22. (Un)desirable Challenge
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Very sorry if you received a chapter update notification a few hours ago, that was totally my bad, I made a mistake while scheduling this one. Enjoy reading and sorry again!

Lisa Ritter wasn’t a fool. She prided herself on being a perceptive woman, attentive to the needs and wants of people around her. It was a trait she’d had for as long as she could remember, and she was pretty sure her daughter had inherited it. Sarah was sharp, perhaps even sharper than Lisa herself, sometimes eerily so. Whenever her mother or one of her friends was feeling down or having problems, Sarah would pick up on it and be able to reason the most likely cause. She wasn’t always spot on, but often came very close. Of course, the same could be said of Lisa herself, which made it nigh impossible for mother and daughter to keep secrets from one another, a fact they both knew very well. In the end, because they could only be truthful to one another, Sarah and Lisa tended to share almost everything.

This was why Lisa was having such a hard time wrapping her head around the situation she now found herself in. When, barely a few weeks ago, her daughter had announced she’d made a new friend, she had instantly been able to tell there was more to the story than Sarah had let on. It had been written on her face, plain as day.

At first, Lisa had thought her daughter had a crush and wanted to keep it to herself. As time went on, however, she became more and more certain that she was missing some key information, that there was much more to this whole thing than a simple crush.

When Sarah’s principal, Ms. Roberts, had called a few days prior to inform her of Sarah’s little adventure with one of her classmates – which Lisa now believed to have been Erin –, warning bells had started ringing in her head. Of course, the whole situation had been very unusual, but Sarah’s behavior still worried her.

Now, with Erin practically kicked out of her house by her parents, she was certain that the two teenagers currently sleeping in Sarah’s room were hiding things from her. The worried glances they’d kept throwing at one another hadn’t been that subtle, to be honest.

Now that all the excitement of the day was gone and Sarah and Erin were asleep, Lisa finally had time to think. Worry was clawing at her heart. She wished to respect her daughter’s privacy, yet she couldn’t help but want to intervene. What exactly had these two gotten into? Was it dangerous? For all she knew, it could have been nothing at all, but why take the risk? She didn’t think she could forgive herself if one of them got hurt because she hadn’t even tried to help.

Sighing to herself, Lisa slumped on her couch. Three days, she decided. In 3 days, if they hadn’t come clean to her, she’d sit them down and they’d all have a talk.

- - -

The next morning saw everyone waking up relatively early and sharing a quick breakfast, which Erin thoroughly enjoyed. It felt weird, sitting at the table with Sarah and her mom, all three of them talking together and having a good time. Even though she barely knew Erin, Sarah’s mom almost acted as if she’d always been part of the family, asking her questions about herself and involving her in conversations. It had been a bit overwhelming at first, but Erin much preferred it to the way things had been with her own parents. She’d usually either grab a fruit and leave for school, or just don’t eat anything. On most days she wouldn’t even exchange a word with her mother or father.

Once breakfast was over, Erin and Sarah quickly packed their bags and started making their way to school. Erin decided she’d wear the same clothes as yesterday and would transform once they’d reached school. They’d opted against taking the bus and walked instead, comfortably enjoying the silence between them.

Still, while the warm and inviting atmosphere of the Ritters’ house had been a welcome distraction, Erin was once again back to thinking. She was actively trying to think about her parents, however, and instead focused her attention on her second biggest problem : Becker and the forest.

Today was Thursday, which meant that Becker would be gone tomorrow, most likely at dawn, knowing him. He also probably wouldn’t be back before Sunday evening, which meant he’d be gone for just a bit under 3 days.

An idea had been forming into her mind ever since Sarah had told her about Becker’s unexpected trip. Before, Becker would almost always involve her if he intended to leave for an expedition, and, if he didn’t, he just wouldn’t tell her anything and she’d be none the wiser. As far as she could remember, this was the first time she was certain Becker wouldn’t be home for a couple of days while she was there.

A rift had formed between Becker and her, now that she finally saw him for who he was. This meant that she no longer had a source of information and knowledge regarding magic, as insignificant as it had been previously.

Becker had been keeping her in the dark for years, she wasn’t sure how much knowledge he was actually hoarding, but she was certain it was significant. Erin craved knowledge, all those tools he always used to take readings, that matrix he’d used to send the Amarok back into the forest, all the complex spells he made sure to use as little as possible while she was around. What else had he been hiding?

She wanted to find out, and this was the perfect opportunity. She felt angry, both at herself for going with his manipulation for so long, and at him, for having taken advantage of her.

“Erin? You’re frowning,” she heard Sarah say, concerned.

Snapping out of her thoughts, Erin realized her friend was right and relaxed her expression. Looking around, she saw they’d made good progress towards the school while she’d been lost in thought, but they still had a bit of time before they reached their destination.

 Sighing, Erin quickly shared her thoughts with Sarah.

“So, what you’re telling me right now is that you want to break into Becker’s house while he’s gone?”

“It sounds really bad when you put it like that, Sarah,” Erin mumbled, embarrassed.

“That’s because it kind of is,” Sarah replied wryly. “But I still think we should do it. Who knows when we’ll get that kind of opportunity next?”

“True,” Erin agreed, looking thoughtful. “You know, I just realized how quickly you accepted everything. If I were in your shoes I wouldn’t want anything to do with all of the drama and magic stuff. Yet, you did everything you could to help when the Amarok showed up at school, and now you’re not even phased when I’m talking about breaking into someone’s place.

“I know what you mean,” Sarah replied, looking down. “I think…When it all started I was just so excited to learn that magic was real, you know? And now that I know how serious the situation actually is, I feel like I can’t just watch without doing something, it wouldn’t be right.

“Also, I’ve always wanted to live an adventure.” Sarah added, shyly. “All of this is really scary, but it’s also super exciting.”

Erin smiled at her, but didn’t add anything. Again, her brain reminded her of how lucky she’d been to become Sarah’s friend. Many people would have just distanced themselves, scared of the danger, or even just of all the magical stuff, but Sarah reveled in it.

Looking up, Erin could see their school in the distance. It wouldn’t be long before they’d be there. The two friends walked the rest of the way once more in comfortable silence, both of them thinking. One thing was certain, tomorrow would be interesting.

- - -

Waking up the next morning proved to be more difficult than expected. The two teenagers had stayed up last night for much longer than they should have, going through their plan for the day again and again, excitement and nervousness preventing them from actually going to sleep.

Sarah lying on her bed and Erin on her mattress, they’d enthusiastically talked in hushed tones as the night progressed, their only source of light a small lamp they’d set up close by. Despite the seriousness of the subject, it had very much felt like a sleepover for the both of them.

As much as they’d tried to prepare for every possible scenario, they didn’t really know what they would encounter once in Becker’s home, which made it difficult to plan accordingly. It was very likely that Becker had some sort of safety system preventing people from breaking in. They’d decided the best course of action would be to get Sarah close to the house, and then have her use her powers to try and detect any security system, be it magical or not. Once they’d hashed out the details as much as they could, they’d been tired enough to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, they were now paying the price for staying up so late, as they sluggishly shuffled downstairs to go and grab some breakfast, yawning as they went.

“Oh my, did you two stay up late?” Lisa Ritter asked, seeing the two grumpy teens walk into the kitchen.

“Yeah. Can I have coffee?” Sarah mumbled, sitting down heavily at the small table in the corner of the kitchen.

“Coffee’s bad for you, hon. You can have tea, it’ll wake you up just the same” Sarah’s mom replied cheerfully, already heating up the kettle.

“If it’s the same thing, why can’t I get coffee?” Grumbled Sarah. Erin said nothing, though a tiny laugh escaped her mouth. Tired Sarah was pretty cute.

Ignoring her daughter’s grouchy attitude, Lisa waited for the water to boil and poured it into three mugs, adding teabags as she went.

“There you go, you two. Try not to stay up too late next time, you’ve still got school today.”

That last remark managed to pull a drawn out whine from Sarah, who was cradling her mugs while waiting for it to cool down. She’d forgotten about school! It ended early on Fridays, but they still had to attend, much to Sarah’s chagrin.

“Thanks, miss Ritter,” Erin said, accepting the mug with a smile.

“I thought I’d told you to call me Lisa, dear. Especially now that you’re living with us,” she admonished with a playful note in her voice as she sat down at the table. Erin’s smile got just a bit brighter at that last remark.

“How can you be so happy? It’s way too early for that,” Sarah complained, seeing her friend’s cheerful attitude.

“I’m used to staying up late, it gets easier,” Erin replied, blowing down on her tea.

The three of them quietly went through breakfast, Sarah visibly perking up and losing her grouchy attitude as she became more awake. Once everyone was done and the kitchen cleared, Erin and Sarah went to get ready to leave. Once they were done, they said goodbye to Lisa and left.

- - -

This was it. School was finally over with, and they were left with the whole afternoon and about two days to go and see what Becker was actually hiding in his home.

Of course, he might not have anything hidden inside of his own house, everything could be stashed somewhere else, but they couldn’t do much about that if that was the case. They had to hope he at least kept something inside.

As Sarah and Erin saw the house appearing in the distance, they looked at each other silently. They didn’t have to say anything, as they’d stressfully gone over their plan too many times to count, both the night before and during the day. They knew what they had to do.

Stopping a few paces away from the house, Erin waited let Sarah go alone. They’d decided that she would approach without Erin first, just in case there were cameras installed around. Becker didn’t know Sarah was aware of magic’s existence, and they wanted to keep it that way. Being seen in company of Erin would be highly suspicious and would alert him that something was up.

As Sarah approached the house, Erin was anxiously waiting, looking at her friend from afar. She didn’t really expect there to be cameras, as Becker was much more interested in magic than technology, but they would have to give up entering the house if they found any. They couldn’t have Sarah on video moments before a break in.

Seconds tickled by, Erin anxiously fidgeting. Sarah was standing in front of the house, immobile. She was using her magic to “scan” the whole property, picturing cameras in her head as she did, just like she’d done with the Amarok a few days ago. After a few more instants, she turned towards Erin and gave her a thumbs up.

Erin sighed in relief, some anxiety seeping out of her. She’d been really worried something would go wrong. As Erin made her way towards her friend, Sarah turned back towards the house, focusing again.

It didn’t take nearly as long this time. Sarah opened her eyes, a strange look on her face.

“What is it?” Asked Erin, worry coming back in force. Had something gone wrong?

“I found no cameras,” Sarah hesitantly said, “…But the place is covered in spell arrays.”

Turning around, she looked Erin in the eyes.

“They’re everywhere inside.”

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