast. I've always been super interested in the leagues and battle competitions, you know, stuff that focuses on being the strongest, not about looking pretty like contests. So no, I don't know anything about contests," the young Pokémon trainer answered.

Bianca let out a soft chuckle at the contrasting opinions of her two traveling companions regarding contests, and smiled softly afterwards. It didn't really surprise her. "Well, think we can stay around to watch it?" she requested. "I doubt we'll reach Rustboro City in time to get a battle today anyways, it's almost noon. Plus, if you really want to use Treecko, a good night of recovery would be good for him." She glanced at Ash, waiting for his answer.

Ash frowned, instantly disliking the idea that his much anticipated battle for a second badge couldn't be that day, but knew that Bianca was right on both of her statements. "Sure, I think. I'm not sure I'm interested to see this contest, but I might learn something new, or even see more new Hoenn Region Pokémon. So… umm, yeah… I guess."

Bianca nodded. "It's settled, then."

Latias grinned, enjoying the taken decision. "I'm happy that we'll watch it. I can't wait to see what kinds of amazing moves and combinations the participants are gonna do." She glanced at her brother. "What about you?" she inquired.

Latios shrugged in an unsure fashion. "Eh, I'm not really sure, to be honest. Not exactly my real interest," he answered, making Latias pout at him. As the group walked near the large contest arena, they saw several coordinators training and preparing themselves for the upcoming competition. All of them were taking part in activities that ranged from complex things like preparing combinations or moves, to more simple things like grooming or getting their Pokémon ready in terms of looks for the event.

"The competition looks tough," Brock commented as he noticed a very attractive girl grooming a Linoone, whose fur looked strikingly well-kept and tidy.

Ash nodded in response to the older trainer's comment as he glanced around with a smile on his face at all the new Pokémon he could see, occasionally whipping out his Pokédex to acquire more information on Pokémon that he was sure he hadn't encountered before.

"Bianca!" a familiar voice, at least to Bianca, called out to them after they had walked closer to the building. This made the entire group turn to look to the side, where the voice had come from. They noticed a young woman approaching them, walking at a speedy pace to catch up with the group. Behind her, a very beautiful white bug Pokémon with stunningly colorful wings was gliding gracefully after her.

"Hey, who's that Pokémon?" Ash questioned with curiosity as he studied the new creature. He turned his Pokédex, which had previously been displaying information about another coordinator's Pokémon, towards the girl's Pokémon.

The red machine beeped once and displayed the bug-type Pokémon's statistics and information. "Beautifly, the Butterfly Pokémon. Beautifly is the evolved form of Silcoon. When flowers are in bloom, Beautifly fly about in the spring breeze from flower to flower, gathering pollen. "

"Oh, wow, it's so pretty!" Bianca commented, clapping her hands together. "Definitely contest material," she added. Brock was about to comment on how the girl was definitely prettier than the Beautifly in every way possible, but stopped instantly at Latias' mental warning to not embarrass the group in front of her.

The woman stopped when she reached them, sharing a small laugh at her comment. "Thanks a lot. I do my best to keep her in tip-top shape for contests, like the one today."

The Beautifly gave a happy cry as it flew a couple of times around Bianca, glad to have been praised for her beauty. "Thanks!" the bug-type responded happily.

After Latias had translated the Butterfly Pokémon's speech in her mind, Bianca replied, "You're welcome, I meant it." Beautifly stopped in surprise and glanced at the human in confusion, wondering how she had understood her so clearly when no other human could.

"Who is she?" Ash questioned, trading glances between Bianca and at the woman that had greeted them. "You two seem to know each other."

"Not too much," Bianca admitted. "She's Janet. We met her in Oldale Town when Team Magma attacked the place. She was in the Pokémon Center with us. I don't think you got to interact much with her, but I did."

"Ah," Ash said in realization, vaguely recalling having seen the coordinator around the Pokémon Center that night. Considering he had mostly focused on dealing with the evil group of trainers, he wasn't very sure if he actually met her.

"Yeah, I was there that night," Janet confirmed. "I was running some errands in Oldale Town when those bad guys attacked the place. I'm glad you guys drove them off. It was a scary experience. I considered trying to help out, but I didn't want to risk Beautifly against such a large group of strong and nasty fire-types."

Bianca nodded at her response in acknowledgement. "It's okay. Ash's Pokémon did most of the work. They didn't really need the help. Anyway, you're ready for the contest?" she asked.

"Yep," Janet answered immediately, her voice bolstered with confidence. "Beautifly is ready to get us our third ribbon. We can do it."

Ash blinked in puzzlement. "Ribbon?" he inquired. "What do you mean?"

"Yeah, I meant ribbon, it's what proves a victory at a contest," Janet replied, reaching into a purse hanging from her shoulder to take out a shiny metal case, which she opened to reveal two very elegant ribbons with a golden-colored plate in the center.

"Ribbons are basically the badges of contest competitions, Ash," Bianca explained. "A region schedules a certain amount of contests during a year, during which all coordinators do their best to obtain five of them. Once you get five ribbons, you are cleared to enter the Grand Festival, which is basically the Pokémon League variant of contests," she clarified, using a comparison she knew the young trainer would easily comprehend.

"Ah, I get it now," Ash responded, nodding in understanding at Bianca's lengthy explanation.

"Considering the contest season's just started, you must be really good to have two ribbons already, Janet," Brock commented, every fiber in his body straining to start hitting on her, with his absolute terror of Latias the only thing holding him back. "Congratulations. You're already paving a clear path to the Grand Festival."

"Thanks," Janet said in sincere gratitude, smiling.

"Have you only been using Beautifly to win them?" Brock questioned, his gaze focused on the bug-type as he evaluated her, quickly coming to the conclusion that the Pokémon was in impressive shape.

"Yeah," Janet replied. "I've used Beautifly to win my first two contest ribbons, and hopefully my third one soon enough. But she's not the only Pokémon I have. However, the others still need training and caretaking before being ready for contests. Until they're ready, I'm sticking with Beautifly for the time being," she explained, motioning to her trusted partner with a wave of her hand. "So as you can see, I'm ready." She paused and focused her gaze on the group of trainers in a very observant manner. "What about you guys?"

"We're not participating," Ash replied. "I do have six Pokémon with me, but I don't really have a clue on what to do in a contest, plus style and flashy stuff isn't what I do best. I'm a Gym and League battler. I prefer power and strength."

"I've only got one Pokémon with me at the moment, so I'm not going to participate. And I don't really plan to be a coordinator anyways," Brock answered, shrugging simply. "Plus, the only Pokémon I have with me is a Forretress, definitely not a Pokémon that's good or useful for contests at all."

"Any Pokémon is useful for contests," Janet replied wisely. "I'll admit though, I don't think I've ever seen a Forretress being used in a contest. But just because a Pokémon isn't naturally appealing or pretty doesn't mean it's not good for contests. I know of a particular coordinator that specializes in using unappealing or strange Pokémon in contests. I forgot his name, but he dresses up in a Cacturne suit. He's very good at it, and is a very strong coordinator. I lost two contests against him last year."

"… I'll keep that in mind," Brock murmured, admitting she was right. As a breeder, it was something he had to understand and work with.

Ash blinked, perplexed at the term the conversing Brock and Janet had used. "What's a coordinator?" he asked.

"A coordinator is someone who dedicates to participating in Pokémon Contests, Ash," Bianca answered before turning to look at Janet. "Anyway, I just got my first Pokémon a couple days ago, and while I do like contests and all that, I doubt I can do much. I don't have plans to participate in anything, really."

Janet smiled reassuringly. "I saw your drawings at the Pokémon Center, and you did tell me you're an artist. Why don't you try contests out? It'll be a great activity for you. Art and contests make a good combination," she suggested, her smile broadening. "You might just make a good coordinator."

"No thanks…" Bianca responded firmly. "I just got my first Pokémon. I don't think I'll be good at it. She needs a lot of training and caretaking before being ready for contests. Training I don't know how to do at all yet."

Brock hummed quietly, thinking about Janet's proposal for a few seconds. He found it to be a fantastic idea. Becoming a coordinator would give Bianca a special activity that required Pokémon training to carry out, and most importantly, it would help her have something to do on the journey she was going to take part on in the long term. "I honestly suggest you should try it out, Bianca," the older trainer began, making the artist turn to glance at him. Brock's voice was completely serious, to say the least. "Both Ash and I have our specific Pokémon training goals in our traveling, you're the only one of our group without a real goal in those terms, and you're definitely the one with the biggest interest in contests out of all of us. So, I agree with Janet's proposal. Contests would definitely be a terrific activity that'll help keep you busy during our travels, one that you'll enjoy doing."

"Huh, didn't know that. Well, try it out, Bianca, he's giving you a good reason to do so," Janet encouraged, clapping her hands together. "There are still a couple open spots in today's contest registrations."

Bianca frowned anxiously when she felt everyone's gaze fall on her. When she had departed Alto Mare to go with Ash on his journey, she had just expected to tag along with the sole goal of seeing more than what her hometown had to offer to help her expand her artistic potential, imagination, and experience by traveling and a whole new region that she was a stranger to. She had been very surprised when she had acquired her first Pokémon, Smeargle, out of a seemingly random encounter. Becoming a Pokémon Trainer was not something she had expected at all. And now she was given a formal proposition to participate in an official Pokémon Contest. Bianca felt it was all escalating rather too quickly. "I don't know…" Bianca mumbled quietly, uncharacteristic nervousness suddenly becoming apparent on the normally confident woman.

Latias tapped Bianca's side encouragingly, sensing her friend's doubts through her empathy. "Try it out, Bianca. We'll all cheer for you," the dragoness said positively.

Bianca sighed, not quite sure what she was getting into with this entire contest proposal that everyone, even her best friend Latias, was dragging her into. "Alright, Janet, Brock… Latias, I'll do it. Just… don't expect me to put on an amazing performance or something. Smeargle and I have zero experience working together," she finally relented, letting them convince her.

"Wait, you mentioned Latias? I forgot, wasn't that Legendary Pokémon yours?" Janet asked, confused. "I don't recall what you said about her, but you did command her against those bad guys back at Oldale Town. And she was strong too, so that doesn't seem like an inexperienced Pokémon. Plus, she was very pretty. She seems like a good Pokémon to start with to me."

Latios snickered under his breath at Janet's comment. He knew Latias was somewhat skilled and determined when she wanted to, but she also possessed minimal experience in actual combat situations and battles. Upon catching his thoughts, Latias glared at her brother and smacked him in the head with her claw, making Latios wince slightly. He returned the gesture with a playful push from a relatively soft tackle. Since the pair of siblings was still cloaked, they remained invisible to the naked human eye, meaning no one caught sight of their small exchange. "No, Latias is Ash's Pokémon, not mine," Bianca clarified as she motioned towards her younger traveling companion. "But she's also my best friend, so she wanted to work with me when the chance was given, but officially she's his Pokémon. I can't use her."

"Oh, right, I had forgotten, sorry," Janet apologized, feeling somewhat disappointed. "She might be an excellent Pokémon for contests. I'd definitely want to see a Latias performing in one. Anyway, come on. We better hurry before registrations are closed." She turned around and made her way towards the entrance to Rustboro Hall. In a deep state of thought, Bianca followed her wordlessly, her friends following suit behind her.

"Are you really sure I should try it out?" the artistic girl asked dubiously after several long moments of lengthy pondering as Janet led the group towards the contest registration area. "I haven't even been a Pokémon Trainer for a week yet… I have no skill on it. I don't have any practice in everything related to it, and haven't trained my Smeargle at all."

"Yes, I think you should try it out," Janet recommended positively. "Like I said, it'd be a great new thing for you to experience. Even your friends back you up on this."

"But, it'll be almost impossible for us to win, we're terribly unprepared for this," Bianca said, crossing her arms.

"Sometimes it's not entirely about the competition and going to win it. It's about having fun and gaining a great experience. You said so yourself, you have zero experience in Pokémon training and doing contests. Well, you have to start somewhere to get experience, right? And this is a perfect place to start," Janet retorted, smiling at the rookie contestant receptively. "Plus, this is a minor contest. So the competition isn't that tough, unlike the bigger contests like the ones at Slateport City or Lilycove City. It doesn't matter if you win or not for the time being, right now, it's about the fun and the experience you get from participating."

Bianca groaned, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, seeing as I'm not sure if I'll really become a full-time coordinator or not after this, I guess I don't really mind if I don't win this contest after all, and if I lose I know I'd deserve it because I'm not ready at all for it, but one thing's not caring about losing and another thing's potentially making a fool out of myself and my Pokémon. We're completely unprepared for this," Bianca elaborated her stance on the issue drily.

"The contest is until afternoon, starts at seven. So you have some time to prepare and train for it. Just a few hours, but it's something," Janet spoke informatively. "You can at least plot a bit."

"Don't worry Bianca, we'll help you as much as we can," Brock encouraged.

Ash pledged his support with a nod. "We did say we'd help you learn to become a good Pokémon trainer when you captured Smeargle."

Bianca smiled appreciatively. "Thanks, guys," she said gratefully.

"We're here. This is where you'll get registered," Janet announced as she opened the doors of Rustboro Hall's main entrance. The group entered the building and arrived at the reception area of the contest arena. It was a well-designed room lined up with elegantly framed pictures of famous coordinators and judges, several couches, and a reception desk, behind which a neatly dressed lady stood silently. Janet moved forward and greeted the receptionist. "Hello, are there any spots left for the contest?" she asked, hoping they weren't too late.

The lady scanned down the registration list to make a quick check. "You're in luck, there's only one spot of the twenty open entries left. But, didn't you register already?" the receptionist questioned, puzzled.

"Yep, I'm already registered, but this one's for a friend of mine. Also, this will be her first contest, so, can she also get a contest pass, please?" Janet requested politely.

"Very well," the reception lady answered, turning to the side and reaching for a portable computer. "Please hand me any valid trainer identification," she requested as she opened the computer and accessed the registration program.

Bianca nodded and reached into her handbag, rummaging through the contents within for a few seconds. She took out the trainer identification the Nurse Joy from the Petalburg Woods Pokémon Center had given to her. "Here," she said as she handed the receptionist her Pokémon Trainer ID.

"Thank you," the reception lady replied curtly as she began to register Bianca as a coordinator. Several minutes later, the lady nodded once and handed Bianca her Pokémon Trainer ID back. "I can't print formal coordinator contest passes, so I'll give you a provisional pass to access this contest. Take that provisional pass and the registration sheet I'm about to give you to Rustboro City's Pokémon Center tomorrow. They'll have your official Pokémon Contest Pass ready," she instructed, handing Bianca the provisional pass. She reached down and grabbed the registration sheet filled with Bianca's data once the printer under her counter had finished printing it, and handed it to the new coordinator as well. "Don't lose any of this," she advised before concluding with, "Have a nice day, and best of luck in your first contest."

"Thanks," Bianca said gratefully as she stored the contest pass, the registration, and her ID into her handbag.

"See? All done for now. The contest starts in about three hours. You have until then to prepare something for it," Janet informed Bianca as she and the entire group turned towards the exit and walked out of the building. "I already have my appeal ready."

Bianca nodded slightly, her mind racing on what she could do with her only Pokémon, Smeargle. "I'll have to think fast…" She frowned at the prospect, since she didn't have a clear idea on where to start.

"What's an appeal?" Ash asked curiously. "How do contests work anyway? All I know is that coordinators try to make their Pokémon flashy."

Janet laughed softly at the young trainer's lack of knowledge once again. "Contests are a lot more complicated than just making a Pokémon flashy. They require many skills to successfully compete in them. Adequately bonding and raising your Pokémon is vital. Contests are in general composed of two phases. The Appeal phase and the Battle phase."

Ash immediately perked up upon hearing the mention of battling. "Oh? They have a battle phrase? I can do that one." He grinned slightly.

"Not really," Brock corrected as he released a slight chuckle, causing Ash to sweatdrop. "A contest battle isn't entirely about defeating or knocking out your opponent's Pokémon. Sure, the one whose Pokémon is knocked out loses, but if you battle solely to knock out your opponents without following the essence of contests, you're automatically disqualified. In fact, many contests battles end without any of the Pokémon getting knocked out."

Ash blinked, completely perplexed. "How can a battle end if both Pokémon are still standing?" he asked before adding, "I mean, attacks are always about the power in them…"

Janet shook her head. "Well, not in contests, no. They aren't like other battles. Here, we train Pokémon to be graceful, and emphasize on the beauty and technique of attacks, not the raw power behind them. Let me explain the first round to start with," she began, holding back a giggle of amusement at the youthful trainer. "The Appeal round is basically where a coordinator displays how elegant, beautiful, well-trained, well-raised, and how skilled and talented their Pokémon are by performing a series of planned and coordinated attacks to form a coherent show. Based on all these elements, the judges will give a score. The coordinators with the highest score will advance to the next round, the battles."

Ash nodded, understanding that information so far. "Okay, I think I get that. So, how does the battle round go? Why wouldn't I do well in a contest battle if I'm good at Pokémon battling?" he inquired.

"The battle rounds are a direct battle competition between the coordinators who make it past the appeal round. The battle, however, isn't about knocking out your opponent's Pokémon. In the battle, each coordinator starts with a fixed number of points and the general objective is to lower the opponent's points to zero through stylish and graceful techniques. All battles have a timer of five minutes. The battle concludes when one of the coordinators run out of points, when the timer runs out, or when a Pokémon is knocked out. When the timer runs out, the coordinator with the highest number of remaining points wins, and if a Pokémon is knocked out, it must be within contest guidelines or else they might face disqualification," Janet explained, drawing a breath after she had finished her lengthy elaboration. "Did I make my explanation clear enough?"

"Ah, I get it," Ash answered, and then scowled slightly. "Certainly sounds a bit tougher than I thought, I don't think I could keep track of all that. I prefer to beat my opponent until his Pokémon are all out, it's simpler and definitely more fun," he added, to which Pikachu nodded in agreement. "Well, at least Bianca's artistic stuff will help her out."

"Yeah, I agree to that last part. Bianca being an artist will certainly add to her chances as a coordinator," Brock responded in agreement.

"Do you think you'll take part in more contests other than just this one?" Janet asked, glancing at Bianca.

"I'm not sure," Bianca replied. "Let me deal with this contest first. I'll base my decision on how I feel doing it." She chuckled slightly, shaking her head a couple of times while closing her eyelids. "It's weird how things change. When I started this journey I thought I was doing it just to travel around, then I became a trainer, and now I have a contest pass."

"If you decide to become a full-fledged coordinator, you know you have our complete support in every way, Bianca. We'll do our best to teach you all we know of how to raise and train Pokémon correctly," Brock proclaimed reassuringly, flashing Bianca a smile.

Bianca responded to the gesture with a smile of her own. "Thanks a lot, guys," she expressed gratefully. Latias and Latios also voiced their support for their human friend telepathically, projecting encouraging smiles in her mind afterwards.

"See? You have wonderful friends, Bianca," Janet complimented optimistically. "They'll help you greatly. Now, I have to go and finish the last touches to my appeal." She smiled. "I'll leave you to practice on your own. Good luck." She offered Bianca a handshake. "Good luck in the contest."

Bianca reached forward and shook Janet's hand. "Likewise."

Janet reacted with a single nod. "See you at the contest later." She turned around and departed from the party.

Once she was sure that her new friend was out of sight, Bianca facepalmed and groaned. This made the entire group glance at her oddly. "Ugh, what did you guys drag me into…?"

"You better get going and begin preparing, Bianca," Brock promptly advised. "You'll need every moment you can get if you want to be as ready as possible for the contest."

Knowing that the Pokémon Breeder was correct, Bianca decided to get some practicing done, even if it wasn't going to be much in the time allotted. "I'll see you guys later then. Hey, Latias, can you come with me?" she queried as she walked forward, causing the rest of her friends to stare at her in confusion. Latias projected a positive reply in her mind.

"I thought we were gonna help out." Ash stared at her with a dumbfounded look. "Right?"

"Yes, but that's in the stuff I'm clueless about, like how to catch more Pokémon or how to raise and train them into a strong team like yours, that's where I'll definitely need all of you guy's help. The actual contest part is up to me. Plus, artists like me think our best in quiet solitude. I want to try and surprise you guys as well. Don't worry, I'll be fine," Bianca answered, turning around and heading into the woods. "Come, Latias. I'll need your help."

Latias nodded and flew after her best friend. "See you guys later. We'll come up with something to surprise you all. And brother, no peeking!" she reprimanded telepathically as she disappeared into the woods.

Latios blinked but then shrugged, knowing that his sister was going to be fine by herself. "Good luck sis!" he called out to her psychically, earning a positive reply from her. "Well, we've got a couple hours to kill while Bianca prepares her contest stuff. What do we do until then?"

"I'd like to train with Larvitar and Phanpy, so they're prepared for tomorrow's Gym Battle," was Ash's response. He hadn't forgotten about his big day tomorrow, after all. "Plus, Pidgeot, Pikachu, and you could use a nice workout."

"I'm all in if it involves me zapping Latios," Pikachu voiced eagerly, grinning maliciously at where he suspected the dragon was.

"Uh, I'm over here," Latios taunted, his voice barely holding back a mocking tone as he tapped the electric-type's shoulder from behind. Pikachu sighed in frustration at his awesome moment being ruined.

"Good idea," Brock replied. Coming to the decision to keep up with their training, the remainder of the group moved to a more secluded place where they could train and improve Ash's Pokémon in preparation for the upcoming Gym Battle tomorrow.

Somewhere else in the woods that surrounded Rustboro Hall, Bianca was slowly looking around for a decent and quiet place to plan and train for her upcoming contest. Behind her Latias followed without a sound.

Bianca released a soft breath, enjoying the beautiful scenery that the natural environment provided. It was something she came to greatly enjoy while traveling, and not only did she get to see a lot of amazing manmade landmarks, but also a lot of dazzling natural atmospheres. So far, traveling through them had been a really refreshing experience for the artist, as she was accustomed to Alto Mare's oceanic scenes and views. Glancing around as she sought a good place where they could train, Bianca hummed a small tune to herself, catching Latias' attention. "Trying to distract your mind from the nerves?" the dragoness inquired curiously.

Bianca paused for a few seconds and frowned, but resumed her walk at a rather speedy pace. "How did you know? I thought I was doing a good job."

Latias giggled in amusement, her eyes shining with playful mirth. "I'm an empath, remember? I can sense others' feelings around me."

"Oh, right," Bianca acknowledged. "That can be awkward sometimes, I imagine? Like… when you feel other's anger or maybe more… intimate, personal or private feelings…" she grimaced slightly at the idea. "Can be a very annoying ability, possibly?"

"It can be annoying sometimes, yes. But I haven't had any embarrassing or painful experiences with it, so far," Latias responded telepathically. "And I hope it stays that way."

Bianca glanced around, and she immediately turned when something caught her attention. "Hey, this looks good." After walking a short distance, the duo arrived at a promising destination. "This looks like a nice place to practice," Bianca commented after she entered a small grassy grove framed by thick trees and lush bushes filled with berries. She surveyed her surroundings, nodding to herself with satisfaction. It was still a good distance near Rustboro Hall, but a bit further from where most coordinators picked to train. "Are there any Pokémon nearby? Berries mean some might come close," Bianca asked Latias. She wasn't looking forward to any interruptions that would disrupt her practice session.

The Eon Dragoness' eyes glowed softly for a few seconds. "Nope, there's nothing nearby that we should worry about. I'll be sure to give you a heads up if any do come close, don't worry," she promised, and then promptly changed the topic to the more worrying situation at hand. "Think you'll be able to come up with something decent in the few hours we've got before the contest?" Latias asked as she levitated alongside her best friend. "Remember that you can't train all those hours nonstop, because you'd tire Smeargle out and she'd be too worn out to perform in the contest. You need to consider enough training time to get a good grasp of what you plan to do, but make sure that it's not too intense, and afterwards, give Smeargle enough time to rest," the red dragoness added.

Bianca grunted in dismay again. "I hadn't thought about that at all, and it just reduces my preparation time even more. But thanks, I'll keep your advice in mind, Latias." The artist grabbed a Pokéball from her handbag, and hurled it forward, releasing the Painter Pokémon before both of them in a gleaming flash of light.

"Hi," Smeargle greeted both girls once she had been released from her Pokéball. She glanced around, noticing the surrounding scenario and the absence of the rest of their friends. "What's up?" she asked curiously. "Where's everyone else?"

"It's a long story," Latias answered, shrugging. "But, something's up, for sure. Hope you don't mind." Smeargle tilted her head at the Eon Pokémon, confused as to what she could mean.

"Well, do you know what a Pokémon Contest is, Smeargle?" Bianca asked, crouching down before the normal-type Pokémon.

Smeargle turned to look at her. "Yeah, I do," she answered, wondering where the sudden mention of Pokémon Contests could lead to. "I saw several classes of them back at the Pokémon Academy. I've never taken part in any, though."

Bianca nodded after Latias had mentally translated all of the Pokémon's speech in her mind. "Well, guess what? I signed myself up for a contest! And as my only Pokémon, you'll have to be the one to participate," Bianca announced, smiling warmly at her timid-mannered Pokémon afterwards.

"Huh…?" Smeargle muttered quietly, not sure what to make out of the new development. However, it did cause some panic to surge through her. "H-how will I do it?" she stuttered as her body shook slightly. "I've never tried one before, and I'm not exactly a very skillful Pokémon, and I'm terrible at fighting!"

"Don't worry, we're as much in the dark as you are," Latias noted drily, her eyes taking a very soft hue of blue as she used her psychic powers to translate Smeargle's speech into Bianca's mind. "But we're in this together, and we have to get this done."

"The contest is in a few hours. We have until then to come up with something to do for it," Bianca instructed with her voice barely hiding a hint of concern. She hummed as a thoughtful expression formed on her face. She paced around the clearing, thinking hard for several moments for a good appeal to decide upon. Both her Pokémon friends stared at her, patiently waiting for her to say something. Both inevitably sulked when they saw Bianca sigh in disappointment, an obvious gesture that nothing worth of use came to her mind. "This… is gonna be a little harder than I thought," she mumbled in a tone of disenchantment.

"You're an artist Bianca, you need patience and time to think things out," Latias said gently, reaching forward and giving her best friend an affectionate and comforting nuzzle. Bianca giggled slightly at the ticklish contact and brought her arms up to pet the ever-playful dragoness. "Why don't you take out your sketchbook and start doing random doodles of some ideas? That'll help you get some inspiration. In the meantime, I'll spar with Smeargle to let her warm up for the contest, and get her to practice her moves a bit," Latias suggested, doing her best to contribute any kind of help.

A nervous frown drifted across Smeargle's face, not exactly excited at the idea of scuffling with a Legendary Pokémon. Sure, she knew Latias was very nice and friendly, but that didn't mean she wasn't powerful. It was still a discouraging prospect, and even more so than the contest that was in less than three hours. "It's just practice sparring, so you'll go easy on me, right?" she asked uneasily, just to be sure.

Latias laughed heartily. "Relax, Smeargle. I'm not the best battler myself. I'll go easy. It's just fun sparring to test out our skills. Plus, it won't be good if I hurt you before Bianca's inaugural contest."

Smeargle sighed in relief. "Okay," she said, her voice sounding much calmer after that revelation. She idly wondered how Bianca and Latias were planning to prepare a Pokémon with barely sufficient experience like her for a fully competitive contest. She knew whoever she was going to compete against might have months or years of expertise in contests, something that made her nerves tremble with anxiety.

Latias smiled comfortingly at the nervousness her empathy was picking up from the inexperienced Smeargle. "This is just for fun, so don't worry," she reassured telepathically, so Bianca could also participate in the conversation. "Don't feel so overwhelmed by the thought of us demanding success."

Bianca nodded in agreement. "Yeah… that's actually a really good point, Latias, to take this contest as just for fun. It certainly takes away some pressure off me if I think of it like that. Anyway, Smeargle, I don't really have any high hopes of actually winning the contest. I won't feel mad or disappointed if we don't win it. Like Latias said, this is just a fun experience for us. So don't feel that pressured, Smeargle. However, that doesn't mean we're not going to try our best to put on a respectful performance for everyone and for our friends," she explained, reaching forward and petting Smeargle on the head tenderly.

"Yeah, Smeargle, so calm down and take a deep breath, take it easy and without pressure, and let's try to do our best," Latias added in agreement to her best friend's initial speech. "We understand both your limitations and our limitations."

"Thanks," the normal-type said appreciatively as she felt her anxiety and nervousness slowly vanish at the reassuring words of her new friends. She took a couple of deep breaths, allowing the feeling of calmness and relaxation wash over her refreshingly.

"So, Smeargle, what…" Bianca began to speak, but paused mid-question, humming softly to herself. "Smeargle… Smeargle…Smeargle…" she repeated under her breath, a thoughtful expression on her young features. Latias tilted her head, puzzled at Bianca's actions.

The Painter Pokémon glanced at her in confusion. "What's wrong?" she asked, wondering what was up with her trainer.

"Do you have a name?" Bianca suddenly asked.

"What? A name?" Smeargle repeated, just to be sure, as Bianca's question had come completely randomly and abruptly. "Well, no, I don't," she answered. "Many Pokémon in the Academy had names or nicknames, especially when there were several Pokémon of the same species available, but I wasn't named at the Academy. Since I was their only Smeargle, it wasn't really needed. And I didn't get a name from my parents at birth, because I was born in captivity."

"Pokémon parents name their young too?" Bianca asked curiously after Latias had finished her translations. "Like us humans do?"

"Yep," Smeargle answered. "Or so I've heard, from my time running about in the forest after I was released from the Academy."

"Yes, they do," Latias echoed, deciding to expand upon Smeargle's answer. "Naming children is a wonderful thing. And honestly, it's needed sometimes. Think about a flock for example, you can have dozens of Pokémon of the same species, meaning it'd get very confusing to try and call one distinct individual from the group by their species name. So, most Pokémon get names from their parents. Once the Pokémon grows independent from their parents, the choice to keep going by it is completely up to each individual. Child naming is extremely common in large groups of Pokémon like communities, flocks, pods, and so on," the dragoness explained, giving a small pause to let Bianca absorb her initial explanation. "For example, many Pokémon in the Secret Garden got along together as a sort of community, and despite being many different species of Pokémon, they all had names. I imagine humans rarely realize this because, for one thing, they can't understand our speech."

Bianca nodded in acknowledgement. "Thanks for the explanation, Latias. It was crystal clear."

"Why did you bring it up, though?" Latias asked curiously. "I got to say, it certainly seems like a random topic to discuss at this point and time."

"You see, I've seen on TV that a lot of trainers that name or nickname their Pokémon, and I like that. I know Ash and Brock don't do that, but I always imagined that if I ever had a Pokémon, I'd do it. I feel naming a Pokémon is a really great way to bond," Bianca explained. "So, Smeargle, if you don't have a name, would it be okay if we gave you one?"

Smeargle hummed, thoughtful about the young artist's suggestion. After several moments of pondering, she returned a small nod. "Sure, I don't mind. Smeargle doesn't sound that nice, a name would be cool. As long as it's one I like, obviously," she answered.

"What about… uh…" Latias frowned, her mind racing to find interesting names. "Thinking up names is a bit harder than I thought." She decided to just say ones off the top of her head. "What about… Kesha? Chloe? Allison? Mel? Katy? … Pansy? … Uh… Okay. I'm officially terrible with names."

Smeargle chuckled in amusement, glad that the dragoness had admitted they weren't good. She was already not liking the proposition of being named something as silly as Pansy. "Yes, I noticed that, Latias."

Bianca smiled, stifling a laugh at the exchange between the two Pokémon. She closed her eyes, thinking about what she knew of Smeargle and trying to relate that to names. Her smile suddenly broadened as the perfect one, at least in her mind, came to her. "Hey, how does Candace sound?"

Smeargle paused, looking thoughtful for several moments. "Hey, I like that. It's a pretty name. It has a nice ring to it."

Latias nodded in agreement. "Well, it's better than my silly suggestions for sure. And it was on your first try, too."

"So, are you okay with it?" Bianca asked, just to be sure. "You accept Candace as your name?"

Smeargle smiled. "Sure, I'm fine. I like it, definitely sounds better than 'Smeargle' does," she answered.

Bianca flashed a smile back. "Okay, Candace it is," she announced. The newly named Candace nodded.

"So, Candace," Bianca started, putting emphasis on the Painter Pokémon's new name, which made Latias giggle softly and the newly named Smeargle roll her pupils. "What were your attacks? I totally forgot them. I need to know them so I can try and think something up."

"My attacks are Sketch, Swift, Water Pulse, Fire Spin and Magical Leaf," Candace elucidated informatively.

"Sketch?" Bianca asked once Latias had translated the speech in her mind. "I might have heard it before, but I don't know what it does."

"It basically allows me to copy any move and learn it once I've seen it," Candace answered. "Which won't really work in a contest, I think. So, practice now?" She gazed at Latias as she asked her question. The Eon Dragoness nodded and flew outwards to the clearing, turning her back to the Painter Pokémon. Candace smirked at the opportunity and rapidly clapped her front paws. A formation of star-shaped projectiles composed of golden energy appeared before her, and she rapidly hurled them towards Latias.

The dragoness yelled out a surprised squeal and swiftly activated her psychic powers. With ease, she mentally started dismantling all the energy bolts headed her way. "Hey, that's not fair at all!"

Candace laughed. "Sorry, I couldn't resist." Latias rolled her eyes.

Bianca shook her head in amusement at the two as she walked towards a tree, sitting down with her legs crossed. She took out her sketchbook and placed it on her legs, deciding to follow Latias' original suggestion of making doodles of her ideas to help draw inspiration. She tapped her chin with her pencil in deep thought as she observed the blank sheet of paper before her, trying to come up with a way to form a decent and coherent appeal for her upcoming contest. "What did Janet get me into…" she muttered, nothing good coming to her mind. Several long minutes went by, the only sounds being those generated by the small sparring match between the two Pokémon.

Bianca gazed up from her sketchbook, seeing Candace launching a Water Pulse at Latias, who gracefully eluded it. Smiling from the scene, she started making a doodle of a pair of attacks in her sketchbook. However, she stopped midpoint and frowned at what she had been drawing. "No, not gonna work…," she whispered in frustration.

"Artists need patience, Bianca," Latias reminded her telepathically, projecting a friendly smile in her thoughts afterwards. "You can come up with something simple yet elegant."

"Thanks, Latias," Bianca returned gratefully as she gazed up from her sketchbook towards the two Pokémon that were with her. "Just make sure Candace is in shape. I'll think of something."

Latias nodded. "I will, I will." She then performed a sudden loop in midair, easily dodging a Water Pulse from the Smeargle. "You need to try harder, Candace." She said, smirking.

"Hey, that gives me an idea. Try hitting the Water Pulse with a Fire Spin," Bianca suggested, intently gazing at Candace.

Candace nodded and prepared another Water Pulse, her paws clapping together and beginning to form the orb of pressurized water. She tossed the attack upwards, in the direction of a large tree. She then began to shift attacks, preparing a Fire Spin. To her, Bianca, and Latias' dismay, she didn't charge her Fire Spin fast enough, and the water Pulse had already crashed against a tree with a large splash by the time she was ready to launch the second attack. "… Okay, I'm really out of shape," she stated in a mixture of annoyance and dismay.

"How about, use Magical Leaf upwards, and then try to hit your leaves with Swift?" Bianca suggested as a potentially easier alternative.

Candace nodded curtly, shifting attacks once again. She waved her paws forward, a wisp of multicolor-tinted energy forming around them. Rapidly, a barrage of bright leaves began swirling in a rainbow-colored veil of energy, and once ready, she fired them upwards. Candace, not wanting to disappoint again, charged up the next attack, Swift, as quickly as her abilities would allow her. She grinned in excitement when the golden energy from Swift had gathered in just a second around her paws, and then directed it upwards towards her Magical Leaf.

Candace, Latias, and Bianca sighed collectively when most of the star-shaped projectiles from Swift failed to make any contact with the leaves. Some did hit a leaf or two, making a rather bright twinkle of multicolored energy from the point of collision. However, the number of impacts was minimal at best. Both attacks continued their path before losing power and eventually faded from view. "Well, the effect was rather cool. But it's gonna be hard to get her to have enough practice with it to hit all the leaves with the Swift stars," Bianca commented.

Candace sulked in disappointment, kicking the ground with her paws. "I'm pathetic."

Latias smiled comfortingly, wrapping an arm around the Painter Pokémon's shoulders. "It's okay. You just need practice. A few months ago I didn't know how to use the most basic of moves. We all learn with patience and time," she said, her voice gentle and tender. Candace nodded appreciatively, feeling glad to have her friend's support.

Bianca's gaze once again went to her sketchbook. "Swift and Magical Leaf won't work together, and Fire Spin takes her a while to prepare…" Bianca muttered as she continued drawing ideas on her sketchbook. Latias and Candace, seeing Bianca resume her drawing, decided to continue their light practicing. They kept sparring, with Bianca drawing her ideas in her book and occasionally instructing Smeargle and Latias to rehearse some of them.

Time went on, minutes transforming into hours. The sun began to gradually advance in the sky, moving closer and closer to the horizon. Surely, after enough tries and the failures that came with them, the trio had come up with a simple but workable appeal. After practicing it as much as they could and making all the possible preparations their limited abilities and time gave them, they made sure to give Smeargle the rest she required to prepare for the contest.

It was set to be their very first contest as a team.

Author Notes: This was mainly a set up chapter, with Bianca's first contest next chapter! How will she do? Will she fail? Or will she pull something awesome and be the surprise participant with a shocking underdog win? Find out next chappie! :D

Also, next series of chapters are going to be quite action packed, with the story's first contest, Ash's Gym battle against Roxanne, and Team Aqua's attack against Devon Corp. (which was set up in a earlier installment). I hope that action part coming up does not disappoint. Until next chapter, my friends!