A deep voice radiating strength and confidence broke in:
“Perhaps you should let me handle this?”
The moment the man spoke, the paralysis went away. Kolin finally could turn around. He found himself facing a tall, muscular fellow. The man, perhaps in his early thirties, produced a friendly smile. His blonde hair glimmered in a short haircut that framed harmonious features. His blue eyes displayed the fierce look of a warrior.
As a confirmation of his status, a circular patch was visible on the left side of his shirt: the symbol of Two Waves, one of the deadliest martial arts on Atlantide. It wasn’t the usual mark of an advanced practitioner but the patch of a master.
What was a master doing here, on the Iron Rock? No way! He couldn’t be interested in the thing underwater, could he? However, the more Kolin thought about it, the more he had to admit this was by far the most likely scenario.
The boys had just a few seconds to examine the master. With lightning speed, the man took off his shirt, shoes, and trousers. A muscular body stood now before them for a fraction of a second. Only in his underwear, the master ran to the edge of the platform. He dived head-down into the sea, almost without making a splash.
The teenagers bent down over the edge, trying to follow his movement several meters below the waves. The water was quite clear, and the master should have been easily visible, except they couldn’t glimpse him at all. He had vanished.
The seconds kept pouring with agonizing slowness. Perhaps twenty, perhaps more. Already more than a minute had passed since Lila’s disappearance. Then something briefly moved underwater, farther away and more to the left. Soon, the master’s head broke the surface, breathing calmly. A moment later, Lila’s face also appeared, coughing and gasping for air. She looked scared but remained calm, letting the stranger’s strong arms maintain her afloat from behind. The master came closer to the edge of the Iron Rock, holding the girl’s head above the waves with his right hand.
“We don’t have any rope,” Solis shouted. “I’m afraid you might have to go around the rock and use the stone steps from the other side.”
It was low tide, and the platform’s edge loomed almost three meters above the sea.
“That’s all right,” the master replied. “I don’t need a rope. Can you catch the girl if I throw her to you?”
“What do you mea…” Kolin began, but the man had already disappeared underwater with Lila. One moment later, they broke the surface again, this time at high speed. The master pushed the girl upwards with a decided move. She flew high in the air until the edge of the platform as he sank once more below the waves. Surprised, the boys managed to grab her arms and legs at the last moment, pulling her up.
Full of anxiety, the youngsters set the girl carefully onto the platform’s edge. Lila was pale but didn’t seem hurt. The boys turned their heads downwards to check on the master, just in time to see him fly out of the water and land gracefully on the platform, a couple of meters away from them.
“How did you do that?” Solis asked.
“You mean the jump?” the man laughed. “It’s not that hard. I’ve dived deeper and used the water to push me up in the same way dolphins do. If I wanted to jump this high on land, it would have been way more difficult.”
It sounded simple and certainly seemed doable for someone who could move so fast in the water. Still, Kolin had never seen any human jump out of the sea like a dolphin. Not until now, anyway. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t have been that hard for a master of Two Waves.
Lila was already feeling better. After a few more fits of coughing, she slowly stood up between the two boys and examined the master inquisitively. All three teenagers were staring at the tall man with an unvoiced question on their lips.
As if reading their thoughts, he laughed and said:
“I suppose you’re wondering why someone like me is here. Well, I have actually come to retrieve THAT.” And he pointed below the platform’s edge, past the sign drawn by Solis a few days earlier.
“What is it?” Kolin asked. “We’ve spotted this thing a week ago and so far can’t figure out its purpose and origin.”
The master was already putting his clothes back on. Shrugging, he replied:
“It’s hard to describe this thing accurately, but it’s a type of device that, in certain circumstances, can bend space and time. By doing this, it can connect far-away places with each other.”
“How does it do that?” Kolin insisted.
“It uses an internal energy source that produces a special class of exotic particles,” the master said.
“Tachions?” Kolin asked.
“It’s a combination of several types of exotic matter.”
“Is it dangerous?” Solis inquired.
“It can be if you don’t know how to handle it. Why don’t you ask the girl?”
The boys turned their heads towards Lila. She shrugged and said:
“I tried to swim towards it but couldn’t get closer. Then I tried to move away, but couldn’t do that, either. It felt as if time froze.”
“That’s why I had to pull you out from outside the distortion zone,” the master added.
“And how are you going to retrieve this thing?” Kolin insisted.
“Perhaps I’ll need to come back with a piece of rope and a hook,” the man replied.
“That won’t be necessary,” a new voice with a harsh tone broke in from behind. “We’re going to retrieve it right now.”
The teenagers turned around and discovered a group of five men dressed in brown, military-style attire standing in front of them. The new voice belonged to an imposing man in his forties with long black hair kept in a ponytail. He seemed to be their leader. The newcomers didn’t have any distinctive badges belonging to major martial arts. Nevertheless, they carried swords at their belts and looked threatening. With a discrete move, the master detached the patch from the left side of his chest and hid it in his pocket before turning to face them.
“Who are they?” Solis asked the master, glancing with a worried expression at the goons.
“I have no idea,” the young man answered in a low voice, smiling and raising his left eyebrow. “Perhaps some gangsters who think they can just come here and get the big prize.”
“How come they know about the artifact?” Solis added.
“There are detectors that react to emissions of exotic particles,” the master said. “But they are large and expensive, and only a few scientists in the world know how to build them.”
“That means…” Kolin began.
“That means they are connected to someone powerful,” the master said.
“Are you going to stop them?” Lila asked.
“No. Why should I? If they can retrieve the artifact by themselves, they can have it.”
In the meantime, the newcomers walked along the edge of the platform. One of them spotted the tiny chalk mark and called the boss. The mobsters drew near and peered down, trying to locate the object. After a few moments, someone produced from a bag a rope with a large steel hook and slowly lowered it into the sea.
A deep voice radiating strength and confidence broke in: