Saturday rolled around like it always did for high schoolers; really slowly. What was really strange to the Ainsleys was there was no school on fridays but Daren wanted to meet on saturday. Sara decided she was going to see why he didn’t want to meet on friday by introducing herself to the nearby neighbors.

Sara found out that Daren worked at a card shop on fridays. It was owned by the people who lived at the end of the gravel drive behind Daren’s house. Sara went home to let the boys know. “I’m going into town where Daren works on fridays. Either of you wanna go with?”

The boys were busy playing some game on their PS4’s. John turned to glance at her then went back to his screen. “Nah, you go ahead. Me and Jayse are in the middle of a strike.”

“Yeah, let me know how it goes.” Jayse said without turning around. “You can take the car if you want.”

– – –

Sara got out of the car and walked into the shop called Shadow Trading Cards. It was a card slash hobby shop with tables set up on the left side and shelves on the right, in front of the counter. There seemed to be some kind of card game going on to the left and somebody was calling for a judge. Sara turned her attention back toward the counter where Daren was standing. She walked over to the front of the counter. “Nice looking place. The shelves are kinda short though.”

“Yeah, Cal says it’s so it’s easier to see if somebody’s trying to steal something. We keep the expensive stuff behind the counter anyways, but better safe than sorry I suppose.”

“Is Cal the guy in the ‘Official Shadow Trading Cards Judge’ shirt?” Sara motioned towards the young man quoting obscure rules to justify his decision.

“Yeah, that’s him. Why’d you come down here?”

Sara leaned on the counter. Her hair practically covered her face when she did that though so she stood up again and brushed it back into place. “I know that Jayse will have to take months to gather your materials. He won’t want to wait for summer, but that would be the best time to do it.”

“Well, tomorrow is a stop-gap measure. I know it will take time to gather the components, so we’re going to do…something, uh, different.” Daren turned slightly and talked to someone behind Sara. “You can’t buy cards until the tournament is over. Someone tried to sneak cards from a booster into their deck one time. Ruined it for everyone.”

“I’ll just browse then.”

Daren noticed Cal walking over. “Here comes Cal. Might as well introduce you.”

“Hey, no friends over during work hours, Daren. But since you’re here.” Cal turned to face Sara. “I’m Cal.” His face got an inquisitive look on it for a moment, then he smiled, knowingly. “I guess I shouldn’t offer you an Aloe infused granola bar. We just ordered them, and – you’ll have to take my word for it – they taste great.”

“Greetings Seeker.” Sara said, extending a hand out to shake.

“Wait, Seeker as in Erik and Anja?” Daren tried to keep the excitement from making him yell, and just barely succeeded.

Cal shook her hand. “Oh, is that what it’s called?” Then he seemed to realize where they were. “Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else. I assume you’re part of what Daren needs the clearing for?” Cal was excited to finally know what he was, but was doing his best to stay calm. As he started to shake a little he popped a glucose tablet into his mouth and chewed on it.

“Why does he know about us using the clearing?” Sara glared at Daren.

Daren’s face pinkened slightly. “I had to make sure that they didn’t have plans for it. They didn’t and I wasn’t going to say anything unless we had to change the date. Imagine ‘Saturday at four, unless the landlords have plans on that day for the clearing we need, then Sunday at four instead.’ That would’ve sounded great I’m sure.”

“Fair enough, as long as you didn’t go telling people what for.”

“You know what I am. I keep a secret better than our military. Which isn’t saying much I suppose; considering there’s a war on and they apparently still leak intel.”

“I think they leaked about the colony ship program to get interest in it, not because they have security leaks. Like when a videogame company has a ‘leaked’ teaser video.” Somebody called for a judge at the game tables. “I guess we’ll talk tomorrow then. Oh, and you can be off for the day Daren. Tournament’s almost over so I can man the counter again.”

There was a squeaking sound as Daren passed through the swinging door to the same side of the counter as Sara. “Do you need a ride home? I noticed your pickup was at your house.”

“Yeah, since you’re here. I’ll just get my stuff from the back room and meet you outside.” Daren walked to a door marked “Employees Only” and disappeared.

– – –

The car pulled into the Ainsley’s driveway and shut off. Daren got out and looked at the house. “You know, I never really took a good look at this place. Always seemed to escape my notice. It’s a nice house.”

“Thanks. Why don’t you come in and talk with Jayse about the components you’ll need and the best way to get them.” Sara paused for a moment when they reached the door, then said loudly. “That’ll give Jayse something to do besides playing video games!” She then opened the door to Jayse and John still on their PS4’s playing a videogame.

“Ooo, whatcha playin’?” Daren asked as he set down his messenger bag. “Is that the new shooter that just came out?”

“Yeah. We got an extra PS4 and tv if you want to play. I’ll log out here and play on the other system. I’m sure you and Jayse have stuff to talk about.” John started to get up.

“Don’t bother. The other one’s in the entertainment cabinet all hooked up.” Jayse didn’t turn away from the screen. “Ha, knocked you off the edge again!”

Sara let out an exasperated sigh and left the living room.

“Does she have a problem with video games?” Daren asked as he turned the system on.

“Only when we’re playing them during the day. She says they’re a waste of time, but when we have nothing else to do she still gets mad at us.” John explained. “What she’s really upset about is that she got us into gaming and then when she grew out of it. That’s how she puts it, ‘grew out of it’. Anyways, she stopped playing she thought we would too, but of course we didn’t play just because she wanted us to. We played ‘cause we enjoyed it.”

“She still plays sometimes, but we definitely play more.” Jayse said. “Besides, I know she has another PS4 somewhere that she plays even when she berates us for playing.”

“I do not!” The yell came from where Sara went. Then there was a thud and a scream followed by the sound of stomping feet. “Jayse!”

“Oh, I forgot to tell her I had the ironing board propped up just right so when she opened the cabinet to get on her PS4 it would scare her.”

“I think I’ll go home now.” Daren was alreading at the door when Sara came back into the room. “See ya tomorrow!” Daren heard the faint sound of raised voices as he walked up the hill as fast as he could.

– – –

Daren’s mom, Neta, was out on the front patio when Daren walked onto the gravel driveway. She was watering a couple of flowerpots hanging from the eaves and talking to someone who was in the garage.

“I’m home.” Daren waved at his mother. “Who do we have visiting?” The driveway was fairly short so he was already next to his mother. He motioned towards the garage.

“Oh, just a fellow herbalist. I think you know him from school.”

Daren was thinking of possible classmates when Mr. Hans walked out of the garage holding a wolfsbane plant. “Oh, hello Daren. I’m told you’re going to need some interesting plants for a special project later this summer.” He put the potted plant onto a hook and walked over to his small car. “I’ve got something you might want for tomorrow’s activity.” He opened up the trunk and started rummaging through it. The rustling sound it made was familiar to Daren, the sound of dried herbs. “Ah, here it is.” Mr. Hans pulled a woven belt out of the trunk. “Wolf’s fur belt. It’s better than what Neta says you were planning on using.”

Daren smiled. “It was the only thing we had made of wolf. I’m glad we have something more easily concealed to use. Thanks.” The item was an old bowstring made of wolf tendon that would’ve needed to be tied around a wrist or ankle. It was something that was hard to explain away while a belt would be inconspicuous to the casual observer.

“Also,” Mr. Hans added, “it has a preexisting enchantment. It needs attuning, but you don’t need to go through the whole ritual.” Mr. Hans handed him a folded piece of lined notebook paper. “I had to trade a few poultices for that, but anything for a fellow herbalist…and her family.

Daren unfolded the paper. There was a short paragraph written in thaumatish detailing how to attune the belt. There were no components necessary other than what looked like an old hex laid out with string. “Wow, that’s way easier than what I needed to do. Thanks Mr. Hans, and I guess thank you too mom.” He turned and nodded to Neta.

“Mr. Hans is staying for dinner. I hope you don’t mind having company.”

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