23. (Un)profitable Exploration
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“How many did you find?” Erin asked, looking at the house.

“I don’t know, there’s too many. Sometimes there is too much information for my brain and I can’t retain everything I learn. I just know there’s a lot of them,” Sarah said apologetically.

Erin nodded, deep in thought. This was pretty bad. She’d expected a few arrays, but not that Becker would literally cover his house with them. The problem was that arrays could get tricky very quickly, as nothing was limiting their complexity.

With regular spells, the complexity was limited by the caster’s capacities. Like doing equations in your head, there came a point where the task was too complex to be done on the fly.

Arrays were more like carefully solving an equation on a piece of paper. Once the array was written down correctly, all it needed was a source of energy and it would work by itself, weaving the magic into the instructed spell.

This basically meant that Becker’s house was a fortress. Had Sarah been unable to see the arrays, they would have been none the wiser and tripped who knows how many security measures, potentially dangerous ones. Erin knew Becker wouldn’t have left a weak point anywhere in his defense, he was the type of person to obsess over every single detail, carefully planning everything until her was certain his design was foolproof. Removing one array would probably trip all the other ones.

Fortunately, Becker’s house was still made to be entered. Becker himself would have to be able to get inside, which meant there must have been a way to disable everything safely. They just had to figure it out.

As Erin relayed her thoughts to Sarah, her friend nodded in comprehension. “I could try looking for an array that disables the other ones,” she mused, looking at the front door.

“That’s a good idea, try focusing on the area around the front door, it’s probably somewhere around there,” Erin added.

Sarah did exactly that. Closing her eyes again, Erin saw her frown lightly in concentration.

Suddenly curious, Erin activated her vision spell while looking at her friend. Seer abilities were still magic, which meant she should be able to see what Sarah was doing.

What she saw took her breath away. An immense cloud of magic was encompassing everything around them. Erin could see that it was made of motes of dark blue magic, swirling lazily around, almost like fireflies. All of them emanated from her friend, who stood at the epicenter of the sphere.

Progressively, every firefly moved towards the front of Becker’s house. There, each individual light started moving around, touching everything around them and changing colors as they did so. None of the motes of magic ever touched each other, as if they each knew what they were supposed to do. 

The spectacle was so incredible that Erin didn’t see time pass. She was shaken out of her wonder when the lights all suddenly shot back towards Sarah, returning to her and mixing with her own magic.

“Woah…” Erin breathed quietly, canceling her spell.

“I think I found it,” Sarah said after a few moments, turning to Erin.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Like you said, there’s one array that’s connected to a bunch of others. It’s also the only one I found that’s currently powered down. If you activate it we should be able to enter safely, I think.”

“You’re not sure?”

“No, this is kind of weird, you know. A lot of knowledge just appears into my head, sometimes it’s hard to really understand everything I learn.” Sarah said, rubbing her head. “I’m almost certain I’m right but I could take another look if you want, though my head is starting to hurt a bit.”

“No, it’s fine!” Erin hurriedly said. “I trust you, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Tell me where it is and I’ll trigger it.”

Now that they knew what to do, it actually didn’t take long at all to disable everything. Sarah described the location of the array as precisely as possible to Erin, who carefully reached with her magic and weaved it through the array. It was located inside of the house itself, which would have made finding it without Sarah practically impossible.

Nothing visibly changed once it was done, but Erin had expected as much. If she hadn’t been able to sense any of the arrays before, it made sense that she wouldn’t once they were deactivated. She just hoped she’d done everything correctly.

“It’s done” Erin said. “Ready to go inside?”

“Wait, maybe I should make sure everything is off?” Sarah asked hesitantly. “I don’t want to take any risks.”

“Alright,” Erin said hesitantly. “Is your head going to be okay?”

Sarah nodded and proceeded to activate her magic one last time. She didn’t take any longer than necessary and stopped once she was certain everything was deactivated. “We can go in, ow.”

“Sarah?” Erin asked, approaching her friend and pulling her into a hug

“It’s a really good thing this house isn’t Seer-proof,” she joked, rubbing her head. “I’m good now, Erin, thank you.”

Getting inside after that wasn’t even a challenge. Erin casually pulsed magic inside of the house the same way she had to disable the array, and proceeded to unlock the door from the inside, much to Sarah surprise.

Opening the door revealed a badly lit, slightly dusty interior. A small entryway led directly to a bigger living room, which they quickly entered, closing the door behind them.

From what they could see, the furniture and decorations would have been very out of date even decades ago. The walls were made of ornamented dark wood, with a few paintings here and there decorating the place. A small chandelier was hanging from the ceiling, and the ground was covered with a floral patterned carpet. A table and multiple bookcases took up most of the available space, filled to the brim with books and documents. Most of said bookcases were covered in a fine layer of dust, as if no one had touched them in months. Everything was quiet, besides the sound of the floorboards creaking under the two teenagers’ shoes. 

All in all, Erin felt more like she’d entered a mansion rather than a regular house. Looking around, she was eerily reminded of the old man’s antique shop, where she’d acquired her bracelet what felt like ages ago.

“There’s books everywhere,” Erin said quietly, walking inside.

“This place is a mess,” Sarah commented.

Making their way deeper inside of the house, they quickly realized it wasn’t as big as they’d thought. Besides the living room, they found a bedroom with a king sized bed, a luxurious bathroom an old-looking kitchen with a door that lead to the garden behind the house, as well as a few rooms only filled with bookshelves and a few pieces of furniture.

Overall, despite the lavish interior of the house, the furniture was spartan, to say the least. There were no personal trinkets anywhere, no pictures of Becker or other people, just the bare minimum needed. It was all so impersonal that Erin almost didn’t feel like they’d just broken into someone’s home, but rather in a recently abandoned house. How did Becker live like this?

Once their inspection of the place was over, Sarah and Erin decided the best thing to do would be to clear the living room table and bring everything worth of interest they found there, and then carefully look through everything.

Sarah at first wanted to make sure to cover traces of their passages as they went, but Erin quickly dismissed the idea. Becker was very paranoid, and so the odds of him not noticing someone had been inside his house were very low, especially considering all the dust on certain of the bookshelves; He would certainly see that some books had been removed and put back. They weren’t going to ransack the place, but they wouldn’t leave it just as they’d found it either. Plus, their time was limited, they wouldn’t be able to look through the dozens, if not hundreds of tomes present within the house if they had to be careful about putting everything back in its place.

Unfortunately, Erin’s dreams of a house filled to the brim with books about magic were quickly reduced to ashes. As they looked through the bookshelves, Sarah and Erin quickly figured that most of the books they found were about history, while a few focused on things like chemistry and biology. Despite all the dust, volumes were carefully ordered by themes and authors in what looked to be Becker’s own shelving system. Despite looking several times, none of these sections seemed to be about magic either, much to Erin’s dismay.

Seeing her friend’s crestfallen expression, Sarah approached Erin and put a hand on her shoulder. “It makes sense,” she said. “He is a history teacher, after all.”

“Yeah…” Erin said wistfully. “It was probably stupid to think all of these would be about magic. There has to be something interesting somewhere in there, though.”

Becker wasn’t a history teacher for nothing. Often, historians would find old texts about magic and study them, mistaking them for pagan practices or religious beliefs of some sort. This meant that a lot of the books on the shelves around them probably contained fragments of magical knowledge, scattered here and there in between mundane historical facts.

Becker had to have carefully studied these books and then written down everything he’d found in one place. He also had to have experimented, done some research of his own and documented it somewhere. They just had to find where he’d put it all.

Erin was tempted to ask Sarah to use her powers again and try to look for a hidden cache, but she didn’t want her to hurt herself. Sarah hadn’t said anything, but looking at her was enough to know she still had a headache, and they still didn’t know how her powers worked exactly. Erin decided she’d try and look around by herself for the time being, and that she’d ask Sarah for help if she really couldn’t find anything on her own.

As she left Sarah to skim through the bookshelves in one of the rooms, Erin triggered her vision spell, magic revealing itself to her eyes. She didn’t exactly know what she was looking for, but she supposed she was more likely to find something while looking for magic rather than just by moving stuff around and generally making a mess of the house.

Nothing stood out in the living room, which was even more cluttered now thanks to the books she and Sarah had put on the table. The books that had originally been on the table when they’d entered the home were now sitting aside on the ground, which made it a bit difficult to move around.

Becker’s bedroom wasn’t much more interesting either. There was nothing unusual to the room. There was nothing under the bed, nothing inside the closet, nothing in the dresser, nothing that she could find anywhere.

A dozen minutes later saw Erin disheartened. She’d found absolutely nothing in the whole house. She’d even gone so far as to remove every carpet she could find in the hopes of revealing a trapdoor, to no avail. Maybe Becker kept his notes and research hidden somewhere else, which would mean all their efforts would have been wasted. She banished the thought from her head. There was no point in thinking like that.

Getting desperate, Erin was starting to seriously consider moving all of the bookshelves in the house to look for a hidden passage when an idea progressively formed in her head. Actually, calling it an idea might have been a bit too generous, it was more something she’d thought she’d noticed, a gut feeling.

“I’m going to check something outside, I’ll be back in a minute,” Erin said to Sarah, who was still leafing through every book in the house in the hopes of finding something interesting.

“Okay, please be careful,” Sarah answered, sending a smile her way.

“I will.”

Opening the kitchen door leading to the back of the house, Erin found herself in the garden, her mind churning. She knew Becker owned a lot of magical equipment, gear specially made to detect and study magic, as well as harness it, yet they’d found none of it in the house. She thus suspected there was a hidden room somewhere, where Becker stored everything he didn’t want to be found. The alternative was that everything was stored somewhere else, which she didn’t want to consider for now.

There were no sheds in the garden, and there didn’t seem to be a trap leading to a basement, but that wasn’t why Erin was here anyway. Taking a few steps forward, Erin distanced herself from the kitchen door before turning around and taking a look at the house itself. She visualized the layout of the rooms as best as she could, helping herself by looking at the position of the windows she could see. Soon enough, she could roughly tell where each room was inside of the house, and what space they approximately occupied.

While she’d been wandering through the house looking for secret entrances, Erin had felt as if it was too small, like she hadn’t seen the entirety of the inside of the house. In fact, every time she’d complete a round of the house, she’d become more and more certain there should have been a room adjacent to the kitchen.

She thought there was enough space for there to be one, at the very least, and she believed it didn’t make sense to just waste space like that. Try as she might, however, she couldn’t find any way to access this supposed part of the house. Or, at least, she couldn’t from the inside.

Once she’d approached the suspicious wall, Erin called forth her magic, loosely tugging at the planks that composed it, and saw that they had a bit of give. Excited, she tugged harder, and one of the planks separated from the wall, revealing empty darkness beyond.

“I found it.”

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