Not much to say. We're actually coming up on the big plot of the story! Exciting.

Chapter 26

The compound that Bianca and Janine stepped into had to be the most ornate abode that she'd ever seen.

It felt like everywhere she looked there was something to draw her eye. When she gazed right, she saw an open courtyard, with wooden swords, knives, and bows and arrows, alongside targets. When she looked left, she saw a vast dining room, with a table that seemed like it could easily seat twenty-five people.

Straight ahead, where Janine was taking her, she saw what seemed to be a more communal space. But that sold it somewhat short. It was a majestic room, filled with tall bookshelves, intricately carved wooden statues, and wall scrolls that told of a history that Bianca knew almost nothing about.

"So," Janine cleared her throat. "Might I ask why it is that you've come to visit, Ms. Bianca?"

Ah, yes, that was likely a very fair line of questioning, given she'd just sort of shown up at her doorstep without so much as notice.

Well, she could always tell the truth, even if that would be somewhat awkward. Perhaps a mix of that and a few white lies?

Mm. That would work.

"The truth is, at breakfast this morning, you just didn't seem very… well. I went to check on you at your gym, but I suppose I should've known you'd not be there. The man who was, however, directed me here when I said I was worried about you."

Janine nodded, albeit seemingly somewhat annoyed. "So, I see." She sighed. "Well, I appreciate the sentiment, Ms. Bianca, but I'm afraid there's not much you can do."

Bianca didn't buy that. "Are you certain? Even if it's just to be someone to lean on, I'd like to at least offer that."

Janine turned back towards her, and ran a hand through her thick head of hair. She'd not seen Janine before this, so she wasn't exactly the expert, but it looked to Bianca like she usually wore her hair a certain way, and had let it fall down around her shoulders and into her face out of lack of caring.

Bianca knew what that was like. Just… wasting away, slowly but surely, as things crumbled down around oneself. Being unable to fix any of it.

Very few things were worse.

"If you'd like, I could help you do your hair?" She offered, before she realized that if she was wrong, that was a super rude thing to say! "Or, well, I didn't mean to– what I mean to say is–"

Janine raised an eyebrow. "You didn't mean to say my hair looks like shit?"

Bianca went pale.

Janine, in response, just snickered below her breath. "Yeah, I can tell. You're fine, honestly. I haven't had the energy for the last few months to really put any effort into getting my hair right." She hesitated, before taking a breath. "If you'd like, I suppose I could allow you to help me fix it up."

Bianca smiled widely. "I'd love to!"

In truth, Bianca wasn't exactly a hair stylist. She really only knew the basics of getting hair to look even remotely okay. Janine, on the other hand, seemed to be quite a bit better than her, and so, as the two of them retreated into Janine's room – which was equally as ostentatious as the entire building, if not somehow more so – and sat down in front of the ensuite bathroom mirror, it was mainly Janine's advice she was following.

"Yeah, like that." Janine commented as Bianca finally managed to get the large lump of hair to go through the tie. "That… looks nice, actually. Thank you, Bianca."

"It's no trouble, really." She meant it. This was honestly kind of fun, in an odd way. "…Okay, I have to say it; your house is so fancy!"

"Aha," Janine chuckled. "I was waiting for you to ask about that. I could see it written all over your face. Well, the story isn't exactly what you'd expect, I'd imagine. But I'll tell you."


"Mm." Janine hummed out affirmatively. "It's… well, during the early days of the Kanto region, when it was first beginning to solidify into a structured region, instead of varying territories controlled by feudal lords, my family first made a name for themselves."

"What did you guys do, exactly."

Janine went somewhat red. "Well… we were assassins."

That… was about the furthest thing from what Bianca had thought she'd be hearing.

"You… what?"

"Yes, that normally garners such a response." Janine stated, chuckling, but still clearly a bit embarrassed. "To be clear, we haven't been in that line of work for over three hundred years. Ever since Kanto was well and truly stratified. Still, our family maintained the sort of hierarchal order that was dictated in those old traditions. One passes their craft unto their child… and then that person passes the craft along to their children. It's a part of the reason we specialize in poison type Pokémon. Back in the day, it was a rather innocuous means of either incapacitating, or… dealing with those we wished to eliminate."

"That… I suppose I understood that Poison-Type Pokémon's fumes or discharge could be dangerous, but I'd never thought that…"

"Yes, well, there are many things you could learn through a cursory read of some of the more ancient texts in our library that I imagine you'd rather not." Janine stated, smiling amusedly. "Let's just say that my family… or my clan, I suppose I should say, have a bit of a colored history. The feudal lord we were most closely aligned to was the one who first founded Fuchsia City, and he ordered this manor to be built for our family as reward for our years of generous service. It has been in our hands ever since, even long after both his death, and the death of our work."

"Wow…" Bianca let out; a bit awed at it all. "I'm… that's quite something."

"Yes, again, such normally garners that response. The information I've just told you is kept… not secret, but also not expressly disclosed. One could, I suppose, draw our clans name now back to several historical documents regarding captured and executed assassins from that period, in order to find out such. But we have done our best in modern times to shed our previous mantle."

Bianca nodded. "I can see why. That… seems a harsh thing to be burdened with."

"Yes, well, I wish more of our clan elders felt the same way." Janine sighed, rubbing at the back of her head. "They want to keep to the old traditions so much that it's preventing us from making any progress at all. It's… honestly, it's stifling."

There was something there. Something that Bianca caught the edge of. That, whatever it was, was Janine's major problem.

How to draw it out? That was the question. Did she even want to? Another, equally valid question.

This was harder than Cynthia and Blue had made it sound.

"When you say stifling," She cleared her throat as she and Janine made their way back into her room, and sat down on the tatami mats on the floor. "What exactly do you mean?"

"I suppose… my father, Koga, has recently fallen ill. This illness, while, luckily, no longer expected to take his life, is still severe enough that it will force him into an early retirement from his position as head of the clan. That… leaves me to take up the mantle, as his one and only child."

Bianca nodded her head, sort of seeing where this might be developing.

"I am… I have come to the realization that I do not wish to head the clan. Not at all." Janine spoke, shaking her head with a sigh. "And yet I am not sure I have such an option. Not when my family is relying on me."

Bianca could understand her perspective, and the reason behind her continued bereavement as well.

So, that was it, then?

Or was there something more complicated behind the scenes.

Before she could ask anything further, however, Janine had turned towards her, and cleared her throat.

"But enough about me. Cynthia told me that you were trying to earn your seventh gym badge, correct?"

"Ah, well…" She coughed. "I am. But then, right now, I'm more focused on whatever it is that's got Cynthia so spooked. I've never seen her like that before."

Janine frowned. "Neither have I, in all honesty. She's… odd, in a way. But she's reliable, too. Someone you can count on when the going gets tough."

Bianca nodded her head.

It was… funny, though, where Bianca's thoughts drifted to then. Hearing those words, spoken ostensibly about Cynthia, had her thinking on someone else.


She had been the same way. Always reliable. Always there when the going got tough…

And yes, odd, too.

She had been Bianca's best friend since they were young children, and even once Cheren had been introduced to the trio of them, she'd still looked towards Hilda most of all. That wasn't to say she and Cheren weren't friends, it was just…

Well, she was getting off topic, really.

…She thought back to Iris' letter, that which she'd read within her home. She could barely remember the contents at this point, despite how invested she'd been in said letter at the time. The truth was…

The letter had just said so little.

Nothing besides the fact that Hilda was going to investigate a matter, one that she wished to keep private. Then, that she believed Bianca and Cheren would be able to challenge Iris' claim to the title of champion within the near future.

Both seemed foolish decisions, in hindsight. Hilda's decision to go off on her own, and her decision to put any faith at all in either of her childhood friends.

Bianca sighed, which didn't at all go unnoticed by Janine.

"What is it that's got you down?"

"It's nothing, I just…" It was a lie, and she internally debated whether or not she should just own up to it. She decided to. "No, I'm lying. I'm thinking about my friend Hilda. She was champion of Unova for a short time, perhaps you knew of her?"

"Hilda?" Janine's eyes widened somewhat. "Yes, I knew of her. Not extensively, in truth, but I met her on two or so occasions, I believe? Tournaments that gym leaders and champions both were invited to. She was good. Damn good. Is that who you're trying to emulate, then? Hilda?"

It was strange, but when Bianca thought about it, she didn't think that was the case.

Still… she also wasn't sure why she felt that way, in truth. It felt… strange. Shouldn't she want to live up to the image that Hilda had cast?

"Yeah." She lied, this time, not going back on it. "I guess so."

Janine smiled. "Then I wish you luck in your endeavors. I regret that I have a prior engagement set up in around fifteen minutes, but I enjoyed speaking with you, Ms. Bianca."


And with that, Bianca departed the home of the ancestral clan that Janine was a part of. As she did, she looked back at the manor one final time, and found herself equally as flabbergasted as she'd been earlier at the buildings size, scope, and overall splendor.

She shook such things off, though, and made her way back towards her hotel room.


She got up to very little that evening.

Bianca was, in all fairness, mostly waiting for Cynthia to get back. It was a lonely experience, punctuated rather aptly by Bianca deciding to head to a nearby restaurant and get dinner.

It was a quiet affair, and she felt incredibly awkward eating by herself. She knew she shouldn't have, to be clear, but that didn't exactly help when she still did.

Bianca sighed, ate quickly, and then left just as much so.

She walked around town for a while, taking in the sights. There was quite a bit to see, and she even stopped in at the Safari Zone, just to get some of the atmosphere. There was a family there who'd brought their young son, and they were having an excellent time catching Pokémon together.

It brightened Bianca's spirits somewhat.

She decided to hit up some of the nearby routes while there was still daylight, and found a few trainers that were awaiting challengers. Bianca decided to meet them head on, and earned a few relatively simplistic victories.

It was nice. Bianca had long since begun to refuse the winnings that were customary to Pokémon battles, seeing as how Cynthia covered all of her expenses, so most of the trainers were more than willing to battle her again once they'd headed back to Fuchsia, healed their Pokémon up, and returned some thirty or so minutes later.

She made a few… she wouldn't call them friends, really, but connections, perhaps? It was an enjoyable thing, including when she was spotted by a mohawked man riding a large, loud motorcycle, and initially assumed him to be some unscrupulous gentleman. Instead, he turned out to be by far the friendliest trainer she'd met that night, and gave Bianca some tips about the area, and where best to look for battles at different times of day.

She thanked him, and headed out. It was beginning to grow quite late, and so Bianca decided that she'd be calling it for the evening.

She returned to the hotel, and set about doing… well, nothing, really. She was laid in her bed some thirty or so minutes later, reading articles about some of the trainers that were expected to do well at the World Championships at the end of the year, and their strengths and weaknesses, when the hotel phone beside her rang.

She found herself quite curious, since she hadn't ordered room service. The only person who would know the number, other than her, would be the front desk, or Cynthia. Briefly, she found herself hoping she'd get a chance to hear her mentor's voice.

Yet when she picked up the phone – excitedly, hopefully – she heard a much older woman's voice.

"Hello, there." The woman spoke, clearing her throat. "Is this Ms. Cynthia's hotel room?"

Well, that confirmed they had the right place, at least. Only…

"Oh, uhm… yes, but this isn't Cynthia speaking." Bianca clarified. "I can take this for her, if it doesn't especially need to be her?"

"Are you her protégé?"

"That would be me, yes."

"Then I suppose that's fine." The woman cleared her throat, before seemingly rifling through some papers – Bianca could hear the telltale sound through the phone – and then coming back. "I'm calling about the matter that Ms. Cynthia asked us to investigate for her. The strange crystal she sent to myself and the other scientists here?"

Oh. "You must be the Pewter Museum of Science, then?"

"Indeed. My apologies for not clarifying as such sooner."

"Oh, no, it's no trouble."

"Ahem, well," Her voice shifted somewhat, sounding as if she was reading off of something in front of her. "According to our analysis, the material that Ms. Cynthia sent in was a kind of 'adamantine'."

Bianca's brow furrowed. That… she'd never heard of such a material before.

She brought that up with the woman on the phone, and earned a cough from her in response. "Yes, well, let me tell you that our scientists were practically beside themselves with excitement. They couldn't stress to me enough just how rare this material is. Ms. Cynthia's note suggested that she chipped off a chunk from Moltres' den in Mt. Silver, correct?"

Bianca nodded, before, like a doofus, remembering that she was on the phone, and the woman couldn't see as such. "That's correct."

"Hm. Troubling indeed."

Bianca felt a tiny twinge down her spine, similar to one she'd felt… she couldn't remember, now.

She didn't like that very much at all.

"Why is it troubling?" Bianca asked.

"Because there was one other thing I hadn't gotten to yet. It was somewhat unexpected, but when our researchers reached out to other locations, seeing if they'd had any similar finds – and to be clear, expecting to receive absolutely nothing back – …Well, one city did get back to us. It was the Oreburgh Mining Museum over in Sinnoh. Perhaps you've heard of them?"

Bianca frowned. "Tangentially. I've never been."

"That's fine. It was more a rhetorical question than anything. What they had to say drew the attention of one of our researchers; she said we should take it up with Ms. Cynthia, apparently, she might be familiar with the name they had."


"That crystal Ms. Cynthia sent in… it's strange, but it matches, on a chemical level, almost exactly with another that was delivered to the to the Oreburgh Mining Museum some twelve or so years ago."

Bianca's eyes widened. "…What?" Her mind was racing. "What are you– Who delivered it?"

"Well, it was shipped directly to them, so no one delivered it in person. It was also a long time ago, so the details of a lot of what happened back then have been lost. All they've really got to go off of is the name that was on the package."

"And that name was?"

"According to the Museum's director, the package had been sent in by someone named…


And in that instant of time, it felt like Bianca's heart had stopped.

End Chapter 26

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