Chapter 1

“Marco Cortes, hurry up!” Zak called from outside my house. “We are going to be late for school! I really don’t want a detention again like last week.”

I knew my best friend was angry with me when he referred to me by my full name. Frantically, I sprinted around my small house, trying to find my tie whilst throwing my textbooks into my bag and peeling a banana all at the same time. I was a mess. I had slept through my alarm for the third time that week and my parents had already left for work. I found my tie underneath the sofa and wondered how on earth it got there as I located one of my shoes in the living room and hastily slipped my right foot into it.

“Marco, come on man!” I heard Zak impatiently calling.

“Where’s my other shoe?” I grunted to myself.

I ran to the dining room and saw the shining Nike logo of my left shoe and instantly inserted my left foot into it, not bothering to tie my laces. I dashed to the door and before opening it, looked myself in the mirror. My morning hair was a small forest, with brown tangles here and there. Dark circles surrounded both of my eyes and I cursed myself for forgetting to moisturise. It was too late for that now. I opened the door and stepped outside into the beautiful sunshine. Birds were chirping harmoniously, enjoying the warm and dazzling sun rays. Cars, lorries and buses whizzed up and down my road in the morning rush hour as the pavement was streaming with people rushing off to work. I slammed the door shut.

“About time! You look terrible,” Zak teased, inspecting me with his sky blue eyes. His blonde hair was tidily combed to one side and unlike me, he had his shirt and tie buttoned up to the top.

“I can’t believe I overslept again man. I promise this won’t happen again,” I replied.

“That’s what you said yesterday!” Zak laughed. “Come on, let’s get going.”

We raced down my road and reached my other best friend’s door.

“Rachel!” I called.

“Coming!” she replied, as she stepped out and joined us. Her long brown hair swayed gently in the morning breeze and the bright shining Sun made her skin look almost golden. She stared at me with her hazel eyes. “Marco, you look terrible.”

“That’s exactly what I said!” Zak was in a fit of laughter.

“Shut up you two,” I replied, smiling in amusement.

Together we darted off to our school, weaving in and out of the oncoming flock of scurrying pedestrians. If we were late, I sincerely hoped that our principal Gerard Ramirez – who we were obliged to call ‘Señor’ because of his Spanish ethnic background – would not punish us.

My lungs were screaming at me to slow down just as the grand white building of our school finally came into sight. The gleaming sunshine reflected off the big letters ‘Tranquillity Valley High School’ that were carved in gold on the magnificent black gates, casting golden rays all around the school’s vast perimeter.

And standing at the front of the gate with his arms folded was Señor Ramirez.

“Follow me,” he ordered.

That was not a good sign.

He briskly stomped through the narrow corridors that were filled with the buzzing of students who were eager to start the school day. Some were laughing, some were gossiping, some were playing cards and some were exchanging paper airplanes. Seeing us closely following Señor Ramirez, their expressions darkened and they exchanged nervous looks with each other.

We reached the end of the corridor and Señor Ramirez unlocked his office door, with a grim, sullen look glued to his face. What had happened? And why were we called to his office?

We stepped in, and it seemed like all hell had broken loose in Señor Ramirez’s office. Scattered books, broken wardrobes, dusty shelves and smashed glass lay scrambled in a heap on the floor. He sat down behind his desk and put his head in his hands. Something had happened. And it was something big. Thinking deep and precisely about what he was going to talk to me about, I retraced the past few days of school, trying to figure out what he was going to discuss with us. Zak and Rachel were as clueless as I was, as we exchanged bewildered looks with each other.

Señor Ramirez looked at us. “The Golden Leaf has been stolen.” 

I gasped in horror, as did Zak and Rachel.

Silence hung in the room.

“No way,” I finally said, my voice trembling.

“I received a call last night from my good friend from my time with the

Army. He asked me to hand over the Golden Leaf for his research project with this organisation called Obsidian. I asked him what the research project was about and he refused to give more details. I told him that there was no way I could hand over the Golden Leaf. After all, we discovered it buried underneath one of the pavements in Central Park on one of our school expeditions last year, remember? Then, when I come into my office this morning, it’s gone! Gone! Just look at this mess. That treacherous man came and stole the Golden Leaf from me,” Señor Ramirez explained, infuriated.

“Have you called the police?” Zak asked.

Señor Ramirez laughed incredulously. “The police! As if they will bring the Golden Leaf back to us. If I involve the police, there will be zero chance of finding the Golden Leaf. I would have to fill out forms and then an investigator would be assigned to my case. And until they try to solve the case, who knows where the Leaf will be or what’s happened to it. The Golden Leaf is worth so much and we must bring it back for the longevity of this school. This Golden Leaf is so special that it actually helps fund your education and the facilities we have here. Without it, this school is doomed.”

We remained silent, overwhelmed with shock.

“I remember that friend of mine telling me about Obsidian being based in Stingray Island. I’ve never heard of it and it’s not on any map or satellite navigation system. But all I know is that it’s near and around the coast of Lower New York Bay. The precise location, I don’t know.”

“Why are you telling us this?” I asked tentatively.

“Because I want you three to find the Golden Leaf and bring it back,” Señor Ramirez replied simply.

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