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Rogue, Trace, and Hollow stood behind a garbage can for the third time that day. The Night Terrors had just finished patrolling the street and had moved on to another alleyway. The searchlight beams were following a car chase off in the distance. Hollow could hear the baying and screams of the chased and the chasers; it was a terrifying sound that was unfortunately common in their little town.
“Okay, I think we’re alone.” Trace finished examining the nearest street for any guards and returned to the others just in time to pop up the cover that led down into the sewer. “Yuck. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“Me neither.” Rogue took one last look around before sliding down. The sky was still a dark shade of navy speckled by light-golden stars that were tinged with a whtie glow. If he tilted his gaze down to the horizon, he could see a faint shade of purple gleaming from over the city shoreline, a sign of the sun to come. The beautiful sky was broken up by black silhouettes of trees that grew in gardens. Front yards were outlawed a few years ago but many people soon established “side gardens” next to their driveways where they’d grow small shrubs. The government sent Night Terrors after those people, but the movement, cheekily named “Grow with the Flow”, grew too fast and soon it was so big that the government dropped it. Many people now grew large trees that stretched up to fifty feet tall and loomed ominously over surrounding houses and neighborhoods.
“All clear. You first, Rogue,” Trace said, spinning around one last time.
“Why does it always have to be me first?” he complained, dangling his legs in the hole hesitantly.
“Come on, don’t waste time, buddy.” Hollow gave him a slight, encouraging push on the back. The teen groaned and, keeping one hand on the edge of the hole just in case, slipped down into the sewer.
The ground was about ten feet from the hole and Rogue easily dropped down. Once the other two were next to him, he reached into his pack and pulled out three flashlights, one for each of them. They switched the lights on and pointed the beams around them to examine their surroundings.
The sewer was not as bad as they’d previously thought it would be. Sure, a little smelly, but mostly clean. It consisted of a metal, circular tunnel that reflected the light of their flashlights back at them in sudden glares and flashes. Dark water burbled past them slowly, taking up most of the space but leaving two walks on either side of the sewage river, each one about two feet wide. Rogue, Trace, and Hollow had to stand single file in order to follow the map that the latter had printed out for them. Rogue had removed his hat before leaving Riven’s house and now held out the downloaded map, encoded onto a small scrap of paper. “This was the nearest entrance, but the card is moving quickly from the north up here. The water must be carrying it downstream, so we’ve got to be ready to catch it.”
“Wait, catch it? Gross,” Trace muttered. “I’m not sticking my hand in sewage water. Rogue, you do it for me.”
“Since when are you this delicate, blondie?” The boy in question crouched down, eying the river that rushed past him nervously. “Okay, point your flashlights over here. I need to be able to catch the card.” Trace and Hollow aimed their beams of light at the water.
“There!” Trace cried this out as a blue, flashing light emerged from the darkness. Rogue reached out and grabbed the object that the tracker was attached to. “Wait, that’s not the card. Is it?” She’d never seen the information card before.
“Definitely not,” Hollow confirmed, crouching down next to Rogue and eying the object. It was a wooden box, square in shape and about the shape of a fist. The tracker had been slapped half-heartedly on one side and was now in danger of falling off. In an act of sudden anger and confusion, Rogue ripped the tracker off, crushed it in between his fingers, and flung it into the dirty water. It blinked a few times in the darkness before disappearing out of the gaze of the flashlight beams. “Well, that was harsh. Maybe someone, I don’t know, gift wrapped the card in this box for us. Open it up!”
Rogue gagged as he pried the lid open and dumped the contents on the sewer walkway. There was a fake, velvet lining that fell out, and underneath, when he pulled it aside, the three of them saw a piece of paper, slightly stained from sewer water despite the protective casing that it had been in. He held it up to the light and read it out loud. “Thank you for the card! Very much appreciated. Love, Lion.”
“Who is Lion? What do they want with the card?” Trace frowned at the disturbing note and set down her flashlight, leaving it up to Hollow to illuminate their surroundings.
“Have you ever heard of anyone named Lion, Hollow?” the teen holding up the note asked. “You know everyone in town.”
“Oh, stop flattering me,” the person in question said with a slight smile, which then faded as he added, “But no, I don’t. Never heard of them. Maybe check the phonebook?”
“Sounds like a good idea.” Trace wrinkled her nose and pulled the collar of her shirt up over it. “Let’s get out of here first, though. It really smells.”
“Should I bring the box with us?” Rogue asked, looking off to the left where the tracker had disappeared, carried off by the flood of sewage water that was now bubbling in a tranquil manner.
“Sure. Doesn’t hurt to bring it with us. At least bring the note. It’s hand-written, so maybe we can run a data scan,” Hollow suggested.
“Then let’s move.” At this, Hollow clicked off the flashlight and the three of them climbed back up through the sewer hole and into the street, which was still deserted. A street lamp flickered above them and the air was fresh, which was a relief. Trace took a deep breath in and her shoulders slumped as the tension left them. She did her best to banish all thoughts of the asylum. It’s in the past now, she told herself. You’re not going back. Ever. But she still found herself throwing glances around for any hint of the building peeking over the horizon.
“The street’s clear. Let’s cover this up before it looks too suspicious.” As Rogue bent down to replace the sewer cover, concealing their tracks, he noticed a glint of metal at the corner of his vision, coming from the bushes that lined the sidewalk. Afraid that it was a hiding Night Terror, waiting to ambush them, he bit his lip and turned towards it, ready to jump up and run…or defend himself. But it was just a metal box, about the size of his fist. Strikingly similar to the one Lion had used to hold their note, and placed just at the edge of the sidewalk, teetering on the border between the shrubbery and the pavement. Almost like it was designed to attract someone’s attention.
Rogue pointed at it and Trace bent down, picking it up and turning it over and over in her palm. “Interesting. There’s a lock on it with a three-digit code.”
“Letters or numbers, blondie?”
Rogue stood up and joined her. “Try R, T, and H. If it was designed for us like the other one was, it should be an easy fix.”
“Rogue, there’s thousands of possibilities–”
“Just trust me, okay?” He looked into her eyes with serious expression, dropping his characteristic smirk. “I got you out of the asylum. It can’t hurt to try my lock combination.” In the background, he heard Hollow mutter something about a team effort but ignored it.
“Okay,” she huffed, entering the three letters: R, T, and H. There was a click and the lock dropped off the box, hitting the ground with a slight, metallic echo that made Hollow look around the street again nervously. Still no one there. “Well, I guess you were right.”
“You sound disappointed.” Rogue gave a light chuckle and watched as Trace pulled up the lid, revealing another note. She gave the box to Hollow so she could hold up the note to the fading light of the moon.
This note was in purple ink, slightly smudged, as if the writer had been in a hurry. The paper was torn off from what looked like a school binder, for on one side was a history question about the greatness of the government (all great and powerful, according to the question). But on the other side was the message, written in loopy handwriting. Hollow took his turn to read it out loud. “Hey, friend! I saw you head down into the sewer. Don’t think you’re alone. But just a cheerful reminder from your best pal that the Lion is not to be trusted. She’s a lying cheat who’ll do whatever she can to keep her paws on that card! It’s much more important than you think. If you REALLY want to know what’s up, take back your offer with the Lion and put one up with me. Sincerely…the Wolf.”
“Creepy.” A shiver ran through Trace, but she did her best to hide it from the others and pretend it was the cold. “Are we being watched? I thought the street was clear.”
“Someone must’ve slipped past our radar. That’s the only way,” Hollow said, rubbing his chin confusedly.
“Or is it?” Rogue’s eye caught another glint coming from one of the houses. He ran over to where the roof sloped the lowest and examined the shingle pattern.
Trace and Hollow eyed their companion. “Uh…are we now examining house decor?”
“No, we’re not.” Rogue grabbed the edge of the roof and swung his legs up and over so that he was on the roof. “Hold on, I’m just looking at something.”
“The owner of this house is gonna be mad once he finds the three teenagers climbing on his roof,” Trace muttered, but leapt up onto the roof nonetheless. “What are we looking at?”
“This.” Rogue pulled out a piece of torn, grey fabric that had been trapped under a shingle near the edge of the roof. “Look at the tear mark…this is pretty recent. Either the Lion or the Wolf watched us from here.”
“So can we do…like, a DNA test on the fabric? Hack into security cameras on the house? I know there’s one in the back alley. Maybe we can catch someone climbing up the drainage pipe?”
“This still sounds fishy to me,” Trace puffed. “I think we should head back and examine the cameras. That’s the best way to find someone around here.”
“Unless that someone finds you,” a voice behind them said. The three of them, balanced on the shingled roof of the house, looked down to see a figure standing in the front yard of the house, looking up at them and seemingly oblivious that the garage light had turned on, highlighting their profile for all to see. “Hey. I’m the Wolf, as you probably know already.” The figure wore a black hoodie that hid most of their face, but the voice sounded vaguely familiar, although it was gruff and scratchy.
“Look, we don’t have the card. The Lion has it now. But it wasn’t our choice to give it away. Not for sale, if you’re looking for money.” Hollow swung his legs over the ledge and looked down at the Wolf.
“I’m not paying for anything. You think I have more dough than anyone else here? You think I’d want that card of yours to auction off to the highest bidder?” The man, for it was a man, chuckled. “It’s not an option. Get that card from Lion or else you have a new enemy on your hands. Me.” He paused then added, “I’ve seen you messing with Hunter’s gang. He’s just a little kitten who can’t get his claws out. But Lion really knows how to run a gang. She’ll tear you up using the information on that card.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, what makes you think that you’re suddenly nobodies? The three of you are the most infamous hackers in town. Maybe in the whole Isle! Don’t you want to stay in business?”
Rogue, Trace, and Hollow glanced at each other suspiciously before the latter swung down off the edge of the roof, landing softly on the gravel driveway. The garage light was still on, yet the windows were darkened black and no sign of motion came from within. Rogue and Trace joined their friend in the drive, hiding just out of direct view from the large window shrouded by a white curtain. “We don’t have a business, Wolf,” Trace informed him, crossing her arms. “We’re just teens, you know.”
“How does that change anything?” Wolf surveyed the three of them calmly. “I’m making a simple request. Follow these instructions and you’ll have a pal for life.” He stepped forward and reached out one gloved hand. In it was yet another box.
“Ohhh, I’m not taking that box.”
“I’ll do it, blondie.” Rogue stepped forward and reached out his hand to take the box from Wolf. They lingered in the handshake for a moment before the boy stepped back with a smile. “So, when should we meet with you next? To bring the card?”
“You have all day today and tomorrow morning. Meet me for lunch at the Ebbaline Cafe. You know the place.” Wolf turned, pulling his hoodie tighter around himself and started to walk away. He added, so quietly that the three could barely hear, “Oh, and you might want to work on your subtlety a bit more.” He held out one hand and flicked off the tracker that Rogue had attached to his palm, then disappeared into the night.
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