“Let’s watch them from over there,” the master said, stepping aside.
The three teenagers followed him to a spot near the edge about ten meters away. From their new vantage point, they began observing the five men.
The rope with the large hook of steel continued to descend into the water. Now it had to be close to the artifact.
“Did you get it?” the leader asked.
“I think I did,” replied the man who was handling the operation.
“Try to pull it up slowly,” the boss said.
The man attempted to move the rope upwards. The hook didn’t budge.
“It’s jammed,” he said. “Perhaps the thing down there weighs too much.”
The other thugs came closer. They grabbed the cord and began pulling it with all their might. Nothing happened. The Two Waves master was grinning, amused by their futile efforts.
“Why can’t they pull it out?” Kolin asked. “Is it that heavy?”
“Not exactly. As I have already told you, time flows much slower next to it. Force and momentum don’t propagate normally there,” the master said.
“What are they going to do then?” Lila pressed.
“These guys won’t be able to retrieve the rope and the hook from the water. At some point, they’ll have to give up.”
The five men kept pulling the rope with stubborn determination. Yet, the line seemed attached to something weighing several tons. With an angry expression, the leader turned towards the Two Waves master and shouted:
“Hey, you! Why don’t you come here and help? You look strong enough. Perhaps the six of us could drag it out of the water.”
“It won’t work,” the master replied, shrugging.
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve read some time ago a little book about these artifacts. Time slows down tremendously near them. You have to pull the rope at really high speed to move them even by one centimeter.”
“Why don’t you come here and show me?” the leader went on, this time in a threatening tone.
“I don’t feel like it. Perhaps, after you give up, I might somehow find a way to do it myself and bring the artifact to my home.”
“You surely have a big mouth,” growled another man from the group, stepping closer. “Perhaps I could convince you with this,” he added, unsheathing his curved sword.
The teenagers went pale and walked a few steps back, away from the imminent danger. The mobster was tall, muscular, and outweighed his opponent. The master didn’t look concerned. He continued to smile and said:
“Please, don’t do that! Swords are sharp and could hurt someone!”
“I’m fine with it, ’cause I won’t be the one who’s hurt,” the ruffian barked.
In a few strides, he got close enough to strike the master. The other gangsters came closer, too, watching the two men with amused expressions.
“So, are you going to tell us how to extract the artifact from the water, or not?” he went on, blade pointing at the masters’ chest.
“Probably not,” the master said, grinning widely.
The ruffian lounged, his sword aiming for the young man’s heart. The master didn’t react until the blade was just a few centimeters away from his body. What followed looked more like a blur. The teenagers heard a loud clang as the long piece of steel hit the ground. It seemed the master had stepped in and grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the sword. Now the attacker was down on his knees, hands behind his back. The blond man was holding tightly both his wrists. A couple of meters away, the sword lay on the rugged surface of the rock. The master forcibly lifted the gangster to his feet. He gave a solid kick to his buttocks, sending him sprawling towards the other four men.
“Anyone else feels like playing?” he asked in a calm voice.
The thugs knew when they were outmatched. While the kicked man was slowly getting up, rubbing his bottom, the gang leader replied in a more conciliatory tone:
“Sorry, sir. It was a misunderstanding. I suppose we shouldn’t bother you anymore. May we take the sword and leave?”
“Sure. Take it and leave the island at once,” the master shouted.
With hurried steps, the gangsters left the platform. After two minutes, the teenagers watched them balancing above the waves in an inflatable motorboat as they approached the shore.
“Now what?” Lila asked, looking at the young man. “Do you plan to retrieve the object yourself?”
“I’ll give it a try. However, I’m not sure I can pull it out,” confessed the fighter, scratching his head.
“You still haven’t told us where this thing came from,” Kolin insisted.
The master sank into his thoughts for a while, then he said:
“I don’t know. Once every few centuries, mysterious artifacts show up in our world. In most cases, in unpopulated places. The main martial arts schools are always on alert to retrieve them before they come into the wrong hands. I can’t tell you more.”
The Two Waves fighter obviously knew more, but he showed no intention to elaborate on this topic. It had to be knowledge meant only for the initiated members of the martial clans.
For a few moments, they watched silently the waves breaking below the platform. Then the master walked to the edge, picked up the rope left by the thugs, and pulled it lightly. It didn’t budge, as expected. He wrapped the cord around his right forearm and got into a low stance with his feet wide apart and knees flexed. Then he closed his eyes for a few minutes, breathing deeply and gathering energy.
With an explosive move, his right hand threw a punch in the air away from the edge, jerking the line. The rope moved up by a few centimeters. The blond man held the line with the left hand, preventing it from falling back in the water. His muscles tensed under strain. He took another deep breath, then punched the air once more. Again, the motion seemed to pull up the line by another centimeter. The master stopped and released the cord. The rope slowly sank back into the water, into its initial position.
“It won’t work,” he sighed. “I can barely budge it. It will take hundreds of punches without any break to get it out of the water. No one has so much endurance.”
“Then, what are you going to do?” Solis asked.
“I’ll think about other ways.”
The master sat down on the ground, flexed his legs into a lotus stance, and began to meditate facing the sea.
“Maybe we should go to the beach, get our clothes, and head home,” Lila said.
“You’re right. It’s getting late. Let’s go,” Kolin agreed.
They turned to leave and almost bumped into a middle-aged man dressed in a dark-blue uniform. He had come to the scene as noiselessly as the Two Waves master.
The newcomer smiled. He was of average height and rather slim, with pale skin and short, dark-brown hair. His black pupils measured them in silence. The badge of a black bird with yellow eyes and beak was shining on the left side of his chest, surrounded by a red circle. A supreme master of Aquatika! The teenagers froze.
“Hey, don’t get scared by me!” the man laughed heartedly. “I came to help!”
The supreme master stepped in, getting closer to the meditating man. The blond man, already aware of his presence, stood up and turned around. As soon as he saw the badge on the other man’s chest, the eyes of the Two Waves master widened in surprise, and he bowed, full of respect.
“My name is Anh, and I came to help,” the Aquatika supreme master said.
“I’m Rongo,” the younger man replied, smiling. “It seems lots of people are interested in it already, not all with the best intentions. How do you know about this artifact?”
“How do YOU know about it?” the older man countered, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, the sensors from our headquarters detected this morning unusual perturbations in the local field. I couldn’t pinpoint their source from the beginning, so I went first to look for it west of Akonit. However, I concluded this morning that the Iron Rock was its most probable location. Not sure about what to expect, I just came to take a good look at it and found these kids next to the artifact. What about you?”
“I’ve found out about the perturbations today, in the early afternoon, and decided to check them out. You never know what could happen if this artifact fell into the wrong hands. Like the five guys who’ve just left this place a few minutes ago.”
Both men smiled, then Rongo continued:
“It’s worrying to see this kind of people coming to retrieve it, doing the dirty work for someone powerful hidden in shadows. More of them might show up before it gets dark. If you can pull it out of the water by yourself, it would best to do it as soon as possible.”
“You’re right,” Anh agreed. “Let’s do it!”

(to be continued…)


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